Book Description:Bard and fighter Liobhan is always ready for a challenge. So when news arrives at Swan Island that the prince of Dalriada has gone missing after an assault by both masked men and the sinister Crow Folk, she’s eager to act.
While Liobhan and her fellow Swan Island warriors seek answers to the prince’s disappearance, the bard Brocc, Liobhan’s brother, finds himself in dire trouble. His attempts to communicate with the Crow Folk have led him down a perilous path. When Liobhan and her comrades are sent to the rescue, it becomes clear the two missions are connected–and a great mystery unfolds.
What brought the Crow Folk to Erin? And who seeks to use them in an unscrupulous bid for power? As Liobhan and Brocc investigate, it will take all their strength and will to continue pursuing the truth. With the safety of their loved ones in the balance, the risks they must take may cost them everything.
Review: This was another of my highly anticipated reads for this fall. Overall, I haven’t loved this trilogy as much as I did the “Blackthorn and Grim” trilogy that preceded it. But that’s kind of been my experience with Marillier’s work recently. I tend to really like one trilogy and then be less thrilled with the next. For example, I didn’t love the “Shadowfall” trilogy that came before “Blackthorn and Grim” as much as I did that one, either. So, on and off it goes! That said, I’ve always enjoyed Marillier’s work in general (I’m doing an entire series of reviews of all of her books, for heaven’s sake!), so I was excited to see how she concluded this trilogy.
About a year has passed since the events of the last book, and everyone is more or less where we left them. Liobhan is training a new recruit to become a Swan Island warrior, balancing her relationship with Dau who is now located on the mainland from the island. The two’s untraditional arrangement is only allowed due to this distance and the fact that they are not allowed to go out on missions together. But when a prince of the realm goes missing, and Dau is sent out to locate him, Liobhan finds this distance challenging. All the more so when they begin to suspect the involvement of the Fae, an area of expertise much more for Liobhan than Dau. Brocc, for his part, is living in the Fae realm with his young daughter and Fae wife. But his secret work with the Crow Folk draws tensions in this small family, and soon enough Brocc finds himself walking a lonely path.
I really liked this conclusion. There were a few things about it that really stood out. For one, Brocc’s story became more compelling. He was the character I struggled to connect to the most in the previous books, but here, his storyline becomes much more important. I was also relieved to see the direction the story went with his relationship with Eirne, his Fae wife. In my review of the second book, I was fairly scathing towards this relationship, and I was relieved to find here that that dislike on my part was justified and clearly part of Marillier’s overall plan.
The Crow Folk have played a big role in the series so far, but it’s also been very unclear what they are and why they do what they do. Brocc has slowly uncovered pieces of their story up to this point, but here he really dove into it. There was some really interesting magic and backstory involved, and I really liked the direction it went.
We also saw the return of my beloved Blackthorn and Grim. Naturally, the two play only very small roles, but I’ll take any crumbs I can get as far as those two go! It was fun to see some familiar locations and to get a closer look at what their lives look like now, so many years after the end of their trilogy. The one downside here was the fact that it did only remind me how much I preferred these two to these main three characters. Blackthorn, especially, was an excellent character and far out shown Liobhan, Dau, and Brocc.
I was also pleased with Dau’s story. There were some loose ends that seemed a bit strange in the second book but were solidly tied up here. There were a few instances in Dau’s story that felt a bit to contrived, with people and clues showing up right when they needed to, but I still enjoyed his arc and the resolutions of his ongoing family drama.
Liobhan probably fell the most into the background, which did make me rather sad. Her story was still good, but this was definitely more the Brocc/Dau show. Luckily, I think she’s the strongest character of the three, so her storyline was best able to take a hit in the plot department and still be compelling based solely on her characterization. I thought that the romance between her and Dau was done pretty well, though I do wish these two hadn’t be separated for quite so much of the story.
Everything else was kind of what we’ve come to expect from Marillier: very atmospheric writing, a strong reliance on stories with stories and folklore, and a solid, heartfelt conclusion. If you’re a fan of this trilogy and Marillier’s work, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one.
Rating 8: Overall, this wasn’t my favorite set of books by Marillier, but this was a strong conclusion to the hole and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
“A Song of Flight” is a new book, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. Funnily enough, it’s on this one: Julie, Julie, Julie.
Book Description: At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .
Review: Yep, definitely couldn’t wait until September to read this one! But I also wanted to time my review in a better manner than just randomly throwing up here three months before anyone can get their hands on it. I’m not a monster to torture you all like that! Sadly, there is still several weeks left before it’s available even posting it now. But I wanted to give everyone plenty of time to get their pre-orders in early, because, yes, it is that good.
El, Orion, and their friends have successfully helped the previous class graduate with (hopefully) few casualties. This year it will be there turn. But as they prepare, a grueling ordeal of classes and a killer (literally) obstacle course, it becomes clear that their actions last graduation are having a ripple effect on the school itself. Things are not behaving as they should, and El is frantic to find a way to save this small group of people who have, shockingly, become her friends. As her relationship with Orion grows as well, despite the warning from her mother, El begins to realize she will need to chart her own course, even if it’s one totally unexpected.
So, obviously, I loved this book. I was a bit nervous (really only the tiniest bit, since Naomi Novik has never let me down yet!) when I heard that this series had been conceptualized as a duology but then was extended into a trilogy. For further insight into my thoughts on this strategy, see my scathing review of “Blood & Honey.” Luckily, this series had a few things going for it that made this type of extension not only possible, but supremely enjoyable.
