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 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 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: The Mime Order (The Bone Season #2) – Samantha Shannon

the mime orderPaige Mahoney has escaped the brutal prison camp of Sheol I, but her problems have only just begun: many of the survivors are missing and she is the most wanted person in London…

As Scion turns its all-seeing eye on the dreamwalker, the mime-lords and mime-queens of the city’s gangs are invited to a rare meeting of the Unnatural Assembly. Jaxon Hall and his Seven Seals prepare to take centre stage, but there are bitter fault lines running through the clairvoyant community and dark secrets around every corner. Then the Rephaim begin crawling out from the shadows. But where is Warden? Paige must keep moving, from Seven Dials to Grub Street to the secret catacombs of Camden, until the fate of the underworld can be decided.

Rating: 4/5

I read the entire book in one sitting (albeit with necessary bathroom and food breaks), and stayed up till 3am to finish it. I think that really says all you need to know about the book.

I am seriously impressed with the scope of the author’s imagination. Samantha Shannon has created an intricate world, and as readers we get the sense that she’s only showing us the tip of the iceberg. I love the details of all the different clairvoyants, the different factions within factions involved in power plays, and hints of the world outside Scion London.

The Mime Order picks up where The Bone Season left off, with Paige & co on a train committing their great escape. The book essentially deals with Paige’s status as underdesirable number one in Scion London, the ramifications thereof, uneasy alliances with unlikely figures, and most of all, the dealings of the various cohorts in London and Jaxon Hall’s Seven Seals gang.

It’s especially great to see the development of Paige’s character throughout this book – while she does spend quite a lot of time contemplating and debating and generally trying to figure things out, in the end she makes some pretty groundbreaking decisions. And may I just say – holy cliffhanger?

Sidenote: If you’re read Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Jaxon Hall really reminds me of Arobynn Hamel. Running their own criminal organisations, manipulative, never letting their underlings forget just how they owe their leaders for saving them from a worse fate.

While the book is not without its flaws – some slow paced sections, and the fact that Paige Mahoney, number one wanted criminal, seems to gallivant around London quite a lot and not get caught for all the extra security measures put in place – I am still incredibly invested in the series.

I think the worldbuilding is carefully cultivated, with favourite characters that I’m hoping will reappear later on in the series, clues that I think will also make sense later on, and let’s not forget a slow-burn, forbidden romance. With five more books to go, there’s so much that the author can do with this series and I’m excited to see where she takes us.

Review: The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon

the bone seasonThe year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.

It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine and also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.

Rating: 4/5

This was a good book, there’s no doubt, but I think comparisons to JK Rowling are unfair – invariably, everyone will fall short when it comes to the Queen of Magical Literature. Quite frankly, apart from the British-ness and the proposal for 7 books, I don’t even see the similarities at all.

The Bone Season is set in a futuristic London, where those with clairvoyant abilities are despised and ostracised by the general population, and either end up on the wrong end of a noose, locked away in prisons or working for the criminal underworld. The overbearing corporation-type government regulates aspects of everyday life, all for the good of the people – a standard dystopian concept, it appears.

I know some people complained about info-dumping in the beginning – and whilst it is true that there is a lot of information given to the reader, the worldbuilding is so well done that it didn’t bother me. Indeed, this is one of the strong points of the book – the author really has thought out her world – the location, the different types of clairvoyants, etc.

Of course, all is not what it seems, and things very quickly take a turn for the worse. Without wanting to give away a major plot point, you will end up not knowing which side to root for – both are equally despicable.

Another aspect of the book I admired was that our protagonist, Paige, was not infallible. She got the shite kicked out of her on a regular basis, and suffered for it. Of course, I’m not celebrating the fact that she took some physical abuse – its just that many authors seem to quickly dismiss any physical pain after a major knock, and on the next page the narrators bounce back, as good as new.

There were multiple options for love interests, and I thought I spied a love triangle, but thankfully the author didn’t go there. The slow-blooming romance is done well, I think – a bit Stockholm Syndrome-ish, but the protagonist acknowledges this.

I liked the fact that Paige wasn’t perfect. She kills people. Her actions of rebellion cause others to get hurt. She tries to escape repeatedly, even if her captor is a hottie. (Which for some authors I’ve read, would be an excuse to stay and have lots of babies because oooh look how his hair shines in the sun!)

All in all, I think the Bone Season has a lot of potential. The pace could have been improved somewhat, and I wish I could have gotten greater insight into some of the more mysterious supporting characters. What are their histories? Their motivations? Their loyalties?

Samantha Shannon has created an intriguing world, and is certainly adept at portraying the utter despair of her characters and the cruelty that they experience. Do give this one a go.

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black

the darkest part of the forestChildren can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Rating: 4.5/5

All hail fabulous fantasy standalones!

I very much enjoyed The Darkest Part of the Forest – it’s Holly Black at her best, so if you don’t like her style, chances are you won’t like this one either.

I, however, am a fan of her edgy, dark, twisty, sexy and occasionally plain weird writing, and this book was a joy to read – no fluffy fairy tales here! It’s dreamy and gritty, if such a combination can exist, involving a sleeping horned boy in a glass coffin, a brother gifted with the magical gift of music, a changeling best friend, a sister with a double life, a town tentatively existing alongside the Fair Folk.

And what a tricksy bunch they are. These fey are manic and fierce and responsible for a number of disappearances and strange occurrences within the area, and woe betide the mortal that enters into a bargain with them, for people usually end up getting (or losing) more than they bargained for.

I loved the sibling relationship between Ben and Hazel – how they both, in their own way, try to protect the other, but end up wound up in a web of secrets. Hazel as a character was interesting – she was brave, she enjoys kissing boys and doesn’t particularly care what other people think, she’s loyal but impulsive, a somewhat troublesome combination, and in the end, she is the one that does the saving.

I like the pairings in this book, and especially this cheesy but wonderful declaration (but I won’t tell you to whom it was addressed):

“I love you,” Severin said, looking up, looking at nothing at all, his face exultant. “I love you like in the storybooks. I love you like in the ballads. I love you like a lightning bolt. I’ve loved you since the third month you came and spoke with me. I loved the way you were kind and the way you would pause when you spoke, as though you were waiting for me to answer you. I love you and I am mocking no one when I kiss you, no one at all.”