Serena’s Review: “The Girl the Sea Gave Back”

42867937Book: “The Girl the Sea Gave Back” by Adrienne Young

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

Review: Here’s another example of a cover that has a model but is still super cool to look at. Notably, she’s wearing clothes appropriate to her character and it depicts a scene that seems to connect with the title and description pretty well. Always love to see that! But, cover aside, I really decided to check this book out based on my enjoyment of the author’s previous book, “Sky in the Deep.” As I mentioned in the Highlights post, it’s always exciting to find standalone fantasy novels. And when you have an author who chooses to write multiple standalones, but in the same world, it’s like getting your cake and eating it, too.

Tova’s remembered life began alone, cold on the sea. It’s only through fate, it seems, that her small craft washes up on shore and she is taken in by a people who are both mystified and wary of her mysterious origins and the power she possesses. As a young woman, she is drawn into a brewing conflict, both internal and external, as the Svell people debate the merits of war. With two of the major tribes having joined together, the Svell see this as their time to rise. But Tova sees darkness ahead. Will they listen to their own mystic, or is she, and the young warrior Halvard from the opposing tribe, doomed to be caught up in another round of warfare?

Sadly, this book wasn’t as much of a hit for me as the first one. I think there are a few factors, but first I want to talk about the things I did like. I was again pleased to return to this world that Young has created. The Viking-like mythology is still intriguing, as is the way of life and cultures that are described for the various clans. The writing itself is still solid and I think she did a good job balancing out introducing new characters and themes, while also giving readers a few peaks at what is going on with beloved characters and arcs from the first book.

All of that said, however, I just wasn’t able to connect with this story the way I was able to with the first. Part of this might come down to the dueling narrators. Having two narrators means that the author needs to balance two characters’ worth of story, emotional motivation, and overall arc with only half the page time that one alone would have. There are obviously benefits in getting to see various characters’ differing perspectives, but it’s still quite challenging. Here, I think both main characters suffered for the lack of full devotion to either.

Halvard, to some extent, was better served in the fact that I at least was familiar with him from the first book and had a bit more emotional investment right off the bat. Tova, however, the titular “girl the sea gave back” always felt a bit bland. Her backstory is intriguing, and her life growing up as a powerful mystic but one who is still seen as an outsider in the clan that has adopted her is compelling. But for some reason, I struggled to fully invest in her story. In the end, both main characters lack the spark that gave life to the main character from the first book.

The plot was also incredibly predictable. To some extent, the same could be said of “Sky in the Deep,” but I think there was enough of a personal arc of her discovery of her brother in the midst of her enemy’s camp and the slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance to keep the plot failings afloat. But, as discussed, with flat characters, the plot failings become much more apparent. Must of the story revolves around a discussion of fate and destiny. These themes can be compelling if taken apart and contrasted against free will and choice. But here they are simply wielded as clumsy explanations for why unlikely events occurred, hand-waving away coincidences one way and another.

“Destiny” also killed the romance of this story. For one, there was simply a lot less of one than there was in the first, which I personally found disappointing. But for two, what romance we were given was one meet-cute away from instalove, right down to the almost deadly brawl that somehow ends with a “connection.” With all of that destiny and intertwinedness to go around, the reader is never given a reason to root for these two, as we’ve been told from the start that it is simply meant to be. The characters don’t need to build up feelings for each other, they just know they’re there, even across time and space almost.

Overall, this was a very flat story for me. I struggled to find anything to connect to and by the end reading it felt more like a chore to get through. How disappointing, based on the strength of the first story and the fact that the author clearly has skills. In many ways, it almost feels like this would be the author’s first book, and that one the one she pulls out later in all of its more-polished glory. I’m not writing the author off completely, as I know she has good stories in her. This one just wasn’t one of them.

Rating 6: Fans of the first book should beware that this is in many ways “Sky in the Deep” lite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl the Sea Gave Back” is, weirdly, on this Goodreads list: “Summery vibes.”

