Serena’s Review: “The Rithmatist”

"The Rithmatist"Book: “The Rithmatist” by Brandon Sanderson

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, May 2014

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

Book Description from Goodreads: More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

A “New York Times” Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2013.

Review: Full disclosure: Brandon Sanderson is one of my all-time favorite authors. I think I’ve read almost everything he’s ever written, which is actually saying a lot as the man is known as a speedwriter. He published 2 novels just this year! And is writing another series that is made up of 900+ page books at the same time! I think he may have no life? Another fun fact, I got to meet him last year at a book signing here in Minneapolis!

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First and foremost, Sanderson is known for creating elaborate, unique magic systems. No lazy wand waving here! Rithmatics is comprised of a complicated system of chalk diagrams, essentially. As I was listening to the audiobook, each chapter would start with the narrator describing one diagram or another, all based around a system of circles. It was a bit challenging to picture it all: 9-point circles based on inscribed triangles, 2 point ellipses, jagged lines used for attacks, etc. But then, when clicking to hear the next chapter one time, I noticed that on the cover image it included illustrator information. *sigh* So, this was probably not the best book to be listening to as an audiobook. Live and learn! Considering that, I’m even more impressed by the fact that the narrator was mostly successful with these descriptions and that by the end of the book I had a fairly good understanding of the whole thing.

Essentially, Rithmatists are able to “activate” chalk drawings to accomplish different tasks. A circle is for protection, certain jagged lines can be used to break through circles, and you can draw “Chalklings,” little creatures who can be instructed to perform certain tasks, such as protecting a circle or attacking a circle. In school, Rithmatists will hold duels to practice these skills with the end goal of being prepared to guard the United Isles (in this world the United States is made up a series of islands based on state names essentially, like “New Britannia” and the “Floridian Isles”) from Wild Chalklings, vicious creatures that will attack and eat people if not warded off.

The whole concept was a very fun idea. It was even more fun to have our main protagonist, Joel, NOT be a Rithmatist, but instead a regular student who just happened to be obsessed with the whole idea and befriends a Rithmatics professor, Professors Finch, and student, Melody. This was a clever way of introducing the audience to the world, through a narrator who, while knowledgeable, is still an outsider like we are in many ways. Joel was a good protagonist, but a little flat, I felt. He seened a bit like a paper cutout version of a YA hero. Good enough, but his personality didn’t stand out to me in any really interesting ways.

However, Professor Finch and Melody were amazing! Professor Finch is the typical bumbling, wise mentor. Combine Dumbledore with Dobby and you get Finch. Wise, kindly, but not self-confident. And Melody had all of the personality that Joel lacked. An unskilled Rithatmatics student herself, Melody is also an outsider who is taken in by Professor Finch. She’s dramatic, witty, and just the right foil for straight-laced Joel. She also loves to draw unicorn Chalklings, much to Joel’s continuous dismay.

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“The unicorn is a noble and majestic creature!”

The mystery itself was good. There were a few moments towards the end where I began to think Sanderson was going to take the easy way out, and I’m glad to say he didn’t. For the most part, the revelations were a surprise.

One criticism I have, however, is that after reading this and the first book in Sanderson’s other YA series, “Steelheart” I’m beginning to think he struggles just slightly with adjusting his tone for YA. While overall I liked this book, Joel is not fully fleshed out, and in some ways this feels like a result of the author’s discomfort with writing teenage characters. The story itself suffers from a similar feeling of slight “offness.” Again, maybe a discomfort with not knowing how to tone down a story for young adult audiences? It’s very hard to put my finger on exactly what it was. But having read his other works, this just felt like slightly…less.

Overall, however, I still enjoyed this book and think it would be a great recommendation for fans of YA fantasy/sci fi.

Rating 6: Strong concept and fun story, but had a few weaknesses

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Rithmatist” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Most Unique, Original, and Interesting Magic Systems” and “The League of Extraordinary Kids.”

Find “The Rithmatist” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Court of Thorns and Roses”

A Court of Thorns and Roses Book: “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury’s Childrens, May 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Review:  Last year our bookclub read “Throne of Glass” by Sarah J. Maas. The series was wildly popular with young adults, so we were diligent and added it to our list. Long story short, I was not a fan. I’ll refrain from getting on my soapbox for that book, but I make no promises that it won’t get pulled out again later in this review! Either way, when I saw that Maas’s next book was going to be a fairytale retelling, and one of my favorites, I decided to give her another go.

