Wednesday, 9 October 2019

#73 Serpent & Dove

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin 

Septembers Fairyloot book <3 ascetically it is beautiful, has gorgeous bronze shimmery sprayed edges, the cover is slightly embossed and there is exclusive art on the inside of the dust jacket. I am in love with it.

I haven't been enjoying YA fantasy lately which is really worrying as im worried that im outgrowing YA *cries* so i was dubious to start this to say the least.

Serpent and Dove is a 2019 debut fantasy YA novel set in the city of Cesarine that follows our two main characters from opposite sides of the track so to speak:

  • Lou- a witch who had fled her coven. Lou is sassy, says and does what she pleases and answers to no one. I like a sassy character but Lou could be a bit over the top at times even for me. Lous is being hunted by the witches for fleeing and is carrying many secrets from her past 

  • Reid- an orphan raised as a chasseur and sworn to the church, he has never known any other life and has dedicated his life to one of morals and following the rules. A chasseurs role in the society of Cesarine is to keep the public safe and to hunt witches and burn them at the stake. 

When Lou and Reid are forced into an arranged marriage they must learn to deal with each other and each others flaws. At first it did seem like an unlikely match but as time goes on the reader slowly realises that they are made for each other. The slow burn hate to love romance is done so well as well. The church is at war with the witches and Lou must hide who she really is from Reid in the fear of him handing her over to be burned at the stake.

The plot was interesting, i havent read many books like this so props for originality. Theres always something that seems to be happening so there arent many dull or boring moments. I did listen to the audio for this and found the 2 narrators did a great job. The male character is the same narrator as Nevernight and that made me love it even more!

The things i didnt like about this book mainly was the setting, i really dont dig French books, i dont speak much French and found myself forever googling chapter names or the names of places in order to not get to lost with what was happening, although this may be endearing to some i really didnt care for it.  The aspects of magic werent the most original as ive seen it done in many YA fantasy books especially the blood magic elements but hey theres only so much creativity you can bring to a magic system i guess, it didnt affect my overall rating. A few side characters could have been developed a little more as it felt like they were only used for the action scenes, they were rarely in the background unless they needed to be, they didnt feel very real for me. More background to Lou would have been nice and Reid also, the big reveal of their secrets felt ever so slightly anti climatic.

Overall i though the writing was good and the story was well plotted especially for a debut novel. I enjoyed the characters and their relationship dynamic as well as their dialogue and witty banter. I found a few of the side characters to be a bit of a let down in places but really enjoyed Coco and Hansel and hope they are included in the sequel. I am really glad i got to this book especially in October as it has such a spooky vibe but is still light, fun and engaging.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

#72 The Crowns Game

The Crowns Game by Evelyn Skye 

The Crowns Game is the first book in the The Crowns Game duology. It follows two young enchanters Nikolai and Vika who are competing to be the imperial enchanter which is basically a personal magician. Vika and Nikolai have been training for this role since they were young children but were not aware that they would be pitted against each other in a duel where they each get a turn and have to try and best each other in order to win. Nikolai's best friend is the Tsarovitch meaning he is the next in line to be the Tsar. Pasha does not know that Nikolai is an enchanter or that he is about to take part in the Crowns Game. Only one enchanter will come out of the Crowns Game victorious whilst the other will be executed.

This is a debut novel and the story is inspired by Russian folklore which i have been really into lately after finally completing the Grishaverse in August, i found it was very well researched and believable. The writing is good which i hate to say i found really surprising, i read Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye a few months ago and was really disappointed in both the story and the writing. So going into this book i was hesitant but it took me by surprise. I listened to the audiobook for this one and found it to be really engaging, the voices were changed for each character and had a bit of a Russian lilt to them which made it sound much more authentic. The world building was stunning and you really felt like you were there they way everything is so beautifully described, there wasnt too much explanation regarding the magic system and why there only seemed to be a few characters that had magic, i would have liked this to have been explained more and an explanation for why there could only been one imperial enchanter would have been nice as that was the entire plot yet it wasnt really explained.

I found it to be a but tropey in parts like a standard YA fantasy novel, the romance was predictable and a little cheesy. I thought i knew where the ending was going from about midway through but it surprised me and went a different way which i did enjoy.

I loved Nikolai's character a lot, his storyline of 'boy who comes from nothing' was really well done and i enjoyed reading about how he started from the bottom but worked hard to hone his magic skills. His friendship with Pasha was really endearing to read too. He has a strong sense of self and really cares about other people and their feelings.

