Salt To The Sea Review

Book: Salt To The Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Two years ago, I read Ruta Sepetys’ debut novel, Between Shades of Grey, which I completely fell in love with, it was one of my favourite books I read that year (which is saying something because I had a huge slump that year and found most of the things that I read pretty meh), so when I found about this book last year I was dying to read it. This of course meant that I bought it, it sat on my shelf for a year and then I finally got around to reading it this year for my #RockMyTBR challenge (#bookwormproblems). I love how Sepetys takes lesser known historical events and uses them in her books, as a history student, I love getting to learn about stuff that I haven’t heard of before. There were more people who died on the Wilhelm Gustloff than Titanic and yet we haven’t heard of it, it just blows my mind. It was a little slow to get to the actual shipwreck portion of the book, most of the book is buildup, but luckily the chapters are pretty short, so it was a relatively quick read. I wouldn’t say I loved it as much as Between Shades of Grey, I think Between Shades of Grey was a much more intimate story than Salt To The Sea, because it’s purely from Lina’s point of view and you really get to connect with her and her family, whereas Salt To The Sea has multiple narrators and the chapters are so short that you don’t quite get to connect to them in the same way. I felt kind of detached from the story, even during the sinking parts which should have been completely harrowing, there’s was a kind of disconnect. I still really enjoyed it, but it didn’t make me feel quite as much as Lina’s story did.

Here is a short synopsis of the book:

It’s early 1945 and a group of people trek across East Prussia, bound together by their desperation to reach the ship that can take them away from the war-ravaged land. Four young people, each haunted by their own dark secret, narrate their unforgettable stories. Fans of The Book Thief or Helen Dunmore’s The Siege will be totally absorbed.

This inspirational novel is based on a true story from the Second World War. When the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in port in early 1945 it had over 9000 civilian refugees, including children, on board. Nearly all were drowned. Ruta Sepetys, acclaimed author of Between Shades of Grey, brilliantly imagines their story.

As I said before, the chapters of this book are very short, which is both a help and a hindrance, a help because it’s an easy book to finish quickly and quite difficult to put down because you can justify, well the next chapter’s only a few pages, but it’s also kind of a hindrance, the chapters are so short that you don’t really get a chance to get to know the characters that well and like I said, there felt like there was kind of a disconnect between me and the characters.

I liked the continuity of having a similar first line introducing the POV of each of the characters during their first chapter, I thought that was very cool and I loved how she returned to that during the sinking, I liked the circular feel of it.

I liked that the characters were all very different, came from different places and had had different experiences during the war, you have Joana (Lina’s cousin from Between Shades of Grey), a Lithuanian nurse who has been working in German hospitals during the war, Florian, a mysterious boy from East Prussia who is running for an unknown reason, Emilia, a young Polish girl & Alfred, a German soldier. I did feel a kind of disconnect with them though, simply because of the short length of the chapters, I didn’t get to know them as much as I would have liked. Joana I think was my favourite, because of her connection to Lina, it was interesting to see how she was affected by the events of Between Shades of Grey. I also found Florian quite interesting as you could never completely peg down what he was hiding. Emilia was sweet and you felt so bad for her as she had clearly been very damaged by the war. Alfred was a typical German soldier, completely brainwashed by Hitler, so naturally was not very keen on him. I liked that as a group, they were all very different people, it meant their POVs were all very different and the narrators were easily distinguished, I hate it when authors use multiple first person narrators and their voices all sound the same. This was not a problem here though, Sepetys had clearly defined voices for all the characters which I liked.

Sepetys has a very simple writing style which I think worked quite well for this book, honestly, I prefer that kind of writing anyway, I can’t stand it when authors go over the top with the flowery prose and that wouldn’t have worked for this book. The simple, stark prose she uses, suited the tone and the setting of the book perfectly.

I did feel like it took a while to get to the shipwreck part of the book? I get that Sepetys wanted to show the journey of the refugees, but there’s only so long you can read about them venturing across the ice, before you’re like, “this is cool and all but when are we going to get to the main point of this book”. Because the shipwreck doesn’t happen until the end, it’s a little light on the plot side and unlike Between Shades of Grey where it didn’t bother me because I was so swept up in Lina’s story, it bothered me more here.

There was romance in this book, but it was a very small part of it and it was done well. Joana and Florian were both so stubborn, you couldn’t help but be infuriated by them not admitting how they felt to each other. I wasn’t entirely sure if Florian wasn’t just using Joana for most of the book, but by the end of it, he does seem to genuinely feel for her as Joana does for him.

Florian seemed kind of similar to Lina, they’re both quiet, artistic souls and I think that might have been why I liked him as he reminded me a lot of her (kind of similar to why Joana liked him I think!).

