Serena’s Review: “The Thousand Names”

15810910Book: “The Thousand Names” by Django Wexler

Publishing Info: Roc, July 2013

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

Book Description: Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

Review: I honestly don’t remember how this book came to be on my to-read pile, and I also had very little to zero memory of what the basic premises was when I picked it up. A fantasy novel…ok…got it. So, without much preparation or expectation, it was an adventure discovering this book and a pleasant surprise, especially considering it was not the type of fantasy I typically read.

As readers of this blog may have picked upon, my fantasy reading tends to veer towards the “fairytale-like” and medieval fantasy. This is decidedly not that. It can only be described as military fantasy, and, surprisingly, I kind of dug it. Our two chapter perspective characters, Marcus and Winter, both serve in a regiment of the army that is stationed in a far-away outpost, only now seeing action after an uprising of the native people have pushed their army to the sea. They meet up with the newly-arrived Colonel Vhalnich, and while at first skeptical of this eccentric new leader, both, in their own way, come to discover that he may be a military genius…and also caught up in some other nefarious plots! My use of the ellipses is intentional.  The military genius portion is by far the more emphasized part of the story than the mystical plots.

Hats off to Wexler for making such a military-focused story appealing to even casual fans like myself. While it took a bit longer for me to become invested in the story and to fully realize (and accept) that this is what this book was going to be, ultimately, by halfway through the story, I was thoroughly enjoying even the most detailed of military strategy. Most likely this was due to the fact that by this point I was thoroughly invested in our main characters (Marcus/Winter), and almost equally invested in their subordinates (Bobby, Graff, etc) and was frantically urging them to “form square!” and “pull back!” and dreading each page turn where surely one of them wouldn’t make it through.

I also really enjoyed Colonel Vhalnich. We never get a chapter from his perspective, but in many ways he is the Sherlock to Marcus’s Watson. And I always love a “Sherlock-esque” brilliant character! He even throws out “Just wait and see, my dear lad, all will be clear in time!” lines! This may be a very specific joy of mine and not mean much to others, but I loved it.

Marcus was a decent protagonist, fairly straightforward and reminiscent of a “knight in shining armor” character. While I admired his devotion to his friends, there were plenty of times where I just wanted to smack him upside the head at the idiocy of some of his gallantry. There were a few twists that I saw coming a mile away that I couldn’t quite forgive him for missing (though I’m pretty sure we were supposed to be surprised as readers as well…ah all, this is what comes from reading so much of the same genre!).

Winter, however, was a completely unique and thoroughly enjoyable character to find in this type of novel. A run-away young women who has disguised herself as a man and been hiding out in the army for years as a form of survival and, almost, self-penitence for failing her lover Jane in a critical moment years before. I’ve come across the warrior-women-disguised-as-a-man character plenty of times before, but what is notable about Winter is not only sexuality (we avoid many of the romance tropes with other male characters in the military this way) but also her general reluctance to be there. It’s more a survival tactic than some deep-seeded desire to be a combatant. Her arc and growth was the most compelling part of this story.

The first half of the book is, as I said, very firmly rooted in its military tactics, and while this emphasis continues to a point throughout the whole story, I was happy when we got into a bit more of the magic and  mystery towards the second third. The history and players in this set-up were interesting and new. However, by the time the book wrapped itself up, I was still left with a lot of questions. I’m unsure whether this is a good or a bad thing. It is clearly set up as the first in a series, so not all secrets should be told. But, especially with regards to the title object itself “The Thousand Names,” I found myself still largely confused about what exactly it was and how it was important.

Overall, for a story that was pretty far out from my usual preferences, I found myself very much enjoying this book. Winter was a refreshingly new lead character; it was fun to be annoyed with Marcus’s “idiotic nobility” moments; and, as I’ve said many a time, I like genius characters like the Colonel. So, while I won’t be in a mad rush for the second book, I will definitely include it on my “get to it eventually” list. But if you like military fiction more than I do, definitely check this book out!

