Serena’s Review: “Iron Gold”

33257757Book: “Iron Gold” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Previously Reviewed: “Red Rising,” “Golden Son,” and “Morning Star”

Review: I absolutely loved the “Red Rising trilogy. It was epic in every sense of the word: a sweeping landscape that sprawls across the entire galaxy. An intimidatingly large cast of characters whose political machinations were challenging (in a good way!) to keep track of. And a story driven by one man’s quest to begin a revolution that would shake an entire world order. But in Darrow’s success, and the trilogy’s success, where is left to go? Many, many places it turns out!

From the get go, “Iron Gold” sets out to be its own story. It’s been ten years since Darrow’s revolution, and yet he, his comrades, and his civilization are still at war, both with the remnants of the old system who seek to bring back their own ways and privileges, as well as with those in their own fledgling government who struggle to direct this new world order from within a different political and societal perspective.

The narrative is also split between four characters. Alongside Darrow, we have Lyria, a Red girl who grew up on a “freed” Mars where all is not as well as they had been promised when her family and their colony were brought up to the surface from the mines below. Back on Luna, an ex-solider-turned-thief struggles to find meaning in an existence void of his fiance who died years ago and finds himself caught up in an underbelly mafia that might be more than he can handle. And far on the out reaches of the galaxy, Lysander, the exiled heir apparent, drifts along until he unexpectedly finds himself pulled into a revolution of its own.

Both of these tactics, the expanded POV cast and the time jump, were managed extremely well. Not only was it a great choice to set the story 10 years later, but by splitting the narrative, “Iron Gold” was freed up from some of the constraints that were beginning to niggle at me back in “Morning Star” when Darrow’s hero complex and habit of speechifying was just beginning to annoy me.

Here, not only do we have the three other characters, but Darrow is very much a changed man from the hopeful, conquering hero that we saw at the close of “Morning Star.” Through him, Brown tackles complicated issues surrounding ongoing warfare, the effects to the psyche on career soldiers, and the simple truth that winning a revolution doesn’t magically deliver up a new world freed of the systemic social classism that was at the heart of the old one. Darrow doesn’t know how to come home, and his discomfort while there, surrounded by friends, his wife, and his son, is palpable. Further, Brown gives us a more complicated Darrow. No longer is the reader assured that however morally grey Darrow’s decisions may be, that of course he is on the right side of this issue, he’s going to save the day! This Darrow is operating in a world where the black and white issue, upending the Gold class system, has already happened. But Darrow’s own legend has become  a burden and throughout this story I often found myself questioning not only his actions but his justifications. Darrow almost becomes an unreliable narrator, and I loved it all.

This discomfort and moral greyness carried over throughout much of the series. While the first trilogy was in many ways a simple mission with the good guys saving the world, this book challenges much of what we took for granted before. Through Lysander, we see a young man who was torn from the only life he had been trained to and cast out into the wilderness. Alongside him, we see the fallout of decisions that were made years ago to support Darrow’s revolution, but had their own catastrophic consequences on other parts of the galaxy and felt by other people. I enjoyed Lysander for the most part, but I also struggled with his decisions towards the end. While I understood them and why he, specifically, would choose as he does, this discomfort of both rooting for AND against a character at the same time was challenging.

Lyria, growing up in the slums on Mars, highlights the fact that winning a war isn’t all that is needed to save a downtrodden people. She and her family are essentially refugees on their own planet, forgotten by the very people who set out to save them who are now caught up in the “bigger picture.” Yes, that big picture is important, but through Lyria, we see the very real image of a revolution that is still actively failing the vulnerable. Lyria was the one character who was entirely sympathetic, and I loved all of her chapters.

Ephraim, the Grey solider-turned-thief, was almost the most “Darrow-esque” character of the whole lot, at least as far as you can judge from the original trilogy. Which is funny, since of the four, he’s also the one most in the wrong throughout the book. But through him we had much of the action and adventure we had in the first series. More jokes, less brooding.

There was also, of course, the return of many characters from the first book. Most notably, Sevro is right along Darrow for much of this ride. I loved that for all of his craziness, of the two, Sevro was by far the more balanced individual, able to carry the trials of war more lightly, and, most importantly, still able to retain a healthy, loving relationship with his wife and children. His wife, Victra, was probably my favorite character in the book for the simple fact that she had a battle suit fitted for her 8 month pregnant body and didn’t let it slow her down one bit.

The biggest disappointment, however, was Mustang. Not in anything she does, but by the simple fact that she has very little page time in this book. It’s not unexpected, considering her role as Sovereign, but I still wish we had more from her. I did enjoy the conflict that arose between her and Darrow. They are on the same side, obviously, but Brown masterfully illustrated the fact that a ruling Sovereign and a general on the front lines might still find themselves in very different places and making very different decisions, even when reaching for the same goal.

This is clearly the first book in a trilogy (?), and while many of the storylines are wrapped up well enough for the book itself, there are just as many ongoing challenges that are only made worse in this first book. Things go pretty badly for almost everyone involved and it definitely seems to be heading towards a “darkest before the dawn” type place. Further, given this book’s willingness to confront the moral quandaries and grey zones of warfare, it feels like less of a given that all will end well for our heroes. As we’ve seen here, winning the battle doesn’t get you very far if you don’t know how to live without fighting. And what’s more, what is the line in a war to save a galaxy? And are you even saving it to begin with? This book challenges its readers in ways that the original trilogy did not, and that is one of the highest marks in its favor. If you’re a fan of the first series, definitely get your hands on this one soon! But make sure to browse through those first few books again first, cuz, man, there are A LOT of characters and connections that I had to try and remember as I went along!

Rating 9: Darker and more complicated than the first, but just as excellent, especially with its expanded POV character cast.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Iron Gold” is a new book and isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Sword and Laser Sci-Fi.”.

Find “Iron Gold” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Beneath the Sugar Sky”

27366528Book: “Beneath the Sugar Sky” by Seanan McGuire

Publishing Info: Tor, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Beneath the Sugar Sky” returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

Previously Reviewed: “Every Heart a Doorway” and “Down Among the Sticks and Bones”

Review: I read and loved the first book in this series of novellas, had complicated feelings about the second, though still largely enjoyed it, and was counting down the days until I could get my hands on this one (even better, I got it early so I was able to do away with my “counting calendar” before the madness really took over).

