Serena’s Review: “City of Stone and Silence”

34640582._sy475_Book: “City of Stone and Silence” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, January 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: After surviving the Vile Rot, Isoka, Meroe, and the rest of Soliton’s crew finally arrive at Soliton’s mysterious destination, the Harbor―a city of great stone ziggurats, enshrouded in a ghostly veil of Eddica magic. And they’re not alone.

Royalty, monks, and madmen live in a precarious balance, and by night take shelter from monstrous living corpses. None know how to leave the Harbor, but if Isoka can’t find a way to capture Soliton and return it to the Emperor’s spymaster before a year is up, her sister’s Tori’s life will be forfeit.

But there’s more to Tori’s life back in Kahnzoka than the comfortable luxury Isoka intended for her. By night, she visits the lower wards, risking danger to help run a sanctuary for mage-bloods fleeing the Emperor’s iron fist. When she discovers that Isoka is missing, her search takes her deep in the mires of intrigue and revolution. And she has her own secret―the power of Kindre, the Well of Mind, which can bend others to its will. Though she’s spent her life denying this brutal magic, Tori will use whatever means she has to with Isoka’s fate on the line…

Review: After blowing through the first book in this trilogy in about two days, I immediately nabbed a copy from NetGalley. What a joy to find a new series that you absolutely love and have the second book come out the very month you finish the first! While I think the first book stills ranks ahead of this, I was quite pleased with the direction the series seems to be headed in and the surprises that were in store here!

It seems that the ghost ship, Soliton, has finally reached its port. But answers here are as illusive as they were on the mysterious ship. In a land riddled with the walking dead, Isoka must untangle the complicated history of the ship and its makers if she has any hope of returning to her beloved sister, Tori. Back in her home city, Tori has been getting out and about much more than Isoka knew or would have wanted. She spends much of this time volunteering at a hospital for the poor, but her own street instincts have not been lost or forgotten either. With her eyes constantly on an exit strategy, Tori has been carefully cultivating her own connections. But when the city begins to teeter on the bring of revolt, Tori finds herself thrust into the spotlight in a way that may expose secrets that she’s kept even from her own sister.

The introduction of Tori was quite the shift for this book, with the chapters now alternating between the two sisters and their experiences. I enjoyed the addition of this new character quite a lot, though I will also admit that Isoka was still by far my favorite character and I found her story here the more intriguing of the two. But it’s a brave choice to make, and I think it was pulled off well. Tori’s story lays a lot of groundwork for the final confrontation in the third book and brings some complicated themes into a story that, before, was pretty solidly a fun adventure fantasy.

Isoka is still as brilliant as ever. Brave, straight-forward, but with a hard shell that she is only beginning to shed. In the first book we saw her confront her own ability to care for others, both in the immediate and personal, as well as in the whole, as she leads the other Soliton residents to the last remaining safe space on the ship. In this book, she confronts the challenge of lasting leadership when the goal is not so obvious or so black and white in what needs to be done to achieve it. More than anything, she learns what it means to trust others to help her. She’s just the sort of prickly, gruff, super competent hero I like.

The mystery of the port of Soliton is also incredibly intriguing. In the first book, we really only scraped the surface of the ghost ship, knowing just enough to know that we didn’t know anything. This book takes that one ship and now explodes it out to an entire lost city with mysteries that reach back thousands of years. There are answers here to more than just the strange ship and its solitary mission to collected young people with access to magical Wells. There were a lot a lot of legitimately creepy elements. The crabs from the first book read like the type of exciting monsters that one finds in Japanese monster flicks. But here an element of horror is painted over top it all. And I’ll just say this…dinosaurs. Take from that what you will.

As I said above, while I still enjoyed the adventure of Isoka’s story and her own character arc best, Tori was overall an excellent addition. It becomes clear early on that Tori’s own experiences of life on the street were not so effectively wiped away as Isoka had hoped. But, being a very different girl than Isoka with very different gifts, Tori has taken her own route in building up a life for herself, one that is still always prepared for the worst. Through her story, we get a much deeper look into the geo-political state of the Empire Isoka left behind. And the story of growing unrest, a tipping point, and the uprising of the common people against an Empire that has pushed too far is very compelling.

Tori’s own role in this revolution was a very interesting contrast to Isoka. Both have been thrust into leadership roles that they feel ill equipped to manage. Both have incredible power that others can both admire and fear (though Tori’s is kept under wraps from those around her for much of the book). The classic “with great power come great responsibility” motif is explored thoroughly from both angles. But the book takes an interesting approach to the idea. The power itself isn’t in question, it’s more what does responsibility actually look like when one has power? The story explores how power can bring out both the best and worst of people. And that similar experiences of having power, and more importantly here, responsibility thrust upon a person can have very different outcomes, depending on the person. Power alone does not good or evil make.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel. Tori was a fantastic addition, adding new themes into the story as well as creating more shades of grey to the ones already being covered. The world-building and magical history seemed to multiply in this book, and what had been contained to a strange ship, expands out to provide insights into the entire world and magical system itself. And, of course, I love Isoka. I have no filter for this type of powerful, yet emotionally walled off, heroines it seems. If you enjoyed the first book, be ready to kick into the next gear!