Rating 8: A surprisingly engaging read, though perhaps not sticking the landing and reveals as well as I might have liked.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Thousand Names” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Military Fantasy” and “LGBT Sci-fi and Fantasy.”

Find “The Thousand Names” at your library using WorldCat.

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Tower of Thorns”

22567177Book: “Tower of Thorns” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Roc, November 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: I bought it!

Book Description: Disillusioned healer Blackthorn and her companion, Grim, have settled in Dalriada to wait out the seven years of Blackthorn’s bond to her fey mentor, hoping to avoid any dire challenges. But trouble has a way of seeking out Blackthorn and Grim.

Lady Geiléis, a noblewoman from the northern border, has asked for the prince of Dalriada’s help in expelling a howling creature from an old tower on her land—one surrounded by an impenetrable hedge of thorns. Casting a blight over the entire district, and impossible to drive out by ordinary means, it threatens both the safety and the sanity of all who live nearby. With no ready solutions to offer, the prince consults Blackthorn and Grim.

As Blackthorn and Grim begin to put the pieces of this puzzle together, it’s apparent that a powerful adversary is working behind the scenes. Their quest is about to become a life and death struggle—a conflict in which even the closest of friends can find themselves on opposite sides.

Review: In preparation for the release of the third book in the “Blackthorn and Grim” series this November, I’m charging forward with my reviews of the series so far. In the first novel, “Dreamer’s Pool” I fell in love with our main characters, Blackthorn and Grim, but questioned Marillier’s decision to include a third character perspective in that story. She followed a similar pattern with this novel, but, perhaps due to a stronger mystery, I found myself enjoying this book even more than the last.

Blackthorn and Grim have settled into their quiet life. Blackthorn, curmudgeony and reserved, providing her healing service to the countryside in which she resides, while waiting out her seven-year bargain to not pursue revenge on the man who destroyed her life. And Grim, faithfully devoting himself to helping her, and his neighbors, however he can, silent and steady, but deeply broken. But when asked to accompany Oran and his pregnant wife, Flidais, to a neighboring providence, Blackthorn can’t refuse and finds herself once again caught up in a fantastical mystery.

As I said, I enjoyed this book even more than the last. Having already been introduced to the characters, I enjoyed reading about Blackthorn and Grim’s continual struggles to adapt to a life that they feel disconnected to and a world that often feels distanced from their own experiences. Their stories are tragic, and the beautiful relationship they have formed is so lovely. In particular, we get more background on Grim’s story in this novel, which was important at this stage. In the first story, we know that something happened, clearly, but there were very few clues as to what. I very much enjoyed this backstory and how it fleshed out Grim’s character.

I also enjoyed the increased involvement that Blackthorn undertook in solving the mystery in this story. Being the recluse that she is, in both books she is extremely reluctant to become involved, but I did appreciate the increased action on her part in this story. The added layers to her relationship with and understanding of Grim were all fantastic, and I’m excited to see where Marillier is taking their relationship. Will it stay platonic? Will it become romantic? I feel like it could go either way, and honestly, I would be satisfied with either approach, which, when you think about it, is a pretty remarkable feat for an author to pull off.

And, as I said in the beginning, I did enjoy the third character perspective more in this story than in the last. Lady Geiléis’s chapters are devoted to spinning another tale that neatly ties in to the primary mystery. Perhaps as a more “shades of grey” character, her perspective was simply more interesting than that of Oran who at times came across as a bit of a milksop. The mystery regarding the howling creature and the tower was also much more compelling than Flidais’s story in the first book. By halfway through the book, I reached a point where I couldn’t put it down (which was a bit inconvenient since I was visiting family over Thanksgiving last year when I was reading it and was probably very rude and antisocial due to this book!). The story was decidedly darker than the first, and I was legitimately creeped out by parts of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and it is always exciting to find a series that seems to be improving as it goes. I’m so excited (and slightly nervous given the high expectations!) for the third book’s release! I already have my copy pre-ordered.

Rating 9: Fantastic! A more compelling (and creepy!) mystery, and added layers to our main characters and their relationship.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tower of Thorns” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy with Old-School Fairy Tale Vibes”and “Books for Fans of Robin McKinley.”

