Serena’s Review: “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two”

17261183Book: “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, October 2013

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

Book Description from Goodreads: September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home, and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

Review: Can my whole review just be this gif?:

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No? Ok, fine, but I have to say, with this, the third installment in Valente’s “Fairyland” series, my love of these books has only continued to grow and my coherence for a reviewing them continues to deteriorate. But onwards we go in my now usual fashion for this series: blatant and unapologetic quoting!

September is growing up. We spend the longest portion yet in this series with September home in the “real world” waiting, wondering, and, now as an older girl, preparing for her trip to Fairyland. And with this growing up comes feelings, so many feelings! Fear, sadness, worry, and, suddenly, the thought that one must hide all of these feelings away. September has been practicing her “stern” face.

“It is such hard work to keep your heart hidden! And worse, by the time you find it easy, it will be harder still to show it. It is a terrible magic in this world to ask for exactly the thing you want. Not least because to know exactly the thing you want and look it in the eye is a long, long labor.”

But finally her traveling companion and escort to Fairyland arrives in the form of a very grumpy Blue Wind and she’s away! In the previous story, with September’s adventures in Fairyland Below, we spent a lot of time with the shadow versions of her companions, the wyverary A-Through-L, and the madrid Saturday, who were not quite the same as the true versions of themselves. So, as a reader, I could sympathize with September’s reflections on missing friends and loved ones and the complex feelings that arise from being reunited with those we care about after years of grieving their absence (though I am a spoiled reader who only had to wait until the next book to find my beloved characters again).

“September laughed a little. She tried to make it sound light and happy, as though it were all over now and how funny it was, when you think about it, that simply not having another person by you could hurt so. But it did not come out quite right; there was a heaviness in her laughing like ice at the bottom of a glass. She still missed Saturday, yet he was standing right beside her! Missing him had become a part of her, like a hard, dark bone, and she needed so much more than a few words to let it go. In all this while, she had spent more time missing Saturday than seeing him.”

The breadcrumbs that had been laid out in past books regarding the slow build relationship between September and Saturday come to a head in this story. Fully ensconced in “teenagedom,” September and Saturday struggle with the everyday challenges of first love while also dealing with the very-not-everyday-challenges of dating a madrid whose experiences with time as a river that can be traveled up and down with ease puts uncomfortable truths in the forefront. September had a glance of what could be her and Saturday’s daughter in the very first book, and a few run-ins with an adult Saturday in this story just further highlights her discomfort with fate, love, and choosing.

“But the trouble is, I do want to be surprised. I want to choose. I broke the heart of my fate so that I could choose. I never chose; I only saw a little girl who looked like me standing on a gear at the end of the world and laughing, and that’s not choosing, not really. Wouldn’t you rather I chose you? Wouldn’t you rather I picked our future out of all the others anyone could have?”

And per what is typical of these books, September’s adventures through bizarre and magical lands, meeting nonsensical and wonderful creatures, is all peppered with philosophical ponderings that speak to deeper truths. A few of my favorites include:

“Marriage is a wrestling match where you hold on tight while your mate changes into a hundred different things. The trick is that you’re changing into a hundred other things, but you can’t let go. You can only try to match up and never turn into a wolf while he’s a rabbit, or a mouse while he’s still busy being an owl, a brawny black bull while he’s a little blue crab scuttling for shelter. It’s harder than it sounds.”

and

“It’s Latin, which is an excellent language for mischief-making, which is why governments are so fond of it.”

and, of course,

“All Librarians are Secret Masters of Severe Magic. Goes with the territory.

I don’t think I have mentioned it in past reviews, but these books come with beautiful illustrations by Ana Juan. I listened to this book on audiobook (read by the author herself, and she was very good), so I missed the illustrations here. I nabbed a copy of the printed version to peruse them and they are beautiful, as they were in the previous books. Yet another plus to the series as a whole!

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by Ana Juan

Rating 10: The perfect balance of beautiful and poignant.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two” is included on this Goodreads list: “Books You Wish More People Knew About” and Beautifully Written Books

Find “The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Reviews: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” and “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There.”