Fairytale snob moment: this book is often referred to as a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling. But actually! It is more accurately retells the fairytale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” (“Beauty and the Beast” is a more recent retelling of this older story) in which a girl is stolen away by a polar bear king, and after failing to save him from his curse (in the traditional version she actually makes things worse), she must travel to an ogre queen’s castle and perform three impossible tasks to rescue her prince. It’s all quite lovely and romantic. I’ve always been particularly fond of this fairytale, especially the fact that it boils down to the prince being a damsel-in-distress who must be saved by the heroic maiden. Fun times!

So, first off, I really liked that aspect of this story. It does follow the fairytale in many ways while also adding its own creative twists. There were large segments in the middle and sections of the end where I was just breezing along enjoying the heck out of the story. Feyre is a great main character. She is flawed, but courageous. Her prejudices against fairies are given the proper amount of time to recede, and her emotional journey is believable. I particularly enjoyed a moment in the book where she has to completely readjust her opinions of her two sisters. In the beginning of the story, they are presented as the typical evil sisters that we are used to seeing in these kind of stories, and I was very disappointed that the book seemed to be going the “other women characters must be bad to make the heroine even more special” route. But, much to my surprise, this gets turned on its head in a way that is very emotionally satisfying.

The love story had the potential to be insta-love, but it was able to just walk that line enough that I bought it in the end. Your own tolerance level for that kind of thing will largely determine how successful this aspect of the story is. Tamlin is your typical hero, not much to say there, really. I honestly liked his companion Lucien much more.

But, as much as I loved parts of this book, I equally hated other parts. It was a very uncomfortable pendulum swing, honestly. I’m going to try to limit my rants, but man, some of the choices made in this book were so frustrating. First, there were small choices, like referring to women as “females,” that were so jarring that I almost put the book down.

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What is this decision? What does it add to the story overall to use this type of terminology that is so inherently dehumanizing? I mean, is it as simple as that? Some weird attempt to not use the word “woman” as a way to differentiate them as fairies rather than humans? If so, it doesn’t succeed. Especially when it is paired with another one of my biggest complaints about the book.

This might be a spoiler, but the section I’m going to talk about now ultimately has no affect on the plot, which is actually a large part of the complaint itself. Towards the middle of the book, Maas sets up this whole fairy festival which essentially boils down to Tamlin being “taken over” by magic until he’s a sex-crazed beast who must choose from a line of fairy females to sleep with that night to replenish the kingdom’s magic. It is so awful! Pair this thought with the overuse of the term “female” throughout the book. Maas has essentially lined up a bunch of fairy women, reduced them to “females” with no characteristics other than their function as a sex objects, and had her hero lose his humanity to beast magic, then select one of these women (she has no choice if she’s selected) to breed with. And Maas go further! Having Lucien explain the ritual to Feyre as unpleasant because Tamlin “won’t be gentle.” Umm…so icky. And at the end of the whole bit, there is zero, I repeat ZERO, impact on the ultimate story by having this scene. Other than, maybe, giving Tamlin an excuse to go all “dominant” and bite Feyre on the neck when she wanders out of her room the same night as this festival. Can you say “not worth it” loud enough? Especially since he goes back to being the sweet, caring love interest the reader is used to the very next day and for the remainder of the book. The whole thing is just gross.

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And sadly, this type of weird sexual objectification continues towards the end of the story with Feyre herself. I’ve always loved the ending of the original fairytale with the heroine attempting to complete her three impossible tasks. And, again, when this story is sticking to these origins, it’s very strong. I loved the tasks that were set up and Feyre’s struggles with them. So, why?! Why do we need to introduce what I can only assume is going to be the third character in the seemingly required love triangle, Rhys? A character who, even while helping Feyre through the tasks, in the mean time, has her dressed in lingerie each night, has her entire body painted so that he can tell if anyone else touches her, refers to her as his property, and then drugs her with fairy wine so she loses her senses and seductively dances in front of the entire fairy court and sprawls around on his lap. Again, I say, why?! What does any of this add to the story? Maas has already set up the fact that this court is terrible, and that Feyre is suffering getting through these trials. What does it add to have this element?

