Review: Unearthed

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Unearthed
(Unearthed #1) by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Published by Allen & Unwin on 22 November 2017
Length: 12 hours and 44 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Free download via Audible
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When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study… as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first. Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance.

In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race…

It took me awhile to get through this book. The second half was definitely stronger than the first, but this felt a lot like a YA-version of Firefly with a bit of archaeology thrown in. It was mildly entertaining — and the story made for a good audiobook, I must admit — but it ultimately it felt like a lot of wasted potential.

I really, really loved Jules. When it was mentioned he was a scholar, I expected it to be in a STEM field, and was pleasantly surprised to find out he was a linguist. Jules is a little awkward, dorky, and occasionally unsure of himself, but also quite earnest and it’s impossible to not like him. It took me a little longer to warm up to Mia. I found her to be a little prickly and her backstory didn’t really move me, but I enjoyed her wit and quick banter. She felt a little in the realm of manic pixie dream girl, but she grew on me eventually. I would’ve liked to see Jules & Mia’s relationship move at a more realistic pace — it was kind of like instalove — but understand why it developed the way it did. As a team, Jules & Mia have skills and knowledge that complement one another well, and it was great to watch them work as a team. Their dialogue is great. Their hot-and-cold relationship? Eh.

I wish that we’d had more time to get to the big plot point, although I supposed that’s what the sequel is for! However, this book was filled with Jules & Mia moving from place to place and try to solve the puzzles (which, honestly, weren’t that hard to solve). The puzzles are also hieroglyphs (from what I could tell) and we ended up with lengthy descriptions of what was happening — this is one book I would LOVE to see adapted as a graphic novel (although it WILL be interesting to see what the film adaptation does with all of this!). I was listening to the audiobook, and I did find my attention wandering at times. There was a tendency to dump information on the reader, but there were still fundamental world-building elements that were left unaddressed. The last… two or three chapters were by far the most interesting of the book, and I’ll be interested to see what’s in the sequel and whether or not this could’ve all been one book. I would’ve liked to see a little more world-building and being able to explore this fantastic universe that Kaufman & Spooner have created. Gaia and the Undying sound very cool. It just felt a little too narrow-focused for my liking. The plot also moved very slowly. Listening to audiobooks are often a very slow affair for me, and with Unearthed there was a lot of stopping-and-starting, but I was surprised by how little the plot progressed between listens.

Finally, I don’t think first-person works for multiple perspectives (it’s a gripe I’m also having with my current read, A Reaper at the Gates). It just felt… off, and continuously threw me while listening. We were constantly looking at the same event from two perspectives which, for the most part, just frustrated me. Nothing new was added by looking at the same plot point from two perspectives and the constant expounding of Jules & Mia’s emotions kind of made their relationship seem contrived.

Overall, this book had a lot of potential and I kind of want to see where that cliffhanger goes (I mean… if you paid attention to all the clues, you could see it coming). I much prefer Kaufman & Spooner’s Starbound trilogy, but I am hoping that Undying will be the action-packed thriller I was hoping for.

★★☆☆☆

 

Review: To Kill a Kingdom

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To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Published by Hot Key Books on 6 March 2018
Length: 12 hours
Format: Audiobook
Source: Free download via Audible
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Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

I seem to be on a good run with picking books lately; I absolutely loved this one! I love a good anti-hero(ine), and I feel like both Lira and Eilan fall into that category. This book was everything I wanted from Into the Drowning Deep and more. For a YA fantasy, it gets pretty dark and gory and if you’re going in thinking of a retelling of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, you’ll probably be disappointed — it’s closer to the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen, if anything. I could see parts of the story that honoured the Andersen’s tale, while still being an entirely original story.

Lira is the Prince’s Bane, a siren known for only taking the hearts of princes. Eilan is the Siren Killer and a pirate. Her mother is the Sea Queen, who conditions her to be hard-hearted and ruthless. He does not want to inherit the throne and finds his home onboard the Saad, the ship he captains. When he hears the tales of the Eye of Keto hold the secret to defeating the Sea Queen and her sirens, he goes in search of it. When the Sea Queen punishes Lira by turning her into a human, she is picked up by the Saad’s crew. Eilan isn’t aware that Lira is the Prince’s Bane, although he is suspicious of her.

