Revisiting: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

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Goodreads Summary:

Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one. But she is also the younger of two princesses. The one who has never done anything remarkable, and can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king–a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs her to be the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies, seething with dark magic, are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior, and he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young. Most of the chosen do.

I like Carson, I read her most recent book, Walk on Earth a Stranger, before I even really thought about this series. She’s great at world building, and it’s now clear to me now how she got so good at it.

I did not like Elisa, the MC, for about the first third of this book; she was deep in a pit of self pity, naive, and ate her feelings instead of confronting them. However, I did like that even though she knew she was overweight, and she knew (to some level) that she ate to fill a hole in herself, she never really cared all that much about her body. She eventually loses all the weight, but again, I like that it didn’t focus on outward appearance when she did, but reflected her new sense of purpose, she was being active, she was living hard, and she was so mentally stimulated that food was no longer her main priority or source of comfort.

Elisa does go through a lot of growth in this book. She takes on her role as some sort of savior as best she can, finding ways to use her natural talents to be helpful and finding something to fight for. I was not a huge fan of the romance in this one, the guy was nice and all, but there really wasn’t a depth to it. I understand why it happened though, he was the first guy who looked past her weight and her title and gave her a support system that she had never had outside her two attendants.

On a much deeper level, Carson was able to bring some pretty serious religious debates into this novel, and I can see this as being something of a turn off to some readers. I was a bit skeptical when I started getting into the story, but it never becomes preachy or fighting for one interpretation over another, which I thought was a great achievement and was very interesting. One of the things that really struck me was between taking the “word of God” literally or analyzing it. Now, as a Catholic married into a Baptist family, this is a debate I am very familiar with, so it was really interesting to see the different ways that Carson played it out. Overall, the various views of one religion was interesting in general. I could easily get into a pretty intense intellectual discussion about all the ideas and interpretations she highlights in this book, and that alone I think makes this a fantastic read.

On my second read through of this I found myself not having the same distaste for Elisa in the beginning. Elisa’s still insecure and a little naive, but when her mind is set to something she is able to put it behind her. It sets up nicely for how confident and commanding she becomes. I loved the brief but deep interactions with Hector, you can see the foundation of their future relationship forming.  I also really appreciated the role Cosme fills.  She is an intriguing character, and I appreciate her complexity. She’s more then just the female companion, and more than just the mean girl.

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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.