ARC Review: The Bone Flower Throne by T. L. Morganfield

18336300Title: The Bone Throne Flower

Author: T. L. Morganfield

Series: The Bone Flower Throne Trilogy #1

Rating: 2 stars

Review:

Princess Quetzalpetlatl knows that being part of the royal family of Culhuacan and honouring their god The Feathered Serpent requires sacrifice. At only seven years old she is made to marry her cousin Black Otter, who will become the next King as Quetzalpetlatl’s mother can no longer have children. It could be worse – Black Otter is a good friend, and soon she will live with the priests to learn how better to serve The Feathered Serpent, who she already loves fiercely. But her calm and content childhood is destroyed when her uncle Ihuitimal, Black Otter’s father, reveals that he is a worshiper of a the blood thirsty god known as The Smoking Mirror, sacrificing Quetzalpetlatl’s father and claiming his throne. Though Quetzalpetlatl and her mother escape to their neighbouring allies, the Queen dies in childbirth, leaving Quetzalpetlatl and her little brother, who is believed to be the son of The Feathered Serpent, orphaned.

Raised by their mother’s friend and High Priestess, Nimilitzli, Quetzalpetlatl learns she can communicate with The Feathered Serpent and that not only must her brother Topiltzin must reclaim his throne in the god’s name, but together they must put an end to the practice of human sacrifice. Dedicating her life to the god’s will, Quetzalpetlatl struggles with political turmoil, corruption within the priesthood, and her own growing feelings for Topiltzin. Will her love and desire outweigh her vows of sacrifice?

What first attracted me to The Bone Flower Throne was the fact that it was a fantasy set in tenth century Mexico, mixing politics, gods, and a woman’s quest to avenge her family. It sounded like a great book, especially as I’ve never read an Aztec based fantasy before. In a world where fantasy based on Greek mythology are a dime a dozen, this sounded like a refreshing change. Sadly, I was ultimately disappointed and bored by this book. It suffers heavily from the ‘great idea, poor execution’ problem. The little bit we are shown of Aztec life and customs are quiet interesting, especially the forms of worship, such as the priestess’ piercing their tongues with thorns to offer up their blood. However, the fantasy elements of this novel are limited to the few brief times Quetzalpetlatl contacts her god. The rest of the book is focused on the politics and Quetzalpetlatl’s life. The Bone Flower Throne is meant to be a trilogy, which I was aware of from the beginning, so I was surprised that it covers a lot of her life, starting from her childhood at the age of seven (in a fairly unconvincing first person narration) continuing into her late twenties. Despite spanning so many years not much happens in terms of plot, and the time skips (from between two and ten years) are a little off putting. I gather that these skips are meant to show that not much action took place in those years, but there wasn’t particularly much action in the rest of the book. It also didn’t feel authentically Aztec, with characters using fairly modern language like telling each other to ‘shut up’.

For a woman devout on her god, set on becoming a High Priestess, Quetzalpetlatl spends a little too much time worrying about how she can’t have sex and has to live with her desire. She also seems too willing to throw away her virginity, that she vowed to keep as a sacrifice to her god, much too quickly. This issue seems to come up again and again because all the men in this story are unable to keep their hands off her. This attraction seems unjustified, as Quetzalpetlatl is nothing special, and even boring at times. The romantic interest with her brother is also a bit disturbing, though isn’t odd in the context of this novel, where family members are often wed to each other to preserve the royal blood line. At one point Quetzalpetlatl makes a comment about a women not being able to be anything more than a mother or a priestess and how she needs to change that, but nothing ever comes of it. The worst part of the book though? It was pretty boring, with little action and repetitions about Quetzalpetlatl’s lust and her inability to do anything about it (though not through lack of trying).

Sadly this is another book with ideas that could have been great, but just didn’t live up to it’s potential.

2 stars.

Early Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

17670709Title: Crown of Midnight

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Series: Throne of Glass #2

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for book one.)

After nearly dying during the King’s tournament, Celaena Sardothien has been officially crown the King’s Champion and the Royal Assassin. She is the King of Adarlan’s mutt, his attack dog, doing his dirty work by killing off those who oppose or displease him. This was supposed to gain Celaena her freedom after a few years, but it feels more like slavery than ever. What no-one realises is that Celaena has a terrible secret – she’s not actually killing those she’s sent to dispatch of. Playing a very dangerous game, Celaena lives in fear that the King will discover that the people he believes dead have in fact gone into hiding, whilst also trying to help Queen Elena and bring back magic to the world. But magic may not be gone as everyone thinks, with an unnerving fortune teller from a camp of travellers and something menacing stalking the palace dungeons. If the King doesn’t kill her, this mysterious magic might.