 

Serena’s Review: “The Keeper of the Mist”

25739099Book: “The Keeper of the Mist”

Publishing Info: Knopf, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Keri has been struggling to run her family bakery since her mother passed away.  Now the father she barely knew—the Lord of Nimmira—has died, and ancient magic has decreed that she will take his place as the new Lady. The position has never been so dangerous: the mists that hide Nimmira from its vicious, land-hungry neighbors have failed, and Keri’s people are visible to strangers for the first time since the mists were put in place generations ago.

At the same time, three half-brothers with their own eyes on the crown make life within the House just as dangerous as the world outside. But Keri has three people to guide her: her mysterious Timekeeper, clever Bookkeeper, and steadfast Doorkeeper. Together they must find a way to repair the boundary before her neighbors realize just how vulnerable Nimmira is.

Review: I have read a few other titles by Rachel Neumeier, and I’m beginning to come to a bit of a conclusion about her work. She has great ideas and the book summary is always amazing, but the actual execution somehow makes even the most thrilling concept seem tedious.

Everything about this book description is right up my alley. Features a strong leading lady, set in a unique fantasy setting, aided by her friends with a dash of romance, and out to save a kingdom. And it all started out well. Keri, an outcast in her own town given the questionable nature of her birth, is attempting to run her recently deceased mother’s bakery on her own when her life is turned upside down. She is suddenly the new heir to the small, but economically wealthy, country of Nimmira and the invisibility spells that have protected it for so long from its vicious and greedy neighbors are failing. With the help of her childhood friends, Tassel and Cort, she must set out to right what is wrong before her country falls.

Unfortunately, for what sounds like an action-packed start, the story quickly falls into several pitfalls right off the bat. Firstly, Tassel and Cort, for as little page time as they get in the beginning of the story, are each intriguing characters. Keri’s character is itself rather bland, but when played against the more flamboyant Tassel or the stern, responsible Cort, her character is seen in the best light. Unfortunately, both characters, especially Cort, are absent for large chunks of the story, leaving us with Keri at her most pale.

Further, with magical protections failing, a new kingdom to run, and the arrival of questionable neighbors with perhaps evil intentions, you would think there would be a lot of room for the story to move. Instead, we spend pages and pages with characters just talking and planning on what to talk about next, and who should talk to who, and on and on. And look, I’m all for detailed storytelling and character building, but when huge portions of the book are simply characters rehashing the exact same subject over and over again I lose my patience. There was one line about a neighboring country perhaps not realizing that Nimmira was vulnerable that was repeated at least 5-6 times throughout the book. It would have been laughable, if it wasn’t frustrating.

What makes many of these factors all the more irritating is the strong premises, like I mentioned. The author has created a unique magic system, but then fails to explain how it works. With almost any fantasy novel, there is a level of basic acceptance that readers are expected to go in with, but unfortunately this story pushed past this point. Keri, Tassel, and Cort all come into their new roles and discover their own specific brand of magic. However, the limits, boundaries, or rules of each of their abilities is never explored. There were several points where one or another character would conveniently discover just the right ability at just the right time to get them out of whatever scenario they were stuck in. This is not a magic system, this is a plot magic.

And sadly, the romance was not what I had hoped for either. It’s odd that I’m usually complaining about instalove relationships in  young adult books, and while this was definitely not that, it was equally unsatisfying. Cort is absent for large portions of the book, which means that any progression of feelings (Keri starts off respecting Cort but very definitely not interested) isn’t based on any interactions between the characters, but more a “realization” towards the end of the story that she had always felt that way. Similar to the sudden magical abilities that were never hinted at before, this was sudden love feelings that we are shown no examples of, just merely told are suddenly there, on both characters’ part. It was very disappointing.

All in all, while there were strengths to this story (a creative world, an interesting idea for a magical system, and the beginnings of good characters), none of these strengths were ever fully realized, and it was ultimately a frustrating and disappointing read.

Rating 5: For having such a strong premises, the story and characters never felt fully fleshed out or sure of themselves.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Keeper of the Mist” is included on this Goodreads list: “Upcoming 2016 sci-fi/fantasy novels with female leads or co-leads.” 

Find “The Keeper of the Mist” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There”

13538708Book: “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, October 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows—and their magic—to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.

Review: It’s another home run, folks! And, since I am not one for changing routine, I’m going to conduct this review in the same manner as I did the last: Insert beautiful quotes and weep at the author’s literary majesty. Here we go!

