Revisiting: The Impostor Queen

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Goodreads Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Elli was only a child when the Elders of Kupari chose her to succeed the Valtia, the queen who wields infinitely powerful ice and fire magic in service of her people. The only life Elli has known has been in the temple, surrounded by luxury, tutored by magic-wielding priests, preparing for the day when the queen perishes—and the ice and fire find a new home in Elli, who is prophesied to be the most powerful Valtia to ever rule.

But when the queen dies defending the kingdom from invading warriors, the magic doesn’t enter Elli. It’s nowhere to be found.

Disgraced, Elli flees to the outlands, home of banished criminals—some who would love to see the temple burn with all its priests inside. As she finds her footing in this new world, Elli uncovers devastating new information about the Kupari magic, those who wield it, and the prophecy that foretold her destiny. Torn between her love for her people and her growing loyalty to the banished, Elli struggles to understand the true role she was meant to play. But as war looms, she must choose the right side before the kingdom and its magic are completely destroyed.

This book took me a little while to get invested in, but by about chapter nine I was there. The slow start has a lot of necessary information, establishes an understanding of the life Elli was raised to believe in, and draws clear character traits in Elli. We can see from the beginning that she in inquisitive, fast to love others, and has a fierce belief in herself. It was really interesting watching those elements grow when she was in the outlands and to see how her faith in herself altered and matured.

I enjoyed the new take on ‘the chosen one.’ She is still unique, but she is not at all what she expected to be, and still has to grapple with that revelation to find out how she can still serve her country and her people, while also maintaining a semblance of the life she created for herself outside of the temple.

The romantic entanglements I think are also going to draw a lot of people to this story. When we enter the book Elli is in love with her handmaiden, bringing some diverse relationships into the mix. While it’s never really developed past infatuation, I think it is still a nice element and shows how the YA genre is continuing to try and become more diverse and inclusive. Enter Oskar, who is definitely swoon worthy.  I felt like their relationship was much more real than the one with her handmaiden, and I’m really interested to see what happens with them given the circumstances we left them dealing with.

Overall, I was impressed by the original take on ‘the chosen one,’ the intricacies of the magic in the world, the political backdrop, and the darkness that permeated the conflict of the story. Definitely a series I plan to continue.

Revisiting: The Bitter Kingdom

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Goodreads Summary:

The champion must not waver.
The champion must not fear.
The gate of darkness closes.

Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy’s kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.

But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.

Even of those who hate her most.

Oh, this book, this series! It was so much more than I expected and I loved it.

This finale was amazing. At first I was a little worried about the new adventure for this one, with so much going on in the capital was Elisa really going to be able to achieve all she was going after without loosing something? But oh man, Elisa just continued to show how smart and strategic she is and how determined she was to fulfill all of her goals.

One of the things I really loved about this too, was the fact that Elisa is fighting for the ‘big picture’. She wasn’t fighting for a crown she thought only she deserved, she was fighting for her people, for what she knew was the best opportunity for peace and growth within the kingdom and the continent. On top of that she’s fighting for the man she loves, for the friends who have stood by her side, and for understanding of her Godstone and her ‘mission’ as its bearer.

She grew so much in this series and I think it’s a testament to Carson’s writing that it was done in such an organic way. The Elisa we are introduced to in the first book and the one we leave on the last pages of this one are completely different people, but it’s not hard to believe how one became the other. Elisa is an all out warrior by the end of this and I think it’s so amazing that not only is she whip smart, but now physically capable.

Oh Hector. I loved the addition of his POV in this book. It’s the first time in the series we’ve had any voice besides Elisa’s narrating, but it worked really well. His chapters were sparingly placed, and only ever added to the plot progression and character development. It was so much fun getting a look inside his head after getting to know him better in the second book.

I also loved that everyone got their happy ending. It wasn’t easy though, and I think that’s what makes the best happy endings. They all had to fight for what they wanted, and they all come to their conclusions a little broken and a little changed, but also with a better understanding of themselves and a new appreciation for what they are able to keep.

Overall, Loved it! Loved it all! Go read it now if you haven’t already!

My second read of this book left me with many of the same feelings from the first read through. I will again point to the alternating POV, Carson did such a good job creating two distinct voices. It’s very easy to tell when we are reading Hector. And I know I rave about how much I love the relationship between Elisa and Hector, but it’s so rare to find such a strong relationship in this genre. I really loved the involvement of Storm in this, he’s truly become a part of the group and his adaptation to the Joyans plays such a large part into what Elisa is trying to achieve. All the characters go through so many changes, and I loved seeing older characters, like Elisa’s sister, showing up and giving light to just how far they have all come since the first book.

Revisiting: The Crown of Embers

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Goodreads Summary:

She does not know what awaits her at the enemy’s gate.

Elisa is a hero.

She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country’s ruler should be secure. But it isn’t.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she’s lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, much more than I had expected, and this book was simply amazing. We all know I am fan of the squeal, and this book is exactly why.

Elisa goes through a ton of growth in the first book, but this one just keeps pushing her. She’s faced with so many tough decisions, as well as personal issues. She’s being forced to choose her country over herself and it’s taking a tole on her self-esteem. She’s facing push-back from her court, she’s still learning about her Godstone and its meaning, and ultimately she’s growing up. By the end of this book she is truly a woman, no longer giving into old friends or advisers, and learning to trust herself more than she ever has.

While the majority of this book takes place in her palace, the political elements are so action filled that there is never a dull moment. On top of that, we see Elisa developing deeper and more trusting relationships with those around her. She and Mara are beginning to bond, she is learning that she can make decisions without consulting her faithful nurse, and the members of her court like little Rosario, Tristan, and her old cohorts from the East highlight facets of her new growth and ownership of her role as the bearer and queen.

Ultimately though, I think the relationship we all love most is the one that develops between she and Hector. I loved Hector from the start, but watching them work together, seeing them develop deeper emotions for one another, and the strength they imbue in each other is amazing. It’s one of those book romances that you can’t help but get swoony over. I can’t wait to see how they navigate their tenuous relationship in the final installment.

Beyond the amazing relationships that develop in this, there are also some new characters that I really like and can’t wait to see more of. The continuing discoveries about the Godstone are also really interesting and I don’t even know what to expect with that anymore. What I am most excited for though is how Elisa takes her new idea of forming her own destiny – not letting it be formed by those around her and old pieces of parchment – and executes that in this last book. This is definitely one of my new favorite series.

On my second read I had forgotten how quickly Elisa started to resent her nurse Ximena, especially when she begins to meddle in Elisa’s life. Elisa has truly come into her own, but her uncertainty of the new role has her being rash and mercurial – but that’s her growth in this one. She learns how to balance council from others with her personal beliefs and need to appear strong.

The swoon hit me hard again in this, I love the slow burn of Elisa and Hector, and how they trust and respect each other with her decisions and role as queen. As she gains confidence in her role to make decisions, his support is something that I think exacerbates Ximena’s transition from protector and confidant to inhibitor. Elisa outgrows her need for that relationship. I also loved getting old characters from the desert back in this one still, and their friendships help her find a comfort zone in her new role. As well as the new role of Tristain, who becomes a fast favorite, and adds a nice element of diversity to this series.

 

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.

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.