Rating 8: A fantastic second outing that highlights the author’s meticulous story-telling techniques, leaving so many goodies and reveals for the second book that one can only wonder at what will come in the third!

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Stone and Silence” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2020.”

Find “City of Stone and Silence” at your library using WorldCat!

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!

Giveaway: “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.

Giveaway Details: I was lucky enough to receive two copies of this book, and while I’m enjoying finishing up reading mine, I thought I’d offer a giveaway for the other! I won’t go into my full thoughts on the novel itself, but the publisher is trying something new with the way they are publishing this series: bingeable books!

I’ve said in my reviews of Michael Sullivan’s books that part of my enjoyment is due to the reassurance that all the books in the series have already been completed. This has allowed them to be published one after another every six months. This is an aggressive publishing schedule for any author, but particularly for epic fantasies that tend to run long. Even Brandon Sanderson, one of the most prolific and fast-producing fantasy authors currently writing, has several years go by between books in his epic “Stormlight” series.

With Kozloff’s “The Nine Realms” series, Tor Books is upping the ante and releasing all four books within a  month of each other. That’s incredible, and I’m, at least, not aware of another publishing run similar to this. Even a fast reader would struggle to keep up with a release schedule like that. And judging by the first book that is almost 500 pages long, these aren’t short books! It will be pretty  interesting to see how readers respond to this strategy. If anything, like Sullivan’s works, it’s reassuring to know that the series will be completed in a timely manner. But what’s more, with books coming out at this rate, it should be easy enough to finish one book and simply pick up the next, making the entire series read as one, super long, book all in itself.

So, get started as soon as possible and enter to win a paperback copy of “A Queen in Hiding.” The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on January 29.

Enter to win!

Serena’s Review: “Ship of Smoke and Steel”

34618380Book: “Ship of Smoke and Steel” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, January 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: In the lower wards of Kahnzoka, the great port city of the Blessed Empire, eighteen-year-old ward boss Isoka comes to collect when there’s money owing. When her ability to access the Well of Combat is discovered by the Empire—an ability she should have declared and placed at His Imperial Majesty’s service—she’s sent on an impossible mission: steal Soliton, a legendary ghost ship—a ship from which no one has ever returned. If she fails, her sister’s life is forfeit.

Review: Our bookclub has been doing a Secret Santa book exchange for the last several years (have we mentioned how awesome our bookclub is recently??). It’s great because A.)more books! and B.) having librarians as friends means you’re sure to get a great new read that has been careful tailored to your own reading preferences. I’d seen the sequel for this book coming up on “most anticipated” lists for a few months now and am not sure how I missed this first one when it came out last year. But this has now been rectified, and I’m now halfway through said sequel. So, spoiler alert, I loved this book.

Reigning as a crime lord on the streets of Kahnzoka may not be an ideal life, but it’s a living, and one that Isoka is particularly skilled at. With her Well of Combat, she can be as brutal as she is efficient. But behind her cold exterior, her true purpose is one of love, the protection and future of her beloved younger sister Tori. But it all goes awry when she is captured and sentenced to an almost sure death on the mythical ship Soliton. There, she realizes that what once had seemed only a fable is all too real, and the powers that had made her almost legendary on the streets may be only a drop in the bucket against the new foes that await her.

I’ve only read one other book by Wexler, a military fantasy fiction novel which I quite enjoyed. This was the author’s first foray into YA fantasy fiction, and I have to say, I think this might be the key to it. Having been an adult fantasy author first, there seems a decent chance that Wexler was less influenced by the pervasive YA tropes that all too often undercut many potentially good YA fantasies these days. This book has all of the originality, spunk, diversity and grimness that one would find in an adult novel. The only thing that makes it YA is the age of our main characters. And that’s what makes it so good.

Isoka may be a teen, but she is completely believable as young woman who grew up on the streets and whose sense of morality and survival have been worn down to just the basics. This book doesn’t shy away from the grim reality that would take over a character who has had to fight for her own, and her much younger sister’s, very survival almost from infancy. Isoka is a bringer of death, and while over the course of this book she learns to take others under her wing as well, her lack of angst over the harshness of her life was incredibly refreshing. She may not be a “good” person by the standards a modern individual would set, but she’s a survivor and doesn’t apologize for doing what she thinks is necessary to protect those she loves.