“A book is a door, you know. Always and forever. A book is a door into another place and another heart and another world.”

September is waiting anxiously to return to Fairyland and continue her adventures. But this time around, her return is marked not with the exultation of a savior, but the practical results of her previous actions. Her shadow, lost in exchange for aide the last go around, is loose and making trouble in Fairyland-Below and it is up to Septmeber, as the owner of said shadow and therefore responsible, to set things straight (or as straight as they can get in such a nonsense world).

“You know, in Fairyland-Above they said that the underworld was full of devils and dragons. But it isn’t so at all! Folk are just folk, wherever you go, and it’s only a nasty sort of person who thinks a body’s a devil just because they come from another country and have different notions. It’s wild and quick and bold down here, but I like wild things and quick things and bold things, too.”

September is also growing up, much to her own dismay. She is no longer a Heartless Child and her new, untried heart proves to be quite a struggle in this book. She must bargain away a first kiss as well as time itself, an even more precious and unknowable currency.

“For though, as we have said, all children are heartless, this is not precisely true of teenagers. Teenage hearts are raw and new, fast and fierce, and they do not know their own strength. Neither do they know reason or restraint, and if you want to know the truth, a goodly number of grown-up hearts never learn it.”

This new heart proves troublesome with her friends as well, new and old. The realization that friends are different, individual people with their own thoughts, feelings, and priorities challenges September’s perception of herself and the world. But A-Through-L and the Madrid, Saturday, are as wonderful as ever. Her relationship with Saturday grows deeper and even more confusing for poor child-on-the-verge-of-adulthood hearts.

“And then she felt her Ell’s great strong presence beside her, and Saturday slipped his hand in hers. Oh. Oh. They would not abandon her. Of course, they would not. How silly she had been. They were her friends—they had always been. Friends can go odd on you and do things you don’t like, but that doesn’t make them strangers.”
 Valente continues her unique writing style of beautiful lyricism, grammatical twists, and deep truths masked in narrative gymnastics. I continue to enjoy her insertions of the narrator’s own voice on the story.

“Oh, September! It is so soon for you to lose your friends to good work and strange loves and high ambitions. The sadness of that is too grown-up for you. Like whiskey and voting, it is a dangerous and heady business, as heavy as years. If I could keep your little tribe together forever, I would. I do so want to be generous. But some stories sprout bright vines that tendril off beyond our sight, carrying the folk we love best with them, and if I knew how to accept that with grace, I would share the secret.”

As I’ve mentioned, the real joy of these books lies in the combination of nonsensical world building and creativity alongside very deep, and often sad, thoughts on life and living. This book, specifically, deals a lot with September’s father, his absence while fighting in a war in Europe, and the effects that war  itself has on a person.

“Her father’s shadow looked sadly down at her. “You can never forget what you do in a war, September my love. No one can. You won’t forget your war either.”

September learns several lessons regarding grief, friendship, love, betrayal and forgiveness all while cavorting in an underworld ruled by her own capricious shadow.  The shadow-selves in this story are a fascinating look at the unknown self, the better and worse aspects of each being that lie out of our own sight and awareness.

“For there are two kinds of forgiveness in the world: the one you practice because everything really is all right, and what went before is mended. The other kind of forgiveness you practice because someone needs desperately to be forgiven, or because you need just as badly to forgive them, for a heart can grab hold of old wounds and go sour as milk over them.”

All around, another amazing story featuring September and Fairyland. I loved this book almost as much as the first, the only detraction being my own rush to want to return to the beloved Fairyland characters from the first story, which is a hard thing to hold against a series that is themed around creative new ideas and worlds. Again, I will be rushing on to the third book and am pretty sure that this series will end up being purchased and added to my own personal library.

“A library is never complete. That’s the joy of it. We are always seeking one more book to add to our collection.”

Rating 9: Very excellent indeed!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There” is included on these Goodreads lists: “The Best Fairytales and Retellings” and “Children’s Books I’ll Re-Read No Matter How Old I Am.”

Find “The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There” at your library using Worldcat!

Previous Review of “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.”

 

Serena’s Review: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”

9591398 Book: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, May 2011

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

Book: It’s going to be so hard to talk about this book without gushing. Or crying. Or gushing. Or crying/gushing. (Gushily crying?)

