Review: The Gauntlet

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Cora and her friends have escaped the Kindred station and landed at Armstrong—a supposed safe haven on a small moon—where they plan to regroup and figure out how to win the Gauntlet, the challenging competition to prove humanity’s intelligence and set them free. But Armstrong is no paradise; ruled by a power-hungry sheriff, it’s a violent world where the teens are enslaved and put to work in mines. As Nok’s due date grows closer, and Mali and Leon journey across space to rescue Cassian, the former inhabitants of the cage are up against impossible odds.

With the whole universe at stake, Cora will do whatever it takes, including pushing her body and mind to the breaking point, to escape Armstrong and run the Gauntlet. But it isn’t just a deranged sheriff she has to overcome: the other intelligent species—the Axion, Kindred, Gatherers, and Mosca—all have their own reasons to stop her. Not knowing who to trust, Cora must rely on her own instincts to win the competition, which could change the world—though it might destroy her in the process.

I did not reread the previous two books before I started this finale, and it left me feeling very unconnected with the characters, or interested really. I was not in the mood for this type of book when I picked it up, and I know that affected my view of it because I enjoyed the previous two in the series, as well as Shepherd’s other series.

This picks right back up from where the second one left off and I felt a little lost at first, but pretty quickly got back into the swing of events and the new goal. The time spent on the moon with the human colony didn’t make much sense to me until towards the end of the book. I felt like we were wasting time in the beginning and I think there could have been some altering to the timeline to pick up on what our main threat was faster. When the twist is revealed and we find out what the main threat is, it brings in a whole other layer of subterfuge, and I would have loved to see that revelation earlier in this book.

Though I was a bit underwhelmed with the pace of this finale, I was pleased with the amounts of growth all of the characters are going through. Leon is finally seeing himself as a good guy and trying to act like one; Rolf and Nok have let go of their selfish naivety and are taking on leadership roles; and in general they all coming full circle, learning how to use their best skills to represent humanity and achieve the goals needed in their own personal and group challenges.

While I had hoped Cassian would have a larger role in this, when he is back I really enjoyed the interactions between him and all of the group. The end of this was bittersweet, but it really fit with all of the characters and their personalities. I would have loved an epilogue though!

Overall this was a satisfying ending to a good series. I think I will enjoy it better on the second go around.

Review: Flame in the Mist

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

I greatly enjoyed Ahdieh’s first series, so when I saw she had a new one coming out, and that it was marketed as a Mulan retelling, I was all over it! I was not disappointed. Though I felt the story of Mulan was a bit of a read for this  – beyond the girl disguised as a boy there wasn’t really much in tandem with the Disney tale – it was so well done. The trademark lyrical and atmospheric writing of Ahdieh takes on a whole new world and I can’t wait to see more of it.

The main character, Mariko, is very contradictory in a very intruiging way. She’s very analytical and thinks everything through to the detail, yet she’s earnest and almost childish in her hunger for adventure. She’s always thinking, weighing her options, looking for moments to strike, while at the same time completely out of her depths in the battles she choses. She’s fascinating in how well she sensors herself, but it’s also clear that Okami and Ranmaru – the two rebel leaders – can see through her most of the time. She’s a complex character, and shows a lot of growth, first in outbursts of emotion or thought around Okami, then in the slowly altering perspectives from what she’s been taught and kept naïve about.

While this is a fictional world, the influences of imperial Japan are really well done. Specifically the importance placed on honor and loyalty. Furthermore I really admire any author who is able to blend the setting of an ancient place, while keeping language and actions modern enough for us to relate to well.

Beyond Mariko, all of the characters are incredibly complex and nuanced. Okami is a fast favorite, as the mysterious bad boy usually is, but he’s got so many layers to unravel. He’s instantly intriguing in the obvious power he contains and the cunning and intelligence behind his lazy façade. The dynamic he and Mariko have with constantly challenging each other shows how evenly matched they are. It’s also obvious they feel a connection, which is interesting to watch given the circumstances. Her brother Kenshin is obviously devoted to his sister, but it’s clear he is also devoted to maintaining the image of a proper samurai and member of the upper echelons of society. He goes through some intense internal struggles and I look forward to see how he continues on in the following book(s).

