Serena’s Review: “Night Spinner”

45046766Book: “Night Spinner” by Addie Thorley

Publication Info: Page Street Kids, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Before the massacre at Nariin, Enebish was one of the greatest warriors in the Sky King’s Imperial Army: a rare and dangerous Night Spinner, blessed with the ability to control the threads of darkness. Now, she is known as Enebish the Destroyer―a monster and murderer, banished to a monastery for losing control of her power and annihilating a merchant caravan.

Guilt stricken and scarred, Enebish tries to be grateful for her sanctuary, until her adoptive sister, Imperial Army commander Ghoa, returns from the war front with a tantalizing offer. If Enebish can capture the notorious criminal, Temujin, whose band of rebels has been seizing army supply wagons, not only will her crimes be pardoned, she will be reinstated as a warrior.

Enebish eagerly accepts. But as she hunts Temujin across the tundra, she discovers the tides of war have shifted, and the supplies he’s stealing are the only thing keeping thousands of shepherds from starving. Torn between duty and conscience, Enebish must decide whether to put her trust in the charismatic rebel or her beloved sister. No matter who she chooses, an even greater enemy is advancing, ready to bring the empire to its knees.

Review: Another beautiful cover! It seems like I’m a broken record recently in my praise of the cover art of my books, but it’s also just true that many of them have been extraordinary! It’s nice to see original cover art that properly reflects the book itself rather than trying to brazenly mimic other successful titles in an attempt to trick readers into picking books up. I mean, I get it, publishing is a business and all of that. But a beautiful cover will do the job just as well, as many readers, myself included, will pick up titles like this because the cover is lovely and unique. The book was also marketed at a retelling of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” And because I can’t even really picture what that looks like, this was an immediate request for me!

Enebish’s life is now one of seclusion and repression, a far fall from a few years ago when she had been on the cusp of becoming a great warrior and great leader for her people. But when a horrific accident occurs, killing many and crippling Enebish, her life takes a drastic turn, leaving her hated and feared by those who used to respect her. But, after years of hiding from her own powers and ignoring the temptations of the night, she is finally given a path forward to redeem herself. As she chases down a notorious criminal, however, she learns that there are many secrets in the night, not least of all her own.

While this book wasn’t the home run I’d been hoping for, there was still a lot I ended up liking about it. For one thing (and in my book, most importantly), Enebish was an excellent character. While some of her secrets and the reveals she discovers throughout the book were easy to guess, her own process of exploring these new insights was always sympathetic and relatable. As the story progresses, we see more and more clearly that her physical injuries are not nearly as crippling as her fear. Fear of her past, fear of the judgement of others, and, of course, fear of herself.

I was also a fan of the writing style and world-building. It was the kind of book that I was able to immediately sink into. Writing is always one of the hardest aspects of a book to review because what makes one author’s style work and another’s struggle can be both very subjective to the reader as well as almost impossible to pinpoint with specifics. I can usually tell within the first few chapters of a book whether the writing is going to click for me, and right off the bat, this one did. The world-building was also interesting, and I was able to easily picture the various locations that Enebish travels to.

The romance is definitely on the slow-burn side and there were hints of a love triangle at points. Luckily, the story didn’t commit fully to said triangle and the romance itself was very sweet, what little we had of it.

My struggles had to do with the length/pacing of the story, as well as the comparison to ” The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” To the latter point, I found this expectation more distracting than anything. I can see the base elements for why this was referenced in the blurb, but frankly, in the first half of the book I spent way too much time comparing characters and events to that story and not enough appreciating the book before me. I think, as a whole, the comparison is too weak to add anything to the story and is likely to prove more distracting to readers. I recommend trying to put that thought out of your head immediately to better enjoy the book. The middle of the story also lagged a bit, and, overall, I think the book was a bit longer than what was necessary. As the writing and characters were strong, these were minor concerns, but still worth noting.

Overall, I thought this was a really interesting read. I’m not biting at the bit to get to the second one, but it laid down a decent foundation for the plot going forward, and I’m fairly invested in Enebish herself. If you’re looking for an original fantasy novel this spring, this might be one worth checking out!