Find “Tower of Thorns” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed:Dreamer’s Pool”

 

Serena’s Review: “The Copper Promise” Part 2: “Children of the Fog”

19778048Book: “Children of the Fog” by Jen Williams

Publishing Info: Headline,  January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Terrible deeds are afoot in the Blackwood forest. The ruthless Fane and his men have not given up their search for the Frith family vault, and the people of Pinehold are paying the price. Wydrin, Sebastian and Lord Frith are the only hope for the tortured and the dying … but between them and revenge are the eerie Children of the Fog.

Review: I started the second novella in this series in a much more confident state than I did the last (in that I wasn’t completely befuddled by what exactly I was reading!). And not only did this new sense of clarity improve my reading experience, but this second showing in the series was significantly stronger than the last.

Picking up immediately where the previous story left off, Wydrn, Sebastian and Lord Frith find themselves teleported (Frith’s new-found mage magic being completely out of control) to the middle of nowhere. Also known as “bear country.”

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If only they had a household cat with them…(source)

But after few near misses in said bear department, the group of adventurers stumble upon a familiar township that is under the control of Frith’s tormentors from the first story who are now torturing the town’s citizens in hopes of finding the secret Frith vault rumored to be filled with treasure and hidden in the woods. Hyjinks ensue.

In almost every way I felt that this story improved upon the first. Whereas the first story was trying to introduce readers to these new characters while also get through a complete, though short, adventure story arc, this novella has room to commit to the story itself, knowing that readers are already familiar with our protagonists. Small details still are leaking out regarding Sebastian’s past and the strange connection he now seems to have to the Amazon-like warrior women who, along with their dragon “mother,” are now terrorizing the land. Frith is…still kind of an entitled jerk, but I can see some small improvements as he learns to maybe…sort of..try to be a decent person. And Wydrin is still her snarky, capable self. Honestly, she’s the only thing holding this ragtag group together at this point!

I also enjoyed the adventure arc in this story more than the last. The side-characters who are introduced are fun, and the magical elements that come into play were unique and interesting. Particularly Holley and her magical glass work!

But, most surprising, was the inclusion of several chapters told from the perspective of the Amazon warrior dragon women (honestly, I don’t know how else to describe them!). At first I was a little put off by these seemingly random chapters, but as the story continued, they almost became my favorite part! Essentially, their arc is that of children discovering the world around them, forming their own identity, and questioning everything they see. It was a very unexpected turn to the overall arc, and I’m excited to see where we go next with these characters!

All in all, I highly enjoyed this second installation in “The Copper Promise” series. If you weren’t immediately captured by the first novella in the series, just as I wasn’t, I recommend giving it a second go with this one!

Rating 8: An improved adventure arc, and some very unexpected, but welcome, twists!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Children of the Fog” isn’t included on any lists on its own, but compilation “The Copper Promise” is on these lists: “Dragons” and “Treasure Hunter Thrillers.”

Find “Children of the Fog” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Ghosts of the Citadel”

Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Dreamer’s Pool”

17305016Book: “Dreamer’s Pool” by Juliet Marillier

Publication Info: Roc, November 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: I bought it!

Book Description: In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she’ll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.

Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.

With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

Review: The third book in this series is coming out in November, so I wanted to get a head start and officially review the first two!

Juliet Marillier is hands down one of my all-time favorite authors, so I was thrilled when I heard that she was starting a new series, and I wasn’t disappointed! Told with her trademark lyrical language and set in a Fey-inhabited land with strong ties to Celtic folklore, Marillier introduces two completely unique main characters who instantly grabbed my attention and devotion.

Blackthorn is essentially the character that Marillier’s former leading ladies would have become if things hadn’t worked out as well for them. As an author, she’s known for writing young, competent, strong-willed women who often have a background as healers and storytellers. And typically, through their won drive and strength of character, they overcome the odds that are set against them and go on to live fulfilling, happy lives (though sometimes in bizarre circumstances). Blackthorn could have been one of these women, but her story ends tragically, leaving her angry, bitter, and, in many ways, hopeless with regards to humanity.