“Beneath the Sugar Sky” introduces us to Cora, yet another girl who has been unwillingly returned to a world where she feels she no longer belongs. New to the Home for Wayward Children, she is just beginning to make friends with the others around her and beginning to understand the far-reaching and complicated network of other worlds that children have traveled to and from for years. But, like them all, she wants only to find her door and return as soon as possible. Instead, what she finds, is a girl who has traveled to this “regular world” with one goal and one goal only: to resurrect her mother, Sumi, who died so tragically way back in the first book.

First off, I loved the combination of introducing a completely new character and world through Cora, but also directly tying the plot to the action from the very first book in the series, and using this contrivance to more naturally bring in characters from the first two books with whom we are familiar and enjoy. I particularly loved the surprise appearance of a past main character and exploring more fully the world she loves.

And that was another great thing! We got to visit multiple fantastical worlds in this book! I always love adventure/quest stories, and that it was lovely following our band of strange heroes through various worlds and seeing how they reacted/experienced each of these worlds. We know that the worlds choose children who are natural fits for those worlds, so seeing those characters out of place in a strange new world was very interesting, highlighting how “high nonsense” worlds would have a negative impact on characters who are more aligned to “logical” worlds. And how the world itself could actively resist those rules being pushed upon it.

Alongside some returning characters, the two new faces are Cora and Rini. Cora, our main character, was an excellent addition to a ever-growing pantheon of characters who push against conformative exceptions of society that make quick judgements of who a person is. In this particular story, we see Cora dealing with the judgements based on her weight. Her athleticism, particularly in the water, was continuously dismissed before she finds her own door that leads to a water world where she goes on adventures as a mermaid. There, in the freezing depths, her extra layers and strong, poweful body are an asset. So, here, returned to a world that sees only a “fat girl,” Cora is struggling to re-assert the powerful self within her.

While I did like the exploration of the judgements and insecurities that Cora deals with in this aspect, I was also a little underwhelmed with its resolution. Namely, there never was much of a resolution to speak of. Throughout the story Cora remains insecure about the judgements she assumes others are making about her. At the same time, she knows her own strength and begins to see how truly in-tune her own world was to her particular strengths. But she also finds ways to use those same strengths in other environments. However, I felt that this particular thread was left a bit hanging in the end. The plot itself was resolved, but this arc seemed to just peter out without any true revelations, either on Cora’s part or on other’s.

Rini was very fun, being the first “native” other world character we’ve seen. It was fun watching her character travel through the book with a “nonsense” perspective on everything. So far, we’ve only seen children from our world who, while particularly attuned for one world or another, understand that strangeness of it when compared to our “real world.” Through Rini, we see a character who has grown up in one of these strange lands and understands its rules and history (there was some great stuff with a creation story here) as as “obvious” as we consider our own world’s rules and history.

This was an excellent third story to McQuire’s Wayward Children series. While some of the internal conflicts weren’t resolved to the extent that I wish they had been, I very much enjoyed her combination of new worlds and characters with familiar faces. Further, each book seems to build upon the last as far as the mythology and connection between all of these various worlds. Even more fun, the characters themselves are learning right along side us! For fans of this series, definitely check this one out. And for those of you not on this train yet, get on, but start with the first as it’s a “must read” to fully appreciate this on.

Rating 8: Whimsical and dark, but coming up just short on a few of its character arcs.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Beneath the Sugar Sky” is a newer book, but it is on this Goodreads list: “2018 Queer SFF Releases.”

Find “Beneath the Sugar Sky” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Hazel Wood”

34275232Book: “The Hazel Wood” by Melissa Albert

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Review: I judged the book by its cover. And the cover is beautiful, so I picked it up. Also, dark fairytales, a mysterious family history, travel between worlds, and this book sounded right up my alley. And while pieces taken outside of the whole were enjoyable, I found myself not as enamored by this one as I had hoped.

Alice and her mother have been running their entire lives, pursed by nameless, faceless, bad luck. That, and from the mystery and cultish fervor that swirls around Alice’s grandmother who is best known for writing an obscure book of fairytales. Other than flee when bad luck arrives on your door, Alice knows there is one rule: don’t interact with fans of her gradnmother’s book. But when her mother disappears, Alice has no choice but to turn to a fan and fellow classmate, the only one who will believe the strangeness involved. And neither are fully prepared for what they get: perhaps those fairytales weren’t fiction after all.

Part of my struggle with this book was due to the fact that it was simply incredibly slow for the first half of the book. It’s not a monstrously long title by any means, but half of a book is still too long to take to get to the meat of the story. There’s quite a lot of build up to Alice’s mom’s disappearance, and then, afterwards, it takes even longer somehow for Alice and Finch to get into the actual magical aspects of the story. This was even more frustrating because it didn’t seem that this extra time was spent building anything. Alice and Finch, early in the story, have already bought into the concept that there are magical elements at play, so it’s not character development that necessitates the slow movement. Further, there are about three or four mini adventures that they go through before even getting out of the city which felt like three or four more than were needed.

This slow beginning also had the unfortunate effect of making me begin to dislike Alice herself. Since the story goes some interesting places with her character in the second half of the book, the fact that the slowness of the first half had already damaged my enjoyment of her was pretty unfortunate. Yes, Alice had a non-traditional childhood and one that was made up largely of isolation and instability. And the author lays the groundwork for her anger early in the story. But all of that given, she’s just kind of a mean person a lot of the time which made it hard for me to become invested in her emotional arc. Like I said, there’s a payoff for some of this in the end. But I do think the slowness of the first half is directly responsible for the fact that damage control had to be done at all. Had we more quickly gotten into the actual story itself, there might have been less time for me to wallow around thinking that Alice was just kind of being a bitch to a bunch of people most of the time.

