Review: Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) – Joe Abercrombie

half a king“I swore an oath to be avenged on the killers of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy…

Rating: 4/5

Well deserving of all the praise. I’m so glad I picked this up – mainly because of all the great reviews I saw for the second book, which came out recently.

What I liked:

– An MC who had no desire for power, and found his own potential path which would bring him satisfaction, only to be forced to assume the mantle of king and all that it entailed. And along the way struggling to maintain a balance between survival, manipulation, power games, and doing the right thing.

– I absolutely adored the camaraderie and loyalty that developed between the six, as I shall refer to them, and I was sitting there going “AUTHOR DO NOT HURT MY PEOPLE” but I knew it was going to happen anyway and IT DID and I was EXTREMELY UPSET.

– The ideas of redemption, the unsavoury things we do for survival and the choices we make under duress were well explored in the novel. The way we treat people, and the way it can come back to haunt, help or harm us. Letting go of our past experiences and misdeeds, in order to start again. Small kindnesses in the midst of hell. Bad things done for good reasons.

-Indeed, the whole survival aspect was incredibly thought-provoking – when you think things can’t get any worse, and they do, but you survive that too. Human beings can be damn resilient sometimes.

-Well drawn, interesting female characters. A crazy pirate who’s mad, bad and dangerous to know. A queen who essentially runs the treasury and the country. A navigator who survives the odds and pulls her own weight.

-DAT ENDING THO.

All in all – fast-paced and intriguing, with a complex MC, and a compelling plot.

Review: The Wicked City (Siren Song #1) – Megan Morgan

the wicked cityWhatever June Coffin says, goes—literally. And it’s not just because she’s a chain smoking rebel. As a Siren, June has the ability to force people to obey any command she voices. But in a world where those with supernatural powers quickly become lab rats for science, she’d rather look out for herself than fight on the front lines…until her similarly gifted twin brother, Jason, is captured by Chicago’s Institute of Supernatural Research.
 
 To save Jason, June has no choice but to enter a hidden world of conspiracy, murder—and strange bedfellows—including a widowed paranormal advocate whose memory June accidentally erased, and a fiery paranormal separatist leader. Soon the lines between attraction and strategic alliance become blurred. But in a city exploding with paranormal crossfire, and her brother’s life at stake, June will have to face her inner demons and finally take a stand.

Rating: 3/5

Not a bad start for a UF debut!

We’re introduced to a modern-day Chicago where paranormals with varying abilities are persecuted, a series of “normals” are rather opposed to them, and an apparently innocuous Institute studies these paranormals but has some rather dodgy scientists with less than savoury intentions.

The story launches right into the action, which had me a tad confused until I caught up a few chapters later. Our MC, June, is heavily tattooed and pierced, chain-smoking, potty-mouthed, crude, witty, brave and loyal. She’s not always likeable, but really, I like my protagonists sassy and unpredictable.

After her twin is captured by the Institute, June teams up with a number of unlikely characters, including the amnesiac husband of one of the researcher’s killed in June’s escape, the pervy schmuck who is also the leader of the Paranormal Alliance, and a number of cohorts with mindreading and telekinetic abilities.

What follows involves a lot of political manuovering, unlikely allies, June having to prove her worth, rescue attempts, betrayals and a number of near-death experiences. While the book wasn’t flawless – I have some reservations about June and the romance- it was certainly enjoyable, and things have been set up nicely for the sequel.

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Review: The Infinite (Gates of Thread and Stone #2) – Lori M Lee

the infiniteThe walls of Ninurta keep its citizens safe.

Kai always believed the only danger to the city came from within. Now, with a rebel force threatening the fragile government, the walls have become more of a prison than ever.

To make matters worse, as Avan explores his new identity as an Infinite, Kai struggles to remind him what it means to be human. And she fears her brother, Reev, is involved with the rebels. With the two people she cares about most on opposite sides of a brewing war, Kai will do whatever it takes to bring peace. But she’s lost her power to manipulate the threads of time, and she learns that a civil war might be the beginning of something far worse that will crumble not only Ninurta’s walls but also the entire city.

In this thrilling sequel to Gates of Thread and Stone, Kai must decide how much of her humanity she’s willing to lose to protect the only family she’s ever known.

Rating: 2/5

Unfortunately the magic seems to have disappeared for me, much as it’s done for our protagonist Kai.

In brief:

1) I totally understand that this is a magical/fantasy world, but some things still need to be plausible. Making a 17-year-old advisor to the ruler of the city based on her past antics, which were really more impulsive than strategic, is pretty stupid to me.

2) The love triangle makes its appearance. Although it is put to bed pretty swiftly.

3) The writing in this one seemed overly-descriptive and a little clunky to me? Some of the words are also super colloquial (this appears to be a recurring pet peeve of mine), which don’t really fit in with the swords and horses setting.