First, I’d probably be happy enough to just read a non-fiction style textbook about the world that Novik has created here, especially the Scholomance itself. The first book had some massive infodumps (I remember being several chapters in and coming up for air only to realize that practically no action had taken place), but this book proves that Novik was only scratching the surface of her imagination. Here, we get even more details about how the school was created, how it runs, and how it functions as an individual entity with “intentions” and “will” of its own. We also looked closer at the divided society that makes up those with magical abilities in this world. The “haves” and “have nots” are starkly divided, and we see how this happened, how it continues, and how it’s not really good for anyone.
The other thing that makes this “extender” book work is the characters. They’re all so very real and compelling. El, of course, is a masterpiece of a main character. She’s very human in her flaws, her only partial understanding of herself, and her will to keep moving forward and adapting even when the world, quite literally, is against her. As a narrator, she’s also hilarious, with witty observations of the world and those in it that had me cackling out loud more often than not.
The supporting characters are equally good, especially Orion himself. In the first book, he was very much portrayed as a “Harry Potter on steroids” type savior character. Here, we still have that. But we also get a closer look into how this image of himself has shaped Orion’s worldview and value of himself. There were a few reveals here that really fleshed him out. If I had any criticisms of the first book, it might have been the fact that we seemed to only scrape the surface on what makes Orion tick. But that was fully rectified here and in some truly interesting ways.
I also love the romance that continues to develop between El and Orion. It was very believable in its slow crawl of progress. Even better, it was clear that while it was important to each of them, their romance didn’t consume their attention or lives. Indeed, it’s very much a secondary consideration at almost every moment. I can’t say how much I appreciated this presentation of a teenage love story, or any love story, really. Yes, love makes the world go round and all of that. But other things, people, and important decisions exist as well, and filtering everything through the narrow lens of one’s current love affair is by no means healthy (or realistic.)
This book is again heavy on the descriptions of the world/magic and lighter on the action. But that said, there was more action in this book than the first. It builds steadily towards a very tension-filled climax. Major warning here: there is a serious cliffhanger at the end of this book. Much more so than the first. So if you’re the type of reader who can’t stand that sort of thing, you might want to hold off until the third and final book comes out. Heaven knows, I couldn’t hold out even two days, but there are stronger people than me out there! Fans of the first book are sure to love this one and now I’m back, once again, anxiously waiting for the next installment.
Rating 10: I loved it so, so much. My pre-order has been in place for months now.
“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: “Wolfskin” by Juliet Marillier
Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2004
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Eyvind can think of no more glorious future than becoming a Wolfskin, a warrior devoted to the service of the mighty war god Thor. His closest friend, Somerled, a strange and lonely boy, has his own very different ambitions – yet a childhood oath, sworn in blood, binds these two in lifelong loyalty. Meanwhile, far away across the water, on the Light Isles, the king’s niece Nessa is beginning to learn the ways of the mysteries – though neither the young priestess nor her people can realize what lies ahead for them.
Eyvind and Somerled seem set to follow very different paths: one becoming afearless servant of the Warfather, the other a scholarly courtier. Then a voyage of discovery, led by Somerled’s brother Ulf, brings the two friends together again in accompanying a group of settlers to some beautiful islands rumoured to lie across the western sea. However, their good spirits are dampened by a tragedy on board, which Eyvind begins to suspect may not have been an accident.
Ulf’s new settlement begins in harmony with the native islanders, led by King Engus. But one day, on a trip to a holy place of the Folk, a brutal murder occurs and that peace is shattered. It is now that Eyvind begins to feel the restraining ties of his boyhood oath…and to realize what sort of future Somerled had in mind for himself all those years ago.
Review: There really is no rhyme or reason to the order in which I’m picking the books I read for this series. The “Sevenwaters” series was an obvious starting point, but I’ve been jumping around ever since. However, I do remember that this book was the first of her books that I encountered where she used multiple POVs. All of the “Sevenwaters” books, her “Wildwood” YA duology, and a few of the other stand-alone she has are all told from a single, female perspective. So it was kind of a shock to start this one and find more than one narrator. More so that we were ultimately getting both the man and woman’s perspective from the eventual romantic pairing.
Eyvind and Nessa grow up in very different worlds with very different futures. Eyvind trains to be one of the legendary Wolfskin warriors who go out into the world and fight great battles. His reserved friend Somerland also has plans for his future, but they begin to look less and less familiar to Eyvind as they grow. For her part, Nessa leads a quiet life learning the ways of a wise woman, hoping to continue forward on the bright path set before her small community. But the seasons turn suddenly, and both Eyvind and Nessa soon learn that both of the futures they had set before themselves perhaps were not the ones they were meant to find. Soon, each must learn for themselves the great truths to be found in love, loyalty, and friendship.
First off, I really like the cover for this book. It’s sequel, “Foxmask,” has an equally beautiful cover. Both perfectly fit the overall tone and mythic quality of the stories held within. Marillier is also known as a huge dog lover, so it’s only fitting that few canines also great the cover.
Like I said before, this was the first of Marillier’s books that I encountered that featured dual narrators. And, for the most part, I enjoyed it here. Perhaps due to my expectations going in, that it would again be a single, female POV, I did find myself connecting a bit more to Nessa’s character. However, I will also add that in the long, long list of Marillier’s heroines, Nessa is not one of my favorites. Instead, she falls in similar company with Sibeal and Paula, heroines who were fine for the most part, but not particularly unique or likely to stand out in my memory.
I did like the magic that accompanied Nessa’s storyline. While we’ve seen seers plenty before, Nessa’s magic had some unique aspects to it. I enjoyed the connection to the selkie and the legends that surround magical water creatures. The tools she goes on to use as the story begins to wind down were interesting in their history and implementation.