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But remember how I listed the “Oz” books as one of the formative series of my childhood? Along side a similar love for the “Narnia” series and a brief stint as Alice in a children’s theater production of “Alice in Wonderland,” I have a special fondness in my heart for books about children traveling to fantastic and nonsensical worlds. But the true joy of this book was its heart, the deeper meanings, feelings, and yes, tragedies, that could be seen sparkling through the ridiculous trappings of a crazy Fairyland world. And I loved every minute of it.

Beyond the gushing, it’s also going to be hard to write about this book given what it is. While there is a plot, and there are great characters, its all wrapped up in the trappings of madness. And the language itself is what makes the story great. How do I really capture that in a review? So, I might try something different here, and pull out some of my favorite quotes and use those to frame my thoughts.

“Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.”

September, our 12 year old heroine, is ready for an adventure. As a child who loves to read, she is well accustomed to what it would take to be a great traveler and is only waiting for her invitation.

“One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown.”

And one day it comes in the form of a Green Wind riding a leopard ready to whisk her away to Fairyland where she will get in an awful lot of trouble, meet some great friends like a Wyverary (a wyvern/library definitely NOT dragon) and a mysterious boy names Saturday, and be called upon to de-throne a monarch.

“Such lonely, lost things you find on your way. It would be easier, if you were the only one lost. But lost children always find each other, in the dark, in the cold. It is as though they are magnetized and can only attract their like. How I would like to lead you to brave, stalwart friends who would protect you and play games with dice and teach you delightful songs that have no sad endings. If you would only leave cages locked and turn away from unloved Wyverns, you could stay Heartless.”

The beautiful language in this book can not be praised enough. It is difficult enough to write a nice, straight forward story. But to write nonsense, and nonsense that hides deep, dark truths while also just being simply beautiful to read and repeat aloud, that is a unique and rare talent.

“… but as has been said, September read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.”

Valente also employs another tricky technique, that of inserting her own authorial voice into the story. I’ve seen this ploy used all too often to super-cheesy effect. But here, like with everything else, Valente captures the perfect balance of whimsy and wit, so instead of being read as intrusive or tonally jarring, these insertions only add depth and further insight to the story.

“It is true that novelists are shameless and obey no decent law, and they are not to be trusted on any account, but some Mysteries even they must honor.”

So, I have successfully reviewed this book while mostly relying on the author’s own work to speak for itself and done very little myself. But, that too, is a praise of the book and of the author herself. I am proceeding straight to the next book and, if it is as amazing as this one, will likely be equally incoherent in my next review.

“All stories must end so, with the next tale winking out of the corners of the last pages, promising more, promising moonlight and dancing and revels, if only you will come back when spring comes again.”

Rating 10: Could have gotten this rating for this quote alone, but the book also completely earned it.

“She sounds like someone who spends a lot of time in libraries, which are the best sorts of people.”

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Books that Love Words” and “Girls with Dragons” (but A-Through-L is NOT a dragon!!)

Find “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “Every Heart a Doorway”

25526296 Book:“Every Heart a Doorway” by Seanan McGuire

Publishing Info: Tor, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads:

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children:
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Review: I highlighted this novella as an upcoming release that I was anxiously looking forward to back in April. I have read some of Seanan McGuires other books and have liked her style. Beyond that, the premises is right up my alley.

When my sister and I were little (or maybe only a few years ago, too), we would discuss what we would do if we suddenly came upon a portal to another world. The conversation was always pretty short: we’d go through of course! Having grown up on stories where children visit places like Oz, Narnia, and Wonderland, this really seems to be the only option.

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Going is never in question and there are millions of stories that share these adventures. But what happens when these children come back? (I am restraining myself from going into a long, drawn out discussion about the existential trauma that the Pevensies children must have gone through after living full adult lives in Narnia only to suddenly topple back to their own world as small children. If you really think about it for a minute, the true horror of that situation really sets in. Ok, mini rant over.)