The supporting characters were drawn quite well, particularly the shoe poet, I loved him and was so sad by what happened to him.

I really liked the addition of the maps, the one from 1945 and the one from the present day, I thought that was quite cool, getting to see how things have changed from then to now.

The shipwreck itself was written well, you could feel the desperation of the characters and at that point, I felt like the short chapters worked better than they had for most of the book, as it helped convey the panic and distress of the characters. It’s devastating to think that this actually happened to thousands of real people, and that hardly anyone knows about it. Emilia’s last chapter with her imagining her family together again was particularly devastating.

It’s not really relevant to the story, but I love reading Ruta Sepetys’ author’s notes as she clearly does a lot of research for her books and really cares about the real life events that inspired the stories she tells.

Overall, whilst I did have some problems with this book, it tells a very important, untold story of the war that I feel like everyone should read. Over 9000 people died in the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, that’s more than both the Titanic and Lusitania together and yet we don’t know anything about it? These real people deserve to have their stories told and I’m glad that through Joana, Florian, Emilia and Alfred, I got to learn about this horrific part of history that I had not previously known about.

My rating: 3.5/5

The next book I will be reviewing is Paper and Fire, the second book in The Great Library Series by Rachel Caine (I know, I know, it has taken me forever to get to this book. I’ve had it since last summer). In the meantime, I will hopefully have a new discussion post for you guys very soon!

Happy Easter everyone!

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1)

the invisible libraryBook: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1)

Author: Genevieve Cogman

I came across this series actually via the third book in the series, which I thought sounded really interesting. It took me the longest time to find the first book, but naturally when I did, I was really excited because it sounded so good. I mean libraries, different realities, spies, I mean what about that does not sound awesome? Sadly the execution did not live up to the concept, I found myself bored, confused and wishing I hadn’t spent my money on it. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

The first installment of an adventure featuring stolen books, secret agents and forbidden societies – think Doctor Who with librarian spies!

Irene must be at the top of her game or she’ll be off the case – permanently…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

Sounds super cool right? Wrong. First of all, there are just way too many supernatural elements. I mean you had Fae, you had vampires, you had werewolves,  you had weird robotic creatures, you had dragons, it’s like the author took every supernatural element you could possibly have in a book and threw them all into this one. It would have been a lot simpler to follow if she had just stuck to one!

I loved the idea of the alternates, and the idea of the Library and that there were all these cool rare edition books out there that the Librarians needed to go and get, that was really cool. But the world building was all so complicated and confusing, that I just didn’t understand it at all. I still have no idea what Chaos is for example. I felt like Cogman was just introducing us to all these different things without ever actually explaining what any of them meant.

The characters are another area where this book fell flat. Irene was just completely bland, she seemed to have little to no personality, there was nothing about her that made me root for her, that made me interested in her. We have no indication of how old she’s supposed to be, so the little flirting that she does with her definitely teenage apprentice just seems weird. Speaking of said teenage apprentice, Kai had the potential to be an interesting character, he was cheeky and kind of mysterious and had an interesting backstory, I wished he had been allowed to shine more because he seemed like he would have been a much more interesting MC than the tepid Irene. All of the secondary characters fell kind of flat as well, there was little to no character development for any of them, they all just felt like bland stereotypes rather than real people, Bradamant was the classic mean girl, Vale was the detective & Kai was the usual brooding cute guy. If more time had been spent developing the characters and world then everything would have been so much better!

The Language (special language that only Librarians could use) sounded very cool, but again, it wasn’t explained very well.

There seemed to be indications of romance between Kai and Irene which is weird enough cause I’m pretty sure she was like hundreds of years old and he was a teenager, but these were dropped pretty fast in favour of a potential romance between Irene and Vale which is not developed well at all.

The chapters were way too long, and difficult to read as well because of the very stilted, confusingly phrased writing and so the story just felt like it was lagging to me, even when supposedly exciting things were happening in the story.

There were also way too many different enemies introduced, you have the Fae, the Iron Brotherhood, Wyndham, I didn’t even know who they were fighting against most of the time. And when Alberich, the main villain, was introduced, he fell kind of flat to me, he didn’t really seem like a terrifying villain at all.

I guess the book got kind of interesting at the end with the introduction of the story that was about Alberich and his possible sister and child but by that point it was too late, I was just relieved that the book was over (seriously, I’ve been reading this book off and on for three months. It took that long. It was only a 300+ page book).

Overall, this book had a good concept but it was poorly executed, lacking in basically everything, confusing plot, confusing world building and flat characters. I will definitely not be reading book two.

My Rating: 2/5

My next review will be of Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys.

