Category Archives: High Fantasy

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Summer of Shambles (Ondine #1) by Ebony McKenna

Dive into this wonderfully witty young adult series from author Ebony McKenna, set in the far off European country of Brugel.

15-year-old Ondine is struggling to fit in at Psychic Summercamp and doubts she possesses any of her family’s magical abilities. She resolves to leave, determined to follow her own path and be a normal teenager. Whatever normal is in a place like Brugel.

On the way home Ondine is shocked when her pet ferret Shambles starts talking – in a cheeky Scottish accent no less! He is in fact a young man trapped in a witch’s curse. When he briefly transforms into his human self, Ondine is smitten. If only she can break the spell for good, Shambles can be handsomely human on a full-time basis.

During the summer, these two misfits uncover a plot to assassinate a member of the royal family and discover a secret treasure that has remained hidden for decades. This attracts the attention of the arrogant Lord Vincent, and Ondine can’t help being drawn in by his bad-boy charm.

With so many demands on Ondine’s attentions – and affections – normal has never seemed so far away.

The Summer of Shambles is the first in the four-part ONDINE series. Fans of The Princess Bride or the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series will love this delightfully quirky fairytale.

 

This is a stop on the blog tour hosted by Xpresso book tours.

Don’t forget to check out of the rest of the schedule and partake in the rafflecopter giveaway.

Brief Review:

So I haven’t quite finished reading this, so this isn’t a formal review yet. But I just had to share some of my impressions so far.

This is a terribly entertaining read, but not one I would rush through. The footnotes are a hoot, and I suspect this would be even more fun to read in a physical book than an ebook just because of the ease of flipping back and forth.

If you’re in the mood for a light read with a cheeky sense of humor, I highly recommend this book!

 

Excerpt:

With a yelp of shock, the ferret dropped backwards off the edge of the table, dragging the tablecloth down with him.

“Shambles!” Ondine screamed, racing towards him.

He lay there, a lump underneath the fabric, moaning in pain.

“Oh, my darling, I’m so sorry!” Ondine cried. She didn’t need to look around to know Melody was standing behind her, probably just as freaked out as she was. Ondine pulled the tablecloth back to reveal Shambles’s head and give him some fresh air.

Shambles groaned even louder. “Oh, the pain!”

“He can talk! Great heavens! Shambles can talk!” Melody said, amazed.

“You heard that?” Ondine’s heart picked up speed at the revelation, yet there was little time to explain it all. If she thought Melody being able to understand Shambles was a shock, she had an even bigger one coming.

As he lay groaning and writhing on the ground, twisting and turning under the tablecloth, Shambles grew to twice his size and his face fur matted together, forming skin. The long whiskers retracted and his head began to bulge.

“I’m dying!” he cried out to Ondine. “Bring me whisky, I’m dying!”

The dream. That horrible dream!

“Mercury’s wings!” Ondine cried as great wet tears splashed down her face and on to Shambles’s writhing, deformed body. “You can’t die, Shambles! I won’t let you!”

“I’ll get Mrs Howser,” Melody said, and ran back inside.

“Oh God, oh God,” Shambles groaned, “I’m goin’ tae boak.”[1]

“No, Shambles, you’ll be OK. Melody’s getting help,” Ondine said, although what help anyone could be at this present moment escaped her. On the other hand, a witch had got him into this mess; maybe a witch could get him out of it?

Confusion scrambled her brain. She couldn’t think what to do – she’d never seen anything like this before and didn’t even know how to start helping him. All she could do was stand back as Shambles kept growing and expanding under the tablecloth. Moaning and groaning about the state of his gelatinous body. All the while his face pulsed and wobbled. A horrible thought made Ondine feel ashamed for even thinking it.

What if his face set like that?

“There’s the light,” he said. “It’s calling me, I have tae go tae the light.”

Fear making her tremble, Ondine looked in the same direction. Her horrible dream was about to become reality.

As she turned her head, she felt her stomach lurch as a white light shone on her face. A moment later, blessed relief coursed through her. “That’s not the light, Shambles. That’s just the full moon, you bampot.”

When she turned to check on Shambles, her breath hitched. He’d stopped thrashing about, stopped moaning and groaning. Now he was shivering.

And completely human.