If you enjoy your books with a lot of romance, this will probably not be the book for you. This book takes slow burn romance to a new level. It takes Lira and Eilan a good 30 chapters to realise that they even like each other. I did enjoy their relationship development, though. They don’t trust one another in the beginning, but their dialogue is filled with quips and witty banter. Both are morally questionable, and if this were any other story, Lira would be a straight-up villain. I enjoyed the questioning of ‘nature vs nuture’ and whether or not Lira could be anything more than a murderer.

In the pits of our souls – if I amuse myself with the notion that I have a soul – Elian and I aren’t so different. Two kingdoms that come with responsibilities we each have trouble bearing. Him, the shackles of being pinned to one land and one life. Me, trapped in the confines of my mother’s murderous legacy. And the ocean, calling out to us both. A song of freedom and longing.

I really enjoyed Lira’s arc. Christo did something really interesting by imbuing this protagonist with so much power, and then immediately taking that power away. Lira as a human is vulnerable and has to learn how to adapt to her new surroundings. This book is essentially Lira learning that being powerful does not necessarily mean wielding incredible strength.  I also really enjoyed the side characters — the crew of the Saad are loveable and funny, with Kye and Madrid being obvious standouts. Christo does a great job of showing motivations through actions, rather than exposition.

Christo excels at world-building. This book obviously borrows heavily from Greek mythology — the underwater kingdom of Keto was named after Ceto, the Greek goddess of the dangers of the sea, and I’m pretty sure that Lira’s native tongue is based on the Greek language — and there’s so much that nods to myths and fairy tales while completely turning them on their head. In the Hundred Kingdoms, there’s countries like Midas, the city of gold — even the water looks golden, thanks to the reflection of the city’s golden buildings. Or Eidyllio, the land of romance. While not the point of the story, I would’ve loved to see more of the political systems of the kingdoms and how they interlock (they seem to work together, but I’m not sure if its supposed to be like the United Nations  — multiple countries working towards a common goal  — or the European Union  — political and economic union).

This book is well-paced, and I found myself on the edge of my seat while listening to the climax of the book. So many YA books are turned into series that don’t really need to exist, but To Kill a Kingdom is so fascinating that I’m almost a little disappointed that it’s a standalone.

★★★★☆

 

 

Review: Gemina

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Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Published by Allen & Unwin on 1 November 2016
Pages: 672
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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The saga that began with breakout bestseller Illuminae continues aboard Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of BeiTech’s assault. Hanna is the station commander’s pampered daughter, Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station crew one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon, Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

This book has been on my TBR list for awhile. Like, I pre-ordered the YA Chronicles Gemina box and it’s been sitting on my shelves ever since. However, I’m finally catching up on my never-ending list, and I have to say… I prefer Gemina to Illuminae. I think it’s because the romance took a backseat to the action and the book was much better for it.

While Illuminae followed Kady and Ezra (and a few other survivors) and their escape from Kerenza, Gemina focuses on Hanna and Nik on the jump station Heimdell — which our Illuminae protagonists are headed for (as far as I can tell, Gemina picks up immediately where Illuminae finishes). I felt like there was a lot more going on in this novel.

As with IlluminaeGemina is told through video footage transcripts, chat records, and various documents collated by the Illuminae Group. I loved the addition of Hanna’s diary (drawings provided by Marie Lu) and the court transcripts. It gave me a better idea of where the story was at. I wasn’t a huge fan of Aidan’s appearances, if only because I was twisting my book in all different directions to read it (which got me a few weird looks in the breakroom at work). While I get the whole ‘text mirroring the action on the page,’ it just frustrated me.

Hanna and Nik are wonderful additions — if Kady is Willow Rosenberg, Hanna is Buffy Summers. She is trained in multiple martial art forms, and her father is the commander of the Heimdell, which means that his idea of father-daughter bonding is running military strategy. Nik comes across as more… morally grey than most YA protagonists, and I really liked that I never knew what to expect with him. His relationship with his cousin, Ella, is wonderfully depicted (I really hope that they reappear in Obsidio). In fact, it was probably my favourite relationship in the book, if only because it seems so rare to have strong familial relationships in today’s YA.

With the jumping between the actual names and the code names of the members of the BeiTech team, I found it difficult to keep track of who was who, so I appreciated the little infographics reminding me of who was on the team and what their role was. While some members of the BeiTech team — Cerberus and Kali stick out the most — were developed more than others, I really enjoyed that Kaufman and Kristoff focused on characterising even the smallest of characters. It would’ve been so easy in a novel this epic to fall back on lazy stereotyping, but they don’t do that. Also, Jackson Merrick is dead to me (okay, thank you).

