Review: Chimera

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Chimera (Parasitology #3) by Mira Grant
Published by Orbit on the 26th November 2015
Pages: 496
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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The final book in Mira Grant’s terrifying Parasitology trilogy. The outbreak has spread, tearing apart the foundations of society, as implanted tapeworms have turned their human hosts into a seemingly mindless mob.Sal and her family are trapped between bad and worse, and must find a way to compromise between the two sides of their nature before the battle becomes large enough to destroy humanity, and everything that humanity has built…including the chimera.The broken doors are closing. Can Sal make it home?


Chimera was an excellent ending to the incredibly gross Parasitology trilogy (seriously – I couldn’t help but think about what it’d be like to have a tapeworm hanging around in my intestines, and the thought made me gag a little). One of the things that has made me love this series so much is Grant’s ability to blur the line between human and tapeworm – the tapeworms are not presented as the “bad guys,” as such – at least not uniformly. Both humans and tapeworms make questionable choices, do awful things. We are given multiple perspectives and in the middle is Sal, who is torn between her fellow chimera and the humans she loves.

Being a monster is not the same as being a bad person. It just means you’re willing to eat the world if that’s what you have to do to keep yourself alive.

Moreover, as disgusting as I find the idea of a tapeworm crawling around my insides, I really came to care for Sal, Adam, and Tansy. I feared for their lives and hoped that they’d all survive against the odds – particularly with Tansy. After the events of Symbiont, Tansy appeared basically in name only in Chimera (she was the tapeworm equivalent of comatose), and I missed her dearly.The only character I didn’t really come to feel anything for was Juniper – I understand why she was created, and what she represented for Sal; ultimately she didn’t add anything to the story for me because we spent so little page time with her. Also, I’m not sure if this is a problem that any other readers had during the series, but Dr. Cale strongly reminded me of Dr. Abbey from Newsflesh, and I found myself conflating the two, pretty much. There were also a few plot points that were introduced, but weren’t addressed or resolved satisfactorily.

Grant raised the stakes for her characters in Chimera – I was never certain that Sherman would be defeated or that Sal and her family would make it out unscathed. I felt Sal’s fear, her hope, and her desperation. For the first time in this series, Sal is actively making choices (and recruits others into helping her) rather than letting things happen to her.
Was this book a perfect book? No, but Grant’s abilities as a story-teller made me enjoy this book so much I was able to overlook the problems I had with it. I loved being a part of this world, and I hope Grant revisits it in the future (with a book about Tansy or Fishy, please).

★★★★★

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

 

Reread 2015

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
First Published: 1847
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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

 

I first read Wuthering Heights when I was in high school, I think when I was fifteen. I remember that I didn’t like it very much, mostly because I didn’t understand it and it completely went over my head. I was expecting it to be romantic… which this novel is most definitely not. The fact that my knowledge of classic literature was also limited to Jane Austen probably also affected how much I originally liked the novel. I later picked it up again while at university, and with a few more years (and a greater understanding of literature) behind me, I found that I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around. While Wuthering Heights isn’t my favourite Brontë book, it is one that I have reread a few times already.

Wuthering Heights was Brain Soup Goes Gilmore’s pick for this month – or rather, October & November. Some questions that I kept in mind while reading for discussion were:

  • Is this a love story?
  • What are the motivations behind the actions of Cathy, Heathcliff, etc.? Does it make their actions more understandable?

Wuthering Heights is a book that is hard to forget. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it. The thing that strikes me the most about Wuthering Heights is how difficult it is to read. Cathy and Heathcliff are incredibly unlikeable. When this book was first published, it was pretty much universally panned because of how awful Cathy and Heathcliff are, so it is interesting that Brontë chose to make her protagonists as repugnant as they are.

This book is emotionally exhausting. Heathcliff and Cathy’s relationship is destructive, possessive, and ultimately cruel; based not in passion but hatred. Cathy famously exclaims,

I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.