Crown of Midnight is one of those books that has so many twists and turns you just can’t stop reading it, and will probably spend hours emerged in this amazing story without even realising it. Sarah J. Maas exceeds her first book, which is quite a feat in itself. Stakes are higher than ever, and gone is the flirty, somewhat easy going Celaena (at least compared to her attitude in this book). She is hiding her defiance of the King all by herself, and it’s clear the pressure, and having to act like a loyal dog, is getting to her. Still, her resilience is admirable, and her struggles also show the strength of the friendships she has with Chaol, Dorian, and Nehemia. The friendship with Nehemia was one of the best aspects of Crown of Midnight – it is deep and meaningful as not only does Nehemia support Clelaena, she isn’t afraid to tell her the harsh truth that Celaena needs to hear whether she wants to or not. The romance develops more and goes beyond the love triangle hinted at in the first book, with Celaena making a choice, but still staying close friends with the other man. There is still no happy ending in sight however, as issues and conflicts drive a seemingly inevitable wedge between the couple, in a heart breaking way that may not be salvageable.

The other part of this book I thoroughly enjoyed was the discovery of further magic, especially the character Baba Yellowlegs, an iron-toothed witch posing as a fortune teller. She was both truly creepy and intriguing, and the nature of witches is something I hope to see far more of in the next books. The idea of magic returning is one that can cause endless adventures for Celaena and her friends. The revelations about her nature and identity make for a shocking ending that will leave everyone dying for the next book.

I loved Crown of Midnight, it was a constant twists in politics, magic, and characters. After that cliffhanger I cannot wait for the third book.

4.5 stars

 

Early Review: Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson

(Apologies for the late review, life just gets in the way sometimes.)

16059404Title: Elysian Fields

Author: Suzanne Johnson

Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #3

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for books one and two.)

Only a few weeks after settling the mermaid feud and losing the closest thing to a mother she’s ever had, all DJ really needs is time to rest and recover. Most certainly not an historical undead serial killer known as the Axeman come back to reek havoc on New Orleans. During the investigations, DJ discovers that he is being controlled by a necromancer, one of her own wizards, and now the Axeman is after her. Trying to survive being hunted by a serial killer is really not being helped by the elves’ interest in her being taken to a new, worrying intensity. It seems like everyone is after a piece of her, and they don’t care how many pieces she breaks into.

The phrase “action-packed” seems too tame to describe Elysian Fields, which is stuffed full of so many great different plots, that all tie off nicely at the end. More happens in this book by the half way point that most others in entire series, and it’s very impressive how Suzanne Johnson fits so much into one book. Watching DJ struggling with everything that happens is quite moving, and shows her strengths as a character. It’s also great to see progress with the romance, which is still no where near a boring “happily ever after” as events in this book will definitely cause further issues and more entertainment. One of the best parts of this book is the extended world building. The Elves’ culture is a very interesting one, their political systems and nature are the cause of a lot of the conflict, and it’s interesting to see where exactly DJ, as both part elf and wizard, fits into this. Many of these issues are left open to be further explored in the next books.

The only real problem with Elysian Fields is that other than DJ herself, there seem to be too few women in this world. Other than her human friend Eugenie who doesn’t know anything about DJ’s world, two elven woman (one who is barely featured before she is killed off in what felt a little too much like a plot device), and a vampire who does nothing but seduce and corrupt a wizard, there are next to no women. Eugenie was the only real positive female secondary character in this book, and it is good to see her taking a bigger and more active role in the story. Men, on the other hand, see to be everywhere – from romantic interests, to friends, colleges, enemies, even to nameless background characters. This just doesn’t reflect real life, and I can’t help but worry that this is a subconscious decision to make DJ look all the more special – she’s the only woman who is not a bitch, a slut, or is naive.

This one issue aside (which was more of a musing after I finished the book), Elysian Fields is a non-stop, action packed book that will keep you captivated throughout.

4.5 stars.