This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) Review

Book: This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1)

Author: VE Schwab

This was my #RockMyTBR read for March, and my first Victoria Schwab read outside of her Shades of Magic books. Naturally, coming off of my Conjuring of Light high, this book didn’t quite measure up to the epicness of that one but I wasn’t expecting it to. Still, given the high praise that this book has received, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that it took me well over half the book to actually get into the story. I shouldn’t compare it to Shades of Magic because obviously they are completely different worlds and stories, but it felt like that spark, in both the characters and the world was kind of missing, the plot was slower, I just didn’t feel like the stakes were high enough for most of the book, the first two parts of the book were basically just build up until we got to the good stuff at the end. The last two parts of the book did redeem the first two slower parts for me though and did get me interested enough that I will read the next book, despite having lukewarm feelings about this one. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

So I’m going to start off with my biggest bug bear with this story, which really surprised me actually because it’s one of the things that Schwab is best at in Shades of Magic, which was that I found the world building really lacking. The premise of the world in itself is really cool, dystopian type world with different kinds of monsters, yes sign me up, but we weren’t really given much explanation as to how Verity came to be, the monsters aren’t really developed all that much beyond their basic traits, we don’t really get too much of the background of the grudge between the Harkers and the Flynns, it just felt like we were dumped in the middle of this world with not much of an explanation for anything really and that disappointed me so much because I’ve seen how good Schwab can be at world building.

The characters were fine, though they definitely lacked the spark of the Shades of Magic gang. Kate is cruel, cold, calculating, just wants to impress her father and acts out in order to hide her vulnerabilities. I usually like female characters like this and at first I did, I was like ooh cool, here’s this fierce, confident, kind of awful but owns it girl, but I never really connected to her. Aside from wanting to rebel against her father, she didn’t really seem to have any reason to act as cruelly as she did. August was cute, but kind of bland (though he did have the occasional great sassy moment) and I don’t know, I was just hoping for the monster to be a tad more monstrous? I mean I get that he wants to be human, but I would have preferred him to be more morally grey that totally vanilla. Both of them could have done with a tad more development, we got somewhat of a glimpse into Kate’s background, which was good but none at all into August’s. I did like their friendship though, I felt like that was well done, despite not really feeling much for either character individually! I actually felt like some of the side characters, Ilsa, Leo, Kate’s father were more interesting than the MCs, particularly Ilsa, I actually would have preferred if she was the monster MC as opposed to August because she seems like a much more interesting character!

I liked the music theme running through the book, listening to music is one of my favourite hobbies aside from reading, so I liked that it played such a big part of this book, it was really cool that each part was “a verse” and that the book had a “prelude” and an “elegy”, I thought that was really cool.

It made me very happy that this book had no romance! Kate and August are literally just friends, see it can be done people! Not even a whiff of a romantic interaction is in this book and I loved that. Male/female platonic friendships for the win people!

There were a few occasional typos in this book (not a big deal but I do find it a little jarring). I also felt that the writing wasn’t quite up to Schwab’s usual standards, there were some very pretty descriptions here and there but it did feel kind of simplistic as compared to her prose in the Shades of Magic books. That could be down to the fact that this is YA rather than adult, I don’t know as I haven’t read any of her other YA books, but I doubt it.

There was an awesome bit where Kate was in self defence class and their teacher is teaching them SING (Solarplexis, Instep, Nose, Groin), a self defence technique and all I could think about was the bit in Miss Congeniality, where Sandra Bullock’s character does this for her talent portion in the Miss United States Pageant. I may have got a tad annoyed that Schwab referred to the S as Stomach rather than Solarplexis, but I think that just shows how many times I’ve seen Miss Congeniality!

The action scenes were great when they finally appeared, it just took so long to get any and by that point, the pacing was all screwed up, because the first half was so slow and then the second half was all action, so it felt kind of rushed, even though the scenes themselves were well written.

I also found the twists kind of predictable, I worked them out ages before they were actually revealed, the only things that surprised me in the entire book was what happened with Ilsa, the thing with Kate’s medallion and the ending, for the most part I worked out what was happening before the characters did.

Essentially, it was a good concept but not executed as well as I know Victoria Schwab is capable of, though I will admit, I might have been more impressed with it if I hadn’t just read the perfection that was ACOL right before it! I did think the ending redeemed the slow start and I am looking forward to the next book, and hoping that the world development and character development that were desperately lacking from this book are more present in that one!

My Rating: 3.5/5 (It would have been 3 but I added an extra half for the last two parts)

My next review will be of The Invisible Library and you guys will actually get it very soon as I just finished reading it!