Rating 7: A bit longer than was necessary, but a compelling lead character and interesting magic system pulled this one into the “win” column.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Night Spinner” is a new book, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it is on “Profiles in Silhouette.”

Find “Night Spinner” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Queen of Raiders”

45046587Book: “The Queen of Raiders” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: The soliders of Oromondo have invaded the Free States, leaving a wake of misery and death. Thalen, a young scholar, survives and gathers a small cadre of guerilla fighters for a one-way mission into the heart of an enemy land.

Unconsciously guided by the elemental Spirits of Ennea Mon, Cerulia is drawn to the Land of the Fire Mountains to join Thelan’s Raiders, where she will learn the price of war.

Previously Reviewed: “A Queen in Hiding” 

Review: It’s really fun being able to review an entire series like this, one book a month for four months to the series’ conclusion. It makes the whole process so much less painfully unsure. I can read this book, confident that any questions I still have or tension points that are left hanging will be followed up on in only 30 short days! (Well, less, because the publisher was kind enough to send ARCs.) But! Even the public has a very short wait between books, and for a fantasy series that started off as well as this one did, that’s something, indeed!

Cerulia, or Wren as we now know her, is still a queen without a home. Her quest back to her throne is by no means clear, but she is determined to find her way. In many ways, she is still learning the ins and outs of her Talent and is still coming to know her own strengths and weakness as a leader. In this book, her story converges with that of Thalen and his raiders who continue to work towards their own political goals.

This is definitely a complicated political fantasy novel. I’m in the midst of reading another book like this right now. It, too, is the second book in a series. But unlike this one, the first book came out a year ago. It took me quite a while to re-orient myself to the various players, the known (and unknown) alliances, the character motivations, etc. All this on top of the secrets and reveals that were still coming out in the book. It was a lot. This is one of the biggest strengths of releasing a series like this one after another. It’s a decision that may work better or worse for various types of books, but I think Tor picked the best option right of the gate choosing this series to release this way. All of these intricate moving pieces are a lot to keep in mind, but having the books come out one right after another allowed me to jump right into this book with very little adjustment needed.

We get most of the same POV characters that we had before, but between keeping up with Cerulia and Thalen, we also see behind enemy lines into the maneuverings of Lord Matwyck who is currently serving as Lord Regent. Through his son’s eyes, we see the corruption at the heart of Matwyck regime and the priority he places on his own power above that of the country he is meant to care for. I still continue to enjoy Thalen and Cerulia/Wren/Kestrel’s journey. It was fun trying to anticipate how their choices and actions would affect other aspects of the story, and it was great watching some storylines begin to converge (always a point of excitement for books with large ensemble casts like this).

I liked the detailed look into the effects of warfare on an entire region, not only the country first immediately targeted by an army itself. The book explores how war is a long-term disaster, one that doesn’t wrap up neatly or quickly, but instead spreads out with ripple effects touching far and wide. We also look into what rebellion looks like, both on the macro and micro level, from the organized actions of a group of raiders to the personal choices of those with varying levels of influence and power.

My one criticism of the book is one that I had in the first book, as well, and it has carried over here, too. For me, there is something a bit stilted about the writing style of the story. I think part of this is simply word choice and sentence construction. She has a very frank, and to the point, way of writing. But while this leaves a lot of room for detail, it also makes it hard to become emotionally invested in what is going on. The other part comes down to editing: a good editor could potentially identify parts of the story that could be trimmed down, giving the pacing a boost that I think it could use at times.

Overall, I continue to enjoy this series and am excited to get started on the third book in the series! I’ll have a giveaway for that title and my review coming out in March! In the mean time, don’t forget to enter the current giveaway to win a paperback copy of “The Queen of Raiders!”

Rating 7: The short wait time definitely plays in this series’ favor as the author only presses down harder on the complicated-political-fantasy gas pedal in this second novel.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Queen of Raiders” is a new book, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Upcoming 2020 SFF with female leads or co-leads.”

Find “The Queen of Raiders” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Cheshire Crossing”

42583942Book: “Cheshire Crossing” by Andy Weir and Sarah Andersen (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Ten Speed Press, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The three meet here, at Cheshire Crossing–a boarding school where girls like them learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.