In the second half, things do pick up, and it was here that I found much of my enjoyment of the story. I loved the fact that the author fully embraced the darker side of fairytales. Throughout the story,  we get to hear some of the stories that were in Alice’s grandmother’s collection, and they are perfectly pitched as darkly creepy and strange, without any clear moral or predictable pattern. This just makes it all the more shivery when the characters and worlds themselves begin to come to life.

Readers’ mileage for this part of the story could also vary. There’s a lot of mystery and obfuscation. Characters withhold information simply because they can. There are definite elements of “Alice in Wonderland” with the strangeness, nonsense, and bizarre mini scenes that Alice travels through. I enjoy nonsense fairytales, and I especially liked the darker aspects of this one. However, I can see how it could read as disjointed and, again, hard to connect to for some readers. Even I struggled a few times with the strange juxtaposition of classical dark magical elements with other very modern references. It was definitely jarring at times, but by this point I was so relieved to have the story picking up that I didn’t mind.

This book was very hit and miss for me. There were parts of it that I absolutely loved (the fairytales themselves, most of the action in the second half, and the nice twist at the end), but I also very much struggled to get into the story. It starts slow and there were certain writing choices, just the way certain sentences were strung together, that were confusing and required me to read through twice, something I never love doing. I also wasn’t sold on Alice as a character, though I did enjoy the later reveals with her. If you like dark fantasy stories and can handle a slow start and a healthy dose of the strange, I’d recommend giving “The Hazel Wood” a go!

Rating 6:  A dark “Alice in Wonderland” where Alice is kind of a brat. But the fairytales themselves were on point!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hazel Wood” is a newer book and so not on many Goodreads lists. I’m not sure whether I agree with this classification or not, but it is included on “2018 YA Horror.”

Find “The Hazel Wood” at your library using WorldCat!

The Great Animorphs Re-read #22: “The Solution”

366790Animorphs #22: “The Solution” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the newest Animorph, is not what he appears. His need to control the other Animorphs and Ax is all he thinks about. And the things he does are starting to break up the group.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Part two was where things got real. Part three is where things get dark. Real dark. And I retreat to a hole of my own making and cry forever.

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Me: re-reading this entire trilogy (source)

Ax shows up in the middle of the night, waking up Rachel with messages of doom. David has truly gone off the deep end, Tobias is likely dead, and Jake is MIA after sending Ax to get her. They are able to figure out that David and Jake are at the mall and rush there only to find tiger!Jake unconscious and bleeding on the floor. Knowing David must be lurking nearby, Rachel takes charge and has Ax demorph to look around. Lion!David attacks her, but with some fancy gymnastic skills, Rachel is able to avoid him. In the process, David shares, again, his gross little philosophy about not murdering humans only “animals.”

The police show up and David takes off. Cassie’s parents show up as the local animal experts. Cassie’s mom, in particular, is confused since she recognizes the tiger as one from the zoo (Jake’s tiger morph original). Cassie shows up too and they are all concerned about not only Jake’s recovering but about needing him to wake up to demorph before the two hour limit. With Jake in Cassie’s (and her parents’) hands, Ax and Rachel fly to Marco’s to gather the troops, essentially. On the way there, Rachel thinks about how challenging this is all going to be, and even empathizes a bit with the frustration that Visser Three must feel: with the morphing ability, David could be anything and anywhere.

They arrive at Marco’s to find him sleeping in his bed, but as they fly in, Marco smashes Ax with a bat. It’s David in morph. He quickly demorphs and remorphs a golden eagle and chases owl!Rachel. Behind her, she is relieved to see Ax demorphing.

As David chases Rachel, he begins taunting her about killing Tobias. Up to this point, Rachel had been in a state of confusion, but with his words, she goes cold and knows what she has to do. She takes advantage of her better knowledge of her owl morph and manages to just stay ahead of David, leading him towards some power lines that he won’t be able to see with his daytime bird eyes. But just as she nears it, David manages to attack her. Just in the nick of time, David is attacked by a red tailed hawk. Tobias to the rescue! Not liking the odds anymore, David runs off. (How does David not put two and two together with this? Throughout this book, the fact that Tobias is still alive is a huge secret. Maybe David didn’t pay much attention to what kind of bird attacked him here).

Later, the group are back together. Cassie managed to jab tiger!Jake with a syringe and wake him up so that he could demorph and walk out of the vet’s office (Cassie’s mom was super freaked by the whole thing, discovering later that the tiger was somehow magically back in its cage at the Gardens and free of any injury). Marco had woken up to find David standing over him with a bat and had been tied up in a closet

They go to school, all exhausted and scared. Marco!David shows up and Cassie rushes to get the real Marco to hide. He sits with them and is his usual blowhard self, going on and on about how they should just give up now as he has their same abilities and is oh, so much smarter than them all.

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He wants them to hand over the blue box to. They refuse and David gets up to go, issuing more threats. Rachel follows, cafeteria fork in hand. Outside, she catches up with  Marco!David and warns him that if he tries to rat them out to the Yeerks that they’ll know. David doesn’t know about the Chee, so Rachel is able to convince him that the Animorphs have a source within the Yeerk organization since how else would they have known about the world summit meeting. She goes further to say that if he did rat on them, they’d still have time to retaliate and would go after his parents.

“You know, maybe you forget this sometimes, but you are a girl, Rachel.” 

“And you’re a worm,” I shot back. “Want to see who wins that fight?”

He swings at her and she neatly avoids it and jams the fork in his ear, getting her point across. After he leaves, Rachel is shocked by her own actions, especially her threat against his parents. Further, she finds herself becoming more and more angry at Jake. For sending for her in the first place, and all the implications that come with that. And the fact that he let her go after David here too, knowing what she would do, but also making her feel judged for being the one to do it.

What made me feel stupid was that I hadn’t realized I was changing. But everyone else obviously did. Jake did. When he knew it was coming down to kill-or-be-killed with David, he’d sent Ax to get me. Not Marco. Not Cassie. “Get Rachel.” 