This is somewhat accurate. Both characters are selfish, violent, and conniving people who have both had their fair share of abuse and feel no qualms about abusing those they deem beneath them. Thus, they are able to make both themselves and everyone around them incredibly miserable – even after their deaths. This is perhaps no surprise, because all these characters live in an isolated environment from which they cannot escape.

Cathy and Heathcliff do not need to be present for their influence over the other characters to be felt. The children of this novel – Cathy (II), Linton, and Hareton – are forced to suffer for the transgressions of their parents and must find ways to make amends for them, despite not one of them having the full story.

Is this book a perfect book? No. The framing device within a framing device? It’s totally awkward. I’m sure Brontë could have found a better way to tell this story than have Nelly write a letter explaining the events that Lockwood later writes down in his diary. The layers of perspective meant that it was often difficult to figure out who was telling the story. But I’m able to overlook the problematic elements of this novel because it’s an example of Gothic fiction done right. It has it all: revenge, ghosts, mysterious disappearances, the moors… it’s so atmospheric and so well-done that you can’t help but appreciate why it’s considered to be one of the finest pieces of British literature.

 

 ★★★★☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

Review: Illuminae

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Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Published by Allen & Unwin on the 1st November 2015
Pages: 602
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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One moment, Kady Grant and Ezra Mason have nothing bigger to worry about than each other. Specifically, avoiding each other in the wake of their messy break-up. In the next second, their entire world falls apart.The year is 2375 and one of the mega-corporations that control much of deep space has just fired the opening salvo in an intergalactic war, destroying Kady and Ezra’s planet. Forced to flee on a small fleet of crippled rescue ships alongside thousands of other refugees, the fear of enemy warships chasing them down is at first all-consuming but soon becomes the least of their worries. A deadly plague is ravaging the refugees on the ships; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be an enemy; and High Command is refusing to acknowledge that there may be a serious problem. As Kady plunges into a tangled web of data in search of the truth, she realises that Ezra is possibly the only person who can help her save the refugees before it’s too late.

I like my books to come with structure, and this book doesn’t really have that. When I first started reading, I was kind of thrown by its lack of structure and change in perspectives, with the occasional graphic thrown in. Don’t get me wrong: it is a spectacular book and a very cool idea: it will probably sell quite well because it’s innovative and original and if I were handing out stars based on ideas alone, this book would get all five, no questions asked. I’ve seen people refer to it as a ‘romantic space opera,’ and I agree with that.

However, this was – once again – a romance novel masquerading as something else. Most of the interview transcripts, emails, and instant messages in the book revolved around the two leads either telling the other they were in love, or talking about their love for the other lead to one of the sidekicks. Trying to figure out what went wrong with AIDAN, the artificial intelligence that helps run the spaceship, seemed to be a minor inconvenience in their tale of woe. Chatspeak was used, but the characters would use ‘u’ and ‘you’ in the space of about six words, which annoyed me more than it should, and the military reports seemed jokey and fake – if you’re going to write in a certain style, please commit to the format.

Finally – and this is only a minor criticism – but I had assumed that with two Australian authors we would finally (!) but getting some kind of non-contemporary YA novel set in Australia (or some version of Australia on another planet in a galaxy far, far away), but alas. With all the Americanisms (“mom” being the most noticeable one), it was seemed to be set in some futuristic replica of America, which I found a little disappointing. Okay, yes, small, tiny, ridiculous complaint in the grand scheme of things, but if we go by YA standards, the US has a lot of bad luck while the rest of the world gets off seemingly scot-free. It would’ve been nice to have a bit of a change.

What did I like about this book? You can tell how much love and work went into the making of this book. It is detailed beyond all belief. Kaufman and Kristoff aren’t afraid to try things stylistically speaking, and I have a whole new level of respect for them as authors.  But the book’s selling point is also its downfall: it is perhaps too epic.

Also, Kaufman and Kristoff aren’t afraid to get violent. It’s basically a super-gorey, non-musical, science fiction version of Into the Woods, in that you’re made to care about a character, and then they die. It’s like Wash commenting that he is a leaf on the wind in Serenity. It’s like the time Amber Benson was finally added to the opening credits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Your heart will be ripped out unapologetically. You’ve been warned.