Grim, too, has a tragic, if as of now still unknown, backstory. His response to life’s blows has been to retreat to stoicism and a crippling lack of self-worth. But in Blackthorn he finds new purpose, and together, these two begin to re-discover what it takes to live outside of the prison they had been buried in together for so long.

These two characters, very much outside of Marillier’s usual type, are so tragically beautiful and real. They are both flawed individuals who must confront their own personal demons, and yet, somehow, form a deep and meaningful connection to each other. At this point, their relationship is completely platonic, and I enjoyed it all the more for this fact. It’s a lovely depiction of adult friendship and an example of familial bonds outside of traditional roles.

The story alternates between Blackthorn, Grim, and then Oran, a young prince who is thrown into a mystery with the arrival of his to-be-bride Flidais. I have to say, Oran was by far my least favorite character. His “love at first sight” relationship with Flidais pushed the bounds of believability , and in general, I found his arc less engaging than that of Blackthorn and Grim. Judging from this book, it seems that Marillier is almost writing a fantasy mystery series where Blackthorn and Grim aide another one-shot character through some magical plight. I really like this set-up; however, I’m less sure that including chapters from the perspective of these one-shot characters is the best approach. I feel that I would have enjoyed the story as a whole more had it only been told from the perspective of Blackthorn and Grim.

The set-up of the story, with Blackthorn’s agreement to help anyone who asks for aide for seven years, seems to be a clear indication that Marillier hopes to make this a long-running series. Based on the strengths of this book (the always-fantastic storytelling, and most especially, the incredible characters of Blackthorn and Grim), I truly hope that this is the case!

Rating 8: Blackthorn and Grim shine as atypical characters not often seen in a fantasy novel!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dreamer’s Pool” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Adult Fairytale Fantasy”, and “Great Celtic Fiction.”

Find “Dreamer’s Pool” at your library using WorldCat.

Serena’s Review: “Ghost Talkers”

26114291Book: “Ghost Talkers” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.

Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.

Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she’s just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…

Review: This book description was right up my alley: historical fiction PLUS fantasy PLUS romance. And, while there were a few surprised here and there, I mostly enjoyed this book, perhaps especially because it is *shocker!* a standalone novel!

The book description for this is surprisingly accurate, so I won’t bore you with another recap of events, but jump right in. The biggest question was this book was whether not it would manage combing fantastical elements into a historical setting in a seamless manner. It would have been all too easy for the fantasy to overwhelm the setting or to throw questions on historical events. However, this is pulled off with aplomb. I particularly enjoyed the backstory with Houdini and Sir Conan Doyle being used by the military itself to discredit spiritualism in an effort to protect their mediums and discourage Germany from adopting similar tactics. It was a clever way of tying in reality while providing a clever explanation for events.

The story also doesn’t shy away from the prejudices that were alive and well in this time period and would impact our female protagonist and her fellow mediums. The systematic sexism and racism of the time are handled neatly, if a bit too easily. The conflicts were a bit too mild and the resolutions, a bit too easy. For a shorter novel, however, that’s main focus is narrating a spy story with a fantastical twist, I can’t fault it too much for not devoting more time to fleshing these bits out more thoroughly. Not every book needs to accomplish everything, and I was satisfied with the approach taken here.

The beginning does start with what could amount to a spoiler-y twist. For some, it’s probably pretty obvious, but I’ll refrain from going into details for those (like me!) who weren’t really looking for it (though now I do feel a bit “duh” about the whole thing…). I really enjoyed the mystery/spy/traitor storyline that was the central focus of this book, and thought that the use of mediums and ghosts was incorporated in clever, if not completely unique, ways. I also very much enjoyed Ginger as our leading lady.

This is a shorter, stand-alone novel, so if you’re in the mood for a quick read and are interested in WWI but not too finicky about the addition of things like ghosts, mediums, and seances, then this book might be just the thing!

