Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ruin and Rising

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Some spoilers.)

It is a dark time for Rakva: the Royal family are all either missing or dead, the Darkling rules, and the Sun Summoner has fled with the Apparat and a small group of loyalists. Hiding in an almost lost network of caverns, weakened by the darkness surrounding her, Alina knows she is nothing but a puppet being pulled by the Apparat forced into the role of a Saint. She still struggles daily with the idea of people worshipping her, but to make matters worse the Apparat refuses to let her go.

Alina knows she must escape, working with Mal and a small group of people who still see her as an actual person to rebel against the Apparat’s influence and power. Once out, Alina’s mission is clear: she must hunt down the Firebird and use its bones for the third and final amplifier, and finally destroy the Darkling. But that won’t be enough, she’ll need an army to bring down the Darkling’s forces. The only person Alina knows who could help is Nikolai – if he managed to survive the destruction of the royal palace…

It’s always emotional when you come to the end of a trilogy, especially when it’s one as good at the Grisha series. There are always high hopes and expectations, the building of anticipation as you wait for the last book to be published. The more I read, the more I wonder if our expectations are ever completely met. On some levels I think the readers will always be disappointed. Luckily, Ruin and Rising is one of the better endings I have read, and although I had some hopes for the ending that didn’t work out, I knew that they didn’t really fit with the nature of the story, so I wasn’t really let down. It’s a great book, just what you would expect from Leigh Bardugo, pack with action and romance, and a twist I didn’t see coming. I loved the evolution of Genya and the strength she found after being ‘ruined’ at the end of the last book. There is also a special place in my heart for Nikolai, whose charm and wit is still intact despite all he goes through in this book. Leigh Bardugo shows she can be so cruel to our beloved characters (though I should have known after Genya’s fate). Be warned, she will wring out your heart.

(And here’s where the spoilers start:)

My personal reservations with Ruin and Rising were centred around Mal, and his relationship with Alina. I liked Mal in the first book, despite it literally taking Alina’s disappearance to realise that he was in love with her. In the second book, however, Mal becomes far too whiney and clinging, jealous of Alina while she’s trying to fight against the Darkling. He seems to calm down in the final book, deciding to be useful instead of annoying by using his tracking skills to find the Firebird. He throws himself into becoming her weapon, even to the point of getting a huge sun tattooed on his back. I’m personally getting sick of this trope in YA novels, the ‘why do you love me, I am not worthy’ cliche, that usually means one person just ignores the other’s wishes, then ends with one person selfishly leaving for ‘their own good’. I personally feel that these characters are so self deprecating that their ‘noble’ act of leaving is actually a way of saying that they know best. And I feel that this is what Mal became in book two, the self loathing, ‘I don’t even deserve you’ love interest, and though he was fair less annoying in this book his character has been tainted to me. I will say though that the last chapter, which showed Alina and Mal together in the future, was very sweet. Also, I’m still unsure about Mal being the third amplifier. I was surprised, I didn’t see the twist coming, but even after I finished the book I was still torn about it. It was clever, but I feel it wasn’t explained properly, and ended up just sitting wrong with the rest of the plot. And lastly, I felt the Darkling was killed off fair too easily, it was not the epic show down I was hoping for.

So, all in all, a good finish to a great series, but there were just a couple of things that didn’t feel completely right to me.

4 stars.

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Cheap Books: Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor

Not only is Laini Taylor’s amazing Daughter of Smoke and Bone still only 99p on Amazon Kindle UK, but the sequel, Days of Blood and Starlight is too! This series is one of my favourites and I am going absolutely crazy patiently waiting for the third and final book Dreams of Gods and Monsters, which comes out next spring. These books are fantastic, grab this awesome offer now!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

13600168Description:

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. ‘He never says please’, she sighed, but she gathered up her things.
When Brimstone called, she always came.”

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

 

Days of Blood and Starlight

18048665Description:

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

Kindle Daily Deal: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

You need to go to today’s Kindle Daily Deal (Amazon UK) and buy Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor for 99p (today only). It’s one of my all time favourite books, by one of my all time favourite authors. The writing is lyrical, the characters are captivating, and the world build and mythology is fascinating. Seriously, what are you still reading this for? Go buy it now!

13600168Description:

Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

The note was on vellum, pierced by the talons of the almost-crow that delivered it. Karou read the message. ‘He never says please’, she sighed, but she gathered up her things.
When Brimstone called, she always came.”