And, as these books can never just be stand alones, there is going to be a sequel, which this book sets up to strongly feature Rhys. Ugh. And this is where my main problem with this type of love triangle lies. Love option one: a man you’ve grown to love over months of time spent with him, someone who has proven his love to you through self-sacrifice and respect, and a person who you’ve now literally gone through hell to save. Love option two: a man who has, sure, helped you out a time or two, but in repayment has forced you to become his “love slave” essentially for two weeks every month for all eternity, and has dressed you up, drugged you, and humiliated you in front of hundreds of people. Yeah. Those are equal options. How could she ever choose?! It’s obnoxious. And yes, I see the clever Persephone/Hades thing you’re setting up there, Maas. It’s not cute.

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Ok, that was long. All in all, I was more upset by the fact that at times I was thoroughly enjoying this book. Honestly, if you just took out these bits I’ve mentioned you’d have a kickass fairytale retelling that I’d probably be raving about. But these other parts kept hitting like buckets of cold water being repeatedly dumped on my head throughout the story. Very disappointing.

Rating 4: The bad parts were a 1, but the fact that there was so much potential and parts I truly enjoyed, I bumped it up. Sadly, I couldn’t get past these flaws.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Court of Thorns and Roses” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Retellings of Beauty and the Beast”and “Best Books about Faeries.”

Find “A Court of Thorns and Roses” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Other Side of Midnight”

The Other Side of Midnight Book: “The Other Side of Midnight” by Simone St. James

Publishing Info: NAL Trade, April 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: Audio book from the library

Book Description from Goodreads: London, 1925. Glamorous medium Gloria Sutter made her fortune helping the bereaved contact loved ones killed during the Great War. Now she’s been murdered at one of her own séances, after leaving a message requesting the help of her former friend and sole rival, Ellie Winter.

Ellie doesn’t contact the dead—at least, not anymore. She specializes in miraculously finding lost items. Still, she can’t refuse the final request of the only other true psychic she has known. Now Ellie must delve into Gloria’s secrets and plunge back into the world of hucksters, lowlifes, and fakes. Worse, she cannot shake the attentions of handsome James Hawley, a damaged war veteran who has dedicated himself to debunking psychics.

As Ellie and James uncover the sinister mysteries of Gloria’s life and death, Ellie is tormented by nightmarish visions that herald the grisly murders of those in Gloria’s circle. And as Ellie’s uneasy partnership with James turns dangerously intimate, an insidious evil force begins to undermine their quest for clues, a force determined to bury the truth, and whoever seeks to expose it…

Review: This book had many things going for it that fit into my preferences. Mystery: check. Historical time period: check. Dash of romance: check. All in all, right up my alley. And, for what it was, it met these expectations. It didn’t blow me away, but I enjoyed it.

Right off the bat, this book has been marketed as a gothic, ghost story. I’m not sure that’s right. This is a mystery. Yeah, there are some ghosts in it, but if you’re expecting horror, you’re going to be disappointed (also, it’s Kate’s job to read those so I don’t have deal with the nightmares!) But as a mystery novel, it does succeed. Ellie is a unique narrator and detective. She doesn’t start out with the goal of becoming an investigator and falls into the role purely from chance. But it becomes clear that she has a natural inclination, and her decisions are smart and she deals with the challenges thrown her way in a believable manner.

Often, mystery novel investigators fall into the category of “the next Sherlock Holmes.” They make wild leaps of logic, and their deductions are impossible for the reader to follow. We’re meant to just go with it and realize that we couldn’t possibly follow the thought process with our normal brains, which is what makes the author’s main character such a special investigative snowflake.Sometimes this can work. I love me a Sherlock Holmes esque character, believe me.

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Preach, Rob Lowe!

But, at other times, it comes off as lazy writing and a way for the author to avoid laying down the clues necessary for the reader to follow the mystery appropriately. This book, however, succeeds very well in this regard and provides just enough to keep the reader guessing without feeling completely lost.

I really enjoyed the psychic angle for the story. While this could fall under the category of “easy outs” like I was just ranting about a second ago, I gave this book an pass for it because of the attention given to this portion of the story. It is as much about how these different women have chosen to handle being given this gift as it is about the murder mystery. Ellie, her mother, and Gloria all handle this power in very different ways. [Insert Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.”] The isolation of this gift is fully explored, especially in the context of the time period when operating as a businesswoman alone without a husband would have been isolating on its own, psychic abilities aside. There is a fascinating bit where Gloria discusses her role as a woman in society and what it means that out of everyone, three women were given this amazing ability.