Eyvind was of a bit more interest, perhaps simply because of the novelty of a male POV. But his story also involved a lot more change and a more established arc that covered the entirety of the book. Yes, some parts of it were highly predictable. And yes, those predictable twists and turns did make the early Eyvind a bit hard to tolerate in his naivety and trusting nature. But in some ways this same trusting nature helped draw a stark contrast between him and his friend Somerled. In some ways, I enjoyed the exploration and downfall of this friendship than I did the romantic relationship between Nessa and Eyvind.
Overall, while this isn’t on my list of favorite Marillier works, it does stand well enough on its own. I enjoy the setting, featuring Vikings and northern European myths and legends. Readers who enjoy multiple POV stories might even appreciate this one more than others. I’ve simply always preferred one narrator, so I’m a tough sell on this type of story. That said, it’s still a worthy entry and a solid recommendation for readers who enjoy mythic fantasy stories.
Rating 7: Not a favorite of mine, but a nice change of pace from the Irish setting and magic system.
Publishing Info: Henry Holt and Co., September 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: Following the destruction of the City of Mercy, an ancient god has been resurrected and sealed inside Beru’s body. Both are at the mercy of the Prophet Pallas, who wields the god’s powers to subjugate the Six Prophetic Cities. But every day, the god grows stronger, threatening to break free and sow untold destruction.
Meanwhile, far away from Pallas Athos, Anton learns to harness his full powers as a Prophet. Armed with the truth about how the original Prophets killed the god, Anton leads Jude, Hassan, and Ephyra on a desperate quest to the edge of the world. With time running out, the group’s tenuous alliance is beset by mounting danger, tumultuous romance, and most of all by a secret that Anton is hiding: a way to destroy the god at the price of an unbearable sacrifice. But the cost of keeping that secret might be their lives—and the lives of everyone in the Six Prophetic Cities.
Review: This has been a hugely popular series over the last year or so. While I didn’t actively dislike either of the books, I also could never quite figure out what the big deal was. Mostly, my inability to strongly connect to the characters is what held me back, an extremely subjective experience if there ever was one. But I did enjoy the second book more than the first, so I was happy enough to go into this, the final book in the trilogy.
Things are coming to a head. With a powerful god contained within her, Beru’s future is tenuous and fraught with danger, as she and the god can be wielded to terrible effect. For their part, the others are on a quest of their own, eager to find a way to hold their fraying world together. Anton, alone, knows what this same hard-fought success might cost them. But trials await in every form, both the physical challenges set before them and the emotional bonds that build, fray, and tighten between them all.
So, very like the second book, I did end up enjoying this book more than the first. I think most of it comes down to the characters I found myself most drawn to in the first book. For me, Hassan’s story was always fairly dull, and I didn’t connect very strongly to his storyline or character. So the first book, which featured him heavily, worked less well for me. But in these last two, he largely drifted into the background. Perhaps even more so in this book than in the second.
For the second part, there were characters who were barely introduced in the first book that I found in reading the second, and now the third, were a few of my favorites. Beru, for one, had very few chapters in that first book, but she’s always been a favorite of mine, so I enjoyed these last two books more for seeing more from her. Here, her story very much comes to the front. Containing a powerful god will do that for a character arc! I found her entire storyline over the three books to be very satisfying, and the resolution to her story was appropriately profound.
I also liked the romances that developed. Jude and Anton have been fairly precious since they were first hinted at as a pair in the end of the first book. But I admit, I’ve been more invested in the enemies-to-lover romance that develops between Ephyra and Illya. As Illya is only really introduced in book two and quickly joined Ephyra as one of my favorite characters, it only goes to show that these last two books had more of what I was looking for. I liked how both of these characters truly operate in shades of grey (sometimes outright black!). Many authors talk a decent game about writing morally grey characters or anti-heroes, but then when it comes down to it, any/all bad stuff is either off page or completely justified (like self defense, etc.) I appreciated that true darkness that was explored in both of these characters.
Overall, the trilogy definitely ended on a higher note than it started, and I’m glad I stuck it through until the end. Fans of the trilogy will surely be pleased, and if anyone’s been lukewarm on it so far, I still think this is a satisfying conclusion.
Rating 8: A trilogy that got better as it went along, I was happy to finish this one off on a high note.
Book Description:‘Help me turn the coffin lid over.’ Jane Tennison said, grabbing one end.
‘What you looking for?’ Doctor Pullen asked.
‘I want to see the condition of the interior lining.’
‘The right hand on the body has a broken fingernails, some are worn down to the fingertips.’ Doctor Pullen informed them as they gently turned the lid over. The mouldy white satin lining was torn and hanging loose at the head end. Jane gently brushed it to one side revealing deep fingernail scratch marks on the interior metal.
‘Oh my God,’ Tennison exclaimed. ‘She was buried alive.
In Unholy Murder, Tennison must lift the lid on the most chilling murder case of her career to date . . .
Review: I won this book in a giveaway not really knowing that it was number seven in a series, but, here we are! I was mostly intrigued by the fact that it was a series featuring the character Tennison best known from the TV show. I also like a good crime novel every once in a while (Kate and I both read the “Temperance Brennan” series on and off though we haven’t reviewed them here). So I was excited to find another book in that vein, all the better since I can likely find audiobook versions read by people with lovely British accents, given the location! Let’s dive in.
Jane Tennison is back on the case. This time she arrives to find a recently-discovered coffin at the site of an old convent. Inside, the remains of a nun. But what should be unsurprising is suddenly awful when it becomes clear the nun was buried alive. Now Tennison must work to uncover the truth, attempting to wheedle out the truth from the reluctant Catholic Church, made all the more difficult from her partner’s past connection to the Church. But nothing can put Tennison off the case, and slowly but surely, the past will be unburied.