Rating 7: I enjoyed it, but it’s also a very tried-and-true story with nothing particularly challenging or unique to offer. Still a fun read though!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghost Talkers” is a new title and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But I would include it in this list “Gaslamp Fantasy”  and, even though it has obviously has fantasy elements, this list “WWI Historic Fiction.”

Find “Ghost Talkers” at your library using WorldCat.

Kate’s Review: “Labyrinth Lost”

27969081Book: “Labyrinth Lost” by Zoraida Córdova

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

“Beautiful Creatures” meets “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” with an infusion of Latin American tradition in this highly original fantasy adventure.

Review: So I am kind of switching it up for my second Horrorpalooza review! While I know that Serena is usually the user to do fantasy novels, when I got “Labyrinth Lost” by Zoraida Córdova, I thought that it was going to be more horror based. I mean, the main character is a bruja, which is a kind of witch for this story and it’s purposes, and I did say that witches are going to count in this Horrorpalooza. So while this is less horror and more a remix of “Alice in Wonderland”, I am going to count it as a win because this is the kind of Witch-esque Mythology that I really enjoy: powerful, matriarchal bonds that sustain a family with just as much love as magic. Also, scary demons. Plus, it’s always a plus to see YA books with a POC protagonist, as books for kids and teens (and really all people) should be telling the stories of many different experiences.

So we will start with the good. “Labyrinth’s Lost” takes a concept we’ve seen before (teenage witches) and makes it it’s own unique tale. Alex is a bruja, the most powerful bruja of her generation, and the magical systems that Córdova created for this story are always interesting and taking from Latin American traditions. There are some pretty good source notes at the end of this book where Córdova explains what parts come from tradition, and what parts were invented for the story, and I think that it is valuable to learn about this background. Too often to do you see people using Latin American imagery of spirits and the dead, especially around Halloween, and this book shows the importance of some of this imagery and why it isn’t just spooky makeup. I also loved the magical world of Los Lagos, as it does harken to Wonderland but still maintains its own character and ambiance. The magical system of cantos as opposed to spells also gives a new spin on traditionally Western ideas of witchcraft, and I liked that every chapter started out with a passage from the family Book of Cantos. These Bruja communities are portrayed as incredibly tight knit, and the camaraderie and love was very apparent. I also like that the distinction is made that all brujas are witches, but not all witches are brujas. They are not necessarily interchangeable and one cannot make assumptions about brujas just because they are a kind of witch.

Alex is a fairly realistic protagonist, and while she does teeter towards the trope of ‘chosen one who rejects her power’, I think that there is enough reason given that she may not want to have this power in the first place so as not to be twee or stereotypical. To be an Ecantrix means to have a dangerous power that is hard to control, and given that Alex partially blames herself for the loss of her father, her petulance is excusable. I also greatly appreciated that not only is our main character a Latina girl, she is also bisexual, and her love interest is her best friend Rishi. Rishi gets to come along on this adventure with Alex and the mysterious brujo Nova, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how natural Alex and Rishi got on. Her bisexuality was always treated as just a fact of her being, not as a novelty that needed to be pointed out and doted on.

But with these positives do come a few negatives. One of those is really just out of my own personal preferences: I have a really hard time with fantasy fiction. Sometimes it really grabs me, and other times it’s harder to keep me interested. While I liked a lot about “Labyrinth Lost”, I did find the stuff inside Los Lagos to be far less interesting to me than her life in the real world. I think that had the magic stayed in an urban or real world setting it would have held my interest. but once new lands come into play, I’m really not all that invested unless that world is called Middle Earth or Fantastica. So when we got to Los Lagos, I found it easier to put down. I did like the villain, The Devourer, as she was menacing and seductive all at once, a being that has started to take over Los Lagos and in doing so has made it start to crumble under her oppressive force. She was good, but I wanted more of her.

And then….. the dreaded love triangle.

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Will this madness never cease? (source)

“Labyrinth Lost” is book one in a series (what is it with YA Fantasy books seemingly always packaged as a series?), and even though Alex is very much devoted to Rishi, by the end of this book you just get the feeling that Nova is going to be a threat to this relationship in the near future. After all, even though he does things in this book that should be pretty hard to forgive, he’s being set up as the tragic antihero that is hopelessly devoted to Alex. I really don’t like love triangles, and I had hoped that we were getting away from that, but apparently not. Plus, this book ends on a blatant cliffhanger, making it totally unable to stand alone, and I hate it when books end like that. It just galls me.