With all of these details, however, the story did feel a bit bogged down in the middle. There are frequent jumps back in time to explore Ellie’s relationship with her mother and Gloria. And while these scenes are necessary to flesh out the story, there comes a point where I just wished we could move on with the real mystery. A killer was lurking in the city! Get a move on!

I also liked the romance included in the story. It felt a bit rushed towards the end, but I was impressed by how fully the author was able to explore James’ PTSD and experiences from the war without the the ease of an omniscient third person narrator. There were moments when James edged into “protecting the little woman” territory, but I appreciated how quickly and effectively Ellie stomped down on this while remaining true to the perspective and realities of a woman living in the 1920s.

As far as the audiobook goes, I enjoyed the narrator quite a lot. They got a British narrator for the story and the inclusion of a variety of London accents helped flesh out the many characters. Full marks for the audiobook version!

Rating 7: Good mystery novel. Not doing anything super new, but the psychic angle and time period made it a very fun read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Other Side of Midnight” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Fiction set in the 1920s” and “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.”

Find “The Other Side of Midnight” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Reviews: “Magic Shifts”

"Magic Shifts"Book: “Magic Shifts” by Ilona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, August 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: After breaking from life with the Pack, mercenary Kate Daniels and her mate—former Beast Lord Curran Lennart—are adjusting to a very different pace. While they’re thrilled to escape all the infighting, Curran misses the constant challenges of leading the shapeshifters.

So when the Pack offers him its stake in the Mercenary Guild, Curran seizes the opportunity—too bad the Guild wants nothing to do with him and Kate. Luckily, as a veteran merc, Kate can take over any of the Guild’s unfinished jobs in order to bring in money and build their reputation. But what Kate and Curran don’t realize is that the odd jobs they’ve been working are all connected.

An ancient enemy has arisen, and Kate and Curran are the only ones who can stop it—before it takes their city apart piece by piece…

Review: So, now that we’re all caught up with the “Kate Daniels” series, let’s jump right in to her next challenge! Life in the suburbs! I feel ya, Kate. Shockingly, Kate and Curran are not exactly ideal neighbors now that they’ve chosen to abandon living at the Pack fortress and have bought a home and property in suburbia. Curran’s habit of turning furry and huge and Kate’s late night excursions are most unwelcome.

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Ew. Shapeshifters.

Curran seems to have been helping Kate with her usual tasks of cleaning up the city. Even more of a chore, now that she has “claimed” Atlanta as her own territory in an attempt to save it from her power-mad father, Roland. But, of course, something must go wrong and their friend, werebison Eduardo (I told you every creature that was ever imagined is in this series!) has gone missing and some new big bad is in town with a score to settle.

After having taken a break from this series for about a year and now jumping back in, I kind of forgot what a madhouse this world is! I mean, this book is comprised of not only a werebison, but the family drama of a werebison/werebear relationship, evil unicorns, a pegasus, and, count them, three giants! What is this book?! Fun, that’s what it is.

Kate is her usual snarky, badass self which is always the primary joy for me with this series. It was also fun seeing Curran outside of his role as the Beast Lord. In a lot of ways he was the Robin to Kate’s Batman in this book, which was a fun change from the usual Pack politics drama that he had been tied up within from the last few books. At the same time, it seems like he will now be running the Mercenary Guild, so he might fall back into the same type of position, just with another group. This probably makes sense for a character like this. Too much Robin is no one’s favorite thing. One book of it was probably enough!

Several of my favorite characters were noticeably light in this book, which was too bad. Saimen and Derek barely showed up. But we did get to meet Martha, a werebear who is the alpha of Clan Heavy. She was only there for moments, but I love her already. There was also a delightfully awkward family dinner with Kate, Curran, Julie, and Roland.

Roland’s all: “Family bonding time!”

Kate’s all:

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As far as the villain goes…meh? It was another new creature, and all in all it was an interesting concept. But at the same time, now that Roland’s on the scene, stories like these feel more and more like filler. And, not only did we not get a real showdown there or much progress beyond an info-dump at Applebee’s (Roland’s restaurant of choice??), Kate didn’t seem to even enhance her abilities in any way that could be read as progress towards that inevitable clash. So that was too bad.