I loved the slew of pop culture references (I mostly picked up on the musical theatre references and the Whedonverse references, which I think were Kaufman’s doing, based on what was said at the launch for Obsidio), but to whoever included the Serenity reference: how dare you.

★★★★☆

Review: Children of Blood and Bone

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Published by Macmillan Children’s Books on 13 March 2018
Pages: 525
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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They killed my mother. They took our magic. They tried to bury us. 

NOW WE RISE.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl, and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers – and her growing feelings for an enemy.

WOW. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Children of Blood and Bone is genuinely one of the best debut fantasies, the best young adult fantasies, the best books I have read in a long, long time. It demonstrates what happens when publishers choose to publish something original rather than jumping on the bandwagon and publishing whatever happens to be popular right now. The closest book I can compare it to is N.K. Jemesin’s Dreamblood duology, but even then… it would only be in the way in which it draws on mythology (Dreamblood draws on Egyptian mythology, while CBB draws on West African).

I was a little apprehensive going into CBB, mostly because of its size. I’ve found — particularly with fantasies — that books of this size usually suffer from a multitude of issues, from pacing to the need of a good edit. While I would’ve liked to see more realistic development of relationships — I got whiplash from how quickly Zélie and Inan’s and Amari and Tzain’s relationships developed — the pacing of the story itself was well-done. I did find that things were often resolved quite quickly, so by the end of the novel I found that the stakes weren’t high enough for me. Like so many other reviewers, I found myself captivated by Adeyemi’s prose — there is something lyrical about it; something that lends itself well to a story about finding magic. Adeyemi moves easily from describing Zélie’s inner struggles to describing characters waging a war. It’s hard to believe that this is her debut novel.

The characterisation was really well done. I think my favourite character is Inan, although I did find myself being a little puzzled over his reactions to certain events. They didn’t always feel natural and his growth didn’t always feel organic. On the other hand, Amari’s development is outstanding. It’s amazing to watch her grow from a meek princess to a warrior. I was completely hooked — the characters were so complex and I was completely invested in their growth and development. As this book was told from multiple points of view, I would’ve also liked to see a little more distinction between the voices, as often I could only tell whose chapter it was by who was being mentioned in third person.

The plot is intense and action-packed. There are so many parallels drawn between Divîners in Orïsha and people of colour in our world. It forces you to consider systemic racism and injustices caused by those in authority who are supposed to protect the community. Adeyemi did manage to throw in a couple of surprises. Towards the end I was virtually speed-reading, on the edge of my seat while reading. I was utterly captivated. The cliffhanger was cruel, though. I cannot wait for Children of Virtue and Vengeance next year.

★★★★★

 

Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Published by Philomel Books on 15 October 2017
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

This book is not going to be for everyone (is any book?), especially those who need to like the hero(ine) in order to like the book. However, I love me an anti-hero and think there is a severe lack of them in fantasy YA. Xifeng is ruthless, ambitious, cunning — a Slytherin through and through. Viewing love as a weakness, she prizes power over everything else and will stop at nothing to possess it.

She knew her own worth. She would seize her destiny with all the strength and spirit within her, and bend them all to her will: every man kneeling and every woman overshadowed.

I feel like overall, this book is about the currency of female beauty in a patriarchal society. It does not matter how talented or qualified a woman is, it is her looks that will allow her succeed. Xifeng is obsessed with her own beauty, which her Guma has told her will get her on the throne of Feng Lu. Xifeng hates or is jealous of pretty much every woman she meets, but here it doesn’t feel misogynistic. I normally find girl-on-girl hate in YA fiction irritating, but here it has a point: to demonstrate that in this society, it is either them or her, and Xifeng is determined that it be her. In a society where a woman’s looks are valued over everything else she has to offer, Xifeng is determined that she will be the most valued.

If you’re looking for romance, there’s none to be found. Xifeng comments that she loves Wei as much as she can love another, but she is not willing to put aside her ambition to marry him. He refuses to stay by Xifeng’s side while she pursues Emperor Jun. It’s also made very clear that she does not love the Emperor, and views him as a means to an end — being the Empress and being the most powerful woman in Feng Lu. I would go so far to say the Xifeng uses both Wei and the Emperor to achieve her goals — Wei gets her to the palace, and the Emperor gets her to the throne.