After school, the group meets back at the barn. After grilling Marco to make sure it’s really him, the group begin planning what to do about the world summit, since they still need to deal with that. Ax privately thought speaks Rachel telling her that they are putting on a show, assuming David is in the barn listening. After they all morph birds, they discuss the real plan. Rachel compares the new plan to a game of chess where you know you’re going to lose so instead you simply throw the board across the room.

They go to the Gardens to get morphs and then head to the ocean. There’s a huge storm rolling in, so the transition from bird to dolphin in the middle of the ocean is a difficult one. Cassie’s skill with morphing helps them all make the change safely. They swim to the beach outside the resort and then put their plan in motion: morphing big animals. Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Ax go elephant. Jake and Marco go rhino. The security at the resort was pretty unprepared for a bunch of huge animals to barge out of the ocean, so the plan to wreak havoc is pulled off well. Once the big guns show up, including Visser Three, the group retreat back to the ocean. Ultimately, the storm plays in their favor, hiding them and preventing the boats from getting in close.

But as they swim away, killer whale!David shows up (a question mark here: it seems fairly unlikely that David would have been able to anticipate all of this and have a killer whale morph on hand. He also wouldn’t know what ocean animal morphs the Animrophs would use. They could have all had killer whales themselves.) David, again, starts taunting them and tells the group about Rachel’s threat to his parents. The others are silent, infuriating Rachel, especially with Jake whom she thinks is a hypocrite for letting her go after David and then seemingly judging those same actions later.

David goes after Ax, but Rachel calls attention to herself and gets him to switch to her. Just in time, Cassie shows up in humpback whale morph (she manages to slip away during all of the taunting) and scares David off.

When Rachel gets home, she hears that her cousin Saddler is likely going to die. Rachel comforts her younger sister, Jordan. Back in her room, she hears David, talking to her in morph, hidden somewhere in her room, demanding the blue box again. Rachel asks what he’s going to do with it, make new Animorphs who can do to him what he’s doing to them? He’s silenced, but she doesn’t know if he’s left or not. She avoids the shower.

With her family, she heads to Jake’s house where they’re meeting to travel together to the hospital to see Saddler. Rachel tells Jake about David’s invasion of her room and that it’s gotten personal between her and David. She also confronts him about the hypocrisy of his actions, sending her to do his dirty work and then judging her later.

They travel to the hospital where a miracle has occurred: Saddler simply woke up, completely healed. Rachel and Jake realize the sick joke that this is: David has done away with Saddler and morphed him in his place. They go to the hall to try and frantically plan, since it’s one of the few times when they’ll know where David his. But Rachel is still angry about Jake’s hypocrisy.

“Look, Rachel, every one of us has his strengths and his weaknesses.”
“And my strength is being some kind of crazy killer?” I practically shrieked. 
 
“Okay, fine, Rachel. You want to do this, fine. I think you’re the bravest member of the group. I think in a bad fight I’d rather have you with me than anyone else. But yeah, Rachel, I think there’s something pretty dark down inside you. I think you’re the only one of us who would be disappointed if all this ended tomorrow. Cassie hates all this, Marco has personal reasons for being in this war, Ax just wants to go home and fight Yeerks with his own people, Tobias . . . who knows what Tobias wants anymore? But you, Rachel, you love it. It’s what makes you so brave. It’s what makes you so dangerous to the Yeerks. I thought you’d scare David. I thought you’d say the things it took to scare him. I thought you’d say whatever you had to. And I thought that of any of us, David would be most likely to fear you.” 

Rachel responds by saying that she has a line, and she knows where it is. Jake says he has his own line, but he learned here and now that it wasn’t where he thought it was: he was willing to use his friend and cousin to do his dirty work, and apologizes.

Back in the barn, the group put on a masterclass performance for David whom they know is lurking around inside spying on them. Everyone plays their roles, with Cassie upset about Saddler. Marco taunting Rachel about being beaten, Tobias not being there and them all referencing the fact that David killed him. Cassie tells a tall tale about having Ax break the blue box down into pieces and “slips,” mentioning that Rachel was the one to hide it with her. They all go home, poor Jake returning to his house where now Saddler!David is in residence.

The next day they arrange to meet with David at a Taco Bell. David swaggers in and Rachel forces herself to not smack him, but play the humiliated and defeated role that they all figured David would want to see. David announces that he wants Rachel to lead him to the box because he was (surprise!) spying on them in the barn and heard everything. (Again, it’s so shocking how stupid David thinks they are. Even the brief amount of time he had with them, you’d think he’d have a better read on their abilities, but guess not). They head to the construction site.

Rachel morphs rat, and then snake!David threatens to bite her unless the group all morph cockroach and climb into a jar he found lying nearby. He seals them in, knowing that they can’t demorph without crushing each other. He then morphs rat and Rachel leads him into the maze.

They get one piece (a blue lego block, but the rat’s poor eye sight can’t see that), but as they head for the second one, Rachel realizes that she can small fresh air and hear a jet plane, belying the fact that they are supposed to be deep underground. David begins to put things together, and Rachel makes a dash towards the exit pipe. They wrestle and Rachel privately thoughts speaks to the others to be ready. She turns, chews off her own tail, and dashes out, just avoiding getting hit with the box lid slamming shut behind her, trapping rat!David within.

The group explain to David that they planned it all, that Tobias wasn’t dead, and then they sink into silence as David tries to talk his way out of it, saying they won, he’d just be going now.

“You tried to kill us,” Jake said. “You threatened to turn us over to Visser Three. Not to mention what you’ve done to Saddler’s family.”
<You can’t judge me!> David cried. <You’re not God!>
“David, we have fought the Yeerks for a long time now. It seems like forever,” Jake said wearily. “We are not going to let you beat us. We are going to save the human race if we can. There are larger issues . . . more important . . .”

They all leave, but Rachel and Ax. Ax to keep time. Rachel because she volunteers, saying that she can take it. After two hours, David is trapped in rat morph and they fly him out to a rock on the ocean that is known to have a thriving rat population. Later, they hear rumors that the rock is haunted and that passing boats have heard yells of “No!’ coming from the rock.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This is a huge book for Rachel. Some fans, myself included, have theorized that the action of this book (not only her own choices with regards to David, but her realizations about how the others, and particularly Jake, see her) are a tipping point in her arc and a direct point of reference for the further struggles her character goes through, particularly in the last few books of the series.