 

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) Review

ACOLBook: A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3)

Author: VE Schwab

This was my most anticipated read of 2017, aside from the last Throne of Glass book, although that book’s release date has now been pushed back (don’t even get me started on that!), so naturally I was equal parts nervous and excited to read this. Excited because I couldn’t wait to see where these characters that I loved so much ended up and nervous because I knew this book was going to break my heart, I didn’t want this series to be over and I was worried it might not be as good as I was expecting it to be. Fortunately, this book was everything that I wanted it to be and more. The characters were as sassy and wonderful as ever, the fight scenes were on point, the intensity was sky high, the villain was suitably creepy and the heartbreak was definitely there. It was, all in all, the perfect conclusion to this series. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
Witness the fate of beloved heroes – and enemies.

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

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

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

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

(Warning: This review may contain spoilers for the first two books, so if you haven’t read those, turn away now).

You are thrown straight back into the action, the book picks up exactly where A Gathering of Shadows left off, so I would recommend perhaps rereading at least the end of the second book before picking up this one, even I had to flick to the back of the book just to remind myself what had happened.

I was glad that the cliffhanger involving Lila at the end of the last book was relatively quickly resolved, I was worried that Schwab was going to torture us with that reveal through the whole book so I’m glad it’s resolved within the first few pages.

The intensity throughout the first part of the book was incredible, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading it. In general, I was really impressed by the pacing of this book, it’s hard in a book over 600 pages to keep a reader’s attention for the entire time, but I felt the pacing in this book was perfect, fast paced in all the right places, slow when it needed to be. I never felt bored, I was always so excited to pick the book up and see what happened next, so hats off to Schwab for that, because keeping me engaged throughout an entire 600+ page book is no easy feat! So much happens in such a short space of time and it really feels like it when you’re reading, the pages just fly past!

I loved the flashbacks in this book, we get to see little Kell and little Rhy which was awesome in itself, but also Holland’s backstory was completely fleshed out, which I absolutely loved because I wasn’t expecting that in this book. I especially liked getting to see Kell and Holland meet, that was probably my favourite of the Holland flashbacks.

I loved all the sass in this book, the characters are also so snarky and Schwab has created such brilliant dynamics between them all, there’s not a character relationship that I don’t love, there’s the obvious ones like Kell/Rhy, Rhy/Lila and Rhy/Alcuard, but also the dynamics between Holland/Kell, Holland/Lila, Alucard/Kell, Alucard/Lila, they’re all so fantastic, they feel like real people interacting and not just characters on a page.

I loved all the Alucard/Rhy scenes, they are definitely my OTP for this series (much as I also enjoy Lila/Kell), their scenes were just all so adorable, and I loved getting to see more of them together in this book. I also loved that we got a little Lila/Kell as well, subtly so it didn’t overpower the rest of the book (this is one of my favourite things about Schwab’s writing, the romance is always the background), but just enough to know that they’re both interested. There’s also a very steamy scene that I’m sure other Lila/Kell shippers will get very excited about (it’s a really good scene guys!).

I’m not going to lie, the body count in this is HIGH! A lot of people die, and yet Schwab manages to make each death as hard hitting as the last. I’m glad she didn’t shy away from that in this book, it’s a battle, people are going to die.

The villain of this book Osaron was brilliant! He was so creepy, his presence so pervasive throughout the book that you couldn’t help but be scared of him. I can’t quite decide if he or The Dane Twins were the better villain, but suffice to say, Victoria Schwab writes excellent villains.

I liked that we got to see Emira and Maxim’s backgrounds a bit more in this book, it was nice to see them fleshed out as more than just the King and Queen of Arnes. It was nice that they both had more of a role in this book as well.

Rhy really came into his own this book, I’m amazed at how strong he’s become over the past three books, and it really shows here. He’s not relying on Kell to save him, he wants to do things himself and really get in on the action. He’s grown so much feistier, he knows what he wants and he gets it and I just loved every scene with him in it in this book. All of the characters are amazing, my favourite is still Lila, but Kell, Alucard, Holland and Rhy are awesome as well and like I said earlier, the dynamics between the group are just perfect.

I wish that the immunity deal with the silvers had been explained, I get that they were immune to Osaron but I would have liked to have known exactly why.

All of the action scenes throughout the book were amazing, Victoria Schwab definitely has a knack for writing action, the pace is always perfect, they are always riveting and vivid, it’s like watching a movie, the scenes just leap off the page. The final battle in particular was probably one of the best action scenes I’ve ever read.

I love Schwab’s writing, she doesn’t overdo it on the description, it’s not flowery prose, it’s simple but also really beautiful at times. I like that her focus is more on the character interactions than flowery descriptions as that’s exactly what I love. There were a few typos though, which I found a little jarring, although I guess that’s more of an editing problem than a writing problem. There was a particular quote that felt very meta, that I just loved.