I will admit, I did find this book a little on the gory side — I found the murder of a certain character particularly horrific and felt like vomiting while reading (so, I guess well done Julie Dao on excellent writing?) — but it never felt like gore for the sake of gore. It was compelling and well-placed. I also found the pacing to be a little slow — I would say most of the action occurs in the last 100 or so pages.

I was Guma’s, and now you want me to be yours. I have my own soul and my own destiny, and I’m tired of belonging to someone else.

There were seeds sown in this book for a Snow White retelling in the next book and let me tell you, friends: I am here for it! I have a feeling we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of how dark and nasty Xifeng can be, and I cannot wait to see what Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix has to offer.

★★★★☆

Review: Leah on the Offbeat

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Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
Published by Penguin Random House on 30 April 2018
Pages: 339
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat – but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mum, and her life is decidedly less privileged. And even though her mum knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends – not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting-especially when she realises she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

I went and saw Daniel Sloss at the Sydney Comedy Festival on Saturday night, and as I had some time to kill before the show, I stopped in at Better Read Than Dead and found this gem on the shelves. All sources point to its official publication date being 30 April, although the bookseller working said it had been out for a week (we were discussing how it felt like a book that was being published later in the year). I liked Leah on the Offbeat much more than The Upside of Unrequitedalthough I wasn’t quite as enamoured with it as I was with Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda; I think because Leah is a sharper-edged, more polarising character than Simon.

“I’m basically your resident fat Slytherin Rory Gilmore.”

Leah is a delight to read. She’s brash and unashamedly herself – she knows who she is, even if she doesn’t want to share every aspect of who she is with those around her. Albertalli is great at dialogue, characterisation, and building relationships and all of these elements really shine in Leah on the Offbeat. She doesn’t define herself by a romantic relationship, she doesn’t feel insecure about herself because she’s overweight, and she strives for perfection in all that she does. It was eye-opening to ‘watch’ Leah put herself down because her drumming/artwork wasn’t technically perfect. She really is her own worst enemy and is abrasive with herself as she is with other people. It hurt to see Leah acutely aware of the fact that she and her mother are poor and so she therefore can’t afford the luxuries that her friends don’t even think about.

“I’m the Draco from some shitty Drarry fic that the author abandoned after four chapters.”

Albertalli never intended for Leah or her love interest to be bisexual, that was a non-canon ship that was popular in fan fiction (the dedication of the book reads ‘for the readers who knew something was up, even when I didn’t’) and eventually turned into a book… and it feels that way. Other reviewers have commented that Albertalli basically committed character assassination and let fans’ wishes drive the story. I can’t really comment on it because I haven’t reread Simon and can’t say for sure how the characters have changed to make this book work. However, I can say that Leah doesn’t really say anything that Simon didn’t, and narratively, it’s just too similar. Structurally, Simon is the stronger book – while Simon had conflict because of Martin, and kept the reader hooked because of the mystery surrounding Blue, Leah only really had any conflict because of… Leah? It’s hard to review this book without giving away the ending because the plot is simply Leah and her love interest realising that they’re bisexual.  Leah had a problem with her love interest coming out as ‘lowkey bi’… so that threw a spanner in the works. It was very frustrating to feel like the story was just going around in circles because Leah doesn’t look at anything from anyone else’s point of view.

Leah on the Offbeat is a feel-good story (and a slew of pop culture references) that will warm your heart while still tackling serious issues like racism and sexuality. Albertalli is a skilled YA author and while Leah is not as strong as her debut novel, I do highly recommend it.

★★★★☆

 

Review: Crooked Kingdom

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Orion Children’s Group
Pages: 536
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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Kaz Brekker and his crew of deadly outcasts have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets – a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

It never fails to amaze me just how much Leigh Bardugo has grown as a writer between Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows. This has been sitting on my shelves since it was published, and I was finally in the right mind set to sit down and read it. I loved it. Where do I even begin?

I hate books with multiple perspectives. It’s rarely done well and it pulls you out of the narrative. It didn’t happen here. Bardugo has plotted this book masterfully, balancing six character arcs and developing high stakes for everyone involved. Everything that made Six of Crows so popular is present: the stellar world-building, characters that you have a strong emotional connection to, a brilliant plot. The heist planned in this book is quite different to the first book, more calculated and political than the non-stop action of the original heist.