The next surprise came straight after the first, as Shambles looked up at Ondine. Far from looking like a bucket of twisted shoes, his face could have belonged to a movie star. He was even more handsome than Lord Vincent. With a shock of black hair and a dangerous gleam in his green eyes.

He was glorious!

Heat coursed through her body and her tongue turned to sandpaper as she tried to swallow. Something flip-flopped in her belly. Thank heavens for the tablecloth, because from the looks of things, he didn’t have a patch of clothing on. Ondine’s pulse hammered freshly in her ears.

I’m going to have a heart attack before I make sixteen.

“I’m nawt dead,” he said at last.

Despite her concern for some modicum of decorum, a smile broadened her face and happiness bubbled in her veins. Heavens above, her dream had been wrong. Way wrong.

Those devilish green eyes stayed fixed on hers, while a lopsided grin added a mischievous gleam. Suddenly she averted her gaze and dropped her lashes so she could study the ground.

“I’m nawt dead,” Shambles said again, louder this time as he turned his hands back and forth in the moonlight. Then he wrapped the tablecloth around his middle, stood up and shook his head in amazement. He took a step closer and cupped Ondine’s cheek in his palm. Heat seared her face. “The dream didn’t come true.”

“The . . . the . . .” The dream? He knew about it?

“You’re not dead by a long shot,” Old Aunt Col said from the doorway, making Ondine and Shambles-Hamish turn quickly to see they had company.

“But if you lay a finger on my grand-niece, you’ll wish you were.”

Indeed, they had an audience, including Ondine’s mother who, from the shocked look on her face, had seen quite a bit too.

____________________________________________

[1] Vomit. A lot. Usually after drinking. A lot.

 

Don’t forget to check out of the rest of the schedule and partake in the rafflecopter giveaway.

About the Author:

Ebony McKennaEbony McKenna lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and son.
She has worked as a journalist, market researcher, website editor, and company director.
As a teenager, she lived in a family-run restaurant. This provided the inspiration for Ondine’s family, as Ebony has also waitressed, prepared food and yep, she washed dishes. So many dishes.
Now she writes novels for a living, so her hands are dry. Except for when her characters are making her laugh too much and she has to wipe tears away so she can see the keyboard.

She’s always loved trivia nights and the Eurovision Song Contest, and wishes she’d put money on Conchita Wurst winning this year.

Author links:

 

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

 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.

 

Rating: 5/5

This book has been on my TBR for a while, and with all of the commotion about the third book, Heir of Fire, being released, I’ve finally decided it was time to give it a go. Besides, I was in the right kind of mood for a good assassin story.

And now I understand what all of the commotion was about.

I have fallen in love with every single one of the characters. Well, I love the good ones anyway, and I thorough hate the bad ones, which is just as good (and potentially even more thrilling). Calaena has one of the single best personalities I think I’ve ever read in a heroine. She constantly made me laugh, especially when she was teasing some of the other characters (see some of the quotes below). Sure, she has her frustrating moments, but I think that just makes her all the more real. She’s young, and even though she’s an assassin it’s clear that she has room to grow up. I like knowing that there’s potential for her to mature even when I already like her so much.

Tack onto that the wonderful Prince Dorian, Captain Chaol Westall, and, most importantly, Nehemia, you have a wonderful cast of secondary characters who just add that much more. They provide the texture that the story needs, and they all provide the emotional context needed to fully grasp the conflict in the world.

Speaking of the world …

Maas has done a beautiful job creating a multi-faceted, layered world that is just screaming with potential. Even the pieces of the world that we didn’t experience (and indeed, we seemed to have only spent time in one small corner of a vast landscape) have enough background provided that it’s clear Maas understands her entire world, not just the portions she chooses to share with us. We’re only just beginning to catch a glimpse into the magical components of this world by the end of this book, and I must say that I’m fascinated. There’s some seriously cool stuff going on behind the scenes that I can’t wait to bring to the forefront. Allusions to the fae, demons, ghosts (that’s really not the right word, I know, but I’m not sure that there is a right word at this point in time—you’ll understand when you read this if you haven’t already).