In general, Karou has managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she’s a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand-girl to a monstrous creature who is the closest thing she has to family. Raised half in our world, half in ‘Elsewhere’, she has never understood Brimstone’s dark work – buying teeth from hunters and murderers – nor how she came into his keeping. She is a secret even to herself, plagued by the sensation that she isn’t whole.

Now the doors to Elsewhere are closing, and Karou must choose between the safety of her human life and the dangers of a war-ravaged world that may hold the answers she has always sought.

Book Review: River Road by Suzanne Johnson

13539162Title: River Road

Author: Suzanne Johnson

Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #2

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for book one.)

It’s been three years since Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans, and through DJ’s life, but she has come to terms with what happened and is settled with her life working for the Elder wizards along side her close friend and FBI enforcer, Alex. But when, out of the blue, undead pirate Jean Lafitte contacts DJ about conflict between two clans of merpeople and the debt she owes him for saving her life, DJ must investigate before poisoned water spreads and harms the humans of the city. Whilst breaking up fights between the mermen, and judging whether to trust Jean and his advances on her, DJ also has to juggle a werewolf who likes her but may not be able to control himself, her parner Alex who is suddenly acting funny around her, and the elves who want to meet (and probably use) her. Maybe running off to the Beyond with an undead pirate isn’t the worst idea in the world…

River Road picks up three years after the events of Royal Street, and though the time gap may seem a little much, the main characters have , thankfully, not changed. This book is in fact an improvement over the first: the pacing is a lot more even, the events are better connected to each other and don’t feel hastily thrown together (as the last book suffered a little from), and DJ on the whole felt more sure of herself without losing any of her humour, stubbornness, or practical mindedness. She is a character who is not afraid to get her hands dirty or push her limits. Though this is a trait often found in Urban Fantasy heroines, DJ doesn’t fall into the trap of being too headstrong to make rational decisions that end up putting herself in danger. When danger does arise, she uses the backup help Alex offers her, without insisting she doesn’t need him or taking his offer to mean that he thinks she isn’t strong enough.

The world of this series is expanding, be it slowly. River Road heavily featured merpeople, nymphs, and their relation to the human world, but also mentions the River Styx (a place in the Beyond), the fact that the Beyond has links to different time periods, and the elves (who seem to be becoming an increasingly bigger part of DJ’s life as she tries to research her own elven heritage). Once again the Beyond is visited, but only briefly, giving the reader an almost infuriatingly small glimpse of this huge world. As DJ learns more about herself, and discovers yet more ways the Elders are trying to keep wizards from travelling to the Beyond, I can only hope that this means a greater amount of time spent there.

The other big part of this book is the romance, and all the male character are written so well, it’s hard to know who to choose. Though slowly taken, DJ has not one but three romantic interests, each with their own charms and faults. Her partner and friend Alex seems the obvious choice, as the relationship they have is both sweet and funny – in any other series he’d be the only guy to root for. Whilst his cousin Jake also seems sweet, his struggle to control himself since he became a werewolf makes him dangerous, but also sympathetic and vulnerable beneath his tough exterior. Lastly, Jean Laffite is the wild card, both dangerous and attractive. Though he (mostly) behaves in this book, the fact that he not only hurt DJ in book one but actually tried to kill her, makes him unstable and untrustworthy. Had that incident not happened, I would have been a big fan of Jean.

In summery, River Road takes everything that was good in Royal Street and makes it better. Add some more journeying into the Beyond, and the next book may even be a five star read.

4 stars.

Book Review: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

12009478Title: Royal Street

Author: Suzanne Johnson

Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #1

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

Drusilla Jaco, DJ to her friends, thought her job was hard – mixing potions, helping to guard New Orleans from supernatural creatures (including attractive undead pirates), and negotiating politics with the Elder wizards. When the city is warned to evacuate due to the oncoming Hurricane Katrina, her mentor Gerry insists DJ leaves while he stays to defend the city from whatever may come. DJ watches safely as her city avoids the worst of the hurricane, only to be severely damaged by flooding. As heartbreaking as it is to watch, DJ’s worst nightmare comes true when she gets a call from the Elders: Gerry has disappeared and the walls between the Otherworld and the mortal world have weakened.

Partnered with the stubborn, but good looking, Alex who works for the FBI, and hiding from the undead pirate she tricked who is back for revenge, DJ must help rebuild New Orleans and protect it from the supernatural monsters now unleashed. With a serial killer targeting wizards with voodoo rituals and the rise of disturbing questions about Gerry’s views concerning the Elders, DJ may have her work cut out for her.

