Monthly Marillier: “Raven Flight”

“Monthly Marillier” is a review series that is, essentially, an excuse for me to go back and re-read one of my favorite author’s back catalog. Ever since I first discovered her work over fifteen years ago, Juliet Marillier has been one of my favorite authors. Her stories are the perfect mixture of so many things I love: strong heroines, beautiful romances, fairytale-like magic, and whimsical writing. Even better, Marillier is a prolific author and has regularly put out new books almost once a year since I began following her. I own almost all of them, and most of those I’ve read several times. Tor began re-releasing her original Sevenwaters trilogy, so that’s all the excuse I needed to begin a new series in which I indulge myself in a massive re-read of her books. I’ll be posting a new entry in this series on the first Friday of every month.

Book: “Raven Flight” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, July 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: own it

Book Description: Neryn has finally found the rebel group at Shadowfell, and now her task is to seek out the elusive Guardians, vital to her training as a Caller. These four powerful beings have been increasingly at odds with human kind, and Neryn must prove her worth to them. She desperately needs their help to use her gift without compromising herself or the cause of overthrowing the evil King Keldec.

Neryn must journey with the tough and steadfast Tali, who looks on Neryn’s love for the double agent Flint as a needless vulnerability. And perhaps it is. What Flint learns from the king will change the battlefield entirely—but in whose favor, no one knows. 

Previously Review: “Shadowfell”

Review: Back when I read this for the first time, I remember being a bit hesitant going into the second book in Marillier’s YA “Shadowfell” trilogy. I had enjoyed the first one for the most part, but there were a few flags (particularly with the romance and some of the heroine’s decision making) that made me nervous to see how this story would continue to unfold over the entire two books left to complete Neryn’s story. Luckily, this book was the breath of fresh air the trilogy needed and went to prove that sometimes the second book is not only NOT the worst in a trilogy but can even help lift the series up beyond its own lackluster start.

Shortly after arriving at Shadowfell, Neryn realizes that it is her destiny to travel beyond its confines in an effort to prove herself capable of wielding the land’s powerful magical forces. To do so, she must convince four magical guardians who have always looked down with much judgement on the foolishness of humans. Travelling alongside her is her companion and warrior friend, Tali. Together, the two must travel to the furthest realms of north, south, east and west in hopes to gain these powerful beings’ blessing and lessons. But will Neryn be strong enough to convince them? And will they, like Tali, see Neryn’s beloved, Flint, as a weakness in her quest to overthrow Keldec?

There were a few things that stood out in my re-read that pointed to why I enjoyed this book so much more than the first. First off, I think the replacement of Flint with Tali as Neryn’s travelling companion works better on many levels. The romance in this trilogy as a whole is probably one of my least favorites of all of Marillier’s many excellent romantic pairings, so frankly, less Flint/Neryn interactions were a win for me. These two need to get their act together, and while they are both better here than in the first book, I still found myself often annoyed with their dramatics.

Tali, on the other hand, instead of highlighting some of Neryn’s more nonsensical moments, spoke the harsh truths that had been missing and had left me eye-rolling my way through the first book. Neryn is still often rather weak-willed and self-focused, all too willing to hesitate and dither over using her powers, more concerned with potentially moral grey areas than with saving the real people before her (or the larger rebel cause as a whole.) Gruff, tough, Tali has no patience for this type of dithering and often lectures Neryn on how Neryn’s Caller abilities are all that give the rebellion a hope of winning and that Neryn will need to harden herself to the fact that people die in wars. Tali was probably my favorite addition to the story. Not only did she say what I was thinking so much of the time, but I always like this type of rough-and-ready character who takes a while to warm up to both the reader and the other characters that surround her.

I also enjoyed the format of this story more than the first. While I like a good journey book as much as the next LOTR fan, “Shadowfell” too often stumbled in its pacing in this area to be successful. “Raven Flight” calls on another favorite fantasy trope: magical tasks. Always love these, and Marillier does an excellent job here. The Guardians we meet are all unique and intriguing, and the challenges they set for Neryn are appropriately grueling. There is one, in particular, that seems to almost break Neryn, and Marillier’s talent as a writer quite deftly portrays the dire straights that Neryn finds herself in.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this second book. It’s quite good on its own, and, honestly, the improvement over the first works to lift it even further in my estimation. I think many fans of Maillier’s work breathed a sigh of relief when this book came out, again reassured that she had not lost her touch.