All of those complaints aside, I really do think that “Labyrinth Lost” is a really fun read about magic and brujas. I will probably keep going in the series, though I don’t know how long the wait is going to be. I’m not really in any hurry, which is both good, and bad.

Rating 7: A very unique twist on witches and Wonderland with diverse characters, though some of the plot progression left me colder than I would have wanted.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Labyrinth Lost” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great YA Novels About Latinas!”, and “LGBT Sci-Fi/Fantasy YA”.

Find “Labyrinth Lost” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Poisoned Blade”

31226229Book: “Poisoned Blade” by Kate Elliott

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, August 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Now a Challenger, Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives–the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons alike. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on her traveling party puts Jes at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos–the prince she still loves–is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion…. She must become a warrior.

Review: After finishing, and loving, “Court of Fives,” I immediately requested “Poisoned Blade” from the library, and last week it arrived! Full disclosure, I may have set aside other reading projects for the sole purpose of bringing this book with me on a trip to the cabin last weekend. It seemed like the perfect “mini break” read, and it didn’t let me down!

“Poisoned Blade” picks up immediately after “Court of Fives.” And when I say “immediately,” I mean that it starts the very night after the final scene in the previous book with Jes sneaking into the royal grounds to find and apologize to Kal. Needless to say, he doesn’t take this well. Luckily, both characters are written in a very relatable and believable manner. Jes feels bad for her decision, but doesn’t regret it and wouldn’t do things differently. Yes, it costs her her relationship with Kal, but she saved her family in the process. It’s refreshing to see a character in a young adult series who is so realistically portrayed with regards to the relationships in her life. Obviously, as saddening as it would be for her to lose the trust of a boy she was beginning to love but had only know for a few weeks, her priorities would remain with her beloved mother and sisters.

While “Court of Fives” wasn’t primarily focused on the romance between Jes and Kal, with their immediate falling out at the beginning of this book, Elliott opened up a lot of space for herself to dive more fully into the political intrigue and action of the world she has created. We are more fully exposed to characters who only existed on the periphery of things in the other book, like Menoe (the sister of Kal and new wife of Jes’s father), the royal couple, and their ailing son, Prince Temnos. I thoroughly enjoyed the expansion of the cast and the deeper currents that were exposed through Jes’s interactions with these groups. In every way, the choices that she is faced with both expand and narrow at the same time as she is made aware of the complicated web (Ha! Get it? “Web” because her nickname is “Spider?” I’m super clever…) of relationships, schemes, and history that exist.

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You don’t need to fake it, guys, I know I’m hilarious…(source)

The world-building is also expanded when Jes takes part in a traveling party that tours the outer reaches beyond the city. This opened up a lot of doors for further action and new challenges for our main character. Really, the action was upped big time in this sequel, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of it. Particularly, the spider scouts and their magical/mechanical spiders were more fully explored in this book, which I really liked, as they made such a brief appearance in the first story and left a lot of questions unanswered. Jes also spends a lot more time fully realizing the role she has to play and is much more deliberate with her choices, many of which are not easy and force her to behave in a way that she would have thought impossible in the previous book. I love it when the main character must slide into moral shades of grey!

This book embraced the strengths that were set up in the first, and then went wild with the world-building and the addition of multiple plot layers. I very much enjoyed the whole thing and strongly recommend it for fans of young adult fantasy series. This has been one of the more enjoyable ones of the last few years so far, and I’m excited to see how Elliott wraps the whole thing up! Sadly, I have to wait until NEXT JULY!

Rating 9: A strong sequel, probably even better than the first!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Poisoned Blade” is a new title and thus not on many Goodreads lists. However, it should be on this one “Non-Caucasian Protagonists in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal Romance.”

Find “Poisoned Blade” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Court of Fives”