But the trio–now teenagers, who’ve had their fill of meddling authority figures–aren’t content to sit still in a classroom. Soon they’re dashing from one universe to the next, leaving havoc in their wake–and, inadvertently, bringing the Wicked Witch and Hook together in a deadly supervillain love match.

To stop them, the girls will have to draw on all of their powers . . . and marshal a team of unlikely allies from across the magical multiverse.

Review: I recently went back to work after taking my maternity leave, and one of my first tasks was to weed the children’s graphic novel section. I love a good weeding project, and whenever I go through graphics I usually find a few that I want to read, and by checking them out I spare them from being culled from the collection. This was how I stumbled upon “Cheshire Crossing” by Andy “The Martian” Weir. Was I surprised that the guy known for science fiction with hard science themes and snarky humor had written a graphic novel for kids/teens? For sure. But the fact that it starred Wendy Darling, Dorothy Gale, and Alice was incredibly fascinating to me (especially since these three have been brought together in graphic form before in Alan Moore’s, erm, shall we say ‘controversial’ “Lost Girls”.).

“Cheshire Crossing” is a cute and witty mash up of three well loved characters who played rather passive roles in their initial stories. While it’s true that Wendy, Dorothy, and Alice are all important figures within the stories they are from, and have become absolutely and rightfully beloved, they all kind of have things happen to them while the people and worlds around them do the ‘doing’. They wander through Wonderland, Oz, and Neverland acting as surrogates for the reader to explore, which is perfectly understandable. But in “Cheshire Crossing”, Weir gives them a lot to actually do, special powers that they bring to their initial visits, and explores what the consequences would be if three girls came back to their usual lives after going to magical places. It’s not too surprising that they are all seen as ‘crazy’ or ‘hysterical’, and have had to spend time in asylums before coming to Cheshire Crossing, which knows that they are portals to other worlds. The idea of hysterical women, especially at the time that these books were originally written, was very common, and I really enjoyed that Weir explored how our world would have no doubt marginalized and taken any kind of agency from these girls (and something I noticed was that there was no mention of Michael or Peter Darling, which makes me think that the two boys haven’t been institutionalized). Alice especially has a lot to contend with, as her time in Wonderland wasn’t exactly ‘pleasant’. She is by far the most traumatized, and dour, of the girls, and the most interesting because of it.

The one criticism I had about this story is that not very much time was spent at Cheshire Academy itself. While I appreciated that Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy very well may be sick and tired of being taken from place and place and poked and prodded, I had hoped that we would be able to see a little bit more of the motivation of Cheshire Crossing, as the idea of a school that is teaching these girls to harness the powers that they have inside of them (as opposed to the powers that have been lent to them at their various magical visits) is really appealing to me. Instead the three girls hop from world to world, getting into more trouble and inadvertently hooking up Captain Hook and the Wicked Witch of the West. Which is, admittedly, kind of the perfect pairing. Their nanny from Cheshire Crossing does follow them and try to keep them out of trouble (and it’s very heavily implied that this woman is Mary Poppins, though she isn’t called that by name), but she was cleaning up their messes as opposed to actively teaching them how to use their powers. Was it fun visiting Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland in this context? Sure! But I also wanted the grounding of the school so that the three girls could harness their powers even more. That said, this ended on something of a cliffhanger, and therefore there may be more stories in the future.

And finally, the illustrations are absolutely charming. They are done by Sarah Andersen of “Sarah’s Scribbles” fame, and the style is dreamy and pleasing to the eye.

cheshirecrossing-1
(source)

“Cheshire Crossing” is a fun exploration of three girls who deserve a little more credit and an expansion of three well loved fantasy stories. People who love Oz, Wonderland, and Neverland will find a lot to like!

Rating 7: A very cute mash up of three beloved children’s lit heroines, “Cheshire Crossing” has some good commentary on female marginalization during the time the original books were written.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cheshire Crossing” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Women Kicking Ass (Graphic Novels/Comics)”, and “Curiouser and Curiouser”.