Pretty much all of the characters, no matter how primary they are, are full of nuance and mystery, but I would be writing forever if I went into all of them. The political climate is slowly unraveled, presenting us with layers of subterfuge and treachery from a power hungry leader who sees himself as only doing what’s necessary to maintain rightful control. And as we see glimpses of his sons, you realize how much further that ambition goes. Is anyone not trying to make a power move?

Overall this was amazing, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next installment.

Review: The Valiant

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Princess. Captive. Gladiator.

Fallon is the daughter of a proud Celtic king, the sister of the legendary warrior Sorcha, and the sworn enemy of Julius Caesar.

When Fallon was a child, Caesar’s armies invaded her homeland, and her beloved sister was killed in battle.

Now, on the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is eager to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her place in the fearsome Cantii war band. She never gets the chance.

Fallon is captured and sold to an elite training school for female gladiators—owned by none other than Julius Caesar. In a cruel twist of fate, the man who destroyed Fallon’s family might be her only hope of survival.

Now Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries and deadly fights—in and out of the arena. And perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: her forbidden yet irresistible feelings for Cai, a young Roman soldier.

I was not into this book. To me it read like a debut, there could have been some tightening up, especially with the dialogue.

We just jump right into things with this book. In the first chapter you get first kiss, love you, marry me, wait I love you but need to achieve my goals first. Second chapter: Sorry daddy betrothed you to someone else and you can’t fight in his army. Third Chapter: betrothed kills the boy you love. And I’m, not reveling any major spoilers here so don’t worry.  Honestly I didn’t think any of that drama was really needed or helpful for the rest of the story.

A major issue for me was that I didn’t connect with any of the characters, and I didn’t think any of them had much depth. I liked that Fallon admitted to talking herself up, but that was about all the nuance she reveled about her inner workings, and arguably was one of the only ways she showed any growth. And for being such an amazing warrior, I was not impressed. She seemed to win most of her fights through luck, and when there was a fight scene (not as often as you would imagine) it didn’t feel very fresh. Honestly, a lot of images from the fights reminded me of events in a certain movie about gladiators. . .

A lot of this was very obvious, as it follows a lot of standard YA tropes. Sometimes it’s ok because of the individual characters and the hidden depths revealed about their actions, but not in this. Again, the lack of depth for any of the characters has all of these stereotypical roles being unoriginal and obvious. We’ve got the initial enemy becoming the best friend, the forbidden love (I have no idea why they love each other by the way), the mean girl, the arrogant and selfish bad guy.

I had high hopes for this book as well, a very interesting time period – one I have not seen much in YA – providing a chance to investigate Roman slavery and how it differs from the chattel slavery most of us are familiar with, the empire of Rome with its multiculturalism, the vying of such an advanced yet barbaric society, and the most obvious – the role of female gladiators. Well, unfortunately, none of that is touched beyond the general and obvious observations. So if you were hoping for some actual social history (as I always am), be prepared for disappointment. Another disappointment was the fact that some potential plot points were introduced that were very interesting, but they were never talked about again after their introduction. Honestly, I have no idea why it was almost 400 pages long, because not that much happened. I will not be continuing this series.

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

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Goodreads Summry:

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

I think I need to start with this: I still have no idea how books are classified as YA, because this should definitely not be in that grouping. My friend works at a middle school library and they have these books for the 8th graders, and I personally would not let my daughter read this until late high school at least. There are some very explicit sex scenes in these books, and some extremely brutal fight/torture scenes. I may be living in a bubble, but I would like to think kids don’t know about those kinds of things in such detail in middle school. . .

This picks up right where the second one leaves off and I really enjoy the scheming, and appreciate the fact that there are times when the Tamlin we first met shines through and Feyre notes those as well. With the history all of these characters share I was very glad it wasn’t all petty hatred for each other.

Lucien was one of my favorites from the beginning and I like seeing him in a larger role again. He’s a good guy and deserves a good ending.  He reminds me a lot of Chaol and how they have dueling needs within them for what’s right and what they believe they are bound to do. But I think Lucien is already on the way to wanting to take what’s right over commands. I like how quickly Lucien acclimates to the night court, and I think a lot of that is the fact that his council is appreciated. I also liked seeing him take initiative within the court and create an active role for himself. The tentative interest Elaine he’s showing is sweet and I hope he gets his girl, he deserves it.