From the very beginning, it’s clear that Rachel is pretty messed up by the fact that Jake sent Ax to get her specifically. At the same time, she completely agrees with his decision. Not only because she is particularly close to Tobias, but after Marco!David tries to kill Ax and is chasing and taunting her in bird morph, she knows that she is capable of leading David to his death. Jake was right.

But what seems to be the killing blow is the fallout from her one-on-one with David where she threatens his parents. Jake allows her to go. She does her thing, knowing it needs to be done and that that’s what Jake “sent” her to do anyways, but still feeling sick about it. And then, worst of all, later when they’re all in the ocean and David begins taunting her once again and exposing what she said to the group, they all just….leave her hanging out to dry. It’s not a good look for any of them, but particularly not Jake.

I’m completely with Rachel on this. It’s one thing to send someone to do your dirty work, it’s another to leave them at the mercy of your enemy’s psychological mind games and let your silence serve as judgement. They completely abandon her in this moment. And while when Rachel and Jake are fighting at the hospital, Jake apologizes and even owns up to the hypocrisy of his actions, it’s still not enough, in my opinion.

He lays too much of it at Rachel’s own feet, and doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the entire group let her down here. Regardless of their opinions on her actions and threats, several of them (definitely Jake, and we’d assume Ax and Marco would likely agree with this too) essentially approved of what she did when she did it. And beyond that, even if they disagreed, not sticking together in this moment, letting David pick out one of them and letting it stand, is a huge breach of teamwork and mutual support. So, badly done, y’all.

Through this all, through being used and judged by her friends, Rachel still proves her own strength in several small scenes. When they are all dolphins, as is typical of her, she draws the attention of the threat away from another (this time Ax) and to herself. We’ve seen her do this countless times now, and it’s pretty unique to her character. In a very human moment, she comforts her younger sister as she grieves the imminent death of their cousin Saddler. And, most importantly, in the end, she volunteers to stay behind as David is trapped as a rat. This is the ultimate self-sacrificial move. Beyond simply staying, she tries to relieve the others’ guilt for not staying themselves, saying that it won’t bother her. She muses that some of them may actually believe that. But it’s hard to really think any of them would (Cassie is her best friend, Tobias is her…something, Jake definitely knows this isn’t true after their conversations in this book. Maybe Marco? But he seems too smart to fall for this line).

Our Fearless Leader: Another big book for Jake and his leadership skills. This book is a good look at how cold Jake has become when he begins evaluating situations and the assets in his arsenal. In this case, his assets are his friends and he’s beginning to see and use them like tools. He’s surgical, accurate, and, yes, cold. When he’s confronted by Rachel in the hospital, he seems to be almost surprised by his own actions. But, while he does apologize, it also seems pretty obvious that if he had to do it over again, he’d do the same thing. Because he didn’t make the wrong choice, even if it was one that almost broke his cousin.

His biggest mistake, I still think, was not standing up for Rachel to David when he begins coming after her while they’re in the ocean. It’s pretty unacceptable to leave a team member hanging there, vulnerable to an enemy’s jabs. Better to support her in the moment, and then, if he had qualms, confront her later. It’s even worse because the confrontation never comes, at least not on his part. He never expresses any regret that Rachel threatened David’s parents, so the judgemental silence is even worse in the moment.

In the end, Rachel also admires Jake’s leadership abilities when he makes the rest of them leave her and Ax with rat!David. She recognizes the fact that he knows he needs to spare as many of them as he can from the traumatizing scene that is about to unfold.

A Hawk’s Life: David is really terrible at counting (as is Visser Three in Jake’s book when he fails to see cobra!Marco). I mean, there are a bunch of times when David had to have been lingering around and Tobias was there in morph. Most notably, all the points during the world leaders summit mission. Flying there. As rhinos/elephants. As dolphins. Clearly David was around since he was so easily able to intercept them in his killer whale morph. So how did he not catch this? Highly questionable for some who is a self-proclaimed “genius.”

Tobias is pretty instrumental to the final plan in helping get them out of the jar. But, other than the moments when David should have spotted him, he makes himself scarce for much of the book to keep up the facade. I do wish there had been more Tobias/Rachel scenes in this book. Their reunion was nice, but too brief. And poor Rachel was left without all of her support systems it seems. Not only did she not have any scenes with him to talk through all of this, but she also doesn’t get any time with Cassie, her other primary support person.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie is on top of her manipulation skills in this trilogy! Her biggest move came during the cafeteria scene when David showed up to threaten them. She pointedly sits right next to him, reminding him that they are, in fact, people and not animals. And then talks very clearly to him about what he’s doing and the realities of trying to bargain with the Yeerks. It’s pretty slick.

Her morphing abilities are also paramount to their success with all of their morphs in the ocean during the storm. Rachel is pretty clear about how dangerous the water is and Cassie’s ability to quickly morph is one of the only reasons they manage it, with her able to be in dolphin morph to help the others. She’s also able to quickly leave, morph out of dolphin and then morph back to humpback whale during the fight with David.

In the end, she’s very broken up about what they have to do to David. But she also was the one to come up with the plan (again, probably largely due to her knowledge of animals and what morphs would work, but mostly because she understands people and could predict what David would want/do).

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up being the one to get sidelined a few times in this book. First getting attacked and left in a closet (more on that below) by David in the beginning, and then also needing to be shuffled out of the cafeteria once David shows up at school in a Marco morph. Part of me wonders if part of the reason Applegate did this was an attempt to work around the fact largely it was Marco, not Rachel, who had been set up as David’s primary rival (not only in his POV book, but Jake references the particular animosity between David and Marco several times in his book).

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax doesn’t have much in this book, other than being the second Animorph to stay behind with Rachel and rat!David. Supposedly this is because of his ability to track time. But…there are such things as watches, so I’m not sure I buy this reasoning for why Ax gets burdened with this.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There aren’t so much “body horror” moments in this book as simply “horror” moments. David’s psychotic philosophy with the supposed non-humanity of the Animorphs while in morph is just so incredibly messed up. The bat to the face that Ax takes is particularly vicious  and it’s pretty surprising that he even survives it.