4) The betrayal at the end and the swift 180 degrees two pages later seemed incredibly abrupt. Again, implausible. *They* spend the whole book plotting and planning, and then whoops, suddenly they realise the power of their feelings? Nuh-uh. I’m not buying it.

I’d still like to read the third book and see how things are resolved, but for me The Infinite really suffered from second-book syndrome.

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

the song of achillesGreece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, ‘best of all the Greeks’, is everything Patroclus is not — strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess — and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper — despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

Rating: 4/5

Beautiful and sad and fairly bloody. The tale of Achilles and the fall of Troy is perhaps one of the most well known Greek tales, and this story of gods, power, love and war was a well-written love exploration of the growing relationship between the famous Achilles and the lesser known Patroclus.

The sexual violence in some parts or threats thereof was unpleasant but never overt, and again made me appreciate living in this era. Yeah, we’ve still got so far to go, but at least I’m not a piece of chattel to be claimed in war. (Although sadly this happens all too often in some parts of the world, and makes me think we haven’t actually gotten very far at all.)

I adored the depiction of the relationship between the two boys – Patroclus knows he’s not fated to be a renowned warrior, but his own inner strength, quite determination and dedication are what make him the best of the Greeks after all. And I love how Achilles never shamed him for not being a fighter, in a masculine culture that prized violence above all else. They were perfect foils for each other, and I enjoyed nothing better than reading about the carefree time they got to spend together before things went to hell in a handbasket. Or to war in a boat as it were.

While some of the language was a bit flowery, it didn’t distract from my reading experience. Furthermore, although we all know how the story ends, i.e. DEAD (that ain’t even a spoiler, friends), there is a glimpse of a happy ending that eased my aching heart.

Review: The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #2) – Erika Johansen

the invasion of the tearingWith each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

Rating: 4/5

For all my criticisms, this was bloody brilliant.

The Invasion of the Tearling, or In Which Queen Kelsea Gives Zero Fucks, was superbly entertaining and compelling despite my criticisms of the series. I finished the book in two days and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Many people, myself included, had issues with the worldbuilding, namely the modern world going post-apocalyptic and then transitioning into a medieval type fantasy world with horses and magic just didn’t sit right – so many plausibility issues, and dystopia and fantasy don’t mesh particularly well together. That said, I can give points for originality, and I got over that aspect for the sequel.

The pre and post-Crossing world is brought to the forefront of the novel, as several chapters are dedicated to the perspective of Lily, a seemingly insignificant woman living at the end of the pre-crossing era, just before the world goes to hell in a handbasket. Her chapters do feel a little jarring, as they deal with her life in a recognizably modern world.

Readers should be aware that there are either descriptions or mentions of rape, sexual assault and abuse. As uncomfortable as they were, they didn’t feel gratuitous to me – men in positions of power who know they won’t face consequences for their actions, coupled with a lack of structure and law, make for a dangerous world for women, whatever era they may be in.

This installment essentially focuses on the impending invasion of the Tearling army after Kelsea stopped the slave shipments in the previous book. Her forces are greatly outnumbered, there is dissent amongst some of her citizens, especially the Church and the nobility, and overall there is a growing sense of doom and inevitability.

I like that Kelsea isn’t a likeable character – as I mentioned in the beginning of the review, she gives zero fucks in this book – with impending war, she has to make some ruthless decisions – she’s not an overly friendly or sweet-natured person, but she gets things done and generally tries to do what’s right. (With some notable exceptions.)

One thing that does irk me is the whole appearance saga – in the previous book, it was mentioned how plain Kelsea is – in this one, she becomes prettier and loses weight because OF COURSE we can’t have a heroine who stays overweight and average.

I also felt the romance, if you can call it that, came out of nowhere. I’ll be interested to see what the author does with it in the next book.

Finally:

-Who the hell is Kelsea’s father? We’ve managed to eliminate some suspects, but the mystery remains.
-I ship Mace and Andalee. Make it happen!
– What happened with William Tear when he first arrived? Who killed him and his heir?
– Are the Fetch and Rowland Finn more closely connected? And what role does the Fetch have in all of this?

Some kickass quotes:

“Do you honestly not know the right thing to do, General, or do you just pretend not to know because it’s easier that way?” 

&

“Indeed, Your Holiness, the sexual freedom of consenting adults is the greatest threat this kingdom has ever faced,” Kelsea replied acidly. “God knows how we’ve lasted so long.” 

In fact, the entire scene between Kelsea putting the priest in his place is utterly fantastic and had me cheering.

&

“It’s a gallery of your ancestors Majesty. Timpany said that when the Regent was drunk, he liked to go down and scream at your grandmother’s portrait.” 