“Every Heart a Doorway” addresses this very issue.  This novella posits that every child who disappears to these different worlds is also matched to a world that fits an inner part of themselves that cannot be fully expressed here in the human world. And when those children (adults in children’s bodies, many of them) return, it is not by free choice. Nancy is one of these children. After spending the last several years in an Underworld, the “Halls of the Dead” world specifically, she has returned to the “real” world and finds that she’s not too happy about it. Her parents, confused and saddened by the loss of their daughter of before, a past person that Nancy herself does not mourn, do what many such parents have done: carted her off for “treatment.” Luckily for Nancy, this “treatment” consists of a boarding school operated by a woman who knows all too well of Nancy’s unique struggles, having herself traveled between worlds for much of her life.

It’s amazing how much ground McGuire covers in such a short story. The book is only 150 pages long and yet she lays out not only Nancy’s story, but several other unique characters as well. Such as Jack and Jill, twins who spent years and years in a land called “The Moors” which seems to be based on old horror movies such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” There’s Sumi, Nancy’s roommate, who traveled to a nonsense world, and perhaps has the most honest things to stay about these experiences from it. And Kade, a boy who was scooped up by fairies as a child, but who was kicked out when they learned that the little girl they thought they had captured identified as a boy and was much more interested in slaying trolls than in parading as their princess.

Alongside these fantastic characters, McGuire creates a unique system for cataloging these worlds, with axis of Nonsense and Logical with cross beams of Virtue and Wicked and many other offshoots as well. As a longtime reader of fantasy stories where characters world-jump, it was great fun looking at this mapping process and trying to apply it to other magical worlds from stories.

The mystery at the center of the story is also very effective and another huge mark in its favor. Again, the author had half the page count of a typical book to fit in all of these elements. I loved every minute of this book, and while I would love to have spent more time with these characters and this exploration of children traveling to fantasy worlds and their experiences after returning, the best compliment I can give any novella is to say that I felt fully satisfied with it as a short stand-alone.

Rating 9: Really great read! Fun characters, fun mystery, and most importantly, a great exploration of a typical fantasy trope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Every Heart a Doorway” is included on the Goodreads list “Gender Non-Binary Fantasy & Science Fiction” and “2016 Speculative Fiction New Series And Standalones Books”.

Find “Every Heart a Doorway” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Flamecaster”

Flamecaster Book: “Flamecaster” by Cinda Williams Chima

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, April 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Adrian sul’Han, known as Ash, is a trained healer with a powerful gift of magic—and a thirst for revenge. The son of the queen of the Fells, Ash is forced into hiding after a series of murders throws the queendom into chaos. Now Ash is closer than he’s ever been to killing the man responsible, the cruel king of Arden. As a healer, can Ash use his powers not to save a life but to take it?

Abandoned at birth, Jenna Bandelow was told the mysterious magemark on the back of her neck would make her a target. But when the King’s Guard launches a relentless search for a girl with a mark like hers, Jenna assumes that it has more to do with her role as a saboteur than any birth-based curse. Though Jenna doesn’t know why she’s being hunted, she knows that she can’t get caught.

Eventually, Ash’s and Jenna’s paths will collide in Arden. Thrown together by chance and joined by their hatred of the king, they will come to rescue each other in ways they cannot yet imagine.

Review: I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Chima’s “Seven Realms” series, so I was very excited to hear that she was returning to that world for a second go with a new cast of characters from the next generation. From past experience, series that are set in the same world, but later in time, can be very hit or miss. It’s hard to not want to spend time with the characters I am already familiar with and the jump in time can come with some nasty surprises. While I enjoyed “Flamecaster,” I did fall prey to this type of disappointment when comparing it to the last story and featured characters.

Right off the bat, I was reminded why I enjoyed the first set of books. Chima’s world building is solid, and it was very easy to slip back into this time, place, and culture even with the years that have passed since I finished the last book. Much of this book is set in the kingdom of Arden, now ruled by the tyrant King that Raina, the Wolf Queen of the Fells and one of the main characters from the first series, refused to marry 25 years ago. Things have not improved since. He’s still busy rounding up, burning or collaring the magic users of his kingdom while conducting  a long, drawn out war with the Fells. It hasn’t been going well, but he is anything if not persistent.

Here enters Jenna, a coal miner, orphan, and rebel with a personal vendetta against the King. Unfortunately, rebel!Jenna is the most interesting part of her character and we get very little of that in this book. Her secret and forgotten past play a large part in driving this story, but we only get a few tidbits of answers towards the end of the story. And in the meantime, she is largely a pawn stored away in a dungeon through significant chunks of the book. For a character with mysterious abilities and a penchant for blowing things up, I wish we had gotten more from her.