Find “The Girl the Sea Gave Back” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Tiger Queen”

42281646._sy475_Book: “Tiger Queen” by Annie Sullivan

Publishing Info: Blink, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world—and her heart—upside down. Her future is now behind two doors—only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger.

Review: I requested this book based purely on my curiosity to see how an author would transform the short story “The Lady or the Tiger” into a YA fantasy novel. The rest of the book description sounded fairly familiar, but I was hopeful that the unique source material would propel it beyond your typical fare. Alas, no.

In Kateri’s world, water is life. Her city and her people suffer for its lack and have fought for years to continue to thrive in a city that is barely getting by. Conditions are only made worse by a group of rebels who defy the water limits and steal the city’s supply for themselves. But Kateri’s father has developed a clever deterrent: if a thief is caught, they much choose between two doors, one of which allows them to return to their home and the other that releases a deadly tiger onto its prey. As Kateri continues to fight for her place in the royal line of succession, she begins finding more and more secrets behind other doors. And soon enough she finds herself questioning everything she’s come to know.

Honestly, take out the bit about the tiger/lady door thing and I feel like I’ve just typed out the same description that I have for so many books before. Substitute “tiger” for “dragon” and you pretty much have the plot of “The Last Namsara.” And that’s just the first one that comes to mind. I’m pretty sure anyone whose read a decent amount of YA fiction could read that book description and give me the entire outline of this book. And you’d be right.

It’s really hard to rate and review books like these. Is this book any worse than the million and one that came before it with the same plot and the same main character? Was I in a less forgiving mood when I read this one as compared to them? I’m not sure. But I will say that this book made me mad. It took what could have been a clever concept and instead of exploring the unique opportunities available there, it twisted it to fit the exact same “write by numbers” mold that we’ve seen forever now in YA fantasy fiction.

I knew I was in for trouble in the first chapter when I read about Kateri’s experience watching a caught thief go through the process of choosing a door. At first she’s sympathetic to the thief who is so young, to show that she’s caring. But then, for no reason, she must show that she’s ruthless and rage against his option for freedom. He should die now for what he’s done! It flip flops as easily as I’ve just written it. There is no explanation or developed rational behind this. It’s clearly there just to get to two basic character traits, at the expense of the character’s overall development as a believable person. The author clearly just wants to get through this whole “character building” bit as fast as possible. This mode of character “development” holds true throughout the rest of the book. Beyond that, Kateri was only the “warrior woman” she’s touted to be on the most superficial level. Other than her fighting skills, her entire plot line is in reaction to the men around her: her father, the men she fights, the man she loves.

In that same chapter we’re introduced to the king, her father, who is OF COURSE not hiding any secrets and OF COURSE is telling her the full truth about this whole water/thief thing. And there’s the nefarious dude she might have to marry and the rumored young, hot leader of the rebels and…man, I’m so bored even typing this out. It’s all exactly as you’d expect.

Frankly, I have very little to say about this book. I’m having a hard time even filling out this review to the word count that I usually hit. There’s just so little new here to even critique. Anyone who is passingly familiar with YA fantasy can see every twist and turn coming from a mile away. All of the characters dutifully follow the scripts laid out for them in books like this, with nary a unique trait to be found. It was incredibly disappointing. Maybe someone who hasn’t read a bunch of YA fantasy would enjoy this, or those who are not worn out by this basic storyline yet. But anyone looking for something fresh or new should beware.

Rating 5: The book itself is like opening the door and getting the tiger instead of the lady.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Tiger Queen” isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Books Based on Myths, Legends, Fairytales and Folklore.”

Find “Tiger Queen” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Harp of Kings”

43316755._sy475_Book: “The Harp of Kings” by Juliet Marillier

Publication Info: Ace, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . . 

Review: It’s always exciting to receive new books to read. But I have to say, this was the most excited I’ve ever been to receive an advanced copy of a book. Juliet Marillier has been a favorite author of mine for about 15 years and I’ve read every single one of her books and own 90% of them (really, that’s just a reminder that I need to get on top of things and complete collection!). Plus, it’s the first book in a series which always brings with it an extra dose of excitement. Per the usual, I was not let down and was once more caught up in Mariller’s world where fairytales take on new life.