The plot was … well, not exactly what I expected having only really read the description. The book overall was a bit slower paced than I had anticipated, but that’s not a problem for me—it still felt natural, and there’s nothing I like less than a forced pacing. There was a bit less mystery/investigation feel than I was expecting, but it was offset by a greater presence of magic than I had anticipated. And several of the threads of mystery that were brought up haven’t been resolved yet, and I ended this book content with the knowledge that there’s a solid macro-plot that will hold the next couple of books together with this one. As my frequent readers know, I love me some good macro plots. 🙂

I don’t want to say much more for fear of giving anything away. Suffice to say that if you haven’t read this book yet, you need to. Now. And if you’re not convinced yet, here are some fun quotes to help:

“How long was I asleep?” she whispered. He didn’t respond.
“How long was I asleep?” she asked again, and noticed a hint of red in his cheeks.
“You were asleep, too?”
“Until you began drooling on my shoulder.”

“No. I can survive well enough on my own— if given the proper reading material.”

“My name is Celaena Sardothien. But it makes no difference if my name’s Celaena or Lillian or Bitch, because I’d still beat you, no matter what you call me.”

“She moaned into her pillow. “Go away. I feel like dying.”
“No fair maiden should die alone,” he said, putting a hand on hers. “Shall I read to you in your final moments? What story would you like?”
She snatched her hand back. “How about the story of the idiotic prince who won’t leave the assassin alone?”
“Oh! I love that story! It has such a happy ending, too–why, the assassin was really feigning her illness in order to get the prince’s attention! Who would have guessed it? Such a clever girl. And the bedroom scene is so lovely–it’s worth reading through all of their ceaseless banter!”

After a too-long moment, the crown prince spoke. “I don’t quite comprehend why you’d force someone to bow when the purpose of the gesture is to display allegiance and respect.” His words were coated with glorious boredom.

“You’re remarkably judgmental.”
“What’s the point in having a mind if you don’t use it to make judgments?”
“What’s the point in having a heart if you don’t use it to spare others from the harsh judgments of your mind?”

(There were so many quotable quotes that I just listed a few that I hadn’t seen commonly shared; it was tough to narrow down the list!)

 

 

 

Shadows Fall Away by Kit Forbes

Mark Stewart is one incident away from becoming a juvenile delinquent, and his parents have had enough. They ship Mark off to London England to stay with his eccentric aunt Agatha who is obsessed with all things Jack the Ripper. After a strange twist of luck, Mark is struck by lightning, and he wakes to find himself in 1888 Victorian London.

His interest in a string of murders Scotland Yard has yet to solve make him a likely suspect. After all, why would a young boy like Mark know so much about the murders? Could he be the ripper they’ve been searching for? Convinced the only way to get back home is to solve the murders, Mark dives headfirst into uncovering the truth.

Mark’s only distraction comes in the form of the beautiful Genie Trembly, a girl who is totally out of his league and who may have already caught the attention of the infamous ripper. To save her, he’ll endanger both their lives, and risk being trapped in the past forever.

 

I received an ARC of this book on behalf of Month9Books. This book will be released on September 23rd, 2014.

Rating: 4/5

This was a terribly interesting read. I love Mark, and quite enjoyed getting to know Genie as well. And the concept of unexpectedly time-traveling back to the middle of Jack the Ripper’s murder spree was quite a bit of fun.

Before I started reading, I was concerned that this would present itself as a classic example of a plot that needs to be forced to work with very patchy fills for the plot gaps. I’ll be fair and say that there definitely still was one (a rather rushed explanation of the time-travel, but this is fantasy, and that clearly wasn’t really the point of reading this), but some of the big ones I expected weren’t there. Example: I was concerned that the “Convinced the only way to get back home is to solve the murders” bit from the description would prove troublesome. However, even though Mark is angling in that direction, he still leaves plenty of room for doubt. And, quite frankly, he did what any rational person might: make a halfway decent assumption and roll with it. Would I have made the same choice? Maybe, maybe not. But I’m not a borderline delinquent teenage male whose mother is more or less an expert on Jack the Ripper.

Some of the writing could be more polished, but that may very well have been caught between the printing of the ARC e-book I was given and the actual publication date. Otherwise, the only negative thing I can say is that the ending was a bit rushed. Since I’d already mostly pieced everything together by then, I didn’t feel that I missed out on any needed explanation.