The use of Hurricane Katrina was very interesting, and justly done. Seeing the damage done to New Orleans through DJ’s eyes, and her relief and guilt as she realises just how lucky she was to have escaped and have her home undamaged, was almost painful to read. Her heartbreak was real and helped to make DJ a sympathetic character.The descriptions of the city were also thorough, creating some very moving scenes. The few scenes in the Otherworld towards the end of the book where also very enjoyable. Hopefully, the Otherworld will be explored further in the rest of the series as it was isolated to Old Orleans, and had the potential to be far more varied in both setting and characters.

The romance in Royal Street is of the slow-burn variety, beginning with hostility between DJ and her partner Alex, slowly becoming friendship as they trust and confide in each other. Both DJ and Alex are likeable characters, despite their faults – namely both being stubborn, unnecessarily so at times. Jean Lafitte, the undead pirate and other half of the possible love triangle, on the other hand, was a character who was much harder to like and trust – though this does make him quite interesting. His motives are constantly unclear as he changes allegiances and plans with no notice. It is only obvious that he looks out for himself. Though this makes his character interesting and unpredictable, as a romantic interest it makes him unstable and fairly unbelievable, since he has tried several times to kill DJ. Other than his looks, there doesn’t seem to be any other reason to be a romance with.

The use of voodoo in this book was very interesting, but could have been expanded. In fact, this seems to be the biggest fault with Royal Street. Though a few ideas and especially the world building was not as extensive as it could have been, as this is just the first of the series, I can only hope that these great ideas are further explored in the next novels, which I will be reading.

3.5 stars

Book Review: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

7962513Title: Bitterblue

Author: Kristin Cashore

Series: The Graceling Realm #3

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

It’s been eight years since the death of the monstrous King Leck, but the kingdom of Monsea is slow to heal. Leck’s daughter Bitterblue, now Queen, struggles to help her people – stuck in an office signing paper all day, she feels useless and isolated from her people. One night she decides to visit her capital in disguise to find out what her people are really like, and meet two thieves, Saf and Teddy, who also run a printing shop. Drawn to these men and the need to know her kingdom, Bitterblue realises that her advisors are lying about the state of her people and are trying to forget what Leck did to them. Bitterblue, and her people, need to know the truth of what Leck did to them – before whoever is killing truth seekers kills her new friends.

Bitterblue is, above all else, a novel about healing from trauma, from the grand scale of an entire kingdom getting past the atrocities of a mad king, to the smaller scale of one young woman trying to face her abusive father. Whilst the moral of the novel seems to be that in order to heal you need to face what has happened, as suffering alone can cause a person to do horrible or destructive things, it does address the fact that some details are better left alone. This is a longer, quieter novel than the first two of this series, with far less action and more focus on politics and the need to find answers. Though it is easy to become slightly frustrated at the slow pace, and the fact that answers to many questions aren’t discovered until the every end, it felt right that Bitterblue should be a more gentle novel than its predecessors.

The character of Bitterblue is a sympathetic and relatable one, who is curious and above all else determined to do right by her people. She is only eighteen, but has to live with the responsibility of helping her kingdom heal whilst the stigma of being the daughter of the very madman who hurt so many people in the first place. She feels useless at her lack of knowledge, and frustrated at not being able to find any answers to all the problems that seem to be piling up on top of her. The other characters in this novel are also engaging, from the familiar faces of Po and Katsa, to the new, like Death the Graceling librarian or Thiel her most trusted but haunted advisor. The only somewhat dislikable character was Saf, the romantic interest, who when he discovers Bitterblue’s true identity, overreacts and treats her unfairly for a good portion of the novel –  though he does eventually come to see his selfishness and apologises. The romance as a whole felt a little unnecessary, as though it was just added in to tick all the boxes, but it doesn’t take away too much focus from the main plot.

Although longer and slower pace than Kristin Cashore’s other books, Bitterblue is a sweet story about the healing process and the strength we take from other people in these times. It is also unafraid to show the trauma and consequences of people trying to suppress what has happened to them rather than face it, and makes some bold, almost shocking choices as to how certain people deal with their pain. It was a pleasing ending to the series that leaves room for more stories from this world.