There was one thing that nagged at me slightly, it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book, but it just confused me a little, I thought Lila had already met the King and Queen at the end of ADSOM? But there’s a scene in ACOL where she’s with them and they act like they don’t know who she is? I get that a lot of time has passed, but Lila is pretty memorable? Like I said, it didn’t bug me, it just confused me.

I liked that things from the first book, like Lila’s empty map came back and had importance in this book, I love it when authors add in tiny details like that and they come back in later books.

All of the Kell/Rhy scenes made me so happy, their brotherly relationship just warms my heart so much. I love seeing strong sibling relationships in books and Schwab does this very well.

I liked how everything came together, there were a lot of seemingly random things introduced into the plot through the book and I kept wondering how all these things were going to tie together, but they all came together seamlessly. That’s one of the things I love about Schwab’s writing, everything has a purpose, nothing is random and all the plot threads even the seemingly unrelated ones come together in the end.

I loved that we got to see more of Alucard’s past and family in this book, especially as it led to one of my favourite parts of the book, when they were all on the black market pirate ship. Maris was pretty awesome, if a little creepy, and her interaction with Lila was just the best. Also I really want to go to the Ferase Stras because all the stuff Maris has seems pretty awesome.

The binding rings were amazing, it was so cool to read about them and just added another layer of awesomeness to the already amazing magic system in this book.

There were quite a few twists through the book that I wasn’t expecting and nothing about it ever seemed predictable, I liked that I was kept guessing what would happen right up until the end of the book.

The ending, oh the ending. Physical tears people. I am the girl that never cries at books and there were physical tears this time. The entire last part was just so bittersweet, there was cute stuff to be sure, but there was also heartbreaking stuff and just having to say goodbye to these characters and watching them say goodbye to each other was hard okay? I loved that things came full circle, with lines from the first book being repeated and overall it felt like everyone ended where they needed to be, which was great.

I really only have one thing left to say to end this review in the perfect way:

Anoshe guys. It’s been one hell of a ride. For all of us.

My rating: 5/5 for a stunning series conclusion.

My next review will be another VE Schwab book, as I’m reading This Savage Song for my March #RockMyTBR read.

 

 

Traitor To The Throne (Rebels of The Sands #2) Review (e-ARC)

traitor-to-the-throne Book: Traitor To The Throne (Rebel of The Sands #2)

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Published By: Faber & Faber

Expected Publication: 2nd February

Format: e-book

I received this book for free via Netgalley, as always, this in no way affected my opinion of this book.

As always, thanks to Netgalley and Faber and Faber for allowing me to read this book.

As many of you know (or you will know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while), I absolutely loved Alwyn Hamilton’s debut novel, Rebel of The Sands, it was one of the best books I read last year and so naturally I was incredibly excited when it came up on Netgalley and “wished” for it. I wasn’t expecting to get it (usually these things never work out for me!) but I did.

I’m not going to lie, my expectations for this book were high after how great Rebel of The Sands was and I’m not sure that they were entirely met. Traitor To The Throne definitely suffers from some “middle book syndrome”, a lot of it is about political manoeuvrings, and a great deal is set in the harem in the Sultan’s palace, so the pacing is a little off for quite a large portion of the book, the start was engaging, so was the end, but there was quite a large portion in the middle that seemed to lag a bit which I wasn’t entirely keen on.

I appreciated that there was a character recap at the start of the book, because there’s quite a lot of characters and you tend to forget some of them between books, so that was a welcome addition. I also liked that the first chapter acted as kind of a recap for the last book, as not everyone has the chance to reread the first book before the sequel comes out! It also worked well due to the six month time gap between the books, the first chapter kind of catches you up with everything that’s happened so you’re not just thrown straight in the deep end.

The stakes were definitely a lot higher in this book and the plot was more complex than in the first book which I appreciated, although as I said previously, I did feel like the political manoeuvrings kind of bogged the pacing of the book down a little in the middle of the book.

I still really loved Amani, her powers are awesome, she’s still such an amazing, strong, brave, feisty female character and I liked that we got to see her grown more as a person in this book, she’s no longer this selfish desert girl that she was in the first book, she clearly cares so much about everyone in the rebellion and she’s willing to take risks to save everyone, not just herself now. She’s without her powers for a considerable portion of the book and it’s interesting to see how this develops her character as a strategist rather than just the warrior that we saw in the first book.

I appreciated that we got to learn more about Amani’s family in this book, we get to meet her aunt (her other one, not the one she lived with in Dustwalk) and Shira reappears which I liked because I didn’t feel that relationship was really explored enough in the first book, and it really gets more developed here, which was great. We also get to meet her Djinni father and get more backstory on her mother, which was pretty cool.

The setting of the book wasn’t quite as captivating as the first, we’re still in Miraji of course, but as much of it is set in the palace, it doesn’t have quite the same desert magic as the first one did (though ironically we do get a lot of magic in this book!).