Something I don’t often talk about in my posts is the idea of mis-direction. I allude to ways to do and to not do foreshadowing, but rarely tackle mis-direction. Forbes does a solid job at creating a cast of characters who could all be suspects while Mark is trying to find the infamous Ripper. There’s some pretty delicate foreshadowing in there too that I have to applaud—obviously, I won’t be sharing the comment I’m specifically recalling here.

All in all, I was quite pleased with this read.

 

Spy Glass (Glass #3) by Maria V. Snyder

An undercover mission
leads to danger, adventure
and an impossible choice.

After siphoning her own blood magic in the showdown at Hubal, student glass magician Opal Cowan lost her powers. Immune to the effects of magic, Opal is now an outsider looking in, spying through the glass on those with the powers she once had. Powers that make a difference in the world.

Suddenly the beautiful pieces she makes begin to flash in the presence of magic and Opal learns that someone has stolen some of her blood. Finding it might let her regain her powers or discover that they’re lost forever…

 

Rating: 3.5/5

I have mixed feelings about this book. In general, I’ve been a pretty consistent fan of Snyder’s books, specifically with the world of Yelena and Opal. This book, however, is probably my least favorite of all of the Sitia/Ixia books that I’ve read thus far.

The big thing working against it was its pacing. It took far too long for me to actually really understand what was going on—Opal tends to be a bit cryptic in her narration, to the point of feeling forced. Once the plot was well-established, it took a small eternity to develop. I realize that time passes with normal activity in the real world, but we don’t need to have it all narrated for us. I also felt like there were two halves to this story, with just a little bit of glue holding them together. Yes, these mini-stories were all motivated by the same general thing, but … The book just had too many gaps for me. The plot worked, but it didn’t draw me in.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the emotional drama of the book. I try not to critique the author’s choice for who her characters fall in love with and all that, but I at least want that connection to feel believable.

The book in general felt forced to me, and I honestly had to finish myself to finish it. It was certainly nice to have the full host of characters involved, but the writing simply felt scattered.

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1) by Cassandra Clare

In a time when Shadowhunters are barely winning the fight against the forces of darkness, one battle will change the course of history forever. Welcome to the Infernal Devices trilogy, a stunning and dangerous prequel to the New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments series.

The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them….

 

Rating: 4/5

I must say, I think I’m fonder of this book than I was of Clare’s Mortal Instruments series opener, even though I’m giving this one a slightly lower rating. There are two predominant reasons for this:

  1. I was initially put-off by the feeling that this was going to be a repeat of City of Bones. While the plot was markedly different, the cast of characters had too many similar attributes for me to be entirely comfortable with them, particularly regarding the make-up of the younger residents of the Institute. Once I got over that, I warmed to the book.
  2. While I enjoyed the overall plot quite a bit more, this book didn’t suck me in the way that City of Bones did. While not necessarily a bad thing, I didn’t finish this book feeling like something remarkable had happened.
  3. (Not a real reason, as I would never let something so trivial influence my rating negatively) I am rather annoyed at Will (even though I like him significantly more than Jace).

Clare has a rather clever plot that I enjoyed, though some of the world-building may have flown by a bit quickly for readers not familiar with the Mortal Instruments series. She assumed a bit of foreknowledge of certain aspects of the world of the Shadowhunters. While a lot was certainly explained for the benefit of Tessa, there were some details that were sort of glossed over that might present some confusion for the uninformed reader. It made me quite glad I had read City of Bones prior to picking this one up—I almost didn’t. I highly recommend reading at least City of Bones prior to tackling Clockwork Angel.

Clare’s best attribute about her writing probably lies in her imagery. In school we’re taught to use imagery in our writing to paint a picture, but so often authors who intentionally employ such techniques tend to get lost in them, forgetting that there’s a story to tell and it still needs to feel natural. Clare, however, slips in tidbits of information casually and gracefully, and none of it ever feels forced. I know just enough to have a clear picture in my head of every character and the significant aspects of their surroundings. She also doesn’t hesitate to convey things such as scents and sounds with very apropos similes and metaphors, which is a skill I have found surprisingly lacking.