As the children of Blackthorn and Grim, Liobhan and her brother have a multitude of skills. But primarily they each are skilled musicians. Now training to hopefully be recruited as famed Swan Island warriors, they didn’t suspect that this particular skill set would be called upon so early among a band of fighters who often prize secrecy, fighting abilities, and overall efficiency above all else. But now in hiding as court bards, they each begin to discover that no mission is as straight forward as it seems, and their parents’ habit of finding themselves ensnared in magical mysteries seems to be a family trait.

As I said, it’s always exciting to start a new series by a favorite author. Over the years, I know that I can count on Marillier always delivering on a few key points: strong, intriguing main characters, a perfect blend of the fantastical and the historic, and a gorgeous writing that will make you feel as if you, too, are walking through lush woods filled with bird song and mysterious shadows. Here, all of those things were again on point.

As with her “Blackthorn & Grim” trilogy, this book is divided between multiple POVs. We have Liobhan, the headstrong, capable warrior who has more than a hint of her mother’s fiery disposition. Her brother, Brocc, who is the more talented musician between the two and sees a story in all that is around him. And Dau, a fellow trainee, who is determined to be accepted as a Swan Island warrior no matter what, knowing he can never return home.

I enjoyed all three narrators, though I definitely found myself more drawn to Liobhan and Dau. To some extent that is to be expected as each has significantly more chapters and page time than Brocc. And it is definitely Liobhan around whom most of the story and action hinge. I loved seeing elements of Blackthorn’s character in her. And her strong connection to her brother and tenuous, burgeoning friendship with Dau were both excellent. Dau, himself, was also intriguing as his story slowly unfolds and we begin to understand more about his past and what drives him now.

For me, Brocc was the weakest of the three. The way the story unfolds, his chapters are crucial to understanding all of the mystery involved. But I also wonder if there was another way to go about it as the way it stands now, especially towards the end where he essentially disappears from the story for a good chunk and when we return we learn that some rather significant events occurred that we the readers didn’t even get to see. It makes his chapters feel a bit superfluous, as if they’re there to serve the needs of the story, but don’t fully justify Brocc’s needing his own POV based on the character himself. It’s a strange thing to find in a Marillier book. But it was more of a minor mental question mark than a problem for my reading.

Marillier’s real strengths with characters often comes in the ways she writes the relationships between them, the friendships, the family bonds, and the romances. This one definitely focuses on the first two. Brocc and Liobhan’s bond as siblings was lovely and I very much enjoyed the growing friendship that formed between Liobhan and Dau, two characters that started the story very much at odds. I think there’s some strong potential for a developing romance here, and I’m excited to see where it goes. However, there was another romance in the story, and that one I had a bit more trouble with. It was fine, all things considered. But it also felt rushed and much of the connection that is formed happens off page and the reader is only informed of it after the fact. Again, odd to find in a Marillier book. I’m curious to know whether this was a one-off thing or whether we will see more of this relationship in the future.

I very much enjoyed the mystery itself. I was able to put many of the pieces together myself, but the way they played out was still quite enjoyable to read. The “villain” of the piece was quite good and there were some choices made towards the end in this regard that really did surprise me. I also enjoyed all of the Easter eggs to be found in this story. All of this talk about MCU and DCEU, etc. etc., it’s like Marillier has been slowly creating her own “Marillier-universe” and for longtime readers, there’s a lot of good stuff to be gleaned in this one. But it can also just as easily be read by first-timers as well with very little being missed.

I’m so excited for this series (have I mentioned that yet?) and think that this is a solid opener to further adventures. There were a few odd points with Brocc’s reduced number of chapters as compared to the other two and a romance that felt a bit rushed and weirdly off page. Perhaps the natural growing pains of settling in to a new story with new character. But other than these few quibbles, I was still captivated by this story. I enjoyed the mystery at the heart of the story and while much of it is resolved, there are still plenty of question marks left open for further exploration. And Liobhan and Dau, in particular, are both set up to be excellent protagonists. Fans of Marillier’s work should definitely check this out and fantasy fans in general will likely enjoy this book, particularly if you’re drawn to fairytales and the like.