Like I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t read any other books in this series before picking up this book .Worse, I’ve only seen one or two of the episodes of the original show and none of the new show (didn’t even discover there was a new show until I went down a research rabbit hole). All of that to say, I still did fine without any real previous knowledge of the story. Like many police procedural books, there were perhaps some character connections and histories that I missed out on, but the story itself is started, centered, and concluded around this particular crime.
The crime itself was interesting. Being buried alive, I think, is pretty much anyone’s nightmare, so the horror was already built in right there. It was also a bit timely to be reading this book right now given the ongoing revelations about crimes within the church. I thought the book did a decent job of unpacking the “circling the wagons” nature of the Catholic Church while also not demonizing the entire belief system.
I also really liked both of the characters we had here. DCS Barnes, a completely new character to me, was particularly interesting with his past history with the Church. I liked that La Plante didn’t shy away from showing the biases that are inherent even to investigators who are meant to look at crimes through as objective a lens as possible. It’s simply not possible for a person not to bring their own baggage to some of these scenes, so it was nice to see the author give her characters these natural flaws.
I also enjoyed the time period that this book was set in. For some reason, I had assumed it would be a modern story, but I guess that doesn’t make much sense given the fact that it’s based on a TV show from the 90s I believe. The story itself is set in the early 80s, and I liked how it showed crime investigations going down without the modern tools we’re used to seeing in police procedurals today.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read a crime procedural, and it was a good addition of a series to return to now and then. The story was definitely slow, and the writing was a bit awkward here and there (perhaps a testament to the author’s original writing experience coming from screenplay work rather than novel-writing). Fans of the series, I’m sure, will enjoy this. And those who enjoy police procedural stories are likely to appreciate it, too.
Rating 7: A bit slow and fumbling at times, but ultimately an enjoyable change of pace for me.
Book Description: In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.
As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.
The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost
The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told
The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide
Review: The book description immediately drew me in on this one, sounding very similar to “The Night Circus,” one of my favorite stand-alone books. But then it continued and started sounding too much like yet another “Six of Crows” knock-off. I swear, the minute any summary starts listing characters as “The ‘thief/assassin/master/etc.'” I now immediately become suspicious. It could have went either way, so in I dove!
Kallia has always been ambitious, dreaming of more than just her small act in a local club. So when a competition is announced to find the next headliner for the Conquering Circus, she jumps at the opportunity. Fleeing alone through the woods, she briefly escapes Jack, the owner of the club. But safety is not to be found in this new city as her fellow competitors begin to fall prey to disappearances and mysterious accidents. But Kallia knows of no way but forward, and with the judge of the competition brooding in the shadows, Kallia begins to find she has more than one reason for sticking it out.
To get it out of the way, this wasn’t all I had hoped it would be. However, the problems I had with it weren’t due to any comparisons to “Six of Crows.” Instead, it was one of those odd reads where just enough things didn’t come together in a smooth way and left me with a disjointed and disconnected reading exerpience.
The first problem I had was with the writing itself. There was a lot of telling in this book and a lack of showing. Kallia’s abilities are highlighted on and off, but we’re essentially told she’s that much better than everyone else….just because she is. For a story that is comprised of many dark fantasy elements, scenes that just burst, sparkle, and pop from the page (she’s trying out for something called the “Conquering Circus” for Pete’s sake!), the actual prose often fell flat, and I found myself having to work hard to keep myself grounded in the story.
The pacing was also incredibly slow feeling. Again, this was a strange experience as, on paper, things were definitely happening. We have Kallia’s initial flight through the woods to get to this new city. Then her experiences in the competition itself. As well as the strange happenings when she’s home alone. Even typing it out, it sounds like it should read like an action-packed thrill ride. But instead, it felt slow and plodding. Again, I think there was just something lacking in the writing to really give the plot the “oomf” it needed to get started.
The characters were probably the best part of the book, but they didn’t stand out as especially unique. I found myself getting annoyed by Kallia’s innate “specialness” and the generous helping of arrogance that came along with this. I was marginally more interested in the two male character, the mysterious judge who is the primary romantic interest as well as Aaros, a young man who quickly becomes her best friend in this new city.
Sadly, this book wasn’t for me. There was the bones of a good story here, but I just couldn’t get into it. This is definitely one of those where one should take my rating with a grain of salt as there’s a decent chance that many of these things didn’t work for me just because I wasn’t in the right mood for this type of book. If you like fantasy and dark circuses, this still might be worth checking out. But if you were on the fence already, maybe give it a pass.
Rating 6: Just not for me with writing that couldn’t manage to draw me into the story.
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s been told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training.
Guided by his mother’s visions and committed to avenging his family, Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. But he makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission—and her life.
Review: Honestly, it’s shocking that I haven’t gotten to this trilogy sooner. So far, I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read from Sherry Thomas. Her “Lady Sherlock” series is one of my favorite historical mysteries still publishing. Her “Mulan” re-telling was perfection and everything I’ve always wanted for that story. I even enjoyed the straight-up romance novel I read from her, the genre where she got her start. So the fact that I’m getting to her YA fantasy trilogy last is pretty strange, given my general reading preferences. What can I say? Part of me was probably saving it since I fully expect to love it to pieces.