Find “Cheshire Crossing” at your library using WordCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Queen in Hiding”

45046606Book: “A Queen in Hiding” by Sarah Kozloff

Publishing Info: Tor Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Orphaned, exiled and hunted, Cérulia, Princess of Weirandale, must master the magic that is her birthright, become a ruthless guerilla fighter, and transform into the queen she is destined to be.

But to do it she must win the favor of the spirits who play in mortal affairs, assemble an unlikely group of rebels, and wrest the throne from a corrupt aristocracy whose rot has spread throughout her kingdom.

Review: I think I would have been interested in this book purely based on the description. Not super unique, but the kind of thing that I generally go for. But when I looked into it more, the “binge style” publication plan for the series as a whole is what really sold me: all four will be coming out within a month of each other! I love nothing more than binge watching a good show and if I’m re-reading a beloved series, I often “binge” that as well, reading all books in the series one after another. But it all still came down to how I felt about this first book, and overall…ok?

The Queens of Weirandale all have had abilities given to them as a birthright. As they age, these unique gifts make themselves known. But Cerulia’s are late in coming, not yet identified into mid-childhood. And then, even that becomes a minor concern as she is forced into hiding, now orphaned and alone. As she grows, she must discover the power within her, not only her magical abilities, but those of a leader who must now reclaim her throne.

I both enjoyed this book and struggled with it. The opening chapter is amazing. It’s only a few pages long, but the style of writing is strong and compelling, laying the groundwork for a mystery that readers long to solve and a new fantasy world that one is eager to dive into. However, in the next few chapters it feels like the brakes are laid on big time.

The book turns out to be a very slow read, spending a lot of time in council meetings and introducing a plethora of characters. This all works to make the book read like a fantasy epic, but it also fights against the time most readers need to become fully attached to a main character in the beginning of the story. We have a few chapters for Cerulia and her mother early in the book, and both are immediately interesting and hooked me in. But as the story continued, it broke away from these characters more and more often, introducing a whole host of new characters, many of whom I struggled to care about. Like I said, it made the book feel as if it was fighting with itself or was in such a rush to expand its scale outwards that it left readers without enough time to fully invest in any of it.

But whenever we were back with Cerulia herself, I really enjoyed the story. While somewhat familiar, that of a lost queen working to regain her throne against a group that overthrew her family’s reign, there were enough interesting aspects thrown in that kept it feeling fresh. I also liked the fact that the magical elements of the story are used sparingly. This is a human drama, often focusing on the political machinations of various parties on a grand scale and then zeroing back in on small, but important, moments between individuals. Cerulia’s own abilities, once discovered, are used sparingly and there aren’t many others with magical abilities either.

As I said in my notes for the giveaway, one of the more intriguing aspects of this series is the “binge-style” reading that the publisher is aiming for, releasing all four books in four months. Judging by this one, however, these will be long books. This one comes in just under 500 pages. For some readers, that could be several weeks of reading right there. So one has to be fairly invested in this series (or a fast reader) to really want to commit four months to this large series. It is reassuring to know that they will all be out (not leaving readers waiting years for news of the next installment), so even if you can’t keep up with them as they come out this spring, they will still be there when you do get to them. I will likely continue on, but I wasn’t quite as caught up as I hoped to be and don’t necessarily feel the urge to binge read them myself. You might find that you do, however, so make sure to enter to win a paperback copy of this book! 

Rating 7: A bit slow and very long, this was still an interesting start to a new series that will all be published shortly!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Queen in Hiding” is on this Goodreads list: “Upcoming 2020 SFF with female leads or co-leads.”

Find “A Queen in Hiding” at the library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Scarred”

49895887._sx318_sy475_Book: “Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, The Cult That Bound My Life” by Sarah Edmondson and Kristine Gasbarre

Publishing Info: Chronicle Prism, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In 2005, Sarah Edmondson was a young actress getting her start in Vancouver and hungry for purpose. When NXIVM, a personal and professional development company, promised to provide the tools and insight to reach her potential and make an impact, Sarah was intrigued. She would go on to become one of the cult’s most faithful (and effective) devotees. Over her twelve-year tenure, Sarah enrolled over 2,000 people and operated her own NXIVM center in Vancouver.