If you’re going to make comparisons to convey information, here a few key things to keep in mind (I’m apparently in a mood to list things today; I blame the British characters in the novel for absolutely no good reason):

  1. Don’t do it overwhelmingly
  2. Either keep to a theme (Clare used insects in her comparisons at very appropriate times. While I don’t like the bloody things, it was very cleverly employed) or don’t have a theme; none of this mix and matching I have mentioned with other authors.
  3. Don’t force it— if a metaphor or simile isn’t working, don’t use one. One that’s forced in there is more likely to distract the reader than convey any meaningful information.

Overall, this was an excellently written book. I’ll make sure to get book 2 added to my to-read list … somewhere …

(By the way, I have a personal pet peeve about the use of ellipses. If you’re going to put an ellipsis at the end of a sentence, you absolutely must use only three periods (four if it’s in the middle of a quote and you wish to convey the end of a sentence before continuing to another quote from the same text). Under no circumstances, in my opinion, should you end your dust jacket description with five periods.)

Here’s a link to my review of City of Bones, since I mentioned it so much.

Touch of the Demon (Kara Gillian #5) by Diana Rowland

 

She’s used to summoning supernatural creatures from the demon realm to our world, but now the tables have been turned and she’s the one who’s been summoned. Kara is the prisoner of yet another demonic lord, but she quickly discovers that she’s far more than a mere hostage. Yet waiting for rescue has never been her style, and Kara has no intention of being a pawn in someone else’s game.

There’s intrigue to spare as she digs into the origin of the demonic lords and discovers the machinations of humans and demons alike. Kara is shocked to discover that she has her own history in the demon realm, and that the ties between her and the demonic lords Rhyzkahl and Szerain go back farther than she could have ever imagined. But treachery runs rampant among all the lords, and she’s going to have to stay sharp in order to keep from being used to further their own agendas. The lords have a secret that dates back to earth’s ancient history, and it could have devastating repercussions for both worlds.

Yet more than anything else, Kara’s abilities as a homicide detective will be put to the test—because this time the murder she has to solve is her own.

 

Rating: 3/5

For those of you who have been paying attention recently, you’ll probably be surprised at this relatively low rating. Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoyed this book, but it’s time for me to start being a bit more critical—this book disappointed me compared to some of the earlier ones in the series, and I’d like to go dig into why. I still really enjoyed it—the plot is excellent, and I feel like in that respect these books just keep getting better and better.

However, I’m starting to have a problem with the pacing, and I could sense that Rowland struggled with getting through some of the narrative parts. Unlike the earlier books in the series, this one spans a good deal of time—at least a couple of months. We had two major peaks in the action, and after the first major peak I almost felt like the book should have ended—not because of length, but because of the reader’s need to process and accept what has happened. We experienced a major revelation in the series, and then basically dropped immediately back down to reading about Kara sitting around and waiting. From there it was a bit jerky and uneven again, and I found myself getting frustrated by the fact that nothing was really happening. Don’t get me wrong, the things that did happen during the slower parts were needed, but it was much more difficult to get through.

More annoying than anything else, though, was the fact that for most of the book Kara kind of fell flat as a character. Based on her incredible intuition shown in prior books, I would have expected better of her in this one. I can understand being morose given her circumstances, but she should still be using her head. She pulled a complete 180 about two-thirds of the way through the book as more pieces fell into place, but her relationship with Mzatal, one of the demonic lords, changes literally overnight. Granted, there was a major turning point there for a reason, but I would have liked to have had that demonstrated as it happened, rather than just getting Kara’s reaction the next day. Which again, disrupted the pacing for me.

In general, this one kind of felt like Rowland wrote about 60%, struggled with it, set it aside, and came back to it later. That’s great and all, I highly recommend doing that rather than forcing a conclusion. I don’t know if that’s what she did, but I definitely have the general impression that there are two distinct chunks of book here. I’m still not sure if I would have preferred to have this split into two distinct books with a little bit more detail to fill in some of the time/space necessary to do that, or if I’d prefer that this one had been a bit more condensed. I could go either way, really.

Again, the plot was still excellent, and I’m definitely still  looking forward to the next book … But I might read something else first to give me some distance from the series.

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha #3) by Leigh Bardugo

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

 

Rating: 5/5

With every new book of Bardugo’s I read, I have a greater and greater appreciation for her skill with story craftig.