4 stars

Kindle Daily Deal: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I urge everyone to buy a copy of Throne of Glass, only 99p on today’s Kindle Daily Deal (Amazon UK). It was one of my favourite book of 2012, and I will be reviewing the sequel, Crown of Midnight, in August. It has everything I love in a book: confident, kick-ass heroine who actually has a brain, a sweet romance that doesn’t overwhelm the plot, action, and references to a fairytale (in this case, Cinderella).

13519397Description:

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another.

Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Series Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Welcome to a special series review, where I review all the books in a series I love in one go. This week’s series is the amazing Grisha Series by Leigh Bardugo; a Russian inspired world where one girl discovers she is the Sun Summoner, gifted with the power of light, and must fight against the darkness spreading over the land, and the man who can control it.

Today is the second novel in this series: Siege and Storm.

14061955Title: Siege and Storm

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha #2

Rating: 4.5 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for book one.)

After hiding from the world for a few months Alina and Mal are betrayed and handed over to The Darkling, who has not only survived the Shadow Fold but gained a terrifying new power. They travel as prisoners on a pirate ship across the True Sea, hunting and capturing the mythical ice dragon known as the Sea Whip, to use its scales as another amplifier. The Darkling’s disturbing new plan to control both Alina and the Shadow Fold nearly comes into fruition – until the Captain, Sturmhond, steals the Sea Whip and escapes with both Alina and Mal across the Shadow Fold and back to Ravka.

After only just surviving an attack on the Fold, Strumhond reveals his true identity and his plans to fight against The Darkling, but he needs Alina’s help. Taken back to the Little Palace, Alina struggles to juggle uniting and leading the other Grishas, play politics with the Royal Family, dealing with the public belief that she is a Saint, and keep her relationship with Mal from falling apart. When she discovers that there is a third and final mythical creature that can be used as an amplifier, Alina has to face whether her desire for this power is just her duty to defeat The Darkling, or for her own gain.

If Shadow and Bone begins the series in with a familiar fantasy story, Siege and Storm throws out these well known and used ideas, and carves out its own path in a completely unpredictable way. It’s a thrilling book, full of surprising twists that work to make a brilliantly entertaining and clever read. One of the main causes of these twist is the character Strumhond, the notorious privateer who is not who everyone believes him to be. With a reputation for being charmingly clever as well as a cut-throat, he and his ship are for hire to the highest bidder – but you can never trust that you are in fact the highest bidder. Brilliantly scheming, charmingly witting, and a naturally confidant leader, Shurmhond is a new favourite character.

This book not easy on its treatment of Alina. She is struggling to fight a war and accept her responsibilities as the Sun Summoner by embracing her power whilst trying to still remain herself, despite finding that she is becoming increasingly tempted by the idea of more. She is terrified of turning into a monster, like The Darkling, but can’t stop herself thinking about him, and though she denies it, she is beginning to relate to him. Alina also has to deal with the expectations of the public believing her to be a Saint, the weight of her duty to save Ravka and being “holy” slowly crushing her spirit, but not her determination. Alina is a wonderfully written character, becoming even more real in this book. Her strength is admirable and her inner conflicts make her a relatable character, and just like the plot she makes some surprising but great choices.

The only setback to Siege and Storm was the ongoing relationship drama between Alina and Mal, mainly caused by Mal’s stubborn belief that Alina thinks her power makes her better than him. Whilst the reader can see through Alina’s narrative that this not true, it is obvious that her power does drive a wedge between them. This gives Alina another complication with obtaining the last amplifier, as she will have to eventually choose between her power and Mal. Mal, however, comes across as fairly selfish because of this and becomes just one more person demanding something from Alina.

 

It’s impossible to to predict where the next book, Ruin and Rising, will go, but I personally cannot wait to see what will happen. My only complaint is that the next book is sadly the last. This series is highly recommended.

4.5 stars.

Series Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Welcome to a special series review, where I review all the books in a series I love in one go. This week’s series is the amazing Grisha Series by Leigh Bardugo; a Russian inspired world where one girl discovers she is the Sun Summoner, gifted with the power of light, and must fight against the darkness spreading over the land, and the man who can control it.

Today is the first novel in this series: Shadow and Bone.

10194157Title: Shadow and Bone

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha #1

Rating: 4 stars

Review:

Tonight may be Alina Starkov’s last, for tomorrow her battalion travel across the Shadow Fold – a mass of darkness, swarming with man-eating monsters. Few are expected to survive. Alina worries for her safety, but more so for the safety of her friend Mal, whom she has been in love with since they grew up together as children. Her worst fears are realised when Mal is attacked on the Fold and she dives in to save him, casting a blind light with powers she had no idea she possessed. Alina is the fabled Sun Summoner – the only hope of destroying the Shadow Fold.