★★★☆☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

Review: Six of Crows

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Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Orion on the 12th July 2015
Pages: 465
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other fir
st.

Until I picked up Six of Crows, I hadn’t realised how many books centred around a Chosen One or starcrossed lovers on a mission to save their country/the world I had been reading of late, so this one was a welcome change of pace. While I had adored Bardugo’s debut, Shadow & Bone, I felt that its successors weren’t that strong, and so I was a little apprehensive about this one. I’m glad I picked it up – Six of Crows is so much darker than the Grisha trilogy, more complex, and a hell of a lot more adult. Bardugo’s growth as a writer between Ruin & Rising and Six of Crows is near unbelievable.

This book, is, in a word, epic. Grandiose. Ambitious. Unlike a lot of YA fantasy, this is not a romance novel masquerading as the latest trend. While there is a romance, it never takes over the story and when it does appear it feels natural and organic (that said, I spent the majority of the novel shipping Kaz and Inej). This is a story about six criminals attempting a high-stakes heist: breaking into the Ice Court, which has never been broken into successfully before, and smuggle out a prisoner in exchange for thirty million kruge split between them. Each character has their own agendas and loyalties, and you’re never entirely certain whether they’re going to achieve the impossible. These characters aren’t friends on a mission to save the world: they all agreed to participate in the heist for their own reasons. I don’t normally include quotes in my reviews, but I’m throwing some out here because I love this book and I want to share it with everyone:

Four million kruge, freedom, a chance to return home. She’d said she wanted these things. But in her heart, she couldn’t bear the thought of returning to her parents. Could she tell her mother and father the truth? Would they understand all she’d done to survive, not just at the Menagerie, but every day since? Could she lay her head in her mother’s lap and be forgiven? What would they see when they looked at her?

Although the book is told in third person, each chapter focuses on a different character, so you learn their backstory, their motivations, and their relationship to other members of the crew. I found myself coming to care for every single main character in this book, which is no mean feat when you’ve got a cast of characters as large as this one. Furthermore, the characters were all three-dimensional – layered, complex characters that were immensely likeable, despite doing fairly despicable things from time to time.

“Duping innocent people isn’t something to be proud of.”

“It is if you do it well.”

There’s also a lot of diversity amongst the crew in terms of race/sexuality/gender and it doesn’t feel forced, or like Bardugo is simply checking off a list – so if you’re looking for diverse reads, I would highly recommend this one.

If you haven’t read the Grisha trilogy, you might find the world a little confusing – however, I felt that the world-building was far more complex and fully realised in Six of Crows than it ever was in the Grisha trilogy.

This book was everything I ever wanted from New Adult Fiction. All I can say is: read the book.

★★★★★

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

Review: Carry On

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Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Pan Macmillan on the 8th October 2015
Pages: 528
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Simon Snow just wants to relax and savor his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest, and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he’ll be safe. Simon can’t even enjoy the fact that his roommate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can’t stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you’re the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savor anything.

I’m going to be honest: I read Fangirl and my least favourite parts of the book were the little excerpts from Simon Snow. So I went into this one a little apprehensive, because I didn’t think that I was going to be the target reader for this one. If nothing else, I can walk away from this read and know that I have a fairly good idea of the books I will enjoy.

For those who haven’t read Fangirl, Simon Snow is the Harry Potter of that world (or it was supposed to be, until one of the characters referenced Harry Potter). I was kind of hoping that a fully-fleshed out book would make me appreciate Simon and Baz, but it didn’t. Not only did it fail to shake off the Harry Potter connotations, but it felt like a bad parody of slash fan fiction. I was never into slash fan fiction, if only because it exists to titillate teenage girls. If you’re going to write a homosexual/bisexual character, than said character needs to exist beyond their sexual orientation. Which is to say, their sexuality should be a part of their identity, not the only discernible feature of it.