It’s really nice seeing Feyre finally finding her place in the night court and falling into it, especially with the arrival of her sisters and the new skills they have. Amren and Nesta and Elaine and Azriel training together are such good matches too, their similar personalities allowing them to integrate into Feyre’s new family as well as coax them out of their shells and into their new powers and the court as a whole. Cassian and Nesta’s odd relationship was also very interesting to watch as it unveils sides of each character we never really saw before, given how they hide themselves behind facades the majority of the time.

The power plays within and without the court are getting very serious, and we are seeing how all of them are having to chose between various bad choices to try and save the country and themselves. It was really fun getting some more background on Amren, and watching her with Varian was hilarious.  It was nice to see Tamlin move beyond his jealousy and accept some responsibility for how things turned out. And even the tertiary characters get a lot more attention in this, giving us more background on Jurian and some of the other characters from the first war.

This book brings everything full circle. Most of the unanswered questions as answered (apparently we have three more books coming out in this series, so we should get all the answers at some point) and Feyre and her family (human and night court) reach new potentials and grown into themselves. There was a lot of great battle scenes in this, and I quite enjoyed seeing the night court operating at full family mode – there were no more secrets (mostly) and they were all supporting each other and revealing more about themselves.

I look forward to seeing what else comes out of this world.

Revisiting: A Court of Mist and Fury

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

After my reassessment of the first book in this series, and my utter disappointment at the last book in the TOG series, I didn’t know how this book was going to go.

Well, right of the bat, I was so much more enthralled by the story. I didn’t get bored or sidetracked, I was hooked basically immediately. Both Tamlin and Feyre are so broken from all that happened, and it was really interesting watching them try to navigate their feelings about themselves, each other, and the future. Unlike the horrendous character transformations that occurred in Queen of Shadows – that have me questioning if I will even finish that series, I have not by the way – I was so happy that the reactions from all these characters still felt true to their nature.

Tamlin is doing everything he can to keep the ones he loves safe, and making sure he is seen as the strength and leader he thinks he needs to be as a High Lord. Feyre is trying to figure out who she is after the traumatic events that happened to her, and that she exacted on others. She’s having to decide if the strength she found in herself Under the Mountain is who she wants to become. While these two navigate their issues, they don’t necessarily do it well together, but I never felt like one of them was purposefully trying to hurt the other; they just didn’t quite know how to be together without reliving all the horrors they had been through for each other. Rhysand was a very interesting character from the beginning, and he’s also going through a lot of post-traumatic issues from his time with Amarantha. Watching these three deal with their issues in very different ways was so interesting and well done.

Beyond the tumultuous relationships, we get a slew of new characters. Let me just say, I hated Ianthe from the very beginning,but I really hope to see more of her in the next book. The inner circle of the night court – Azriel, Cassian, Mor, and Amren – is so well done. Each character has very specific traits and character aspects, but together they create such a strong and supportive family.

The political aspect of this book is so much deeper than in the first and I really liked seeing the different players. Tamlin and his court are still the most unknown to me, but we get a look at the Summer court, the human queens, and even the King of Hybern. All of these players have very different priorities, and it’s so intriguing to watch as their personal wants influence the greater aspect of the coming war.

The book ends on a bit of a cliff hanger, and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out in the next book! Maas has redeemed herself to me a bit, hopefully she can keep it up!

Revisiting: A Court of Thorns and Roses

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Goodreads Summary:

A thrilling, seductive new series from New York Timesbestselling author Sarah J. Maas, blending Beauty and the Beast with faerie lore.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

I was so excited about this book, I fell in love with Maas’ writing with the Throne of Glass series and so I could not wait for this. And then I started seeing reviews of my goodreads friends, who seemed to either hate it or love it, and I was terrified. Well, I loved it . . . the first time around.

I still liked it in my re-read, but it was so much slower than I remembered. I wasn’t really invested until about the 200 page mark, and nothing really intense starts to happen until about the 300 page mark. Also, the romance didn’t reel me in like it did the first time around, I just don’t really buy it’s depth, it was almost a case of insta-love with its shallowness. I mean Feyre doesn’t really know Tamlin at all, and besides the fact that he does nice things for her and is hot, I don’t know why she ‘loves,’ him. And his lack of reaction when she’s facing her trials really annoys me. I feel like Maas doesn’t want us to like Tamlin already, which is really annoying given our past experiences with romance in Mass books, and that the majority of this book is centered around a relationship.