Of course, things were not what they seemed. As Sarah progressed up NXIVM’s “Stripe Path,” questions kept coming up about the organization’s rules and practices. Why did the organization prevent members from asking questions? Why did those who did ask questions promptly leave or disappear? These questions came to a head in 2017 when Sarah accepted an invitation from her best friend, Lauren Salzman, to join DOS, a “secret sisterhood” within NXIVM and headed to the headquarters in Albany for the initiation ceremony. Thanks to Sarah’s fearlessness as she put her life on the line, that ceremony would mark the beginning of the end of NXIVM.

In this tell-all memoir, complete with personal photographs, Sarah shares her true story from the moment she takes her first NXIVM seminar, revealing in-depth details of her time as a member, including what happened on that fateful night in Albany, and her harrowing fight to get out, help others, and heal. This is also a true story about abuses of power, the role female friendships play in cults, and how sometimes the search to be “better” can override everything else.

Review: While I didn’t watch the teen show “Smallville” on a regular basis, I watched it enough to know that I enjoyed the character of Chloe Sullivan, Clark’s BFF and fellow student journalist. Part of the charm was because of Allison Mack, who played Chloe with quirkiness and a relatable awkward bent that I really connected with back in the day. Serena watched the show regularly, however, as anything Superman is up her alley. So you know that we were texting each other like mad the night the news broke that Mack had been arrested for sex trafficking within the cult NXIVM.

giphy-1
Me at the taco restaurant that night as we dished on the downfall of Chloe Sullivan. (source)

I had never heard of NXIVM, the multi level marketing organization turned psychologically and physically abusive cult, but once this news broke I wanted to know EVERYTHING. So a podcast and a lot of article perusing later, I felt like I had learned a lot about the group and Keith Raniere, its creator, and how an actress like Mack could become a right hand confidant to a charismatic sociopath. But when I found out that Sarah Edmondson, a former NXIVM member who exposed the bizarre and disturbing ‘branding’ practices NXIVM performed on a number of women, had written a memoir about her time in the cult, I was deeply, DEEPLY interested.

Edmondson is one of the key players in the exposure of NXIVM, Raniere, Mack, and numerous others who had been brought down after the smoke cleared. A former member whose association with NXIVM was more than ten years, Edmondson finally realized how deep in she was when she found herself branded with Raniere’s and Mack’s initials. Until that point Edmondson had been, mostly, all in, but that isn’t to say that she was without some doubts before then. This memoir gives us an honest insight into her thought process while she was still with the organization and hoping to garner favor with the higher ups, and has some true introspection about why she fell in so deep and stayed so long. Her honesty and candor is definitely appreciated, and it never feels like she tries to completely deflect her own culpability and blame in regards to the role that she played. True, she emphasizes that she too was manipulated into manipulating others, which sometimes feels like a bit of a ‘I’m sorry but it’s not totally my fault’ strategy, but that said given the psychological manipulation this group deals in, I don’t doubt the manipulation at play. And besides, it does seem like she is trying to make amends by getting this story out there, and by doing her best to expose the group before the spotlight really shone down on Raniere, Mack, et al. I don’t think I can pass judgement on her at the end of the day, but others may feel differently, and that’s okay too.

In terms of NXIVM itself, as I definitely read this in part to learn some of the ins and outs of the group beyond the knowledge I already had, I feel that Edmondson (and co-author Kristine Gasbarre) set up the narrative in an effective way, and showed the way that the group can pull people in slowly and surely. One can definitely see the appeal of this multi-level marketing scheme to those who are feeling vulnerable and insecure, and how it can slowly build and build until said people are in way over their heads and allowing themselves to be branded or to be used in sexual coercion plots. It’s deeply fascinating, and terrifying, stuff. I would suggest that if you want a larger deep dive, check out the podcast “Uncovered: Escaping NXIVM”. Edmondson is not only a consultant on that, it also has a broader scope about the group as a whole, and will probably give you more comprehensive information than this memoir does.