Vika has elemental magic. I found her to be a bit dumb, i couldnt really click with her character as i found her not to be very relatable. Shes written as a 'fiesty' girl character which i think is SO overdone in YA. The introduction of the love triangle element was the main reason i gave this book 3 stars. I really hate love triangles as it always reminds me of Twilight *rolls eyes* it made the story really juvenile in my eyes. When will authors learn that love triangles are not a good plot device!

Pasha was my favourite character, he is such a complex character. He is kind natured and you can tell that he doesnt have what it takes to become the leader of Imperial Russia even though he is destined to do so. He often wears disguises and goes into the market to be among his people but not be recognised. He craves adventure and was really fun to read about.

I think in terms of writing style i would have much preferred a split perspective chapters with Nikolai, Vika and maybe Pasha too. Instead it was told in a third person style that i dont overly care for but it didnt take anything away from the story, i just personally prefer a bit more structure.

I am keen to read the next and final instalment to see where the story goes. Ultimately i enjoyed this, there was a lot of good plot twists and i enjoyed the political intrigue towards the end. The duel was well done and i enjoyed them trying to out do each other. There were parts in the middle that dragged and the love triangle was not great but otherwise it was enjoyable and i gave this a 3 stars overall.

Monday, 9 September 2019

#71 Four Dead Queens

Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte 

Four Dead Queens is a debut fantasy/mystery stand alone. This book has been on my radar for a while and i was delighted when it was picked as the group read for September for the online book club that im part of!

The story opens with seventeen year old thief Keralie who lives in the nation of Quadara. Quadara is made up of four quadrants which are each ruled by a separate queen. The four queens all live within the same palace and are not allowed to leave as they would need to forfeit their crown. Each queen is required to produce a female heir in order to pass the crown on through death or if they choose to abdicate. Each queen is required to be raised in the quadrant that they will rule in order to grow up in the society and follow the traditions and rules of that quadrant. The story is told in a split perspective of inside the palace following the queens and also outside the palace following Keralie. At the beginning of the story Keralie steals something from a messenger that sets off a series of events which will result in the the queens deaths so she tries to go to the palace with the messenger to stop the murders taking place. I cant say much more than that as it will ruin the story.

The main things i liked were the murder mystery and light sci-fi/tech references, i have never read a YA fantasy that has mystery elements before so it felt very refreshing. This is really well structured and thought out which is very surprising for a debut novel. I liked the quadrants and that they were very different and stood for different things. I loved the LGBT relationship in this but wish it had been explored a bit more. A novella for each of the queens back stories would be perfect. Parts of this were very female empowering in the fact that Quadara is ran completely by women and there are no chance for a male to become king.

A few things i felt it lacked which made it a 4 star instead of a 5 star read was the sheer lack of world building, the quadrants sounded really interesting but its not as explained as well as it could have been. I would have liked a lot more back story from each of the queens, its explored a little but not enough for you to really invest in each character. I get that this is a stand alone novel so the above things took a back seat to the actual story but personally i would have liked to have seen a lot more exploration and world building. Keralie is a little annoying in parts but i did enjoy the romance elements as it didnt feel like insta love.

Astrid Scholte is very engaging with her readers on social media and i personally think thats really important. I cant wait to see what she comes out with next and i will definitely be reading it.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

#70 The Kingdom

The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

'Welcome to the Kingdom, where 'Happily Ever After' isnt just a promise, but a rule' 

Before i begin i genuinely think this book has my favourite cover of 2019, both the US & UK editions are stunning but the US version is just gorgeous, i dont think ive ever seen a book where i have loved both covers so much even though they are very different.

This book is very light sci-fi but has mystery/thriller aspects which i found very unique.

Lets begin, so the Kingdom is a Disney inspired futuristic theme park, its basically like a very high tech Disneyland but instead of human Disney princesses you have cyborg 'fantasists'. We follow our main character Ana who is one of seven fantasists, she is an artificial intelligence programmed to entertain, guide and look after the theme park guests. There is a dual timeline in this story so you get both past and present events. From the beginning of the story we learn that Ana is on trial for murder so the past events tell us what happened leading up to the murder and the present events are leading up to and during the trial. There are quite a lot of mixed media included in this book which in my opinion really adds to the story, i loved the interview transcripts as it made the story flow really well. The story is basically about whether Ana committed the murder and if she did can she be held accountable for it as the creators state that she is not programmed to be capable of violence.