We’re also currently hosting a giveaway for an ARC of this book! Don’t forget to enter here!

Rating 8: Marillier delivers once again with a book where readers will feel like they, too, are lost among the trees and ready to find magic around every corner.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Harp of Kings” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Books with Musical Instruments in the Title.”

Find “The Harp of Kings” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

Giveaway: “The Harp of Kings”

43316755._sy475_Book: “The Harp of Kings” by Juliet Marillier

Publication Info: Ace, September 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Eighteen-year-old Liobhan is a powerful singer and an expert whistle player. Her brother has a voice to melt the hardest heart, and a rare talent on the harp. But Liobhan’s burning ambition is to join the elite warrior band on Swan Island. She and her brother train there to compete for places, and find themselves joining a mission while still candidates. Their unusual blend of skills makes them ideal for this particular job, which requires going undercover as traveling minstrels. For Swan Island trains both warriors and spies.

Their mission: to find and retrieve a precious harp, an ancient symbol of kingship, which has gone mysteriously missing. If the instrument is not played at the upcoming coronation, the candidate will not be accepted and the people could revolt. Faced with plotting courtiers and tight-lipped druids, an insightful storyteller, and a boorish Crown Prince, Liobhan soon realizes an Otherworld power may be meddling in the affairs of the kingdom. When ambition clashes with conscience, Liobhan must make a bold decision and is faced with a heartbreaking choice. . . 

Giveaway Details: Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favorite authors, so of course, I was thrilled when I discovered she would be releasing the first in a new series this fall. Even more exciting, it seems that this story will pull together small pieces from many of her previous works, most notably, perhaps, the “Blackthorn and Grim” series. Though it does also seem that the book is mean to be read as a standalone series apart from her others works.

The description only added to my anticipation. Liobhan seems perfectly positioned to make her mark as another incredible leading lady for Marillier. I’m intrigued to find out how her skills as a musician will combine with her desire to be a warrior. Seems and odd mix, but there’s the fun!

Other than her incredible characters and lyrical writing style, Marillier is known for her clever, fantasy mysteries. Many of her stories involve some mystical secrecy that our main characters need to work through. There is also often a romance somewhere to be found, though her last series drew that part out over the entire three books. I’m curious to find out whether there will be one here, as all we have to go on is Liobhan herself and a brother. Will one or both of them have romances to follow?

My full review for this book is coming up this Friday, but don’t wait until then to enter to receive your copy! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and ends September 10.

Click here to enter!

Kate’s Review: “Loki: Where Mischief Lies”

37076222._sx318_Book: “Loki: Where Mischief Lies” by Mackenzi Lee

Publishing Info: Marvel Press, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley!

Book Description: Before the days of going toe-to-toe with the Avengers, a younger Loki is desperate to prove himself heroic and capable, while it seems everyone around him suspects him of inevitable villainy and depravity . . . except for Amora. Asgard’s resident sorceress-in-training feels like a kindred spirit-someone who values magic and knowledge, who might even see the best in him.

But when Loki and Amora cause the destruction of one of Asgard’s most prized possessions, Amora is banished to Earth, where her powers will slowly and excruciatingly fade to nothing. Without the only person who ever looked at his magic as a gift instead of a threat, Loki slips further into anguish and the shadow of his universally adored brother, Thor.

When Asgardian magic is detected in relation to a string of mysterious murders on Earth, Odin sends Loki to investigate. As he descends upon nineteenth-century London, Loki embarks on a journey that leads him to more than just a murder suspect, putting him on a path to discover the source of his power-and who he’s meant to be.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

Long time readers of this blog might remember that, unlike Serena, I am rather prickly when it comes to the DC and Marvel rivalry. I don’t really go out of my way to read many Marvel things, and when it comes to the MCU I’ve only seen a handful of the films. But the movies within the canon that I have seen multiple times and in a complete arc are the ones that center around Thor. And it probably surprises no one that the biggest factor of this is Loki, the sometimes villain, sometimes anti-hero brother of Thor who is at turns a pain in the neck and other turns a somewhat valuable ally. Because of this, when I saw that Loki was getting his own YA novel that gave him his own adventure and some backstory, I was mildly intrigued. But when I saw that it was being written by Mackenzi Lee, the author of the lighthearted and romantic romp “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”?