Rating 8: The de-emphasis on the romance and the addition of the warrior woman Tali greatly increased my enjoyment of this second outing in the “Shadowfell” trilogy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Raven Flight” is on these Goodreads lists: Best Fantasy Books Under the Radar and Fairy Tale Fantasy with a Touch of Romance.

Find “Raven Flight” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Locke & Key (Vol. 3): Crown of Shadows”

Book: “Locke & Key (Vol. 3): Crown of Shadows” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodríguez (Ill.)

Publishing Info: IDW Publishing, July 2010

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The dead plot against the living, the darkness closes in on Keyhouse, and a woman is shattered beyond repair, in the third storyline of the Eisner-nominated series, Locke & Key! Dodge continues his relentless quest to find the key to the black door, and raises an army of shadows to wipe out anyone who might get in his way. Surrounded and outnumbered, the Locke children find themselves fighting a desperate battle, all alone, in a world where the night itself has become their enemy.

Review: I continue to find myself becoming completely immersed in this re-read of “Locke & Key”, Joe Hill’s fantastic dark fantasy horror series. I think that it had been long enough since I read it that I had forgotten some things that have been nice surprises, which is good. But even the things that I have stark memory of are still hitting me where it hurts. I didn’t remember that it’s a slow build up of actual plot progression in favor of character development, and that is made pretty clear in “Crown of Shadows”.

Dodge is making some moves in this book when it comes to trying to get the keys, though it wasn’t as much as I thought it would be. His first big plot point is dealing with the angry ghost of Sam, who is still trapped in Key House and is PRETTY pissed that Dodge manipulated him. The other is his continued quest for the keys. We are about halfway through the series at the end of this, and while Dodge does have some moments of significance here (outside of Sam’s ire), Hill is still taking his time. The biggest development is a Shadow attack on Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, in which Dodge uses literal shadow creatures to try and find the keys and take out anything, i.e. the Locke Kids, that stand in the way of that. It’s the first significant battle between Dodge and the kids, with Tyler at the helm for the most part, and I was once again enthralled with the directions Hill took this, even though I’d read it before. It’s a BIG battle, but we still don’t really know what Dodge’s end plan is, and why he wants all these keys. Again, I know that we get there, and I know that Hill is biding his time, but it just surprised me that we still haven’t gotten clarification on that, NOR have we found out much more about where Rendell fits into all of this outside of a couple sinister clues. It’s a slow burn. Hill is good at that, but I just wanted a little more clarity right now as I think it’s going to get a bit hectic, if I remember correctly.

But it’s the subplots involving Nina and Kinsey that really stuck chords with me as I re-read “Crown of Shadows”. When I initially read it, I don’t think that Nina’s plight caught my attention as much as it should have, as when I read it this time I was just shattered for her and where she is. She’s still drowning in the trauma that she has endured due to the brutal murder of her husband, as well as the violent rape committed against her during the home invasion, and now that Duncan is off dealing with Brian’s injury she is adrift with her three children, and her dependence on alcohol is far more obvious to them now. Her agony is compounded by the horrible guilt she feels as a mother who can’t give her children the love and support and protection that they need, and that sends her into an even deeper spiral, which leads to more drinking, and it just keeps cycling. Hill always covers this with empathy and care, and it never felt exploitative to me. He just knows how to tell it the right way. But then we get an interesting development involving her daughter Kinsey. When we left Kinsey in the last volume, she had used the Head Key to remove her sense of fear. We now see that playing out in two ways in “Crown of Shadows”. The first is the obvious way: she isn’t fearful of risky or dangerous situations anymore. In this volume Kinsey finds herself in a couple of dangerous situations. The first is the aforementioned shadow attack at the house, in which she is cool as a cucumber and completely unphased, while the second is when she and her new friends get trapped in a cave with rising water. While the other teens are understandably freaking out, Kinsey is casually trying to figure out a solution. She’s also a bit more adventuresome in her interactions with others, no longer insecure about being around other people. But the less obvious path Hill takes her upon has everything to do with Nina and Nina’s emotional spiral: Kinsey has absolutely no problem telling her mother what a fuck up she thinks she is, completely comfortable to unload on her whenever Nina has a bad moment. Hill ties the idea of empathy to fear, at least it seems that way to me, and that is SUCH a fascinating theme to lay out with these two women, with one who is consumed by it and one who has excised it, and how bad both scenarios are.