And the the sheer, traumatizing horror that is what happens to David at the end of this book. It makes Tobias’s situation look like a walk in the park. But did the Animorphs have much of a choice? They had to pick an animal that couldn’t hurt them. They had to find one that they could easily contain while in morph, preventing him from demorphing. And they had to find one that the could take somewhere away from the general population (so that he wouldn’t just start thought-speaking at anyone and everyone telling them all of the Animorphs’ secrets). So, supposedly Cassie (it had to be her, right?) already knew about this rock out in the ocean that had a thriving rat population and…well, there you go. But man, it’s cold. Luckily, Applegate spares us a blow-by-blow description of the two hour time period that they’re waiting him out, but even the brief glimpses are bad enough. It’s hard to think of anything in the series that is more horrifying than this.

Couples Watch!: When Ax first shows up to get Rachel in the beginning of the book, she assumes he’s Tobias. Another indicator that Tobias probably is a regular visitor to her room. She also shares this observation after hearing about his “death.”

And yet, as I completed the morph to fly, I knew Jake had picked the right person. See, I cared for Tobias. I don’t think I even knew how much I cared till right then.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There a brief moment in the beginning when Rachel and Ax are at the mall and overhear two Controllers discussing how they know that the hurt tiger must be an Andalite in morph but that they don’t have enough Controllers on the police force. They both wonder aloud how mad Visser Three would be if they didn’t do anything….and agree to just not say anything about the whole thing. Another instance when we get a glimpse into the thought process of Visser Three’s underlings, all of whom seem to have a pretty good read on their boss and know that avoiding any interaction with him is always best.

But, again, David is the villain of this trilogy.

His biggest downfall in this entire thing is that he forgets that he’s not fighting regular teenagers, but kids who have been fighting a real war for months now. Not only are they more skilled with their morphs and know how to construct and pull off complicated missions, but, physically, they are capable fighters. Rachel’s own battle abilities were on display in the exchange outside of the school. David’s small-minded, sexist opinions of her abilities (as evidenced in the quote earlier) get him in trouble not only in that scene, but in the entire ending of the story. If he hadn’t been so firmly entrenched in his own need to validate his ego and look down on the others, he would have known better than to be tricked by their act. His sheer inability to view Rachel as the powerful threat that she is leads to his doom.

Another example of this, his inability to realize he’s not fighting normal kids, is his failure to anticipate the fact that they would anticipate that he would spy on them and to not simply buy their whole scene they put on in the barn. But it played to his ego a bit too much, and, like all ego-maniacs, he couldn’t look beyond his own assurance that he was the smartest one in the room, to realize that the Animorphs, again, have been doing this for a while and could guess David’s actions.

“See, David,” Marco said, “we knew you were in the barn, listening to our every word. How did we know? Tobias. So we played out that whole pathetic scene for you about how disgraced Rachel was. We knew you’d get so much sick pleasure out of forcing her to obey you.”

 

<All of your actions, even your emotions, were anticipated,> Ax said. <We anticipated how you would respond. So we were able to manipulate you.>

It’s also worth noting that David’s issues with Rachel largely seem to stem from a fairly insecure, sexist viewpoint. She’s the one to call him a coward in Jake’s book after he tries to turn himself over to Visser Three, and he knows that she’s widely agreed to be the bravest and best fighter in the group. And we have the quote earlier in this post when he tries to wave off Rachel as being “just a girl” when she’s not in morph. She proves that to be the load of bullshit it is pretty quickly. But his kneejerk judgements and insecurities with women are yet more nasty elements to David’s personality that were likely always lurking there before any of this happened.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the whole book?! Rachel’s arc in this is just so sad and hard to read, especially knowing the mindjob it works on her that carries on throughout the series. But I won’t go into that all again, or the horror of David’s situation at the end.

Instead, we never see the fallout of David’s decision to morph Saddler and essentially bring him back to life. And now, suddenly, he’ll just disappear. It’s unclear what David did with the original Saddler’s body. He had a longterm plan to live Saddler’s life, so you’d think he somehow must have pretty thoroughly hidden/destroyed it. Not sure about the logistics there, but oh well. So now this family that was grieving the inevitable death of their son are miraculously spared, think they’re out of the woods, and then…he’s just gone. No signs where he went. No body. Nothing. Beyond the parents and family themselves who would be in mourning, shock, etc., this had to be terrible for Jake and Rachel. There had to have been a hunt for “Saddler” for months, and the family trauma would be ever present. And there sit Jake and Rachel, knowing the truth but not able to say anything.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: For the most part, their plans are very good in this book. For one, the way they cancel the summit was the obvious route to take from the beginning. I’ve already expressed my opinions on their whole “expose to alien invasion” plan in the last book/review. For two, all told, they fairly easily predict, manipulate, and capture David. For all of their concerns, they take him out in one day, essentially. And, while so, so cold, their plan to force him to be stuck in rat morph is a simple and effective way of handling a situation that could have easily gotten a much more dark, more murder-y route.

But there were a few things that didn’t make much sense. There were several instances in this book where David has to demorph/remoprh that you’d think would present golden opportunities to the group. In the beginning, when he’s in Marco’s room posing as Marco, he has to demoprh and the remorph golden eagle to chase Rachel. It’s supposed to take around 3 minutes either way. So, here, that’s six minutes for Rachel to either do the same and get into a more powerful morph. Or to easily get out of there and disappear. Doesn’t make much sense that he gets through these morphs so quickly without the Animorphs doing something about it.

And another big one is during this same scene when Marco is tied up in the closet. Why the heck wouldn’t he have simply morphed bug and gotten out of there? This is a huge flaw since he could have easily escaped and managed to either nab David himself (during one of his vulnerable in-between morph stages) or at the very least, warned Rachel and Ax.

Favorite Quote:

At points in the book, it was almost physically painful reading David’s gloating.