giphy-2
Sign me up post haste! (source)

Lee has always had a real talent for giving voice to snarky, bitchy, and flawed yet likable protagonists, so it’s really no surprise that her version of Loki was spot on. She does a very good job of balancing the complexities of his personality, both the megalomaniac side, and the side that has been emotionally warped by his family life and the ways that his father and brother have failed him. You see him wanting to bring pride and joy to Odin and Thor, but ultimately falling into the easier patterns of being out for himself, in part due to his only friend Amora. Amora is a mysterious character who is the court sorceress’s student, and her magic entices Loki since he, too, is magical. You get the sense that Amora isn’t a great influence on him, but you also completely understand why he would be drawn to her, given that Odin has tried to suppress his magical powers. But while you can definitely understand why Loki lashes out and behaves in the ways that he does, Lee is also very careful not to go to the ‘poor misunderstood baby’ interpretation. Loki’s choices are his own, and while she lets you see why he’d do it, she never lets him off the hook. If anything it makes him all the more tragic, especially when you see him interacting with his family, particularly Thor and their mother Frigga. Given that the reason I can’t totally write of “Thor: The Dark World” is the heartbreaking themes and Frigga and Loki’s relationship, any scenes with these two had me almost in tears. Lee really know how to get to the meat of Loki’s motivations, and that was great to see.

The overall plot was also a delight and a half. While we do spend a large amount of time in Asgard (as well as other realms), a big chunk of the story is spent on Earth in Victorian London. Odin sends Loki to work with a mortal secret society that has found evidence of Asgardian magic being used for bad purposes, and to have the spoiled and vain Loki have to interact with Victorian era humans is QUITE amusing. The secret group, SHARP, consists of a number of societal misfits, much like Loki himself is, and I felt like Lee gave solid backstories to all of them. My favorite of this group was Theo, the earnest and loyal investigator who has to hide his sexuality from the world. Theo acts as a moral compass to Loki, but in ways that don’t come off as condescending or self serving, which tends to be the problem with Thor back in Asgard. This is in contrast to Loki’s other foil, Amora, who tries to pull him more towards his more self serving side, and the two relationships make for high tension and conflicting feelings in Loki. Related to this is that Lee has made Loki the genderfluid and pansexual character that has been long heralded in the fandom, and it really, really works within this narrative. Sweet, sweet romantic agony as you feel like Loki wants to be good enough for Theo, but feels he can only meet Amora’s standards.

giphy-3
All the tears. (source)

Overall, “Loki: Where Mischief Lies” was a super fun interpretation of a beloved Marvel fan favorite. Mackenzi Lee is writing a couple more backstory novels for other Marvel characters, and even if they aren’t my own personal favorites, I may have to give them a go.

Rating 8: A fun backstory for Loki from one of the most fun YA authors of today, “Loki: Where Mischief Lies” gives the morally ambiguous quasi-villain some time to shine and be the (anti)hero of his own story!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Loki: Where Mischief Lies” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Trickster”, and “YA/Middle Grade Comic Book Superhero Novels”.

Find “Loki: Where Mischief Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Turning Darkness Into Light”


41555968Book: “Turning Darkness Into Light” by Marie Brennan

Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

Review: The “Lady Trent” series has been on my TBR pile for quite a while. But as I’ve heard good things about the audiobook, I’ve been stubbornly waiting to catch it when its available at the library in this format. So far, no success. But not to be put off by little things like reading the first series first, I still decided to go ahead and request an early copy of the new standalone novel set a generation after the first series. And, while there were probably a lot of references and aspects to the story that would have meant more had I read things in order, I still ended up loving this book!