Ash, the other main character mentioned in the description, is the son of Raina and Han, our protagonists from the first series. His story starts off with the type of tragic happenings that I always dread from next-generation-stories. But as a character, he was fairly enjoyable. His magic and personality are distinctly different than his father’s, which is important in a character who could have easily read as Han 2.0. We spend more time with Ash and that alone makes his story line more enjoyable than Jenna’s. Though, here too, I didn’t feel like he was as fully fleshed out as either Raina or Han were from the first series.

What wasn’t mentioned in the book description and what surprised me as I read is the fact that Jenna and Ash are not the only protagonists of this book. Lo and behold, there are two other characters whose perspectives are given a decent amount of page time: smuggler and quick witted, Lila, and Destin, a mage and spymaster working for the King of Arden. Destin only has a very few chapters, so I don’t have much to say about him. He serves his purpose, but didn’t add a lot to the story, in my opinion. Lila, however, is by far my favorite character in the book. She is the most action-oriented, we see her weaving in between all of the other characters with ease and skill, and her personality reads the strongest on the page. In all honesty, while events at the end of this book make it clear why Jenna will be serious player in the future, I finished this story kind of wanting Lila to me our main female protagonist.

So, while I enjoyed aspects of this book, there were some disappointments as well. As I’ve highlighted a bit here, many of the main characters simply weren’t as engaging as I would have wanted. I remember that the first book in the “Seven Realms” series also seemed a bit lackluster only to vastly improve with the three following books, so I’m hopeful that that will prove true with this series as well. However, while I love the addition of Lila, I’m concerned that balancing four perspectives and characters may ultimately weaken my attachment to each. I finished this book not really caring about Destin or Jenna, and mildly interested in Ash (and a lot of that interest still has to do with his connection to the characters from the previous book.) Still love Lila, though.

The other major detractor that has to be mentioned is a very, very unfortunate bout of instalove. If I was going to mention one thing that made the “Seven Realms” series stand out to me amongst the plethora of YA fantasy series, it would be the solid characterization and slow build of its main romantic pairing. Each book read as a solid step in Raina and Han’s relationship, from mere acquaintances who really know nothing of the truth about one another even at the end of the first book, to casually dating with the struggles that come with that, to a serious relationship by the end. And here, in this new series, we get one of the worst examples of an instalove relationship that I cam remember. And I’ve read a lot, so that’s saying something. Again, part of me hopes that there will be some explanation for the rush of this in the first book, perhaps they’re not meant to be together and things will get switched up (go Lila!)? I’m not sure. But if this relationship is supposed to read as a main fixture in the story, this was not a good start.

All in all, this wasn’t the strong return to this world that I was hoping for. However, there were enough elements to keep me reading, and my previous experience with the slow start of the other series leaves me hopeful that this will grow in much the same way.

Rating 6: Decent, but some of the characters were disappointing and the instalove was maddening.

Reader’s Advisory:

This book isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet, but I would highly recommend reading the “Seven Realms” series by the same author. It isn’t necessary to appreciate this book, but I loved it and would recommend it simply for its own worth.

Find “Flamecaster” at your library using Worldcat!

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “The Last Mortal Bond”

The Last Mortal Bond Book: “The Last Mortal Bond” by Brian Staveley

Publishing Info: Tor, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all–Valyn, Adare, and Kaden–come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.

Spoilers for the first two books in the series.

Review: As I said in my review of the previous books (see end of post for links), Staveley went to great lengths to create a tangled mess of misunderstanding, dueling motivations, and confusion with his first two books. And my question was simple: how? How was he going to resolve all of these dangling threads in a way that stayed true to what has been a compellingly honest, complicated but realistic story up to this point? My doubts have been rested, and sign me up for the Brian Staveley fan club. “The Last Mortal Bond” exemplifies nailing the landing in epic fantasy, by no means an easy feat.

Continuing my pattern from my review of the first two books, it is easiest to review this book by checking in with our main characters, the royal siblings, Adare, Valyn, and Kaden and Kettral leader, Gwenna.