Iolanthe was just going about her business, summoning lightening and all of that, when the Prince barges in informing her that she’s some sort of prophesied savior of the world, meant to take on the powerful tyrant that rules over their world. For his part, Titus has always known this day was coming. His mother foretold it long ago and told Titus to be on the look out, as he is meant to guide and protect this savior in their mission. But enemies are at their door, and it is all Iolanthe and Titus can do to keep two steps ahead of them. And while duty weights heavily on Titus, he finds his foretold future harder and harder to bare in the face of his growing feelings for Iolanthe.
As predicted, I really enjoyed this book. The book description, however, I felt was a bit deceptive. All that it describes is true, but there are a few aspects of the story that were big surprises. For one thing, Iolanthe is not aware of her savior status, so that is a huge part of her arc, growing to learn and accept this destiny that’s laid out before her. It also plays a major role in her relationship with Titus, since his appearance is tied so closely to her being informed that she must take on a perilous, and likely deadly, task.
The story also isn’t only set in a third-world fantasy setting. Instead, Titus and Iolanthe travel to London and spend time in the boys’ school that Titus attends there. This lead into another surprise, but one of my favorite tropes ever: Iolanthe disguised as a boy. The situation is rife with all of the humor and adventure that one would expect, and Thomas’s witty writing style is on point here. There were several laugh out-loud moments, both in clever dialogue sequences and imaginatively wacky situations. The story itself was just a blast to read.
I also really liked Iolanthe and Titus. They each felt like very distinct characters who were approaching a destiny that they shared in very different ways. Titus has known the role he must play for years; everything is new to Iolanthe. It was also nice to see that the friendship/love story that developed was paced in a more realistic way, with the road bumps and swift turns that one would expect from this situation. Iolanthe must learn to trust Titus, and Titus must learn to see Iolanthe as an individual with her own opinions and autonomy, not just a nameless, faceless “prophesied one.”
My one critique of my reading experience had to do with the audiobook version. It’s tough, because on one hand, I think the narrator nailed the humorous aspects of the story. However, the way the book works, the narration quickly and often shifts between Titus and Iolanthe. There are no chapter titles or warnings when this shift takes place, and the narrator didn’t do a lot to differentiate their voices. So there were time where I was thrown a bit before realizing that we had switched POVs. It was confusing and distracting at times, which was too bad.
I enjoyed the heck out of this book. I already bought the entire trilogy, so I think I might try to read the second one in print to see if that helps with the POV switching. But, really, the only question that remains is how long can I delay the joy of blowing straight through the next two books??
Rating 8: Action-packed, hilarious, and with a lovely slow-burn romance at its heart. Everything I like and more!
Review: I know, I know. Didn’t I essentially swear off this series at the end of my review of “Blood & Honey?” And yes, I was incredibly disappointed by that second entry, not only as its own (poorly done) work but for the extreme drop in quality from the first book which I mostly enjoyed. But…I have so much trouble escaping my completionist compulsions. That last entry is just kind of…hanging there. So here I am. And while the trilogy is in no way going down as a “must read” any time soon (there’s still no forgiving that second entry), at least I can now say that ended it on a better note than that.
Everyone was in a dark place after the great loss suffered at the end of the last book. But none more so than Lou. A girl whose brightness had once caught the attention of a grim, stubborn young chasseur is now consumed with a darkness that wants nothing more than vengeance. To Reid and their friends, Lou is barely recognizable, and they worry they won’t be able to pull her back to herself before she’s lost forever, swept up in a wave of revenge that will topple systems and countries.
So, I obviously had problems with the second book. I thought the characters were barely recognizable, and I hated, hated, the ridiculous drama that became the romance. With that, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with this third book. Lou, in particular, was set out on a very specific trajectory that had some extreme potential for crashing and burning into a fiery pit of tropes. Instead, while I think the book never climbs back to the high of the first, I was pleased to see a good exploration of important themes like grief in the face of the duties still required and the different pains and joys of found families versus those we’re born to.
The fast-paced action of the story probably helped distract me from some of my continued complaints about characterization. As the story gallops towards its final confrontations and conclusions, there is action scene on top of action scene. As we’ve seen many times before in this series, our characters again and again trip over “best laid plans” problems, with obstacles thrown in their way repeatedly. This contrivance, however, serves as more than just page filler and gets into the theme I mentioned above regarding having to keep moving forward even in the face of grief. The world doesn’t stop when losses occur; the world doesn’t care that our characters are hurting. Instead, life continues even while necessary processing and healing must happen alongside practical decisions and actions.
The relationships between the characters were also nice to see emphasized once again. I especially liked the friendship between Lou and Coco and how vital they were to one another, this small family they had made for themselves, each disconnected from their birth families in different ways. I also liked a lot of the scenes we had between Lou and Reid. Now that the series was over the hump, it was clear the author could return these two characters to the much more pleasing process of coming together (instead of the difficult-to-believe theatrics of the middle book that worked at tearing them apart).
My ultimate conclusion is that these books would have been much better served as the duology they were initially meant to be. Looking at all three, now that they have been published, it’s easy enough to see what the duology might have looked at. A lot of unnecessary angst, plot contrivance, and filler could have been trimmed, leaving behind the solid exploration of important themes, the witty banter, and a lovely romance. I’m mostly sad that we didn’t get that story. But I’m happy enough that it ended in a satisfying way. For those who have enjoyed the series so far, I’m sure they’ll be pleased with this entry. For those who were burned on the second book, I won’t say that this book justifies a return to the series, but it also won’t be a monumental regret if you choose to complete the trilogy.
Rating 7: Mostly a relief that it improved from the second book and managed to tie things together well enough.