All in all, “Scarred” is upsetting and hard to put down. Edmondson gets to tell her story on her own terms, and is another reminder about the dangers of group think and a cult of personality.

Rating 7: A disturbing and personal memoir from a former member of a cult, “Scarred” sheds some insight into NXIVM and continues to try to make amends.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scarred” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of now, but it is included on “Canadian NonFiction- Fall 2019”, and I think it would fit in on “People Who Have Left Cults or Religious Fundamentalism (Memoirs and Biographies)”.

Find “Scarred” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Bard’s Blade”

45046604Book: “The Bard’s Blade” by Brian D. Anderson

Publishing Info: Tor Books, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Mariyah enjoys a simple life in Vylari, a land magically sealed off from the outside world, where fear and hatred are all but unknown. There she’s a renowned wine maker and her betrothed, Lem, is a musician of rare talent. Their destiny has never been in question. Whatever life brings, they will face it together.

But destiny has a way of choosing its own path, and when a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, the two are faced with a terrible prophecy. For beyond the borders, an ancient evil is returning, its age-old prison shattered.

The two must leave their home behind, and in doing so will face sorcerers and thieves, con-men and assassins, treachery and greed. How far down this path will they have to go to stop the rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?

Review: I requested this book based mostly on the super cool cover art. It’s walking some line between hokey 70s pulp fantasy art and the neat modern covers you see on some of Brandon Sanderson’s books. Either way, I love it. The book description itself sounded kind of meh and familiar. In some ways, it surpassed these expectations, and in other ways…the cover’s still cool.

Vylari is an idyllic land full of happy people going about simple lives. Here, Mariyah and Lem have grown up each able to focus on their own particular skills (Mariyah’s business savvy with her family’s wine business and Lem’s amazing musical talents) while focusing on the future they will soon have together as a married couple. All of this falls apart, however, when a stranger arrives and brings news of an evil that is coming, an evil that not even the magical barrier protecting Vylari can stave off, and somehow they are connected to it. Now, out in a dangerous new world, Lem and Mariyah must not only learn how to exist in a place so different than their peaceful home, but they must also discover the secrets in Lem’s past and how to prevent the evil that is coming.

This book was kind of hit and miss for me. While I did read it quickly and it was enjoyable enough, looking back on it, there’s not a lot that stands out as super unique. It checked all of the right boxes: world-building, strong characters, a good balance of action and reflection. But there was never much more given to any of these aspects to make the book really rise above the mediocre.

For me, the strongest aspect was its two main characters. Lem and Mariyah are both compelling and interesting, each approaching their time in the strange new world they find themselves in with bravery and cunning. It was particularly interesting seeing them come across aspects of life that we would take for granted but are clearly new to them. We spend only a limited amount of time in Vylari, only enough to get a general idea of how peaceful and simple it is. It’s only once we enter the greater world that readers begin to realize just how limited Vylari was. Yes, conflict and violence are almost unheard of there, but also, horses? As a reader, I just assumed things like that exist until we come across Lem, when first entering a village in the outside world, describing some strange beast with a long neck pulling a cart. From there, I always had my eyes open for other things that one would take for granted but might be new to our main characters.

I was also intrigued by the religious institution that forcibly runs much of the world outside of Vylari. Through the innocent eyes of Lem and Mariyah, we see how shocking some of the choices are that people who are ruled by ruthless leaders would make. The people in this world expect darkness and deceit. Lem and Mariyah are completely out of their element when first experiencing it.

However, while these aspects of the story were interesting enough, I was never able to become fully invested in the story. I wasn’t able to sink into it and instead was very aware of the process of reading it. It’s always hard to pin down in a review the quality in some books that leads to a reading experience like this. This makes it doubly unfortunate: I don’t have an exciting read and then I struggle to explain why the book was a bit of a miss for me. Like I mentioned earlier, I think much of the problem was simply that nothing felt super new. Lem and Mariyah, while strong enough characters, didn’t really stand out in any particular way. They weren’t annoying or problematic, they just were…people. And the idea of a world kept magically away from another was a concept I’ve run across several times in other fantasy works, and there wasn’t a whole lot here that differentiated this book from those. It’s a fine read. But not much more than that, unfortunately.