Taken from her life as a lowly First Army mapmaker Alina is now a Grisha, living in the Little Palace, learning to control her new found power. She is watched closely by the strongest of the Grisha, a man only known as The Darkling, who can create and control darkness, a man who is both her opposite and her partner. He believes that together they can change Ravka, and maybe even the world. But what he believes is best for the fate of their country may not be what the other Grisha and the Royal Family had in mind. Together they need to hunt down a mystical creature known as the Morozova’s Stag, and use its antlers to increase Alina’s power to destroy – or control – the Shadow Fold.

Shadow and Bone was a surprising book. It starts as a fun, but familiar story: the orphaned child who discovers they actually have a rare and sort after power and are the only key to saving the world, the unrequited love for the best friend who is charming but oblivious to these feelings, the boarding school style setting, and the powerful mysterious mentor. It’s not until half way through that it brakes away from these familiar fantasy troupes, with a great twist that changes the whole book in a brilliant unexpected way.

One of the best part of Shadow and Bone is the characters. Despite the familiar setup, in this fantasy no-one is black and white, and many characters are used to portray different ideas. The Darkling shows that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that what one person believes to be “for the good of the nation” others believe to be an act of aggression or an abuse of power. Mal shows that even the nicest people can be oblivious to the feelings of their loved ones, and how much pain that can cause them. Genya, a secondary but great character, shows that beauty, and the attention it can get you, can be just as much of a curse as a blessing. The main character, Alina, goes from being a naive, shy girl to someone who embraces her abilities, though still has doubts, in a realist manner and pace. With the growth of her power, Alina is finding herself tempted by the idea of gaining more and is beginning to relate to The Darkling – thoughts that scare her and isolate her from Mal, but also make The Darkling more relatable and human.

Other great parts of this book were: the Russian inspired setting and imagery, the beautiful scenes with the Morozova’s Stag, and the sweet romance between Alina and Mal. Shadow and Bone was a pleasant surprise, a great and unpredictable journey that is only just beginning of this splendid trilogy.

4 stars.

Book Review: A Sliver of Shadow by Alison Pang

11929939Title: A Sliver of Shadow

Author: Alison Pang

Series: Abby Sinclair #2

Rating: 3.5 stars

Review:

(Spoilers for book one.)

Abby is still adjusting to her new life as a Touchstone – someone who can help the OtherFolk cross between our world and the world of Faery – and though she is getting the hang of it, it’s not easy. Especially when Moria, the Protectorate, leaves for the Faery Court. With Abby left in charge things go from bad to worse when a spell on Abby backfires and causes the Queen of Faery seals the doors between the two worlds closed. Now OtherFolk on Earth are fading, and Faery is preparing for war with Hell. All Abby can do is travel to the CrossRoads and attempt to override the Queen’s magic, and prey she is strong enough for it to work.

This book continues the dynamic politics and magic system set up in the first book, exploring Abby’s role as a Touchstone and the relationship between Earth, Faery, and Hell. Abby herself is a great urban fantasy character, strong and brave without becoming a stereotype; she admits her fears and doubts but doesn’t let them stop her, and is willing to sacrificing herself to save Faery. However, Abby fails to live up to this when it comes to her first love interest, the incubus Brystion. He turns up half way through the book and does nothing but act self absorbed and arrogant, with no respect for what Abby wants. Sadly Abby never calls him out on his actions, only ever half-heartedly telling him to back off then giving in to him. In book one, Brystion was the classic sweet but tormented and misunderstood hero, but in A Sliver of Shadow has become the other urban fantasy cliche; the self involved jerk who can’t understand the word “no”. This change is hugely disappointing.  Also, the descriptions of Faery were very interesting, but few and far between and felt like they could have been much more extensive. This was a missed opportunity, and very disappointing seeing as most of the book is set in Faery.

What saved the book though, other than Abby herself, was the elf prince Talivar and the unexpected cliffhanger ending. Talivar, the second love interest, was much more preferable than Brystion – in fact, he seemed to fill the void of positive male love interest left by Brystion. Talivar is sweet, understanding, charming, and funny; a much more favourable character in general and a better match for Abby. The cliffhanger was a complete surprise, leaving you wanting to read the sequel now, and may be a complete game changer for this series. Let’s cross our fingers and hope for the best in book three.

3.5 stars