Animorphs Graphix #1: “The Invasion” by K.A. Applegate & Michael Grant, Adapted by Chris Grine
Publishing Info: Graphix, October 2020
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: Sometimes weird things happen to people. Ask Jake. He could tell you about the night he and his friends saw a strange light in the sky that seemed to be heading right for them. That was the night five normal kids learned that humanity is under a silent attack — and were given the power to fight back.Now Jake, Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Marco can transform into some of the most dangerous creatures on Earth. And they must use that power to outsmart an evil greater than anything the world has ever seen. . . .
I’m know I’m super late at getting around to reading this, but as the second graphic novel is coming out here shortly in October, I knew I had to get on top of things now. I read graphics novels only on and off, so I had mixed feelings about this series being released in this format. On one hand, any new version of the series is amazing (how incredible is it that a cult favorite kids’ series from the 90s’ is getting re-worked in 2021??). But on the other hand, I had seen some previewed pages of the artwork and didn’t really like it. However, my unwavering love of the series won out and here we are!
Best Change: I really liked the use of color-coded dialogue bubbles for thought speak. That was always going to be one of the big struggles of adapting this series. This style also allows the thought bubbles to float anywhere in the pane, not needing to be drawn directly next to the character speaking. This gives the artist a lot more flexibility with action scenes and such. I also liked that the colors were largely coordinated to their main morphs, Jake has orange, Marco has black, Visser Three has red. I found the pink for Rachel to be the the worst though. Not only is that not connected to her grey elephant or brown grizzly later, but the pink color itself often clashed with the other color schemes of the panel in a way that the more earthy tones didn’t. I also don’t like the general, tired, “pretty girls like pink” motif that it was playing towards.
Worst Change: I’m more curious to see how this will play out in future books than it being any sort of real “worst,” but this book had some strange pacing with regards to it being “Jake’s” book. The first half of the book is so entirely told through dialogue bubbles, that I was honestly thrown for a loop when Jake began an internal narration when he morphed the lizard (somewhere around page 120). It was jarring to suddenly be in his head in that way given the way the rest of the story had played out. I wish the book had stuck more closely to a consistent internal narration running from Jake throughout, clearing marking him as the character at the heart of this particular installment. I’m really curious to see what happens with Rachel’s story in the next book. That story does involve her alone in her cat morph more often (unlike Jake who was with the group through most of this book), so there’s a better opportunity there to have the pacing be more consistent with her internal narration.
Pretty, Pretty Pictures: Like I said, one of the reasons I held out on initially reading this was my immediate dislike of the general style. I get that the characters are kids and that the story is also for a younger audience. But it’s also gruesome and tackles some serious issues, ideal for teenage readers, as well. As it is, the style reads very “kiddy” to the point that I think teenagers might be reluctant to read it (not only is this a good age group for this story, but YA is a market behemoth in the publishing industry, making tons of money for most publishers, so it’s foolish to cut off chances at cornering that reading group). As with any comic/graphic novel, the art changes slightly over time, so perhaps the style can try and lean a bit more closely to the realistic version used for the animals and aliens. On another point there, I think the mixture of very cartoon-y human kids vs the more realistic, sharp-edged drawings of the animals and aliens was a bit distracting.
I also did not at all like the red noses. I’m not sure what the point of that even was. It just reads as very old-fashioned and weird. There are a few panels where the characters almost look like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from that super old stop-motion animation. It definitely isn’t adding anything to the book, and I hope it changes.
With some more variation to noses, the art would also be helped in making the characters more distinguishable from each other. Rachel and Tobias are the obvious problem characters. Tobias will be a hawk for the majority, so that gets around it. But it’s never good when two of your characters look so similar in the very beginning of the story as you’re trying to set the stage. It also does nothing for the “Rachel is amazingly beautiful” idea if she’s nearly identical to a teenage boy character. Adjusting all of the faces slightly would also give them more room to express more complicated emotions.
Our Fearless Leader: Overall, I liked the version of Jake we saw here. I think his character looked very “boy next door” but also like the kind of kid that would be the one looked to as a leader, could be popular but is kind of just doing his own thing most of the time. As it’s “his book,” we had a number of panels that spoke to his inner thoughts without the use of dialogue, and I think they worked very well. Most of them had to do with Tom and Jake’s slow understanding that something’s wrong with Tom. We see his look of hurt when he finds out that not only does Tom not care that Jake didn’t make the basketball team, but Tom himself has quit and couldn’t care less. And, perhaps most movingly, we see the horror and sadness when Jake sees Tom break through the Yeerk’s control for a brief moment and Jake must finally admit that Tom is a Controller.
I think, overall, these moments worked very well and the art was able to convey a good deal of emotion without resorting to dialogue, either out loud or inner thought. I’ll be most curious to see how this moves forward in other books, as I feel like it was only used sparingly here and is perhaps one of the areas that could grow the most as the artist becomes more comfortable drawing these characters.
Xena, Warrior Princess: There wasn’t a whole lot of characterization given for Rachel. They never mentioned her being Jake’s cousin, so that was strange. And the contrast between her looks and ferocious fighting style wasn’t really highlighted at all. She’s lucky to have the second book as it will hopefully flesh her out more. I really hope they include the cousin bit; that’s so fundamental in the growing tension between Jake and Rachel in the back half of the series.
A Hawk’s Life: There were a few things to like about Tobias’s character here. First, his connection to Elfangor is really highlighted, as well as his immediate connection to the mission as important and something that he will pursue with or without the others.