That said, I still enjoyed this book for what it was: a quick foray into a messed up Atlanta that I’m sure as heck pleased NOT to live in. Though, I’d take the pegasus.

Rating 7: On par with my rating of the series over all

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Magic Shifts” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Badass Female Leads” and “It’s All About The Swords!”

Find “Magic Shifts” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Series Review – “Kate Daniels” Series

Kate Daniels SeriesA couple of years ago, I went on an urban fantasy binge. Urban fantasy, as a genre, has been very hit and miss for me. On paper it looks like something I would love. In reality? Most of what I’ve read has been fairly “meh.” There are a couple of series, however, that have caught hold and Ilona Andrews’ “Kate Daniels” series was one of them. Her newest book, “Magic Shifts” was published last August with the next in the series is coming out this September. I’ll be reviewing “Magic Shifts” soon and definitely have her newest on my mental list of books to look forward to this fall. But there are like 7 books in this series before this point! In lieu of an exhausting, and frankly, likely boring, review of each and every one of these books, I’m going to combine them all into a mega series review! We’ll see how this goes!

Books: “Magic Bites,” Magic Burns,” “Magic Strikes,” “Magic Bleeds,” Magic Slays,” “Magic Rises,” and “Magic Breaks” by Ilona Andrews*

Publishing Info: Ace, 2007, 2008,  2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014

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

Review: This series takes place in post-Shift Atlanta sometime in the near future. The Shift, a near apocalyptic event where magic suddenly re-entered the world, occurred years before and humanity is still adjusting to what this means for the world order. Suddenly there are shapeshifters, vampires, ghouls, and who knows what else running around the world wreaking havoc on the ordinary folk. The government has adjusted accordingly and attempted to set up systems to maintain order. One piece of this system is the Mercenary Guild. Its name is self-explanatory. Some creepy critter shows up, people can hire a mercenary to take care of it. Kate Daniels is one of the best, and this series is her story.

Throughout the series, Kate explores the mysteries of her past, while saving the day and forming close relationships with a ragtag group of other mercenaries, shapeshifters, vampire controllers, mages, etc, etc. Basically, she knows everyone in Atlanta. And, per typical urban fantasy requirements, there is a strong romantic element in her growing relationship with the Beast Lord, Curran, who is a werelion and the alpha of the Atlanta shapeshifter pack. Steaminess ensues.

What makes this series stick for me in ways that other urban fantasy series did not is our heroine, Kate. The spunky, snarky, warrior woman in these kinds of books is a well-trodden trope. However, Kate stands out not only in her consistency and general ability to avoid making ridiculous, self-sacrificial, dramatic decisions (per other frustrating heroines in series-that-shall-not-be-named), but also in the genuine evolution of her character throughout the books. While there are weaker books in the series than others, and there are moments where she falls into these stereotypes, overall, Kate learns from her mistakes, accepts who she is, and doesn’t devalue those around her, their feelings, or what they can contribute to her cause.

Curran, also, works well as the romantic lead. There are times, especially in the early books, where he plays a bit too much into the classic “alpha male” role which didn’t rub me the right way. But over the course of the series, he, too, evolves as a character and becomes a strong partner for Kate. And, even at his worst, he still acknowledges Kate’s independence and does not interfere in her adventuring ways.

There does come a point towards the last two thirds of the series where I call relationship shenanigans. Up to this point there had been the usual relationship set-up drama, but at this stage in the story, Kate and Curran were firmly an item and had worked through many of their issues. And then. And then!

Enough, I'm tired of your shenanigans

The wedge that was used to insert drama into their relationship felt very contrived. Both Kate and Curran behaved out-of-character, in my opinion, and it was all highly disappointing for a series that had handled its core relationship so competently up until this point. Luckily, this gaffe only lasted through the one book and things have returned to normal since. During this section in the series, it felt like Andrews was coming up against a sort of wall, having gotten her couple together and fleshed out many of Kate’s familial mysteries. She did recover, however, and I am happy to report that the next few books were on par once again.