Audrey has quite a distinguished family name to uphold. And she believes that she may finally found her opportunity to stake her own place in history when a collector comes across a rare set of tablets that could possess the secret history and great fabled story of the Draconian people. Translating a tale like this would not only put quite the feather in the cap of the historian who completed it, but the story itself could have greater ramifications on the future of the Draconian people. What this future may be is of great interest to several parties, all who have their own designs on the tablets and what they may say. Soon enough, Audrey finds herself at the heart of several conspiracies and must work to find the way out of this maze of history, language, and story.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this story. Obviously, I feel like I probably missed a lot of the backstory and world building that preceded this standalone in the main series, but even without that prior knowledge, I felt like the world and history were approachable. And what a clever, unique world it is! The Draconian people were incredibly intriguing and I’m sure what I got here was only a small taste of what you see of them in the first book. It’s not often that you come across what feels like an entirely new fantasy being, and the Draconians definitely are that, being a strange mixture of humanoid and dragon.

I really liked the exploration of the concept of history and story that is at the heart of this book. They are both one and the same and very different, each only partially understandable by a “modern” reader or historian approaching something that is thousands of years old. But not only do we the challenges of understanding histories and stories that are far removed from the times and people they describe, but we see how powerful they can still be to a modern people The Draconians are still looking for a place in this world, having just come out of hiding after being away undiscovered for centuries. There is a lot of discussion over how having a defining story is at the heart of being recognized as an individual and respected people. And what values are shown at the heart of that story are paramount for a how a people define themselves and how others regard them as well. It can aid or hurt, depending on interpretation and how it connects with established (or only theorized) history.

I also really liked Audrey as a character. You can see her struggling under the weight of expectation, coming from such a famous family. But she’s brave, independent, and willing to take on the challenges before her to make her own way. She’s also young, impulsive, and sometimes lets her bravery carry her into situations she had better have avoided. I also really enjoyed how the traces of a romance are weaved into this. It’s not at all what I’m used to finding, and, technically, it’s probably better to approach this story with no expectation of romance, given what it is, in the end.

The story is also presented in a unique, multi-media fashion. It plays out through a series of diary entries, letters, and news reports. It’s a tough medium to work with in the most ordinary of stories, but it’s even more impressive in a fantasy world where there is a lot of world building that would be common to the writers of these letters and thus would read as strange for them to be spelling out in these types of media formats. But while there are one or two weird, info-dumpy passages, for the most part, I think it was really successful.

I really have very few complaints about this book. Any confusion of world building is probably on me for reading it in the wrong order. And while the multi-media format had a few sticky bits, overall I think it worked really well. I was definitely left wishing there were more books telling Audrey’s story going for. But at the very least, I now know that I should get a move on with reading the original series! Fans of that original are sure to like this. And for the brave (or those who are lazy with their TBR pile like me), this is still a fun read, even with out that background knowledge.

Rating 9: A creative, new book that highlights just how intertwined and important history and storytelling are.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Turning Darkness Into Light” is a new title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be “Stand Alone Dragon Books.”

Find “Turning Darkness Into Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Beasts of the Frozen Sun”

42118210Book: “Beasts of the Frozen Sun” by Jill Criswell

Publishing Info: Blackstone, August 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Burn brightly. Love fiercely. For all else is dust.

Every child of Glasnith learns the last words of Aillira, the god-gifted mortal whose doomed love affair sparked a war of gods and men, and Lira of clan Stone knows the story better than most. As a descendant of Aillira and god-gifted in her own right, she has the power to read people’s souls, to see someone’s true essence with only a touch of her hand.

When a golden-haired warrior washes up on the shores of her homeland–one of the fearful marauders from the land of the Frozen Sun–Lira helps the wounded man instead of turning him in. After reading his soul, she realizes Reyker is different than his brethren who attack the coasts of Glasnith. He confides in her that he’s been cursed with what his people call battle-madness, forced to fight for the warlord known as the Dragon, a powerful tyrant determined to reignite the ancient war that Aillira started.

As Lira and Reyker form a bond forbidden by both their clans, the wrath of the Dragon falls upon them and all of Glasnith, and Lira finds herself facing the same tragic fate as her ancestor. The battle for Lira’s life, for Reyker’s soul, and for their peoples’ freedom has only just begun.