The first book left me feeling unsure, not really particularly liking the story or the writing, but even months after I had first read it, I still found myself thinking about the Darkling and Alina, wondering about what the next course of events would be. The second book kept me on the edge of my seaet, entranced by the twists and turns; and again, I found myself thinking about it for months, just a trickle of thought every now and then.

Finally, I’ve finished the third book and gotten the resolution I so longed for. And I suspect I will still find myself coming back to this world and war so artfully crafted.

I admire Bardugo’s ability to write something so memorable—her characters and places and plots are all so real. One of the things I’m most impressed by is the depth of her characters, particularly the Darkling. He has context, a history that lead him to where he is today. More importantly, he is consistent. He is ruthless and demanding, and he always will be. Bardugo didn’t have him pull his punches just to spare the reader. It’s easy to understand what is driving him, and even Alina, who is fighting against him, understands why he is the way he is—in fact, she feels that same pull. The “good guys” are fully developed and have strong, unique personalities rather than being “cookie cutter characters.”

One of the things that I really like about this series is the fact that Bardugo tackles the concept of loss. The heroes won, but it came at a great cost. And even though we have a happy ending, we are still given the chance to mourn the characters who have died. It’s especially telling to me that even those who survived and will go on to live long, happy lives have suffered great personal loss. As Mal says, “loss is loss,” and Bardugo doesn’t belittle the seemingly smaller issues in light of the larger ones.

I’m so glad I ended up reading these books, and I’m even more glad that I gave the second one a chance after not having been too thrilled with the first one. If you feel kind of like that about the series, please keep reading—you won’t regret it.

The Hero Series by Moira Moore

                  

Rating: 5/5

I read the last book in this series quite a while back, before I started this blog (according to Goodreads, which may or may not be accurate pre-this blog, I finished it on March 24th). I don’t normally write a review so long after reading the book—in general, I prefer to write my thoughts down in post form right after finishing—but I’ve been thinking about this series a fair amount lately, and I wanted to get the word out a bit.

Moira Moore is quite possibly one of my favorite authors, and I feel like not enough people have read her Hero series. I’m also writing about the series rather than any one book simply because it would be such a challenge to write about any one in particular.

This is a wonderfully original world set in your traditional high fantasy country. The role of magic in Moore’s world is unlike any I have read before. There are Sources, who are people who can diffuse storms and other natural disasters before they destroy cities/towns/lives. Then there are Shields, who protect the Sources. Basically, a Source must drop his own shields to diffuse the natural disasters, and in doing so he dies unless a Shield can seal the leak, so to speak. Sources and Shields are matched (through a mystical bond much like McAffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books) when they graduate, and they are assigned to a location by the Triple S, based on their own skill and backgrounds.

Shield Dunleavy Mallorough, the main character for the duration of the series, initially resents her Source, Shintaro Karish, but eventually they grow on each other. Because of Karish’s obvious great skill in the academy, the pair are assigned to one of the “hotspots” where he can be of the greatest use. Each book has its own set of disasters that Dunleavy and Taro must work through, not to mention the ups and downs of the political traps laid for the pair. Each book ties to the other very neatly, and it’s all wrapped up in a tidy bow by the end of the 7th book.

Aside from the originality of the world, I love the characters. Each and every one of them pops off the page and they all feel quite real. It’s particularly interesting to watch how Dunleavy and Taro develop simply by being stuck with one another through some very trying events, especially since they’re pretty much polar opposites as far as personality goes.

To top it all off, the writing is superb—there is enough detail to provide a clear picture of the setting without overwhelming you so much you’re distracted from what’s going on. I hardly ever feel compelled to skim anything, and that’s a rarity at this point.

These books were an absolutely pleasure to read, and I highly encourage everyone to read them. The series is complete (as far as I know), so it’s not a huge investment in time/emotion either. Just seven books! They’re fairly short, averaging about 300 pages each, and they were all very quick reads.

Siege and Storm (The Grisha #2) by Leigh Bardugo

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

 

Rating: 4.5/5

I want to start this review with a quick reminder of my thoughts on the first book in the series, Shadow and Bone. If you’ll recall, I really enjoyed book 1, overall, but there were some downsides. Specifically, I called out the polarity between dark and light (and therefore good and evil) in the book—it was heavy-handed, and it felt too black and white to me, with no grey. I also found some of Alina’s rapid decisions about her trust or lack of trust in certain characters to be unclear, and this often seemed like a convenience for the author, rather than a truly convincing argument to sway Alina. Along that vein, I more generally questioned some of the believability of events.