When I said earlier that Kate knows everyone in Atlanta? Yeah, I meant everyone. There are so many characters in this series! And most of them are tons of fun. A few of my favorites are Aunt B, a werehyena, Andrea, a sharpshooter merc, Julie, a street kid with magical flare, and Saiman, a….who knows what really? But he snarks at Kate and makes her uncomfortable and is fun all around. And there are many, many more! This is both a plus and a minus. As the series continues, it becomes impossible to spend enough time with all of these great characters in each book. One book will spend extra time with one or two and only have brief appearances from the others, and vice versa. So, depending on which characters you like, and how much page time they get in each book, there can be a dramatic difference in your enjoyment of one book in the series as compared to another. Luckily, if you’re just there mostly for Kate, like I am, you’re good to go the whole time.

Each book also seems to live and die by its villain. Some are stronger than others. There are some genuinely creepy magical beings in these books. But, in general, the creativity of the world and how civilization has adapted to all of the craziness is what makes this series so fun. I burned through the first 3-4 books in this series in a matter of weeks. I’m not sure I would recommend this approach, as aspects of the stories became a bit too familiar from one book to the next. But it can’t say anything too bad that I was invested enough to fall into that trap in the first place. If you like urban fantasy, definitely check out this series, and look out for my upcoming review of “Magic Shifts” where Kate beats up on some giants!

*Can we take a moment to ask why urban fantasy novels have such terrible names and covers? I mean, look at those things! Sigh.

Rating 7: Fun urban fantasy lark. You know what you’re getting, but it’s the good kind.

Reader’s Advisory: Since this is a series, it’s not really on a list, per se. If you liked this series, however, I would recommend the “Mercy Thompson” series by Patricia Briggs and “October Daye” series by Seanan McGuire.

Find the first book in this series, “Magic Bites,” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Morning Star”

Morning StarBook: “Morning Star” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey, February 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied – and too glorious to surrender.

Unavoidable spoilers for “Red Rising” and “Golden Son.”

Review: This is it! The final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy. For me, from past experience with YA trilogies, the last book is what makes or breaks the series. And sadly, more often than not, they fall in the category of “breaks.” I’m looking at you “Allegiant” and “Mockingjay.” But not so with “Morning Star.” It’s good, guys, it’s really good!

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Yes! Nailed it!

“Morning Star” picks up pretty much where “Golden Son” left off. Darrow has been betrayed and captured by his enemies. Cue pain and suffering. It goes without saying that eventually he is rescued, otherwise there would be no book here, so I don’t think I’m spoiling much by acknowledging that yes, he does eventually escape. But only after his confidence has been shaken. This book is the culmination of Darrow’s journey towards leadership. One of my complaints from “Golden Son” was Darrow’s tendency towards over-confidence and arrogance. In this book he has to re-make himself and discover what it is that he really has to contribute to the uprising. It’s no longer as simple as “Darrow: magical leader fighting guy.” His journey through this book is so incredibly satisfying.

All the right character beats are hit exactly. And moreover, not only do we get more time and character expansion for favorite characters from past books (Sevro, Victra, Mustang) but yes, even more awesome characters are added, like the Queen of the Obsidians. I can’t write this review without dedicating at least a few sentences to my girl, Mustang. This series has come so far from its roots where I was skeptical as to the treatment of the few female characters. In this, Mustang comes into her own as equally important to the success of the revolution as Darrow. They’re the definition of a power couple.

Believe it or not, the world building expands even further in this final book. It’s incredibly impressive how creative, well-thought out, and organized this massive world is. We get to spend time in a variety of new settings and, specifically,  the politics of the Obsidians and Moon Lords are more fully explored.

The most impressive part of this story, for me, is the fact that Brown doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of a revolution of this nature. Darrow is forced to make heartbreaking compromises and, in the end, his “rising” looks much different than the one he imagined as the idealistic sleeper spy from book one.

My few criticisms of the book: I mentioned in my review for “Golden Son” the odd balance Brown strikes between writing shocking revelations and dealing with the boundaries of a first person narrative. There was some improvement in this area, but ultimately, I still found some of these reveals a bit awkward in the context of how the reader is viewing the story. I’m starting to think that Brown could also make it as a screenwriter given this tendency. There are also several grand speeches (ala “Independence Day” style) throughout the book which are easy to picture going over well in a summer blockbuster. Perhaps a few too many, honestly. However, it is ultimately saved by a couple of self-aware jabs at Darrow’s tendency to speechify which play well for humor’s sake.