I also like the way his eventual end, stuck in hawk form, is built up over the story. Once he acquires that morph, we rarely see him in human form, even when he’s not yet stuck. There were also a good number of lines, both from him and the others, that hinted at why he had such a connection to this form. The freedom, the escape from a world that has largely ignored, neglected and rejected him. And, of course, the back panel featuring him as a hawk is one of the more beautiful pieces of art in the entire book.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Overall, I liked what we go from Cassie here. We got to see both the barn and The Gardens, and how her connections to animals are crucial to the Animorphs’ success going forward. But, like Rachel, I felt that she, too, had very little actual characterization. Compared to all three boy characters who I think had solid defining traits early on (Jake’s reluctant leadership, Marco’s cynicism and smarts, and Tobias’s heart and discomfort with his place in humanity), both girls felt pretty weak and undefined. There’s plenty of time to change that, but it was a bit disappointing from a series that really stood out for how balanced it was in its characters.
I was also disappointed not to see any reference to Cassie’s particular skill with morphing. There was one line thrown out there about Cassie being good at it, but we didn’t get to actually see much of it. Though I guess she morphs mostly off page or behind the other characters at the farm, so there wasn’t a lot of opportunity. Hopefully we’ll see it in the second book when she demorphs and has the angel wings that Rachel specifically points out.
The Comic Relief: I really liked Marco here. I think he was actually perhaps the most well done (close tie with Tobias, perhaps). Grine nailed the combination of smarts and reluctance that was so integral to Marco’s early characterization. There’s also plenty of room given to explaining early on why he’s so reluctant. But we also see him clearly step forward when needed by his friends. And the important role he plays in balancing out Jake’s more impulsive, less thought-out moments. It’s really cool to see that, especially. Particularly how he was the most unwilling to think/talk about what had happened in the construction site, but then immediately picks up on the weirdness of Tom, proving that his mind is always working with the reality of this information, even more so than the others who, on the surface, seem to have accepted it more.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Obviously, not featured. The artwork for the Andalites though is interesting. It’s not exactly how I pictured it. There were a lot of references to the Andalites being similar in shape to deer, very slim and light on their feet. Their bodies, especially their hands, were also often referenced as being rather thin and weak. All of this was used to draw attention to the true strength of their tail blades and how important that feature was to them, thus its use in so much of their culture (shape of their ships, religious rituals, etc.) The Andalites here look much more hefty, more workhorse-like than anything. I mean, it’s fine, but still a bit weird. I wonder if Grine will slim them down a bit for Ax to demonstrate that he’s still young?
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: One of the things that really sold me on this adaptation was the fact that Grine didn’t hesitate to go there with the story. The artwork itself can make the story look very juvenile and kiddy (obviously it’s about kids and marketed to kids, but the story is much more dark than I think most would expect for what is considered a kids’ book). Right off the bat, obviously, you see what happens to Elfangor. But the real punch came with the disaster that was the Yeerk pool run, particularly their chaotic escape while being chased by Visser Three’s fire monster. There are several, several, panels that show people burning alive from his flames. It’s tough stuff, but fully necessary to really set the tone for what this story is and where it’s headed. People die. A lot.
Couples Watch!: I’m not sure if it was on purpose or what, but there’s next to no reference to Jake’s crush on Cassie. She makes her usual line early on about appreciating the boys’ walking her and Rachel home, but that’s about it. However, bless his heart, Grine definitely left in the Rachel/Tobias connection. There are several moments here and there throughout, most notably Rachel commenting that she’d care if something were to happen to Tobias when he claims his aunt and uncle wouldn’t even notice if he disappeared.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: I do think the more stocky body type worked for Visser Three’s Andalite form. Kind of wish they had made Elfangor more slim the way he was described in the book and left Visser Three as the only Andalite built in this more combative mode. I really liked the way both the alien morphs were depicted. They were appropriately huge and terrifying, really highlighting, through sheer size alone, what these young kids are up against. It was a great way of using the visual format of this version to highlight the challenges ahead.
I also want to highlight this panel:
Giving me big time “Balrog in Moria” vibes, what with the fire demon alien thing and the narrow bridges breaking and crumbling.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Right off the bat, with Elfangor’s death. It always got me in the book, too, of course, but there’s something incredibly hard about actually seeing it happen. The fact that he’s not just killed but actually eaten alive by Visser Three. All the worse when you already know the history between these two from “The Andalite Chronicles.” What kind of messed up being must Visser Three be to actually choose to eat (instead of killing/executing in a more normal, not psychotic way) an enemy like Elfangor was to him??
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Little moments that kind of go by unnoticed in the book really popped in this version. In this instance, I think of the sheer idiocy of the “just stand in front of her guys!” moment when Cassie is almost caught demorphing from a horse by the Controller!police officer. I really liked this interpretation of a moment that exemplifies how many near misses the Animorphs get away with through sheer dumb luck. The group standing there with arms around each other: “This is how we like to stand!” Great stuff.
I had a really hard time with this pick because there are so many iconic images that were so neat to see come to life on the page. A close runner up was a three-panel page of elephant!Rachel, gorilla!Marco, and tiger!Jake fighting Hork Bajir in the Yeerk Pool. It was just such a perfect image of these three in battle form for the first time (though Rachel’s grizzly is her much more iconic battle morph later on).
But I finally settled on this one:
This was the moment that started it all. It’s both powerful and incredibly sad, as it’s clear that Elfangor is near his end in the picture. The use of the bright lights coming from the box and the dark shadows surrounding them all in the construction site is a lovely metaphor for the Animorphs ongoing battle against the oppressive Yeerk regime trying to creep across the world and universe. “Do not be afraid.”
I also have to throw this one in here as it seems like a nod and a wink to die-hard fans who know the Marco/trash can relationship is something special:
Final Thoughts: I liked this book way more than I was expecting. I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised given how much I loved the original series, but I also figured that the fact that I loved the original so much was the very reason I’d struggle here. The fact that it was so faithful to the original story is probably what really did it for me.