I’m starting this post with that reminder because it makes me incredibly happy to be able to report that I didn’t have any of these same issues with book 2. It may just be plot/character development at work, but I’m glad to see the improvement, especially because I so liked the overall concepts laid down by this world. I was also feeling rather … confused … after the first book, to be honest. I didn’t feel it was strong enough to give it a particularly high rating, yet it was all I ended up being able to think about for the next several days. In fact, that’s the only reason I tackled book 2 so quickly—I wanted to know what was going to happen, I wanted to watch Alina develop as a character, and I wanted Bardugo to prove to me that she had that extra inch I was looking for from the first book.

On all accounts, I thought Siege and Storm was a success. I loved the new characters introduced (seriously loved, as in, more than any of the characters that were in the initial book). Bardugo took a masterful hand toward Alina’s development as she tried to balance power, love, leadership, and her morals. She has come into her own, at least to a certain extent, and that really helped to smooth some of the bumps that were making me uncomfortable before. The plot developed very believably, and I’m incredibly anxious to find out what happens next. And I find it to largely unpredictable, with some twists and turns that I don’t foresee at all. There are no unbelievable successes, though I would like to see a little depressing outcomes—I’m concerned that the lack of any form of progress will get wearying if it continues much into the next book.

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1) by Leigh Bardugo

The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite—the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfill her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance.

 

Before I start my review: yay! I’m back from music camp, which was absolutely amazing. What this means is that I had a 5 hour drive today during which I listened to this as an audiobook. I then spent a couple of hours working on some of my oboe reeds (I’m still pretty bad at scraping them well) while I finished listening to it. I felt this explanation was necessary in case any of you all were wondering how I was managing to finish so many books while commenting on not having time to post decent reviews here…

Rating: 3.5/5

I have to admit having a certain reluctance to read this book, which is why I finally said heck with it and got it on one of the many Audible sales. Personally, I don’t think the description does this book justice, though I’m honestly not sure what I would do differently to summarize it. There isn’t really terribly much more that could be said without giving spoilers … But the topic of writing good descriptions is really something that should wait for another time. For now, suffice to say that this book far exceeded my expectations.

Let’s start with the obvious bits (for me, at least): I loved the world that was developed here—it’s fairly unique in the setup of the world even though it’s built around something as simple as the Grisha. The Grisha themselves were fairly fascinating, pushing some of the tropes about use of magic (for one thing, instead of magic wearing you down, it actually allows you to sustain your health/body/age longer—the more power you have/use, the older you can live). I also really enjoyed the use of caste-like classifications among the Grisha in a way that worked without being terribly restricted in the use/ability of their powers. So all in all, great job on the world-building.

I also really loved the characters. Alina was a great main character, with just enough of a rocky past and emotional swing to let us understand her motivations without spending too terribly much time on her whining about her plight, which I feel has become rather too common in the genre. I also kind of get Mal, and even more impressive is that I kind of only get him from Alina’s perspective, which is pretty strong evidence that she’s got a pretty solid voice as a narrator and not just as a character. And who wouldn’t love The Darkling as a character? He was great!

Downsides: the interplay between light and dark started to become a little dull by the end of the book, and the obvious metaphor to good versus evil was, well, obvious. It’s also clear that the main character doesn’t believe in grey, only in black and white—I hope this is something that gets explored a bit more (but not in a heavy-handed way) in book 2. Along the same lines, Alina is awfully quick to throw all of her trust into one person in spite of her other arguments (this is really tough to keep vague). It was clear to me that upon an edit or a second draft, Bardugo or her editor decided to try to make the motivation for this acceptance more clear, and Alina has a brief moment of second-guessing her decisions, but I don’t think I was all that convinced that Alina should have bought into this story yet. Some of the change in other characters after that also seemed a bit abrupt and unbelievable, and I would have loved to get more insight into what was going on with them through their later interactions. I’m not sure that I really understood what was apparently pretty obvious to Alina when it came to behaviors of some of the supporting characters.

None of these concerns were particularly major for me, especially since I was listening instead of reading. I definitely really enjoyed this book, and I look forward to getting the second one when it comes out.

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