Rating 7: Nothing made me super excited. Nothing made me angry. Ultimately, nothing made me really care that much.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bard’s Blade” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Best Books 2020.”

Find“The Bard’s Blade” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Containment”

41xlqrp7yslBook: “Containment” (The Cerenia Chronicles Book 2) by Angela Howes

Publishing Info: Fine Tuned Editing, January 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: The author provided me with a PDF copy.

Book Description: She made her choice. Now, she must live with the consequences. As Phoebe’s family and friends fight for their lives, she finds herself drawn further into the enigmatic world of the Council, caught in a struggle between lying low and inciting war. But as more allies emerge from the shadows, Phoebe must decide whether she has what it takes to lead a rebellion … especially when it could mean losing everything and everyone that matters to her.

Review: First I want to extend a special thank you to Angela Howes for reaching out and sending me a copy of this book!

YA dystopia seems to be mostly out of style, at least in the circles of YA enthusiasts that I associate with or follow. But given that I haven’t lost my interest in it, I was pretty excited when Angela Howes reached out to me with news that her second book in the Cerenia Chronicles, “Containment”, was coming out! Given that I enjoyed the first in the series, “Assignment”, I was eager to see where things were going to go for our protagonist Phoebe, her two suitors Sky and Noah, and the rest of the mild dictatorship of Cerenia. Especially since we left it on such a cliffhanger.

When we left off, Phoebe, Sky, and Noah had all achieved freedom by making it to The Jungle, where defectors and former prisoners of Cerenia have been building a rebellion. Phoebe decided to infiltrate the Cerenia Council in hopes of overthrowing the corruption. Unfortunately, Noah and Sky have ended up in captivity because of this, with Noah in prison and Sky in a Box, an almost guaranteed death sentence. The book flip flops between these three perspectives, with Phoebe hoping to outwit and influence the Council members, Sky hoping to escape his death sentence (and I mean, of course he does, mild spoiler alert but it happens pretty quick), and Noah hoping to get out of jail. Of all three perspectives, Phoebe’s was by far the most interesting. I liked watching her have to play 3D chess and having to make really difficult decisions, sometimes decisions that would be life or death, all to try and fit in in hopes of taking down corruption from the inside. I thought that her inner struggles and her ruthlessness meshed well together, and thought that it was a huge benefit to her characterization. Sometimes her calculations were cold and unnerving, and yet I believed that she would be making them. I also liked getting into Sky’s head as he has to rally the rebellion on the outside, all without knowing if he would ever see Phoebe, the love of his life again. Team Sky, all the way. His voice is fun and snarky, but he has enough sprinkles of vulnerability and self doubt that he doesn’t come off as an obnoxious trope.

But that leaves Noah’s narrative, which to me felt a bit superfluous if only because we don’t really have a reason to care about Noah. Or at least, I don’t have a reason to care about him. I mentioned before that I don’t like love triangles, but this particular point on this love triangle really doesn’t work for me, especially now. At this point, Phoebe has made her choice, and that choice is Sky. It’s also hard for me to let go of the fact that Noah was such a goddamn chickenshit in the first book that he was perfectly happy stringing along the girl he’d been matched with Darya, while having an affair with Phoebe, which put not only himself but Darya in danger. To me it feels like the love triangle has been resolved, and his backstory and characterization hasn’t been developed or built up enough for him to be a character we need to care about. Unless we’re going to get another love triangle plot in the third book, and boy oh boy am I hoping that isn’t the case.

There is indeed going to be a third book, as “Containment” ended on a cliffhanger. But with the way things ended this time, I’m even more interested to see where this goes this time around than I was last time around. I think we’re building to something that could be really unique, and I can’t wait to see what that may be.

Rating 7: The political intrigue and maneuvering is upped and the stakes continue to rise. “Containment” continues a solid dystopian narrative and explores the difficult decisions a person has to make for the greater good.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Containment” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but if you like books like “Divergent”“Matched”, or “The Testing” you will probably find this one fun as well!

“Containment” isn’t in very many libraries as of now, but you can find it on Amazon.

Previously reviewed: “Assignment”