I loved how Maas’ carried over a lot of the things we learned about Fae in ToG, consistency is a favorite trait of mine! I also really liked this loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast. That’s what seemed to be what a lot of people had issues with. Not long after finishing this the first time I learned that it’s actually based on the myth of Eros and Psyche, which is what the Grimm story is based on. I don’t understand why they didn’t market it as the Eros/Psyche story since they did the Hades/Persephone for the sequel, but whatever. Anyway, if you know the myth of Eros/Psyche I think it makes the story so much better, because so many of the nuances that irritated people who were expecting Beauty and the Beast are present in the original myth and make more sense.

Other’s had issues with the basic format of Maas books, which I can understand, but I think if you’ve read ToG you will be prepared for it. The first book of her series seems to be the – get to know everyone, introduction to the conflict, scraping the top of the iceberg on what’s really going on,  and the following books are when everything gets crazy.

I really enjoyed getting to know Feyre and watching her steady character growth. She goes from someone simply surviving, a cold, hard, bitter, and pessimistic person to someone who is able to find a silver lining in everything, who opens up and pushes herself to move past her preconceived notions,  and who embraces her strengths and weaknesses to fight for the things she loves.

I also loved all the other characters, because Maas does a great job with supporting roles and weaving them into the story later. Lucien is great with his snark and tragic backstory. Tamlin suffers from a lot of the same issues Feyre is dealing with, feeling alone/trapped in their responsibilities to their families/people, but ultimately wanting to do the right thing, but we get moments where we can see that’s he fun and caring. Rhys is so intriguing! I feel like he and Feyre are going to be the Celeana/Rowan of ACoTaR, the besties who prove guys and girls can be friends w/o and ulterior motive, and he is clearly a much nicer guy than he likes to admit.

With the last ToG book, I think we all know platonic relationships are not always what they seem with Maas. And while I was so upset (and still am) with how things turned out in the last ToG book. From what I have seen about ACOMAF, she does a much better job with the romance. Though I have to say, I am getting really tired of her female characters not being able to stay true to a relationship. I understand things happen, but seriously Celeana – or whatever your name is now – get it together. I really hope Feyre doesn’t become as fickle as our ToG protagonist.

The ending’s twist was the other thing that I kind of expected, and wanted to happen, but was still slightly displeased about, I guess it just felt too convenient. We’ll see what’s to come in this second one though, it seems like things really get taken up a few notches, which I am excited about!

Review: Warrior Witch

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Goodreads Synopsis:

The thrilling conclusion to the breakout Malediction Trilogy by Goodreads Choice finalist Danielle L. Jensen.

Cécile and Tristan have accomplished the impossible, but their greatest challenge remains: defeating the evil they have unleashed upon the world.

As they scramble for a way to protect the people of the Isle and liberate the trolls from their tyrant king, Cécile and Tristan must battle those who’d see them dead. To win, they will risk everything. And everyone.

But it might not be enough. Both Cécile and Tristan have debts, and they will be forced to pay them at a cost far greater than they had ever imagined.

My enthusiasm for this series has steadily declined with each installment. It started out so strong but has steadily lost its depth in both plot and character development. It feels like all the growth we achieved from the first one, and arguably the beginning of the second, doesn’t continue

Now that Cecile has garnered Tristan’s trust, broken free of the kings compulsion, and ended the curse we see her still trying to figure out who she is and where she fits. As a result she’s insecure in her relationship with Tristan, and not knowing how to help in the overall battle to secure peace before war. And I feel like her impulsive decisions are only going to get her into even more trouble in this finale as she takes on things too big for her and too much responsibility in having gotten to where the world is now. I also wanted to see less convincing from Cecile when she decides she needs to do dangerous things. I would have been much more supportive of her if she had asserted herself if it’s the only way she can see things being done. Her back and forth of feeling useless and thinking she is the only one capable of getting something done was very frustrating.

Tristan is again the strongest character in this novel, and I liked watching him navigate the logic and emotions of what needed to be done. I also enjoyed that all of the characters were reunited and got to see more of the teamwork they displayed in the first book. The Summer King and Winter Queen did add some nice layers of conflict in this, but I felt like the solutions to the problems they presented were almost too easy. Something I think should have started in the second book, I would have enjoyed more complexities with those two.

There was a good ending to this book, and the series overall. I appreciated that it wasn’t nice and neat, and that the “epilogue” was from Tristan’s POV. Overall though, the series was lacking.