<You guys made a big mistake: You got me. See, I was smarter than any of you. That’s why you lost. I’ll be more careful. I’ll only choose the kind of guys who are too dumb to do anything except obey me.>
I rolled my little rat eyes. This guy’s ego just kept growing.

But on a more serious note, one of the last chapters about the two hours during which David is becoming trapped in morph…it’s rough.

It took two hours for David to become a nothlit. A person trapped in morph. Two hours. But that two hours of horror will last forever in my mind. If I live a hundred years, I will still hear his cries, his threats, his pleading, each night before sleep takes me. And beyond sleep, in my dreams. 

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 10

I’m giving a point to the Animorphs. Partly because their plan to break up the summit meeting worked out in the end (though why they didn’t start with this is beyond me), but they managed to handle the David threat pretty quickly and efficiently, for all the inner drama of the situation. David posed the largest legitimate threat they’ve ever faced, knowing all of their secrets, but also being a human kid whom they would have a bunch of moral tangles about attacking. But they find a neat (as in “orderly”) solution to the problem and the execute their plan with exacting precision.

Rating: Simply excellent. The re-read just reminded me why I love this trilogy so much. It really highlights the very adult themes that a fairly wonky, middle grade sci fi series takes on and why these books are definitely more than they seem on the surface.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Serena’s Review: “Strange the Dreamer”

28449207Book: “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Review: This books if full of dreams and mystery. Moths and monsters. Poems painted onto a page leaving stardust in its wake, and images leaping from page to mind in a way that pulls you further in. And, while the audiobook version of this story was incredible, I spent much of my time while listening wishing and dreading that the story would unfurl faster. And, by the end, this combination of joy and dread was the perfect explanation of this book.

Lazlo Strange is a boy who grew up without a name. He has one, but it is similar to the “Jon Snows” of the world, and his childhood was that of an orphan raised among monks who finds his true home in books, and then later, in a library. (Obviously the librarian in my loved the fact that Lazlo was a librarian and that this fact, combined with his love of dreams, fairytales, and curiosity (traits that ring true for librarians everywhere, I’m sure we’d all agree) was repeatedly referenced and critical to the story.) And when he’s given the opportunity to visit the mysterious city of Weep that had suddenly cut off contact with the rest of the world years ago, Lazlo, armed with his dreams, is quick to take up the call. What he finds is much more mysterious, wonderful, and terrible than he ever imagined.

Beyond this basic plot, it’s hard to discuss much of this book due to many of the mysteries at the core of this story. I will say that I was surprised to find, about a third of the way into the book, that we were given another viewpoint character. One who was completely shocking and tremendously important to the story. But one whose history, motives, and role in this book would spoil much of it if I dug in too deep.

Lazlo, himself, was a fantastic character. It is easy to see how he falls into the roles he does and becomes generally beloved by those around him. He’s endlessly optimistic, creative, and sees the world in a way that is new and, most importantly, beautiful. And, like Jon Snow, Lazlo is much more than he seems. I was able to guess where the story was going with his character, but given the many other mysteries that took me completely by surprise, and the ones that are still remaining, this is hardly much to pat myself on the back over.

Thematically, this story covers a lot of pretty dark and grim ground. I was surprised by the levels of brutality the author brought to play, but it became clear that nothing else would do to fully realize the true horrors and terrible choices that were before all the characters involved. Both “villains” on either side of the conflict were terrible and terribly tragic. It was easy to see how each ended up where they did, and to feel the brokenness of their characters, and question what one would have done differently in their positions.

Beyond this more individual level, the story explored systematic oppression and trauma. And, the other side of the coin, the ugly side of hatred and fear, even if those feelings are based in truths. There was one line in the book about good people being just as capable of committing atrocities as the bad ones, only in the good people’s case they call those atrocities “justice.” I loved this, and it’s just one of a million examples of the careful handling of difficult subjects that Taylor covers in this story.

But, to balance all of this darkness, there is the sheer beauty of Taylor’s writing and storytelling. I’ve read other books by her, but it’s been a while and I had forgotten just how creative and poetic her writing style is. It walks right up to the edge of purple prose, looks at it, and walks forward, fully confident that it is beautiful and that that accusation won’t stick. There’s not a single falter in the entire book in this aspect. And the style of writing is just half of it. The sheer expanse of creative and lovely imagery is staggering. Taylor creates worlds within worlds and then invites readers to immerse themselves alongside her characters.

The only point that knocks this down from a “10” rating is the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger. I didn’t know going in that this was part of a trilogy, so that’s on me. But I also feel that it is possible to write trilogies without cliffhangers, and I’ve just never personally cared for them. This, however, may not be as off-putting for other readers (especially for those who know about it, or at least the fact that this is the first in a series, going in). Even with it, I highly recommend this book for fantasy readers everywhere. I think this has been marketed as young adult, but I feel like it falls pretty firmly into “new adult” (whatever that really means in the larger scheme of things). Who cares! Any fantasy fan should check out this book!

Rating 9: Dark and mysterious, full of wonder and wonderful terror. A must read for fantasy fans!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Strange the Dreamer” is included on the Goodreads lists: “Emotion Overload in Fantasy/Paranormal” and “Original Stories . . . a Breath of Fresh Air.”

Find “Strange the Dreamer” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2017: Picks 5 Through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! And don’t forget to check out our “12 Days of Christmas” giveaway that may even features a few books from these very same lists! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, five to 1. 

23909755Pick Number 5: “City of Blades” by Robert Jackson Bennett

“City of Blades” Review

This is the special snowflake of a pick because it’s the middle book of a trilogy. And that’s when you know you have something special. Without the crutches of introducing a new world or wrapping up a complete series, a middle story must stand on its own. “City of Blades” capitalizes in all of the strengths of world-building and creative magic systems given to us in the first book. But it expands on them with a deep look at the cost of war and what it means to be a solider. Add to that the fact that we have a middle aged veteran woman as the leading lady who turns into my favorite character in the entire series, and “City of Blades” is a must for this list.