In terms of characters, it feels like Kaz has the least amount of growth. That kid moves at a glacial pace, and it is frustrating to watch him get himself into some of the situations he gets himself into. He’s also brilliant, cunning, and whip-smart. He always seems to be five steps ahead of everyone else, which makes it so much better when the threads of plot start coming together and you realise where the story is heading. Proving that they balance each other out, I felt that Inej had the most growth. Mostly in terms of realising she’s not infallible (as all young adults eventually do), and pushing herself as a person and fighter. Wylan and Jesper are forever my favourites, and that’s all you need to know.

If you’re here for the ships, you won’t be disappointed. They all feel organic, true-to-character, and don’t overpower the main storyline (romance masquerading as a fantasy, I think not).

In a market that is as overcrowded as the young adult fantasy genre, as a reader it often feels like you will never find something original – heck, even something that’s well-written (a marketable idea will get you everywhere, just ask Stephenie Meyer, Veronica Roth, Sarah J. Maas…). Crooked Kingdom is proof that there’s still talented writers keeping the genre alive.

★★★★☆

Review: A Torch Against the Night

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
Published by HarperVoyager on 22 August 2016
Pages: 464
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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A Torch Against the Night takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. Hunted by Empire soldiers, manipulated by the Commandant, and haunted by their pasts, Laia and Elias must outfox their enemies and confront the treacherousness of their own hearts.

In the city of Serra, Helene Aquilla finds herself bound to the will of the Empire’s twisted new leader, Marcus. When her loyalty is questioned, Helene finds herself taking on a mission to prove herself-a mission that might destroy her, instead.

HOLY CROW, IS IT APRIL 2018 YET?! I have had this on my shelves since its release, but I loved An Ember in the Ashes so much I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Since most YA is packaged as a trilogy these days, I’ve read so many sequels that just do not live up to their predecessors. Thankfully, A Torch Against the Night suffers no such fate.

“So long as you fight the darkness, you stand in the light.”

Once again, this story is told from multiple perspectives: Elias, Laia, and Helene. If I had one quibble, it’s that there’s no real distinction between the three voices. They are such starkly different characters and their stories go on such different paths that I would’ve liked to have some variation between the three. That said, there was a good pace to the story and there was a rhythm that made this book hard to put down.

I didn’t really care for Helene in the first book, but she just blew me away in this one – if Tahir wanted to create a spin-off for Helene, I would read the heck out of it.  In a novel filled with fierce, complex, intelligent, powerful women, Helene stands out from the pack. My heart hurt for her and the impossible situation she was put in. This world is brutal, and Helene does what she has to to survive. The character growth that she displays in this book is incredible, and I cannot wait to see where Tahir takes her journey.

I also loved getting to see Elias’ adopted family. He has a mother who loves him, and it was so heart-warming to read. Their relationship just jumped off the page, especially when Mamie Rila started a riot to help Laia and Elias (Ilyaas!) escape the Masks.

There were some amazing secondary characters – Avitas Harper (please play a larger role in the third book), Keenan (did NOT see that coming), Shaeva (oh, sweetie), and Afya (QUEEEEEN!).

The Commander… I can’t move past it: she seems evil for the sake of being evil. It was a problem for me in the first book, and it was a problem for me in this one. Perhaps it’s because her backstory is a mystery, but I can’t tell what her motivations are, and it frustrates me. If the woman’s willing to poison her son, I want to know how she became so callous. Similarly, the Warden felt unnecessarily evil.

I did enjoy Marcus as a villain. He is very cunning and clever, and while I dislike him as a character, I enjoy him as a villain.

This book was a slow burn, but put everything into place for what will be an amazing finale in the trilogy. Tahir has taken a common YA story and turned it into something completely original and un-put-downable.

★★★★★

Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks

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The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr, narrated by Rosie Jones
Published by Penguin Random House on 12 December 2016
Length: 8 hours 9 minutes
Format: Audiobook
Source: Purchased
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Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town.

Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

If I had to sum this book up in one word, it would be… eh. It was an interesting premise, but poor execution.

First off, Flora’s characterisation was not done all that well. It takes a skilled author to pull off an almost-adult character with the mind of a child, and unfortunately Flora’s immaturity was grating. It didn’t help that she also felt a bit like a Mary Sue  – inexplicably, no matter where she went, everybody was willing to help her – a stranger – and found her endearing. They all seemed to take it in stride when she (repeatedly!) couldn’t remember who they were.