Early Review: The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce

16006117Title: The Weight of Souls

Author: Bryony Pearce

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review:

Everyone knows being a teenager sucks. Especially when you’re bullied by the popular guys at school, even worse when one used to be your best friend – but when you are hunted by ghosts how can you be anything but a freak? Like all the women of her family, Taylor Oh is cursed, haunted by the ghost of murder victims only she can help. When a ghost touches her she has roughly three weeks to hunt out the murderer before she is consumed by a void known only as The Darkness. Taylor’s life consists of hiding at home where she’s safe from the ghosts, but not her father who thinks she’s suffering from a mental illness, and at school hiding from Justin and his friends who spend their time coming up with new ways to torment her.

But everything changes when Justin suddenly dies, and his ghost marks Taylor. Since Justin doesn’t know who killed him, Taylor must gain the trust of his friends by infiltrating the exclusive V Club, a secret society where members play true or dare with horrifying stakes.

It’s hard not to feel for Taylor, as Bryony Pearce pulls no punches in making her life almost unbearably hard. As the victim of such horrid bullying, where the teachers seem to be deliberately turning a blind eye, and having to hear her own father tell her again and again that she is crazy, and without her mother who also had the curse, it’s impressive that Taylor doesn’t fall apart. Having had personal experience with bullying in school, Taylor’s character resonated with me and I admired her strength to keep on struggling, even if no-one else understood or was on her side. For me, Taylor was the strongest part of The Weight of Souls, and her trials moved me.

That’s not to say this was its only strength – there is a lot to love about this book. The curse itself was both fascinating and seriously creepy, with clear rules as to how exactly it worked and background knowledge that, unlike some Young Adult books, didn’t make it feel added in for the sake of it. Having said that, there was still enough mystery to entertain you throughout and ends with room for a sequel. its origins to a exploration to an Ancient Egyptian tomb by Taylor’s ancestor and the god Anubis were very interesting and become a much bigger part of the story towards the end. Unfortunately, I can’t say more without spoiling the book.

It shows Bryony Pearce’s skill as a writer that the evolution of Justin from leader of Taylor’s tormentors to love interest feels natural and believable. He is a character you hate in the beginning, and his change could have easily felt forced and rushed, ruining the book – but he is more than the two-dimensional jerk potential boyfriend troupe that is commonly used in Young Adult. As Taylor gets to properly know Justin, he is shown to be a complicated boy caught up in the V Club, which has spiralled out of his control as their dares get more dangerous. With his realisation that he has in fact died without a chance to say goodbye to anyone, and his anger at being murdered, Justin is another very sympathetic character you came to love.

The Weight of Souls was a very entertaining book, with very sympathetic characters and a great idea done justice to. The story is left open, and I can only hope there will be a sequel.

4.5 stars.

Early Review: Indelible by Dawn Metcalf

12411687Title: Indelible

Author: Dawn Metcalf

Series: The Twixt

Rating: 1.5 stars

Review:

Joy thought her life was hard enough already – her mother left after having an affair, her brother, the one person she can properly confide in, has gone away to university leaving her alone with her Dad, who tries but is still caught up in his own problems. That was before the night at a club when a boy tried to blind her by stabbing her in the eye. Since then she’s been seeing . . . things. Flashes in the corner of her eye, strange messages she doesn’t understand, creatures coming for her.

The boy who tried to stab her, Ink, reveals he is in fact a faerie, and tells her that she has been marked as one of his lehmen – a messenger, servant, and, sometimes, lover. Now Joy is caught in a world of monsters and magic, between those who want to use her to get to Ink and those who want the fey to dominate the human world.

Young adult books about the fey are often hard to get right: the juxtaposition of unearthly, immortal, magical creatures against human teenagers in the modern day world is difficult. Some are written beautifully, and manage to explore the fey world in great detail[1], but others unfortunately (like many YA fantasy books) end up using this magic as a set up for a predicable romance between annoying characters, wasting the great ideas that were made to sound so much bigger in the blurb. Sadly, Indelible was the latter of these books –  another case of great ideas, poor excision. This had the potential to be a very interesting book, but not enough focus on the magic, with a brief explanation as to how the magic worked which barely made sense, and unlikeable character, ruined it.