The magic system was also very compelling. It’s simple enough to be understood easily, with a variety of Wells that users can pull from that grant them different abilities. But as the story progresses, we learn that not all is fully understood about these Wells. And even by the end of the story, there are mysteries still to be unraveled here. Isoka’s own power, the Well of Combat, is an excellent choice for our main character. The action is riveting, feeling almost cinematic as Isoka battles monstrous beasts with her twin power blades and armor. There are also those with powers such as speed, fire, and shadow, and the greater battle scenes paint an epic-feeling picture of these incredible individuals battling alongside one another.

Most of the action takes place on board the mysterious ship Soliton. I don’t want to spoil anything, as discovering the horrors and wonders of this ship was half the fun of the book. Just as you feel you understand one layer of this creepy place, another unfolds. Again, like the magic system itself, by the end of the book the reader feels as if they have only scraped the surface of what is really going on behind this secretive ship.

This was an excellent read. I blew through it in only two days. It’s a fast read, full of action and creepy fantasy elements. There’s also a lovely romance between Isoka and her friend Meroe, a girl with her own barely understood abilities. I already have the second book loaded up on my Kindle, so expect a review for that one up soon. If you’re looking for a fun new fantasy series, definitely check this one out!

Rating 9: Epic, action-packed, and best of all, the start of what promises to be an exciting trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ship of Smoke and Steel” is on these Goodreads lists: “2019 Queer SFF” and “Best Fantasy 2019.”

Find “Ship of Smoke and Steel” 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!

 

Serena’s Review: “Reverie”

46299614Book: “Reverie” by Ryan La Sala

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, December 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember how he got there, what happened after, and why his life seems so different now. And it’s not just Kane who’s different, the world feels off, reality itself seems different.

As Kane pieces together clues, three almost-strangers claim to be his friends and the only people who can truly tell him what’s going on. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident. And when a sinister force threatens to alter reality for good, they will have to do everything they can to stop it before it unravels everything they know.

Review: Another gorgeous cover, another intriguing book description! To be honest, I really had very little to go on when requesting this book. Part of it may have spoken to my withdrawals from “The Starless Sea” with some of the similar-sounding descriptions of mystical worlds each with their own story. December always seems to be a bit thin in the pickings, too, so anything that sparks interest is usually a go around now. Alas, even no expectations were too many for this book.

Kane knows very little about himself or his life. Found half dead on the side of a river, he only feels a sense of…difference. About him?About the world? About the mystery behind what happened to him? So when three others show up claiming to be his friends, he jumps at the opportunity to learn more. But he quickly realizes that this mystery is much greater than a near-drowning. Now, worlds are opening in the middle of the ordinary places in the world, each with their own stories and histories. How does his own experience connect with these mysteries? And is that even the biggest problem Kane faces now?

Ah, too bad. Another story that falls into the too simple and too common box of “missed potential.” These types of books are almost the hardest to review because there is nothing overtly wrong or offensive about the book, and, more often than not, they still have good qualities that hold them together. But by the final page, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of indifference and a fixation on the hours spent reading this book instead of some other book.

Amnesia stories, to start with, are very hard to pull off. The main character of the story is a necessary blank, having no point of reference of history, prior relationships, ongoing emotional struggles to draw upon. This leaves their observations and reactions feeling hollow. It’s hard to feel connected to a character who isn’t connected himself. This is the problem with Kane in a big way. Through the entire book, I just never really cared about him. He was instead mostly just a blank slate around which to build this story and magical world.

The world-building and writing was both a hit and a miss for me as well. On one hand, several of the descriptions of events and places were beautiful and new. But on the other hand, they weren’t the type of descriptions that read easily. I’m not sure how to put my finger on this. But I found myself having to re-read several lines to really put together how a particular metaphor was being used or what was being described. Perhaps having just read “Starless Sea” made this particular misstep hit home a bit harder than it would have at other times. That book, too, used very unique language to describe strange and new imagery. But there, somehow, the words flowed in a way that wasn’t distracting and didn’t throw me out of the story quite as badly as a similar style did here.

I also struggled to fully understand the rules of the world. How exactly do reveries work? What are their boundaries? There was definitely an interesting idea to be found here, but between the blank that was Kane and the distracting writing, I was already too out of this story to be able to turn my brain off and just go with the flow.

All of that being said, I did like Kane’s love interest, and in many ways, he had a lot more character building given to him than Kane himself did. And, while the writing style did kick me out of the flow of things every once in a while, there were also some legitimately lovely pieces of word play. But, in the end, my main takeaway was that this book didn’t accomplish all that it set out to. It was too bad. Others, however, might still enjoy this story. If you’re looking for a unique, LGBT fantasy, this does do well on all of those counts. Just not really my cup of tea, I guess.