Also, Flora hasn’t made a new memory since she was ten years old. She’ll look in the mirror and has no idea who she is, because she isn’t expecting to see her 17-year-old self. So how the heck did she manage to get from Penzance to Whoop Whoop, Norway without ANY PROBLEMS WHATSOEVER?! It was so incredibly frustrating to listen to something that unrealistic. There were also a lot of things that didn’t really make sense if she had no new memories, like… most ten-year-olds wouldn’t be shaving their legs, so why is she? How does she know how to get herself to the airport, catch a train, row a boat? How can she use some of the words she uses? I’m assuming that there would be some developmental issues with the kind of memory loss Flora displays (if someone more educated on memory loss knows otherwise, please let me know!). There were just a lot of plot holes that couldn’t be chalked up to the unreliable narration.

In terms of the other characters, Flora happens to be saddled with some of the worst humans known to mankind. Drake, the boy she has a crush on, can only be described as a jerk (to put it nicely). He’s 19, and knowing that Flora thinks of herself as a ten-year-old, kisses her and makes her believe they’re in a relationship. However, he’s dating Paige, who, upon learning Flora kissed her boyfriend, cuts Flora out of her life completely. Which would be understandable, but Flora’s parents are going to France for a week and have asked Paige to care for Flora while they’re gone. A PHONE CALL IS NOT ADEQUATE CARE, PAIGE. Inexplicably, they’re friends again by the end of the book. But the characters who take the cake are Flora’s parents, who win the award for World’s Worst Parents.

The things I liked about this book? Her relationship with her brother (unfortunately who mostly stays off-page and we only get to know through his emails to Flora), which has such a huge impact on her story. Rosie Barr’s performance is also top-notch, it gets a whole star for that alone.

Ultimately, this book suffered from poor characterisation, terrible pacing, and trivial treatment of serious issues, and was rather unmemorable in the grand scheme of things.

★★☆☆☆

Review: Strange the Dreamer

9781444788952
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 28 March 2017
Pages: 544
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? 

Ughh, this was perfection and I don’t know why I waited so long to read this. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy like I have loved few books, and I am so pleased that Strange the Dreamer actually lived up to my expectations. It was gorgeous and odd and lyrical. In short, perfection. Although, also kind of weird.

I didn’t even know what to expect going in, I just saw ‘Laini Taylor’ and bought it. While I think it’s better to go into this book blind, for those who don’t know and are interested, the book opens on Lazlo Strange, a young librarian who was orphaned as a baby. He grew up obsessing over the Unseen City, whose true name was stolen from everybody’s mind and replaced with the word Weep. Lazlo knows he once knew Weep’s true name, but cannot remember it and devotes his life to uncovering the secrets of the city. When the Godslayer comes to select a delegation to visit Weep, Lazlo convinces him to let him join. I won’t elaborate anymore, just know that the journey he goes on is magical and filled with wonderful characters.

The characters are filled with shades of grey – the villains are sympathetic and the heroes are flawed. Even my least favourite characters still had redeemable qualities, and the smallest characters had intriguing back stories.

She asked in a hesitant whisper, “Do you still think I’m a… a singularly unhorrible demon?” “No,” he said, smiling. “I think you’re a fairy tale. I think you’re magical, and brave, and exquisite. And…” His voice grew bashful. Only in a dream could he be so bold and speak such words. “I hope you’ll let me be in your story.”

Taylor’s world-building has improved so much since Daughter of Smoke and Bone. While Dreams of Gods and Monsters had some fantastic world-building, this book just blew me away. It’s a well-conceived tale of gods and goddesses, and was tinged with elements of the beloved fairy tales of my youth. Lazlo strongly reminds me of Harry Potter (perhaps a lazy comparison), in that he is an orphaned young man who kind of has this great journey thrust upon him (admittedly, they also kind of seek it out). Sarai – oh my God, Sarai.  She is such a complicated and wonderful character.

The ending broke my heart into little pieces, and I was surprised I could get so invested in the story. I need The Muse of Nightmares, like right now. It was definitely a shock twist (and not a shitty, done for the sake of shock value twist like Allegiant), and I cannot wait to see where Taylor takes the story from here.

As always, Taylor’s prose is lyrical and wonderful, although it did feel a little forced in parts. The dialogue was on point, and the banter between Lazlo and Sarai felt so realistic. Taylor is one of the most talented writers publishing today, and this book is an absolute treat.

★★★★★