The few faerie creatures who did show up, like Filly the viking warrior woman who loves battle and Aniseed the villain who believes in fey supremacy, were interesting, but not featured anywhere near  often enough. In fact, Aniseed, who was meant to be the main villain, wasn’t even mentioned by name until about three quarters of the way through the book. The odd messages left for Joy, before she understood what was happening, were quiet creepy and created a fair bit of tension as she didn’t know where or when the next one would come from, but this seemed to be dropped far too quickly once Ink was properly introduced. Joy’s job as messenger as a whole was overshadowed and all but forgotten in exchange for the romance and parties with Ink’s sister, Inq. Which leads to another huge problem: why on earth would you name two of your main character Ink and Inq? It’s confusing and comes across as lazy.

None of the characters were likeable. Joy was unbelievable selfish: with every problem that occurred, including ones that were nothing to do with her,   Joy’s first thought is “this make it so much harder for me!”. For instance, when her brother tells her he has discovered he is gay, her first reaction is to become angry and upset at him for hiding this information from her. This, and many other similar instances, made her sound like a spoil, bratty child. Inq was just as petty and annoying, a girl who thought of nothing but her own wants and needs, even if that means pulling people away from their lives, just so she can party, with no notice. Ink was bland and boring, making him a very poor romantic interest. Other reviews have mentioned his ‘slowly learning to become human and feel love’, but I personally couldn’t see it. Using contractions in your speech and obsessing over the shape of ears doesn’t make you human, or particularly interesting to read about. The stereotypical idea of a girl ‘curing’ a boy, and teaching him to love is both patronising and stupid.

The worst part of this book, however? It was boring. So boring, that had it not been an ARC, I would have stopped reading about half way through. I was not impressed in the slightest by Indelible.

1.5 stars.

[1] Examples of good faerie books are Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series (YA), Malissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series (YA), Seanan McGuire’s Tody Daye series (adult), and Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series (YA).

Early Review: Ink by Amanda Sun

17852056Title: Ink

Author: Amanda Sun

Series: The Paper Gods #1

Rating: 3 stars

Review:

After the pain of losing her mother and the huge culture shock moving to Japan to live with her aunt, Katie could be forgiven for suffering from stress and seeing things that aren’t really there; drawings moving, staring at her with blank eyes, or crawling towards her with razor sharp teeth, and ink that pools and oozes like blood. If only Katie could believe it was just stress, but she knows different – this is all somehow linked to Tomohiro Yuu, the good looking senior with amazing artistic skills and a bad attitude. Is he human, or kami – a person with god-like power?

As Katie gets closer to Tomohiro they discover that her being near him causes the ink he uses to act strangely. With her Tomohiro’s power is increasing, and his control is slipping. Soon, Katie isn’t the only one who has discovered what he can do.

Ink had so much potential to be an amazing book, full of monsters and Japanese culture – and whilst it is clear a lot of research has been put into this book, in the end it just doesn’t do enough to break through the typical YA paranormal romance cliches. The setting is very fleshed out (at least to a Westerner who has never visited Japan) and described beautifully, especially the images of the cherry blossoms in bloom. The romance also began rather sweetly – for all its “insta-love” problems, they can be forgiven as they fit with the character of Katie. She is alone in a foreign country, living with an aunt she barely knows, and often struggles with her new life. She has trouble speaking and reading Japanese, she keeps forgetting every-day customs like bowing and when it is acceptable to address someone by their first name, and she is the only white person in her school. For her, falling in love with Tomohiro so fast is about finding someone who also feels like an outsider, and their shared pain over loosing a mother is the beginning of their bond. Throughout the novel we see Katie’s confidence grow until she feels at home in Japan, in a realistic and sweet way.

Unfortunately, the romance soon gets fairly boring, and has practically all the annoying stereotypes of a YA paranormal romance. Insta-love (not even half way through Katie claims she can’t live without him now), not being able to be together because one of them will get hurt, ignoring or dropping friends the moment a guy comes along – these are just a few of the cliches used. The mythology of the Kami was such a unique idea, and the few scenes that depicted Tomohiro’s power (like a dragon coming to life and attacking them) were amazing to read, but they were few and far between, ultimately not enough to save the book. There is also far too much of Katie running around, stalking Tomohiro, and generally being paranoid.

If a standard YA paranormal romance, with a beautifully described setting, is what you are looking for then Ink is perfect – but if, like me, you where hoping for something special and memorable then prepare to be disappointed.

3 stars.