I liked that we got to see even more of the mythology of the world in this book, that was very cool because it’s such a unique mythology, given that Djinn are not common in fantasies, so I felt like it really added something to the story having the mythology interspersed within it. We also had a wedding in this book and a new Mirajin festival, Auranzeb, so it was interesting seeing the customs for those. We also get to learn more about Miraji’s neigbouring countries, Albis, Gamanix and Xicha which I liked.

I really loved the new characters who were introduced, particularly Sam, a new addition to the rebellion, he’s this charming, cheeky thief who’s been trading on Amani’s reputation and it was so fun to see the two of them interact (don’t worry, they’re only friends, there is no love triangle here) and see him integrate into the rebellion. He has an interesting backstory too which I liked and his “power” is so cool (he’s not a Demdji, he’s a Faye, which is a Northern version of Djinn), he can walk through walls, which I thought was awesome! We also get to meet a lot of the Sultan’s sons, the most important being Rahim, who joins the rebels side. He didn’t make too much of an impression on me, but I imagine he’ll develop more in the third book. There are various members of the harem that we meet as well, but they’re not particularly important!

We also finally get to meet the Sultan! He was everything I wanted him to be, a twisted, complex, dark character. I liked that Hamilton did not take the easy way out and make the Sultan completely evil, he feels that he is doing what is right for his country and there is a logic to his decisions, which makes him even more scary! I appreciated how clever and manipulative the Sultan was, it made the payoff at the end of the book all the better!

There was the occasional spelling and punctuation error, but since I read an uncorrected proof, I’m sure this was just a case of that and it will have been fixed in the final version.

One slight niggle I had was that not all the chapters were named. I get that it was meant to show a difference between chapters talking about Djinni myths/character backstories, but it’s just a pet peeve of mine when authors name some of their chapters and not others. Either name them all or don’t name at all people!

I did miss Jin in this book. He and Amani are apart for most of the book, and whilst I appreciated this because it allowed Amani a chance for growth and development on her own, and understood it because Amani was in the palace for most of the book, I still missed him and would have liked to see him more. There are still some cute moments for them as a couple (including a very frustrating almost sex-scene!) but I would have liked to have just seen a tad more of Jin.

I still really love Shazad and Amani’s friendship, although again, we don’t get to see too much of them working together because of the set up of this book. In fact I would have loved to see more Shazad in general because I really love her (and totally ship her and Sam!).

There were a lot of twists and turns and unexpected things happening through the book, which I loved, basically the entire last ten or so chapters are just one big twist and I was on the edge of my seat through them. Without all of the slightly tedious political manoeuvrings before, they never would have worked, so whilst they did seem boring at the time, I appreciated what they built up to.

Overall, despite the fact that the book suffered from some pacing issues in the middle, I still really enjoyed it! Amani is a fantastic main character, the plot was more complex this time than in Rebel of The Sands, so whilst it might not have had the same on the edge of your seat action, it has more depth, there is more character development, more world building and a very exciting conclusion. It was a very solid addition to the trilogy and has me on the edge of my seat waiting for Book Three!

My Rating: 3.5/5 (the slow middle meant that this just wasn’t quite a 4)

My next review will be of my most recent read, The Invisible Library, by Genvieve Cogman.

 

 

 

The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1)

the-crowns-game

Book: The Crown’s Game

Author: Evelyn Skye

This book was my #RockMyTBR book for February and I was really excited to read it for several reasons. Firstly, Russia is such an amazing country with such an interesting history, I did Russian History during my A-Levels, and it was just so fascinating to me, especially the time of the Tsars, so naturally, I was incredibly excited when I heard that this book was about Imperial Russia. Secondly, magic is basically my biggest love in stories so obviously I loved the idea of the Game and the the enchantments. And finally, my friend read it and loved it and she has very similar taste in books to me, so all signs were pointing towards me loving it. And for the most part, aside from a few minor niggles, I really, really did! Here is a short synopsis of the book:

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

I’m not going to lie, this was a slow starter. It wasn’t until the Game actually started around 18 chapters in to the book that I started getting invested and even then, the action doesn’t really pick up until about the last 20-30 chapters. Still, it helped that the chapters were relatively short, because despite the fact that there was little action initially, the short chapters helped keep a regular pace, so I didn’t get bogged down in the same way that I would with a longer chapter book. I like it when books have a nice mix of longer and shorter chapters and Evelyn Skye struck that balance well.

I feel like a pronunciation guide could have been helpful, there were quite a few Russian names at the beginning of the book and they were kind of confusing to read, so a pronunciation guide would have gone a long way!