32718027Pick Number 4: “City of Brass” by S. A. Chakraborty

“City of Brass” Review

“The City of Brass” has been compared to “The Golem and the Jinni,” and as someone who loved the latter, it’s quite something for me to now report that this book is even better! Especially for those looking for more magic, more action, and more complicated political and religious maneuverings ala “Game of Thrones.” I completely loved the lush descriptions of the cities (both real and magical) in the historical Middle East, as well as the brilliantly-drawn characters each exposing a new, and deeper, version of a history that is still playing out as the story progresses. I love books where I can’t decide who is right or really have any clue how this whole mess will be resolved.

31817749Pick Number 3: “The Broken Earth” trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

“The Fifth Season” Review
“The Obelisk Gate” Review
“The Stone Sky” Review

The first of what, as you will see, is a cheaty pattern of mine in these reviews: the entire series pick! But really, it’s just a way of saving you all from hearing me blather on about multiple books in a series/by an author over and over again as they fill up the entire list. But especially in this case, I feel justified. In many ways, this trilogy reads as one long book that has simply been cut into three parts. If you had the wrist strength, you could mash all the books together and read it that way and probably not notice a thing. The story takes places in a diverse world where power and privilege don’t necessarily go hand in hand, where one woman unwilling finds herself in a battle for the future, with allies who were enemies and an enemy who may too have been a victim in its own time. These books are winning all the awards and they are all deserved.

34050917Pick Number 2: “The Bear and the Nightingale” & “The Girl in the Tower” by Katherine Arden

“The Girl in the Tower” Review
“The Bear and the Nightingale” Review

It’s hard to believe that “The Bear and the Nightingale” technically came out in 2017, but it did, thus dooming me to a second (but not last) multiple-book-entry. But really, how can you ask me to choose? With both of these books, I absolutely adored the beautiful fairytale-like quality of the storytelling, the unique setting of Medieval Russia, and the haunting story of a young woman who doesn’t fit into the role the world wants of her. The first book was dark, quiet, and dangerous like a winter’s night. The second was moving, pushing, willing itself forward and through,like its young protagonist and her magical horse. They are both exquisite reads and I confident that the third book will make its way on next year’s list as well.

29939230Pick Number 1: “Shades of Magic” trilogy by V. E. Schwab

“A Darker Shade of Magic” Review
“A Gathering of Shadows” Review
A Conjuring of Light” Review

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up the first book in this trilogy! And while I have tons of side-eye for my past self’s decision making process, I also was lucky enough to blow through the first two books in this trilogy mere weeks before the third, so that dreaded cliffhanger was barely a blip for me. This trilogy had everything I could ever ask for: action, magic, world-hopping, romance, an awesome hero and an even more awesome heroine. Lila Bard is everything. Just typing out this mini synopsis is making me hanker for a re-read; maybe this will be my late Christmas present to myself! Gift yourself as well and check these books out immediately!

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2017?

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2017: Picks 10 Through 6

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! And don’t forget to check out our “12 Days of Christmas” giveaway that may even features a few books from these very same lists! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. 

33574143Pick Number 10: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The Beautiful Ones” Review

This book was the perfect read at the perfect time. Featuring a compelling mix of Regency romance ala “Jane Austen, magical mysticism, and a compelling look at the limited options presented to women in this time period and how two women’s opposing approaches to life lead to vastly different outcomes, this was a complexly simple and beautiful love story. Not only did I get a main character whom I loved to love, but I had a villain whom I loved to hate. And while I was busy hating her, I also couldn’t help but feel sorry for and understand her. The romantic hero was also both frustrating and appealingly realistic. For fans of historical romance with a dash of fantasy fun, definitely check this one out!

30969741Pick Number 9: “An Enchantment of Ravens” by Margaret Rogerson

“An Enchantment of Ravens” Review

For a book that I picked up simply based on its beautiful cover, this one blew me away. It’s as if the author knew my own person “wishlist” for fantasy fiction. Fairytale-ish setting? Check. Dark fairies/fairyland? Check. Charmingly arrogant/clueless leading man? Check. Brave, feisty, but non “snowflake” heroine? Check. Added bonus: a standalone novel that is free from the worry that somehow a perfect story will be screwed with sequels or the author will feel the bizarre compulsion to add a needless love triangle later in a series. And still, that cover!

29522966Pick Number 8: “The Beast is an Animal” by Peternelle van Arsdale

“The Beast is an Animal” Review

On the other end of the spectrum from last two picks which were bright, and happy, and complete wish fulfillment, “The Beast is an Animal” was a dark, disturbing, and at times very hard to read story. It, too, has fairytale-like themes, but ones that much more closely aligned with the very grim and morbid themes that can be found in original fairytales. But don’t let this scare you off. Not only is the writing absolutely beautiful, but this book has a lot to say about Otherness, that which we create in ourselves and that which is created for us against our will by those outside as a form of self-protection.

29939037Pick Number 7: “Skullsworn” by Brian Staveley

“Skullsworn” Review

Brian Staveley is the first repeat Top 10 author for me on this list, and there’s a good reason. His boundlessly creative fantasy world building is beaten only be his engaging characters. “Skullsworn” had the even trickier job of existing as a standalone novel set before his fantasy trilogy featuring a character who played a role (though didn’t star) in said fantasy trilogy. To all of this, he tackles complicated concepts like love, life, and faith, all through the lens of individuals whose religion’s focus is death. And man, that sounds grim, and yet I found myself routinely cackling and wanting to quote bits of dialogue out loud to my captive-audience-husband.

22817331Pick Number 6: “Now I Rise” by Kiersten White

“Now I Rise” Review

Another repeat! In fact, I think that White and Stavely simply swapped places on this list. “Now I Rise” continued the epic saga of White’s reimaging of the rise (and fall?) of Vlad the Impaler given the twist of turning Vlad into Lada, an equally troubled and powerful young woman who seeks to reclaim her homeland, regardless of others’ opinions on her abilities due to her gender. In this sequel, we also have Radu who is sent to the soon-to-be besieged city of Constantinople where he learns that there are never any winners in a war, and that his beloved Mehmed may be willing to pay a price that he, Radu, is not.

So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2016?