It didn’t help that reading Carry On felt like picking up Deathly Hallows without having read the first six books. I had been dropped into this story and told all these things about all these characters, but none of it felt organic. The characters didn’t have any chemistry with each other, the plot was outlandish and underdeveloped. When the book was able to shake off the Harry Potter connections and be its own story, it was good. I could also see sparks of Rowell’s signature humour – but these moments were few and far between.

Carry On was definitely not Rowell’s best effort, and I while I understand she was trying her hand a new genre, I hope she sticks to writing contemporary YA fiction.

★★☆☆☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

 

Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books on the 27th August 2015
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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What if you aren’t the Chosen One?
The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

When a book advertises itself as being about the ordinary kids who are pushed to the background in favour of the Chosen Ones, it probably shouldn’t be all that surprising when the tale that it tells is just that… ordinary. I was blown away by Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy but haven’t really loved anything he’s written since, and I was hoping that The Rest of Us Just Live Here would change that. Unfortunately, I was more in love with the idea of this novel than the actual execution.

If you’re looking for a diverse read, then this book is for you. In our main cast of characters, there are characters with mental health issues, gay characters, characters of colour… it literally ticks off every box. Maybe that’s what troubled me about it: in a book designed to make teenagers think about the tropes in the books they read, this book somehow manages to feel formulaic (or maybe that’s the point and I’m not a sophisticated reader to appreciate it).

It’s not that the book isn’t technically well-written: Ness knows his craft well. Each chapter opens with a little synopsis of what the Chosen Ones – here known as the indie kids – are up to. It’s a humorous take on the Chosen One genre that has emerged out of YA lit. Unfortunately, these little synopses are what stands out the most. Despite the main cast of characters having relatable issues in their everyday lives – absent, neglectful or alcoholic parents, mental health issues (eating disorders and OCD), and unrequited love – I was unable to really connect with them.  It felt like the book only scratched the surface of its potential and ultimately I wanted more from it, character-wise and plot-wise.

I have no doubt that my opinion is in the minority and this book will be wildly popular. Regardless, Ness is a gifted author who writes smart fiction, and I will continue to check out his work.

★★★☆☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

Review: Career of Evil

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Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith
Published by Sphere on the 22nd October 2015
Pages: 494
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Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality. With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them.

Here I am, life-long J.K. Rowling fan, to tell you that she can do no wrong and genre-cross like it’s nobody’s business (by now we all know that Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym, right? Right?). Career of Evil is arguably the best book of the series thus far. It is certainly the darkest and most gruesome. There is a slight departure from the procedural feel of the first two books, with Career of Evil being more character-driven. We finally delve deeper into Robin’s backstory (!!!), which I appreciated.

In the acknowledgements, Galbraith mentions that this is the book (s)he’s been the most swept up in while writing, and you can tell this by the writing. Unlike the first two books, which were focused more on fame, Career of Evil focuses on misogyny and violence against women: rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse – it doesn’t really let up.

I think what made me love this book so much is the fact that for the first time in the series, Robin is able to step out from Cormoran’s shadow. I loved Robin right off the bat, and have been eagerly waiting for more.This book, for all intents and purposes, is Robin’s story. In a story about women who have been raped, women who have been abused, women who have been tortured and beaten, women who have lost all hope, Robin is a shining light leading them home. I loved her tenacity, her strength, her constant need to grow, her unwavering loyalty, her ambition and her kindness. Robin’s growth in this novel was astronomical, and as a reader, I was thrilled.

What turned this book into a four star read for me was, primarily, the decision to include chapters from the killer’s point of view. They were quite sadistic and hateful, and gave the reader an insight into the mindset of the killer. However, I’m not entirely convinced that it worked – while nothing about these chapters gave away the killer’s identity (which it could’ve easily have done), after awhile it felt quite repetitive and almost forced.

The other factor into my four star rating was Matthew. Oh, Matthew, you deeply unpleasant man.You were blundering but well-intentioned in The Cuckoo’s Calling. You were slightly, uh, odd in The Silkworm. But your controlling, manipulative ways and raging jealousy in Career of Evil has pushed you into irredeemable territory. It was mildly horrifying to watch Robin marry you after everything you pulled in this book.  But Matthew felt too nasty, too one-dimensional: he felt like a cardboard cutout villain standing in the way of a Robin/Strike romance (it felt like that was where the novel was heading, and if so, I’m not entirely sure I can jump on that ship).