Review: Our fairly recent re-read of “Sky in the Deep” for bookclub reminded me just how much I enjoyed Vikings stories. Pair that with “The Wolf in the Whale,” another story that I read this year that partially featured Vikings and had a good romance at its heart, and I was ready and raring to go for more of the same. This made it an easy decision to request a copy of “Beasts of the Frozen Sun” for review. But while it did have elements of what I was looking for, it also seemed to be a bit too off the mark at times for me to fully enjoy.

Lira and Reyker had met years before, though one remembers it as a half-believed nightmare, and the other as a strange encounter with a wild young girl who inspired him to break his own codes of warfare. When they meet again, it is under very different, and yet oddly similar circumstances. Now an adult, Lira holds an incredible power to see the truth of person’s being through a mere touch. It is an ability that has garnered her respect, but also makes her a valuable tool for her tribe, offering her limited option for her future. Reyker has continued on the path set before him so long ago, as a member of  Viking marauding crew that has taken down countless villages. Now, Lira’s tribe is the next and the two are thrown together once again, natural enemies, but with a connection that neither can deny.

As I said in my introduction, this book didn’t quite connect for me. But there were a few pros that I want to start out by highlighting. For one, the writing itself was strong. There was one blurb I read before starting it that mentioned a comparison to Juliet Marillier’s work. Given that this story description sounds just like something that author would write herself and the fact that she’s one of my favorite authors, I had high hopes on that front. And there, at least, it didn’t disappoint. The writing it lyrical, smooth, and feels as if it is a fairytale in the making. At the same time, the action, dialogue, and character moments all read as natural and alluring. There were several turns of phrase that popped off the page for me. While I’m not sure I would quite put it at the level of Marillier’s work, I can definitely see where the comparison came from.

The other stand-out was Lira herself. I really liked her voice and the way her character moved throughout the storyline presented her. She rose to the challenges presented to her, but never lost sight of herself or her unique gifts. Early in the book there is a big emphasis placed on Lira’s limited life choices, due to her unique powers, and I enjoyed the way that Lira approached the responsibility of her gift as well as the confines it put on the paths before her. While I do wish that a bit more was done with her gift itself, Lira, as a character, was another point of favor for this story.

Where the book let me down, however, was with the plot itself and the romance. The plot felt meandering and full of too many ideas all at once. A few chapters would focus on one thing. Then a new event would pop up and suddenly take over. It felt almost like a bunch of mini stories all crammed together, losing sight of any connecting tissue that would pull them all together. There was also a lot of repetitive planning, action, escapes, but then failures. The story literally couldn’t escape its own restrictions and it felt like it, like our characters, was simply floundering around in captivity.

I also didn’t love the romance. And this is where the comparison to Marillier hurt the book for me. If there’s anything that Marillier excels at, other than beautiful prose, it’s amazing romances. So I went into this perhaps with my expectations too high. But, on top of that, Reyker and Lira are both strong characters on their own. And the build up to their romance is intriguing, especially given that they don’t share a common language. But then they kiss, and it’s all downhill from there as they immediately fall into all-consuming love for each other. I wish this could have been drawn out a bit more or progressed in a more natural way. Perhaps I would have been less disappointed with it had Lira and Reyker on their own been less compelling. But as it was, they were both strong characters who deserved an equally strong romance.

I think this book had a lot of promise, and the writing and strong characters get it a long way down the road to success. But the plot seemed to circle back on its self a bit too much and the romance was underwhelming. This is the first in a series, however, so these things could be improved in the sequel. Fans of historical fantasy would probably enjoy this; just keep your expectations in check better than I did.

Rating 6: A solid attempt, but it read as a bit too bland for what I was wanting and missed some opportunities a long the way to take advantage of the strengths it had going for it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Beasts of the Frozen Sun” is included on the Goodreads lists “Viking Era” and “Tristan & Isolde Retellings.”

Find “Beasts of the Frozen Sun” at your library using WorldCat!