The magic in this was incredible! I loved how it ranged from more simple enchantments, right up to all this big fancy stuff. There was a bit I particularly loved, right at the start of the book, where Nikolai is organising books with his magic and I so wish I could do that! It would be so helpful. The enchantments for the Game were pretty impressive too, I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say what any of them are, but they are suitably beautiful. I also liked how the magic in this didn’t really seem like anything I’d seen before, to have a magic system feel unique in YA fantasy is quite the achievement!

I loved the characters, Vika was so cheeky and fierce and as soon as she first appeared, I got the feeling that I was going to like her, and I was right. Her elemental magic was very much up my street, especially considering that my current WIP is all about elemental magic so I naturally got very excited about that. I also really loved Pasha, he was just this adorable, charming, cinnamon roll who must be protected at all costs. I wasn’t so keen on Nikolai, I felt like we didn’t really get a good enough sense of his personality? I’m hoping that will come across more in the next book, because he seemed kind of bland in this one. Pasha’s sister Yuliana was a total bitch, but I kind of felt sorry for her because it’s clear that she would make a much better ruler than Pasha, just no one gives her the time of day because she’s a girl.

I also want to take a second here to talk about poor Renata, because she really seems to get the raw end of the deal here. Renata is the household servant in the house where Nikolai stays (he lives with his tutor Galina who took him in as an orphan from the Kazakh Steppe) and of course has been desperately in love with Nikolai for years.  He does not return her feelings and Renata pines. That really seems to be her only purpose here, pining after Nikolai and aside from her skills at reading tea leaves, she’s not developed much. I found that quite disappointing and I hope that now it has been firmly established she has no future with Nikolai, that her character will be developed more in the next book.

There is so much food in this book! Vika’s surrogate mother of sorts, Ludmila runs a bakery and she’s constantly baking gorgeous treats. I felt hungry like half the time, but in the best way. I think we can all agree that books are greatly improved with a huge amount of delicious cake right?

Speaking of Ludmila, I loved her. She was just this lovely, cheerful, cheeky baker and her relationship with Vika was just brilliant, they definitely seemed to have a kind of mother/daughter relationship going on and I would love to see that more in the next book.

I liked that the early part of the Game had a bit of a violent streak, although somewhat disappointingly, this fell away a little in the middle but thankfully it picked up again at the end (in fact Skye more than made up for it with the dark end). Still it was compelling to read and the stakes always felt high which kept me invested in the outcome. The enchantments were incredible and whilst I’ve read some criticism of how powerful Vika and Nikolai were (though Vika’s strength is explained), I think it worked really well for what the author wanted and I liked that they were so impressive!

THERE WAS A MASQUERADE! I’m sorry for the all caps, but I have an insane love of all things masquerade. There’s just something so gorgeous and magical about them. It went on for like five chapters and I was just in heaven with all the pretty dresses and the dancing and everything.

I wasn’t completely sold on the romance? I mean we had the dreaded love triangle (ugh) which is bad enough, but neither guy really felt like they had chemistry with Vika. I felt like Nikolai and Vika’s connection seemed somewhat superficial, just based on the fact that they both have magic. Pasha’s interest in Vika seemed more like puppy love and whilst I did feel slightly more of a connection there, it was only really on a friends thing. I think I know where this triangle will go in the next book, but I’m not really all that invested in it.

Also please can no more friendships be ruined by the dreaded triangle? Okay, I mean that’s not the only reason Pasha and Nikolai’s friendship kind of fell apart, but seriously, I really don’t want anymore friendships being ruined because of common love interests. Get it together guys! You had a good thing going there for a while. I hope their relationship rebuilds in the next book.

The setting was yes, glorious but I loved Evelyn Skye’s writing even more. Everything seemed to come alive on the page, it was like the book itself was infused with a little magic and I loved that. The vividness of the writing just added to the gorgeousness of the setting to create one incredibly beautiful book.

There were a lot of great plot twists in the latter half of the book which were executed really well, I didn’t really see anything of them coming but they fit well and didn’t seem at all random which was good.

I feel like there were certain aspects of the world building could have done with more development, I could have done with more explanation of the magic system for instance, but overall, Skye did establish a vivid and interesting world and I look forward to seeing her explore it more in the next book.

Overall this was a promising start to a new duology, whilst there were some issues with the world development and the romances and suffered a little from the whole too slow at the start and then almost overwhelmingly intense at the end combination, it was still a beautiful book, with fantastic magic, great characters, lovely writing and who can forget all the FOOD? I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where Skye goes in the conclusion to this duology!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my latest Netgalley read, the newest instalment in Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel Trilogy, Traitor To The Throne!

Caraval Review (e-ARC)

caraval-2 Book: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Published By: Hodder and Stoughton

Expected Publication: 31st January

Format: e-book

I received this book for free via Netgalley, this in no way affected my opinion of this book.