&

And Kelsea wondered suddently whether humanity ever actually changed. Did people grow and learn at all as the centuries passed? Or was humanity merely the tide, enlightenment advancing and then retreating as circumstance shifted? The most defining characteristic of the species might be lapse. 

***

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof, and may change prior to publication. 

Review: Greta and the Glass Kingdom – Chloe Jacobs

greta and the glass kingdomGreta the human bounty hunter never quite fit into the shadowed, icy world of Mylena. Yet she’s managed to defeat the demon Agramon and win the love of the darkly intense Goblin King, Isaac. Now Isaac wants her to rule by his side—a human queen. And the very announcement is enough to incite rebellion…

To make matters worse, defeating Agramon left Greta tainted with a dark magick. Its unclean power threatens to destroy her and everything she loves. With the Goblin King’s life and the very peace of Mylena at stake, Greta must find a cure and fast.

Her only hope lies with the strange, elusive faeries in the Glass Kingdom…if she can get there before the evil within her destroys everything.

Rating: 2/5

Unfortunately, this book just wasn’t a winner for me. I think with the three year gap between when I read the first book and when I read this one, my tastes changed rather substantially. I really did enjoy Greta and the Goblin King upon its release, but the series has lost its magic for me.

Things that irked me in the previous book were exacerbated in this one, namely:

1. The very colloquial/slangy language in a high fantasy setting. While it makes sense in that Greta is from the human/modern world, it’s a personal dislike of mine. I found it quite jarring.

2. Greta is impulsive and makes reckless decisions based on her emotions at the time. She goes from hating people to loving them and back in the space of a few minutes, which make her a rather overlyemotional and (for me at least) an unlikeable narrator.

3. The plot in this one was quite convoluted, with everything turning upside down in the last two chapters. But it felt messy, instead of clever and twisty.

4. Greta’s “oh I’m not beautiful I have scars and I’m a bounty hunter” shtick got old, fast. It’s a cliche in YA literature where the heroine always needs other people to tell her she’s attractive.

5. Finally, some of the writing felt a little clunky to me. Many words where used to describe something when fewer would suffice.

All in all, I really wanted to like this one, but sadly didn’t work for me.

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Perfectly Good White Boy – Carrie Mesrobian

perfectly good white boySean Norwhalt can read between the lines.

“You never know where we’ll end up. There’s so much possibility in life, you know?” Hallie said.

He knows she just dumped him. He was a perfectly good summer boyfriend, but now she’s off to college, and he’s still got another year to go. Her pep talk about futures and “possibilities” isn’t exactly comforting. Sean’s pretty sure he’s seen his future and its “possibilities” and they all look disposable.

Like the crappy rental his family moved into when his dad left.

Like all the unwanted filthy old clothes he stuffs into the rag baler at his thrift store job.

Like everything good he’s ever known.

The only hopeful possibilities in Sean’s life are the Marine Corps, where no one expected he’d go, and Neecie Albertson, whom he never expected to care about.

Rating: 4/5

Let me preface this by saying that I have not, nor will I ever be, a teenage boy. However I think Mesrobian really depicts an authentic teenage boy’s voice – yes, there’s a lot of reference to boobs and sex and his penis, which he has named ‘The Horn’ (facepalm), but those aren’t the only things our narrator Sean cares about.

He wants to get out of his dead-end small town and make a life for himself outside of a world that presents very few opportunities. He’s not the stereotype of a tail-chasing dude – yes, he can be kind of pervy and obnoxious, but he also has strong romantic feelings. Sean’s the first one to say “ I love you” in the relationship with Hallie, and is incredibly hurt when they break up when she leaves for college.

When getting physical, he checks to see if his partner is still okay with what they’re doing, and in his internal monologue during one scene, he mentions not carrying on if he hears ‘stop’ or ‘no’. CONSENT, YO. IT’S IMPORTANT. And I’m glad to see it depicted, especially from a boy’s perspective.

This isn’t to say Sean’s an angel – he still has many flaws. But he’s human, and I found him loveable despite this. He cries when he’s emotionally hurt (in secret, in his room). He adores his doggie. He’s also kind of funny – take this description of his swearing in to the Marines:

Though it felt like a wedding. A wedding with dudes. A dude wedding with no party afterwards. 

I loved watching the relationship develop between himself and Neecie.

I didn’t care what she thought about me, because clearly she didn’t care about what I thought of her and that was nice, because normally, when I liked a girl, I was so tense around her I could barely speak. So this was all nice, because I thought she was cool, in all these different ways, like her hearing thing that made me have to think about what I said, whether I meant it, whether I wanted her to really know it. 

It’s abrasive, but real, and as the second novel that I’ve read from this author, I can definitely confirm that I love her writing style, although it’s not for everyone.

“I get kind of blank when I think about the future,” she said. “There are so many things, you know? How do I know what to pick, when I haven’t seen any of the things out there?” 

PREACH.