“Locke and Key (Vol. 3): Crown of Thorns” may have given Dodge just a little more ground in his quest to get the keys, but the lack of key movement gave the Lockes, especially the women, more time to shine. Things have to be looking up for the Lockes soon, right? I mean, I think I remember the answer to that question, but we’ll see when I go on to “Keys to the Kingdom”!

Rating 8: We get some slow plot progression and some dark but well done character development, and “Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows” continues the moving tale of the Locke Family, and those who are after them.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Locke & Key (Vol. 3): Crown of Shadows” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Coming of Age Horror Novels”, and “Graphic Novels That Are Quality”.

Find “Locke & Key (V0l. 3): Crown of Shadows” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “Another Beast’s Skin”

Book: “Another Beast’s Skin” by Jessika Grewe Glover

Publishing Info: GenZ Publishing, November 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: When Neysa, a market trader from Los Angeles, rents a cottage on the coast of England, she would never have imagined the secrets she would uncover and a new world beyond this one.

In befriending a family in town, Neysa learns that they are emissaries from a fae realm, charged with keeping guard of the volatile Veil between realms. And the four crystals that kept the Veil secure have gone missing.

In a race to protect the realms, Neysa must learn about the new world she’s been thrust into and uncover the secrets in her blood. Luckily fae guardian Caderyn and his cousin are willing to help Neysa in her quest. But even if they can get the crystals back, there may be great consequences for the future of the fae realm.

Rating 5: I requested this book a while ago from NetGalley, mostly because of the beautiful cover and the promise of a good Fae story. I’ve had a hard time finding one that I really enjoy for quite a while now. Frankly, I’m having a hard time thinking of one I’ve enjoyed more recently than “An Enchantment of Ravens” which I read several years ago now. Alas, this was not to be the one to break that streak.

When Neysa quits her home of Los Angles to spend time in a remote section of England she does it only with the mind to clear her mind and heal her heart after her recent divorce. Quickly, she befriends a local family. But as she grows to know them better, she uncovers mysteries beyond her wildest dreams. Soon enough, she’s drawn into a brewing conflict between two worlds and begins uncovering an untold history of her own past. And while the danger escalates, Neysa begins to realize that her injured heart may be ready to love again.

I knew almost immediately that this book wasn’t going to be it for me. It’s always such a disappointment when this happens. A slow start or an uninteresting leading character can grow and change as a story develops, so while disheartening to start with, I don’t necessarily count the book out with just that. Alas, stilted, poor writing is almost never to be recovered from and this book had it in spades right from the start.

There was an abundance of a “telling” style of writing, with readers bluntly informed how they were meant to feel about certain characters and their relationships. Scenes would jump from one place/time/plot to another with absolutely no transition. Very little attention was given to describing the setting or atmosphere of any particular scene. And the magic system was a garbled mess. At one point, a character sprouts wings and this is never commented on further. Can all Fae do this? How does this even work in what before this point had seemed a fully human body? Obviously, as a reader of fantasy fiction, I’m happy enough to bend the laws of physics, but I do need a bit more effort done to make it feel as if the author hadn’t simply plopped down bullet points of fairies she found from Google.

The pacing was also very off-putting, seeming to crawl at certain points and then jump immediately into the action at others. There is no time devoted to carefully cultivating the relationships between the characters, and the romance suffered most from this. There is a love triangle (sigh) and most frustrating of all, the author resorted to creating situations where her heroine is sexually harassed as a way to create drama and force “romantic gestures” from said love interests. I absolutely hate this tactic, and if I hadn’t been already feeling pretty poorly about the book before, this would have been the final straw.

This book ultimately seemed as if it were in sad need of editing. I don’t like comparing books to fanfiction because I’ve read so many excellent fanfiction stories that have writing as good as if not better *side eyes this book* than actual published works. But that was the comparison that came to mind: lack of effort in world-building, juvenile tactics to build romantic drama, and clunky writing. I always hate writing reviews that are as harsh as this one has been, but I truly did not enjoy this book and was so, so disappointed, especially by the romance.

For those who do enjoy love triangles and Fae stories, this may, may, be something that interests you. But I do think there are better examples out there. Even books like “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black that I didn’t personally enjoy would be better. At least that one was well written.

Review: A big let down, worst of all falling into terrible tropes of using sexual harassment as a romance-building tool.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Another Beast’s Skin” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Everything Fae.

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