As always, thanks to Netgalley and Hodder and Stoughton for allowing me to read this book.

This has been a much hyped book for months, and it was only published four days ago, so naturally when I received it for review, I was both very excited, and very nervous in case I didn’t find the book as brilliant as everyone else seemed to have. Thankfully, despite a slightly rocky start, I ended up really enjoying Stephanie Garber’s debut offering, it was a magical, mysterious, wonderful world, with interesting and complex characters and I can’t wait to see what the next book has in store! Here is a short synopsis of the book (in case anyone has totally missed the hype and has no idea what the book is about!):

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

First off, I loved, loved, loved the map at the start of the book. I’m a total sucker for a book with a beautifully drawn map in it and this book was no exception. It was great having the map there, because it meant I could picture where everything was in Caraval.

I found the book a little slow to start with, Scarlett seemed kind of bland, there were a lot of mysteries introduced and random anecdotes about Caraval that Scarlett had learned from her grandmother, and lots of letters Scarlett had sent to the master of Caraval. I just found everything a little confusing to start off with, we were just thrown into this world with little introduction, but as the story went on and Scarlett’s character developed, I found myself being more and more drawn into the book.

I guess first of all I should talk about Scarlett since she was the main character of the book. She seemed very bland to me at first, she was quite meek, a rule follower, perfectly happy to simply go along with marrying this guy she had never even met, she’s incredibly overdramatic as well. However this all makes sense given her horribly abusive father, and I loved how slowly throughout the book as she gets more entrenched in Caraval, she becomes more daring, more determined, more independent and it’s just lovely to see her flourish through the book. Whereas at the beginning I felt a little indifferent to Scarlett, by the end I was truly rooting for her. Also her love for her sister is inspiring and it leaps off the page which was great and I liked that Scarlett and Tella had such contrasting personalities. I found the way that Scarlett felt in colours very strange though, I know the author likely did it to add to the imagery of the book, which is great and everything, it just seemed a little weird to me.

I loved the setting, everything about Caraval just screamed “magic”, and Stephanie Garber’s writing was so beautiful and vivid that it felt as if Caraval was coming to life as I was reading it, all the tunnels and shops and the carousel and the roses and everything just sounded so beautiful that I instantly fell in love with it. It’s strange, I usually don’t like overly descriptive writing, but I loved it here, it just fitted so well with the setting and it never felt over done or anything, it just added to the magical feel of the book. All the aesthetics are so beautiful, it’s a very visually pleasing book!

I wasn’t sure about Julian at first, but as with Scarlett, I grew to really like him by the end of the book. He was mysterious and intriguing and cheeky and charming but there’s also a softer, kinder, more vulnerable side to him and I loved how much he clearly cared for Scarlett. It kind of frustrated me how long it took to learn his secrets, because he’s clearly hiding something all the way through, but in the best way possible because the pay off was so good when I finally found it out! He is definitely a new book boyfriend!

I also really enjoyed the romance. I liked that it was there, but not in the forefront, Scarlett’s personal development felt like it was the driving factor of this story which was great. It was a really nice, seductive, slow burn romance, exactly the kind that I love, there was no instalove, it was just these two people, getting to know each other, then trust each other and eventually falling in love, which is exactly the way it should be in my opinion.

Much as I loved Scarlett’s love for her sister, I did wish the two of them had more scenes together, as I would like to have seen more of their sisterly relationship, rather than just being told through Scarlett how much she loved her sister. I get that this wasn’t really possible given that the whole point of Scarlett playing Caraval is to find her sister, but I just would have liked to have seen more of their relationship, especially since I really liked Tella so it would have been nice to see more of her character.

The chapters were pretty short and there was a lot of twists and turns throughout the book, so basically once Scarlett and Julian got into Caraval, it was pretty much full on right until the end. I loved all the twists and turns throughout the game, it made it feel more real, that it wasn’t simple for Scarlett to find Tella, she had to really work for it.

I also loved all the world building, through the book you get a real glimpse at the history of Caraval, and that just added to sense of mystery and intrigue about the game.

The ending was mean! Just when I thought everything was going to be wrapped up and everything would be okay, that ending happened and now I just need to know what’s going to happen next!

I don’t really want to say much more as I could being getting into spoilery territory soon, so let me just say that it’s a beautifully crafted, wonderfully written story, with amazing characters and an incredibly vivid and engaging setting. Magic practically drips off the pages, so if you love vivid worlds, magic, interesting and complex characters and incredibly pretty writing (plus a gorgeous map!) then this is the story for you! I’m so excited to see what happens in book 2!

My Rating: 4/5

My next review will be of my current read The Crown’s Game, so stay tuned for that!