Rating 6: Nothing terrible, but amnesia strikes again at taking down its main character and the unique word play hurts the flow of the story more often than it helps.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Reverie” is on these Goodreads lists: “2020 Queer Sci-Fi Fantasy” and “Oooh Shiny! December 2019.”

Find “Reverie” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Weight of a Soul”

43517326Book: “The Weight of a Soul” by Elizabeth Tammi

Publishing Info: Flux, December 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: When Lena’s younger sister Fressa is found dead, their whole Viking clan mourns—but it is Lena alone who never recovers. Fressa is the sister that should’ve lived, and Lena cannot rest until she knows exactly what killed Fressa and why—and how to bring her back. She strikes a dark deal with Hela, the Norse goddess of death, and begins a new double life to save her sister.

But as Lena gets closer to bringing Fressa back, she dredges up dangerous discoveries about her own family, and finds herself in the middle of a devastating plan to spur Ragnarök –a deadly chain of events leading to total world destruction.

Still, with her sister’s life in the balance, Lena is willing to risk it all. She’s willing to kill. How far will she go before the darkness consumes her?

Review: I’ve read a few Vikings stories in the past year or so and largely enjoyed them all. Mythology is always a win for me, so it’s been fun to see Norse mythology getting its day in the sun after Roman and Greek had staked out the genre for so long. Combine those things with a story about sisters and this book was a no brainer for me to request. Sadly, all of those things together still somehow didn’t prove to be enough for me to really enjoy this book.

Lena and Fressa have grown up together to be as close as sisters can be. But while Lena is set out to lead a quiet, predictable life as a healer, it is Fressa who draws people to her with the sheer force of her vitality. So it is a shock when Fressa is suddenly found dead. But the life of a Viking is one of violence and sudden endings, so life moves on, for everyone but Lena. Driven to discover not only what happened to Fressa but to bring her beloved sister back, Lena sets out on a mission that will test the boundaries of life and death and draw her into the dark places of the world and herself.

So, as I said, this book wasn’t a hit for me. Even the things I liked are couched between things I disliked. For example, I liked the sisterly relationship. However, the story jumps through plot elements so quickly in the beginning that I was never able to feel fully connected to Fressa, thus lessening the impact of her death and my own commitment to the lengths (some pretty bad) that Lena went to in her attempts to bring her sister back.

I also enjoyed the mythology aspect of the story. However, again, there was really very little of it and only two god characters played a part and even then were more plot devices than anything else. The goddess, in particular, I felt was underwhelming and non-threatening, not something you want from an all-powerful being.

The pacing of the story also felt very off. As I said, the beginning of the book rushes through many important plot points. It’s attempting to not only set up the relationship between the sisters, but between them both and Fressa’s fiance, the girls’ parents, and  a few of the other village members as well. Between this and the brief attempts at history and world-building, the story feels like it’s simply jumping from one plot point to another. And then, suddenly, when Lena begins her journey, the brakes are pumped, hard. The rest of the book felt plodding, meandering, and frankly, rather boring. This left the overall pacing of the story feeling jarring and mismatched.

Beyond this, Lena was simply not a very likable character. The story is all set up to explore some deeper themes with regards to grief and the morality of choosing who lives and dies. And Lena, being a young woman presumably studying to be a healer, seems like a character primed to interact with these tough situations and choices in a compelling manner. Not so. While her descriptions of grief were at times beautiful and touching on some good ideas, the morality of her decisions was pretty terrible. And, even worse, she seems to think nothing of the terrible things she does.

It’s all well and good to have a character get so caught up in their own sorrow that their worldview becomes myopic to the point of a loss of their own morality, but the interesting part there is having the character explore this topic in some meaningful way. Or simply be from there after written as a villain. But Lena is unquestionably the hero of the story and yet she never seems to really care about the things that she does. As I said, it seems even more questionable when paired together with the empathy that it would have taken to be a healer. I was also not a fan of the romance of this story. It felt unnecessary at best and at worst it made Lena even more unlikable.

The idea of balancing a lost soul with the “weight” of another equal soul is a very interesting idea (though the end result is fairly predictable for fans of the genre), but much its potential was wasted behind choppy pacing and an unlikeable main character. Frustratingly, it seems like only a few minor tweaks could have really improved the story. Flashbacks, for example, would have worked better for the scenes before Fressa’s death and would have broken up some of the more plodding bits of the last half of the book. Ah well, what could have been alas was not! Fans of Norse mythology may like this book, but I think in the end it doesn’t live up to its own potential.

Rating 5: The unlikable main character was the last nail in the coffin for a book that unfortunately wasted several good aspects.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Weight of a Soul” is on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle-Grade Norse Mythology” and “YA Vikings.”

Find “The Weight of a Soul” at your library using WorldCat!