I loved the themes of this book mainly the 'what is it to be human' theme and the exploration of AI evolving by experiencing feelings, dreaming and making choices. It also lightly explores rape culture and how women are treated within society as well as masculinity issues. The fantasists are regularly sexually harassed in this story so you may want to be aware of that as it could be quite triggering for some people. There are also a lot of mentions about the environment and how many animals have become extinct so the creators have had to develop hybrids of some animals which i loved as it really modernised the futuristic element to the story. There are a few scenes regarding animal cruelty that can make for difficult reading so please be mindful of that if you are sensitive to that kind of thing.

I couldnt put this down, it reminded me so much of Irobot, it was really intricate and well written. I would love to see some novellas in this world maybe following Owen and his sister on their original visits to the Kingdom or the back story of the fantasists and how they were created, i think that would be really interesting. I loved that this was a stand alone as it was rounded off very well and left me satisfied and i felt complete at the ending, having said that i would love to read a sequel to this.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

#69 Nevernight

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

HOLY SHIT BALLS, let me just begin by saying this book was amazing. It reminded me of why i love reading so much (not that i had forgotten) but sometimes you need a book to come along and kick you up the ass and this book did that for me. It has reignited my love for adult fantasy books and i am dying to read Godsgrave, i have it on my bed side table but cant fit it in until the beginning of next month.

Ok, onto the book Rachel and stop gushing! Nevernight is the first book in the Nevernight Chronicles which is a trilogy. I am a little late jumping on this band wagon as the final book is due to be released next month. I guess one good thing about being late to read it is that i already have Godsgrave (book 2) as mentioned earlier and will be able to pick up a copy of the final book next month. I am ashamed that it took me so long to read this as ive even read Aurora Rising which Jay co-authored and it came out earlier this year. I had a bit of a rocky start with this one, i took it out from the library a few months ago and couldnt even get past the first page, the writing wasnt for me. It read like a poem that kept repeating itself and i put it down thinking the whole book would be like that, how simple minded of me! Fast forward a few months and my amazing bookish friend on IG (Steffimariareads, hit her up cos shes awesome) had bought and started it. She convinced me to give it another chance which i did and the rest is history.

This book follows Mia Covere who at the beginning of the story (no spoilers of course) she witnesses her father being hanged for treason, her lifes goal from that point onwards is to find the men responsible for his death and kill them. She then joins the Red Church which is basically a school that trains the pupils on how to be deadly assassins known as the Blades. Mia also has the added ability to control shadows which is pretty badass IMO. Along with Mias ability she has a shadow cat called Mr Kindly who was easily one of my favourite parts of the book, he is so snarky but the way he protects and looks after Mia is very endearing. The banter between them was genuinely hilarious for the most part.

This book gave me serious Red Sister by Mark Lawrence vibes which i read in June/July as it also has a school for badass assassins. The writing is very close to flawless, it was so descriptive but in the best way as you can really imagine the world and the characters in your mind as you are reading. Nevernight has joined the ranks as one of favourite books that ive read this year (out of 109 so far) and not only that it is one of my favourite books of all time. I loved how the footnotes added an element of comedy to this serious natured book, after following Jays twitter i can confirm the man is a comedic genius.

I have seen quite a few people shelve this book as young adult of goodreads, it is very much an adult book. This book has some of the best sex scenes ever written in a fantasy novel and Kristoff certainly didnt shy away from that kind of content, man can he write! Theres also a lot of gory scenes, some scenes really shocked me and i dont shock easily!

Overall this was a fantastic read and one that will stay with me a long time, i can imagine myself rereading this a lot and thats not something i say so soon after finishing a book which i can only take as a positive sign. I am now a fully fledged member of the Jay Kristoff fan club and i will auto buy anything he writes in the future.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

#68 Holy Sister

Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence

Well here it is! The much anticipated third and final book in the 'Book of the Ancestor' trilogy.

This trilogy is fantastically written and so intricate, there are so many details that at first seem irrelevant to the plot but then become relevant 2 books later. Mark Lawrence's world building is second only to Sanderson, everything he writes is so deliberate and masterfully done. He uses a great mix of character driven writing along with dynamic world building- whats not to love?

Holy Sister continues on from Grey Sister, it is told in two timelines, one in the present and one 3 years previous. Present day follows Nona and her friends as they strive to become full sisters in their chosen specialisation: Red, Grey or Holy sister. In the past timeline the story follows where Grey Sister left off, which i appreciated as i had so many unanswered questions. The ending of Grey Sister was rushed and dare i say ever so slightly sloppy. The nuns had just escaped the Emperors sister, Sherzal and her infamous Noi-Guin assassins and were trying to flee back to the safety of the convent whilst being chased, my biggest question was 'did everyone make it?' 'did anyone die?', the abruptness annoyed me as these questions plagued my mind until i was able to pick the conclusion up.