Overall, a compelling read, I can’t wait for the next one! Although, given my love for Rowling, we probably knew that was going to happen.

★★★★☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

Review: Queen of Shadows

23848145Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass) by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury on the 1st September 2015
Pages: 645
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past. She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die just to see her again. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return. Celaena’s epic journey has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions across the globe. This fourth volume will hold readers rapt as Celaena’s story builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.

My goodness, this review is long overdue! I was quite disappointed with Queen of Shadows – it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2015, and it will most probably go down as one of the biggest disappointments I read this year. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. This series so far has been quite hit-and-miss for me: I found Throne of Glass to be a fluffy, fun light-fantasy read; I adored Crown of Midnight with every fibre of my being; I thought Heir of Fire was drawn out and could’ve done with some tighter editing. In all honesty, I cannot say whether Queen of Shadows was better than its predecessor, but this series has become riddled with ridiculous romantic subplots to the detriment of characters and this book was an endless source of frustration for me because of it.

I’ll start off with the good: Maas has definitely grown as a writer. If you compare Throne of Glass to Queen of Shadows, you will definitely find that the plot has become more complex, the world-building more layered, and the series has gone from ‘fantasy-lite’ to ‘high fantasy.’ This has meant, naturally, that the fluffy factor that made the first book so enjoyable has gradually receded from the series. I know I’m going to be in the minority with my opinion – if you look at the reviews on GoodReads, a lot of reviewers are claiming that this book is the best book of the series – but for me, the events of this book completely destroyed what the first three books established. I’m not going to go into that because there are also a lot of reviews on GoodReads – from reviewers who are a lot more passionate about this series than I ever was – that go into a lot of detail about the contradictions between Queen of Shadows and earlier books, but suffice to say I was incredibly disappointed.

I’m not entirely sure if it’s because Maas was also working on A Court of Thorns and Roses and Queen of Shadows just ended up suffering because of it, but the book felt scattered and incoherent. Reading Queen of Shadows felt as if Maas doesn’t have a projected outcome for the series and is just making up the plots for each book as she goes; A Court of Thorns and Roses (and even Crown of Midnight) tells me that Maas is a better writer than that. If I’m being completely honest, if this series were a television show, then Queen of Shadows would be a filler episode – nothing was really happening in this one. “But Kim,” you say, “this book is 650 pages long – how can nothing happen?” This book did not need to be 650 pages long. It was setting up things for the last two books. A lot of side stories are introduced alongside Aelin/Celaena’s story, but I struggled to connect with these side characters and found myself wanting to skim-read their chapters to get back to the Aelin’s story. The only side character I was truly interested in was Manon (and, to a lesser extent, some of the members of her clan), and even then, I felt that towards the end her story was pulling the book down.

I think the biggest detractor for me was just how much the male characters in this series moon over Aelin. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: romantic relationships are not the be all and end all of relationships. Friendships and familial relationships are every bit as important, if not more, to a person’s development and it’d be great if YA and NA novels could showcase that once in awhile. I was over the moon when a platonic Aelin/Rowan relationship was established in Heir of Fire, because I thought there would be a strong friendship in a popular new adult series. Sadly, after firmly establishing Aelin & Rowan’s platonic relationship, their relationship quickly became something I’d expect out of a 50 Shades of Grey-esque book while Aelin’s cousin got all jealous over their bond. I’m not in this series for the romantic subplots, and with Dorian, Chaol and now Rowan all waxing poetical about how great Aelin is at some point during this series, I don’t think I can take another character obsessing over how gifted and wonderful she is.

Would I recommend this book? Only for the Throne of Glass superfans – the ones who have committed themselves to this series and these characters and cannot walk away from them. For me, this was 650 pages of mediocre story-telling.

★★☆☆☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.