Ultimately, I think that Brown nailed the landing on this one. While the end was slightly predictable, Brown’s complex world, engaging characters, and talent for writing fast-paced, exciting action scenes make this book (and series) a must for sci-fi lovers.

Rating 8: Highly enjoyable. Am waiting for the movie announcement to come any day! How could it not?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Morning Star” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century” and “Best Grimdark.”

Find “Morning Star” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Golden Son”

Golden SonIn anticipation of my up-coming review of the recently released “Morning Star,” the final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy, I thought I would go ahead and post reviews for the two previous books in the series. Just so we’re all caught up and ready for what promises to be an action-packed conclusion! Here’s my review of the second book in the trilogy.

Book: “Golden Son” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: Bought

Book Description from Goodreads: With shades of “The Hunger Games,” “Ender’s Game,” and “Game of Thrones,” debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation.

“Golden Son” continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart.

Inevitable spoilers for “Red Rising.”

Review: Oh, look! Publishers have now added “Game of Thrones” to the list of books this series resembles! Except for space. And a color-based hierarchy. And set in the future of our current world. And a single, first person narrator. Wait…

“Golden Son” starts with a significant jump in time. This was very unexpected. As the series was initially marketed as young adult, it is usually customary for the story to pick up immediately where the previous book left off. However, for this series, I think it really works. “Red Rising” ends with Darrow being fully accepted into the Gold society, triumphant after his overthrow of the battle school system, and moving on to the next level of his training under the tutelage of his nemesis, Nero au Augustus. I suspect that Brown may have caught on to the lessons learned by “Catching Fire:” readers don’t necessarily appreciate “Sequel: Battle School 2.0.” So the decision to skip the majority of Darrow’s time going through this process is not only unexpected but appreciated. We are introduced to a recognizable, but extremely more confident and assertive Darrow who has fully come into his own without needing to experience every growing pain along the way.

The downside of this decision is that readers are immediately plopped into the middle of a very complex story. There are new characters everywhere (this isn’t helped by the use of difficult, Roman-inspired names like “Victra” and “Pliny” who are hard to keep track of). The story is also much more firmly set within a science fiction landscape. While “Red Rising” was considered a science fiction work, the majority of the plot took place on the planet and in an environment that resembled Earth in many ways, advanced technology aside. This story takes place in space with a capital “S.” There are battles between space ships, scenes set on different planets and moons, and space jumps similar to the kind seen in the 2009 remake “Star Trek.” If you were hoping for more sci-fi, Brown delivers.

Darrow remains an interesting protagonist. There are a few times in this book, however, where he makes decisions and acts in a way that, as a reader, you’re just shouting “Darrow, noooo!” It’s like when you’re watching a horror movie and you just know that that character shouldn’t go down into the basement. Why won’t they just listen to good sense? And Mustang? Mustang is the good sense Darrow doesn’t listen to. My concerns from the previous book regarding the use of female characters are addressed here. Mustang continues to be my favorite character, and there are several other female characters introduced who play vital roles to the story. Victra, especially, is a great addition as a scathing, broken Gold who, clearly against her will, befriends Darrow.

One other odd bit: the book is written in such a way that it seems like it would be an effortless translation from page to screen. However, the types of revelations that come naturally to film play oddly within the structure of the book. There is a moment later in the book when a shocking plot point is introduced in a way that feels a bit unnatural. It should, and does, come out of left field for those around Darrow. But we’ve been living in his head for the past 200 pages with no reference to this information, even though facts that tie into it have been mentioned often. So it reads like a great movie reveal. But it’s weird when you’re reading a first person narrative where information should be as known to the reader as it is to the narrator (unless the author is writing an unreliable narrator, but that’s not the case here). The plot point is fun, it’s just the way it’s introduced that feels strange.

“Golden Son” expands Brown’s world in every way. The reader’s understanding of how this society operates and spans a solar system is grown and the political mechanisms at work to sustain such a web are fully explored. A final downside? Cliffhanger alert. But, luckily, “Morning Star” was published early this year, so that’s a relief.

Rating 7: Very good, slightly lower than “Red Rising” due to a challenging balancing act between so many new components and character motivations

Reader’s Advisory:

“Golden Son” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Picks: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2015” and “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2015.”

Find “Golden Son” at your library using WorldCat!