I think there’s definite room for improvement with some of the art choices, but I also think that Grine set up the story and characters very well (with some exceptions for Cassie and Rachel, but even they were ok, all things considered). There were some really smart decisions with the colored bubbles for thought speak and the choice not to shy away from the more gruesome, dark aspects of the story.
My biggest concern is what is going to happen going forward. While I loved that the first book was given an entire graphic novel all to itself, that’s not a sustainable pace to get through all 50+ books, not to mention Chronicles and Megamorphs. This was a long book, as far as graphic novels go. And obviously one book a year would leave this series being published continuously for half a century. A more likely route would be to combine books into one graphic novel or skip unessential stories (there are a number, especially towards the second third.)
From the preview of the next one, it seems like we’re diving straight into an adaptation of just the second book, which is worrying as far as this all goes. Maybe the idea is to get through the first 5-6 and then start combining? Either way, one book a year is a hard sell for such a slow-moving series as this is. On their own, each adventure does very little to move the bigger plot forward. That works when they’re coming out once a month, but once a year? Seems like it might be hard to keep a loyal fan base invested at that pace. I guess we’ll see what the plans are going forward after the second one releases.
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!
Book Description: Brie hates the Fae and refuses to have anything to do with them, even if that means starving on the street. But when her sister is sold to the sadistic king of the Unseelie court to pay a debt, she’ll do whatever it takes to get her back—including making a deal with the king himself to steal three magical relics from the Seelie court.
Gaining unfettered access to the Seelie court is easier said than done. Brie’s only choice is to pose as a potential bride for Prince Ronan, and she soon finds herself falling for him. Unwilling to let her heart distract her, she accepts help from a band of Unseelie misfits with their own secret agenda. As Brie spends time with their mysterious leader, Finn, she struggles to resist his seductive charm.
Caught between two dangerous courts, Brie must decide who to trust with her loyalty. And with her heart.
Review: Yeah, yeah. What was I thinking? There’s an obvious love triangle right there on the cover! But what can I saw, I was lured in by good-looking heroine and the summary describing Fae courts. “But Serena, doesn’t that sound like ‘Court of Thorns and Roses?’ A book you hated??” Why yes, it does. But it also sounded slightly like “An Enchantment of Ravens,” another book with fairy courts that I happened to love. Alas, my wiser side was correct and this was a huge mistake of a read for me.
Brie is a thief. A good one, yes, but she and her sister still live on the very edge of survival, barely making ends meet from month to month. Those who can’t pay their debts often find themselves sold to the powerful and dangerous Fae, a fate that Brie hates more than anything. So when her sister is sold to pay off a late debt, Brie knows she must do anything she can to spare her sister from a terrible fate. With a dangerous mission to steal three priceless artifacts and a nebulous disguise as a potential bride for prince of the Seelie court, Brie’s task is a steep one. It’s made all the more difficult when she begins to find herself torn between two Fae men, each more handsome (and untrustworthy) than the other.
Man, even writing that description reinforced what a mistake picking this book up was. I don’t love writing negative reviews, so I often try to just avoid books that I know will be obvious misses for me. But I have recently found a few stories here and there that have managed to pull off a love triangle in surprising ways, so I didn’t want that to forever be an instant “pass” from me. But, unfortunately, this one did nothing to further that cause and instead only reinforced how much I hate that trope.
Not only do I always struggle with the very concept of two love interests actually holding equal interest at once, but it was particularly hard here. I found neither of her love interests compelling in any way. There was the roguish, “bad boy” and then the super-good, upright one. Neither had anything truly unique or layered to their characterization. There were a few reveals towards the very end that maybe, maaaayybbbeee, helped a bit. But not enough for me to change my mind from my original assessment: that this book is just “Court of Thorns and Roses” all over again, love interest arc and all.
Brie also wasn’t particularly interesting. I do love sisters books, and her strong connection to her sister was one of the better parts of the book. Unfortunately, there is very little of their relationship, as the sister quickly disappears to become plot fuel. Brie is also supposedly an excellent thief, but in the very first scene we meet her in, she makes several fairly foolish and inept choices. It’s a hard sell when the author is telling me one thing (Brie is a great thief) but showing me something very different (Brie is a hot mess).
There also wasn’t a whole lot added to the fairly typical Seelie/Unseelie dueling fairy courts theme. The Fae didn’t really read like Fae much at all, seeming more human than anything, without many of the characteristics that one usually finds with depictions of these beings (cold, capricious, etc.) And, of course, Brie is “not like other girls [Fae]” which makes her oh, so attractive to both love interests.
Towards the end, there are a very few pages that sparked my interest once again. Brie seems to finally come into her own and come alive. But pacing and plot-wise, it’s all very abrupt and then the book just…ends. I wish we’d had more of that tone throughout the entire story. As it is, it was not only too little, too late, but it felt like a very abbreviated and strange way to end the book. Almost like the author just wrote the entire duology in one go, then was told to split it into two books, and literally just chopped it in half, no other attempts at a true ending needed.
So, yes, this book wasn’t for me at all. I won’t be continuing with the duology, I don’t think, even though the last few pages were the strongest bit of the lot. I’m sure Brie will go back to being her nonsense self, and it’s too obvious what’s going to happen in the romance department anyways to spark any remaining interest. Fans of “Court of Thorns and Rose” may like this, especially if you’re wanting to read a very, very similar story. But if you’re looking for much beyond two hot guys and a love triangle, this probably isn’t for you.
Rating 5: The love triangle strikes again, this time with two bland love interests and a heroine bland enough herself to deserve them.