Let’s start with Gwenna, shall we? I love Gwenna. She only had a few chapters in the last book, and there at first it felt a little strange to be in the head of a seemingly random second tier character. She still plays the same role in the narrative, as a character with an exciting, but largely insular, story arc. Between all the politics, magic, secrecy, and anger going on between the royal siblings, Gwenna’s chapters were a breath of fresh air. A problem was presented, the downfall of the Kettral training islands, and Gwenna and her team were deployed to solve it. I really enjoyed returning to this aspect of the story. In the first book, when Valyn was still in training, we learned a lot about the Kettral and the role they play in the Empire. However, in the second book, they and their giant falcons, were largely absent. It was thrilling to return to the islands, especially as seen through the eyes of Gwenna, a warrior who did not grow up with any expectations of leadership, but has had it thrust upon her and is more than capable of rising to the occasion. And the giant falcons were back. Always a plus.

It’s interesting how Staveley has set up different levels of stakes for his three main characters. Kaden’s story has been one with the highest level of stakes (the war to save humanity), Adare’s has been on the second level (the war to save Annur), and Valyn’s on the most insular level (the war to avenge himself and his family).

Kaden’s story continues to be the one that I have had the hardest time predicting. While throughout the story Adare has been focused on the greater good of the Empire, and Valyn has had a tendency to get caught up in the inner dynamics of whatever group he is in in the moment, Kaden has floated along the periphery, gathering knowledge and making unexpected decisions. For example, his decision to suddenly turn the Empire of Annur into a Republic in the last book. What a huge thing to decide, and so suddenly! I appreciate that Staveley didn’t try and make any political commentary here, which I was concerned with at first. This isn’t our world, and it becomes clear pretty early on in this book that while Kaden might have started from a very idealistic place, the powerful lords and ladies of Annur are not ready for the responsibility of truly ruling, instead focusing on power grabs and becoming mired in debate. So, too, in this book, Kaden’s journey is unexpected. Allying with Triste, who is understandably bitter and resentful of the role she has been thrust in, Kaden makes a desperate journey across the Empire in an effort to both contain the Gods who are walking the earth and also save them from the csestriim out to kill them, and thus, cripple humanity.

Adare remains my favorite character. As before, her practicality, ability to face tough choices, and general pizazz in face of it all, makes her a blast. Kaden could be frustrating with his idealism (come on, we all knew that handing over power to bunch of whining aristocrats was never going to be a good idea) and Valyn could get too caught up in his missions to take a step back and realize the larger implications of his decisions. And it makes sense that it would be this way. Valyn and Kaden grew up largely disconnected from the Empire. Adare, on the other hand, grew up at the foot of her father, by all accounts an incredibly successful ruler. But Adare’s failings are not swept away either. Her misjudgements come to bite her in the butt big time, specifically her choice to save the csestriim general il Tornja by stabbing Valyn.

Valyn’s story was a stumbling block for me, this time around. He started as my favorite character in book one, was still highly entertaining in book two, but then seems to have taken an abrupt change of course in this book. I understand that his wounds were detrimental at the end of the last book, but his decision to isolate himself from his remaining Kettral Wing friends and sink into darkness came a bit out of left field. The reader is constantly told how dark, gritty, and angsty he has become, but it feels unearned. Out of the three siblings, Valyn was the one trained to believe in teamwork and reliance on others, so for him to be the one to sink so quickly into despair and reject human connection felt out of place. He suffers the most physically, it is true. But what has been the strength of the series, its ability to highlight the impossible choices they all have made, makes Valyn’s descent into self-loathing less palatable when compared to the other characters who are facing their own challenges, rather than running away and hiding. I felt myself often growing frustrated with him and wishing that the Flea would show up to slap some sense into him.

“The Last Mortal Bond” does an incredible job of wrapping up this series. I highly recommend it, and the whole “Unhewn Throne” series, to any reader who enjoys epic fantasy. Especially those looking for a series that wraps up nicely in only three books, which is practically unheard of at this point and is frankly a relief!

Rating 8: Great conclusion to a great trilogy! There were a few stumbling blocks, particularly Valyn’s odd character decisions, but other than that, I love it!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Mortal Bond” is very new so is on very few lists. As I particularly highlighted my love of it as the conclusion to a series, it is included in this Goodreads list: “End of Series in 2016”

Find “The Last Mortal Bond” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous Reviews of “The Empire’s Blades” and “The Providence of Fire.”