This trilogy has been an epic journey chronicling Nona's life from a peasant girl to becoming a novice at Sweet Mercy Convent. This instalment sees Nona face the final challenges she must overcome if she is to become a full sister to pave the way for her and her friends pick a speciality and finally graduate.

This was a highly thrilling conclusion. We have spent two books seeing Nona come into her own and hone her many many skills. Nona has made friends and enemies at Sweet Mercy and they honestly read as so real, i was so fond of them all (except Jolie, she is the worst) I love how the central focus of this series is female friendship, it was so refreshing to read. One of the most interesting aspects was delving into the paths laid out by Abbess Glass for Nona, it was extremley confusing at first but really came together the longer the story went on, a tribute to Lawrences writing really.

My only real criticism would be Jolie. The absolute witch that is Jolie deserved death in the end and it annoyed me that Nona chose mercy, that is possibly the only thing i would change. I know this was written as part of Nona's character development as a more mature and merciful sister but STILL she could have at least had her whipped or something!

In the end this is a highly entertaining and suspenseful read. I will 100% be reading Mark Lawrences back list books and anything new he brings out too. I am ashamed that it took me this long to discover his wonderful writing.

Monday, 17 June 2019

#67 The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

This was my most anticipated book of 2019 and oh boy it didn't let me down! It took me 12 days to read (which im really proud of considering it was 804 pages) i was a bit nervous going into this one as its been hyped so much so i had high expectations but luckily it really lived up to the hype.

So the book is basically about 2 divided sides, East and West:

The West storyline focuses on Queen Sabran who must produce a female heir to become queen and keep 'the nameless one' in exile. The nameless one is decribed as a beastly creature that almost took over the world one thousand years prior to our current storyline but was exiled. Queen Sabran is guided along her way by Ead Duryan who is sent by the priory in the south to look after and protect the queen. She uses her magic and skills to keep Queen Sabran safe from the constant threat of assassination. 

In the East we follow the story of Tane who has been nurtured and trained since birth to be a dragon rider but one night she is forced to make an impossible choice when she finds a man washed up on the shore the night before her ceremony to become a dragon rider when she is meant to be in seclusion. She cannot decide whether to turn the man into the authorities whilst simultaneously outing
herself for breaking seclusion and jeopardising her chances of becoming a dragon rider. Tane at the beginning goes through trials to be selected as a dragon rider which makes for really good reading.

The characters from East & West must come together to face the threat of the nameless one together, if they do not civilisation will be under his rule.

Things i liked:

This was a :O need i say more?

I love dragons in fantasy books, there isnt enough dragons in my opinion. What i loved about this book is that dragons where explored in a new way, there was the element of water dragons as well as the standard fire dragons which was really interesting to read about. I havent read a good dragon book since Game of Thrones.

I flew through this and i was so committed to the characters and each of their story arcs. Its not often that you feel a connection to every single character and you root for them so deeply. Each character is in a completely different situation that is so interesting to follow, they are so flawed and real and i really appreciated how relevant each characters storyline was to the overall story. My favourite character i think was Ead, she was a really well thought out character.

I adored the LGBT elements as we had 2 main characters in same sex relationships. One of the romances was very slow burn and actually surprised me when it happened as it is super abrupt and there wasnt very many hints before then that they even liked each other, i think this could have been done a lot better.

The world building was so well done, its very intricate and detailed and you get a good sense of the differences and the politics on both sides of the Queendom. The book is so interesting and engaging and each chapter is so relevant, i expected for 800+ pages that some of it would be a bit filler but nope! every single thing is relevant to the overall story. I can honestly say that at no point was i bored.

This book has made me want to read everything that Samantha Shannon has wrote and is yet to write! I would put this on a par with Sanderson.

Things i didn't like:

i really disliked Niclays as a character, he pissed me off to no end. At one point he maims a dragon and i wanted him dead for it. I did understand how he was relevant to the story and just how important his input was but i still hated him

The ending was very very rushed, i felt that the pacing was well done throughout until the end. The last 50 pages or so were so sudden and quick. I liked the ending itself but it was abrupt as hell.

The East and the South felt very undeveloped, there wasnt too much of their history, culture or politics. I thought the West was done fantastically well, it felt so well written and researched.

Overall i gave this 5 stars, amazing book.