On “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas

ACOMAF-cover1This review appears on paperbackparis.com:

To say that I stopped breathing for the entire length of A Court of Mist and Fury would not be an overstatement. I knew its predecessor, A Court of Thorns and Roses, set the series up for some cataclysmic changes, but I never expected to be so emotionally drained by the end. That, I say, is the mark of a well-crafted series. Sarah J. Maas‘s world building is compelling, rich with detail, and surrounds the reader completely. Her character building as well remains unparalleled in the YA fantasy genre.

I had my doubts about how good the second installment in the series would be—a classic anxiety for any budding fan. But ACOMAF was even better. So much better, in fact, that I stopped to ask myself why. *SPOILER ALERT* The answer: Rhysand. Rhysand and Feyre. Feyre and Rhysand. The world is righted. Tamlin, that a-hole, is out. Rhysand, Prythian’s resident BAMF, is in. I knew in my gut at the end of ACOTAR that Rhys was Feyre’s mate, but I didn’t know how Maas was going to unspool the threads of their narrative.

In the beginning of ACOMAF, Feyre is severely psychologically damaged by what happened Under the Mountain in Book One. Tamlin is also damaged, but he offers Feyre no comfort. His need to protect becomes overblown and completely stifling. Feyre can barely leave the house because of his new overprotective nature…or is it new? Later on in the novel, Feyre contemplates how her relationship with Tamlin morphed into what it did. When she first came into Tamlin’s court, after years of drudgery and destitution, she needed Tamlin’s protectiveness and the safe environment he provided for her to paint and relax after so many years. Feyre realizes that who she was before Amarantha died when she went Under the Mountain. There is no going back.

Right before she steps onto the altar to marry Tamlin, Feyre knows she’s about to make a huge mistake and she screams internally for someone, anyone, to help her. Enter Rhys. He interrupts Feyre and Tamlin’s nuptials to make good on the bargain he and Feyre made Under the Mountain. He takes her to the Night Court where she slowly, grudgingly realizes how much better life is when she’s learning and doing and being around people who don’t treat her like a porcelain doll.

Tamlin continues to keep her cloistered, and, in the moment that changes the course of everything in ACOMAF, locks her in the Spring Court manor. The animalistic rage that stems from being caged in takes over her body. Rhys and his cousin, Mor, rescue her and take her to the Night Court for as long as she wishes to stay. Feyre feels numb. She feels guilty about leaving Tamlin but knows she couldn’t have stayed without becoming a shell of a person. Rhys has asked for her help. The King of Hybern is about to wage a war that will destroy both Prythian and the mortal world on the other side of the wall.

With Rhys’s help—and the help of his small group of friends/allies—Feyre learns that she is more powerful than most Fae. When the High Lords of Prythian gave some of their power so that she could live, their powers became hers. Ice, wind, fire, water–it’s all at her disposal. Will Feyre work through the trauma of death Under the Mountain? Will they defeat the King of Hybern’s arsenal of magic and deadly forces? Only time will tell.

A Court of Mist and Fury is an absolute thrill ride. Feyre learns how to become a true warrior by using the tools she possesses. She and Rhys seal the bond that was between them for years without their knowledge. (Good riddance, Tamlin.) A new cast of characters brings the realm to life. Cassian and Azriel—Rhy’s Illyrian brothers-in-arms, the ever powerful and charming Morrigan, and the deadly, sarcastic, knife sharp Amren.

Maas developed their narratives with such deft plotting that no reader can start this book without finishing it as fast as possible. It is engrossing, romantic, action-packed, and a sharp study of kingdoms at war. I have no doubt this series will go down as a classic in the fantasy genre, and I cannot wait to get my hands on the third installment, A Court of Wings and Ruin.

On “Ruin and Rising” by Leigh Bardugo

ruin and risingAfter finishing Siege and Storm, I thought I had a pretty good inclination as to how the third installment of the Grisha trilogy, Ruin and Rising, would conclude the story. As it turns out, I was way off. Way, way off.

I thought Bardugo would go against the grain and have Alina end up with Nikolas, so they could rule Ravka with equanimity and grace…But maybe that was just wishful thinking on my end. (Scratch that–it definitely was. Team Nikolas for life.) At the end, I love that she was the only person alive who could understand the darkness that he still felt in himself. Let’s just say it’s an ideal Fan Fiction avenue that I intend to pursue.

By the end of the second novel, I truly hated the idea of Alina ending up with Mal, or having their lives intertwine any more than was strictly necessary to advance the plot. Alas, Bardugo threw it back in my face in Ruin and Rising where the reader finds out *SPOILER ALERT* that Mal is the descendent of Bagri’s oskatzatsy’a (sp?) sister.

Through the use of merzost, Morozova resurrects his daughter after Baghra, in a fit of rage, uses the Cut on her. Without meaning to, Morozova turns her into the third amplifier, and her descendent, Malyen Oretsev, is destined to follow Alina Starkov wherever she goes and eventually die at her hand.

This twist in Alina and Mal’s fate was unexpected at first, but quickly became the obvious conclusion if the two were going to end up together. While I hate obvious conclusions, Bardugo does an amazing job of building the story up and letting the plot reach its end naturally.

That being said, some of the threads that Bardugo attempts to tie together at the end seem a little far fetched. The idea that Morozova and his human daughter never died when they were thrown into the water in chains feels unlikely. I can’t wrap my head around the idea that a small girl who had just been cut in half could survive with merzost alone.

I was moved, however, at the final resting point of Alina and Mal’s relationship. After all that, they know there weren’t brought together solely by forced beyond their control, but by their own choices. Plus, their supporting cast is one of the best in YA fiction. Tolya, Tamar, Nikolas, and the others are written with outstanding empathy and depth, which adds much needed nuance to what can become a formulaic YA plot.

All in all, it was a solid conclusion to a very well done series, and I can’t wait to start on Six of Crows.

On “Siege and Storm” by Leigh Bardugo

51OGPbo8TzL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Ahhh…I was so eager to get my hands on the rest of the Grisha trilogy after reading the first installment, Shadow and Bone. Every bit of Bardugo’s narrative, character development, and bleak Russian detail captivated me. But as every reader should know by now, these obsessions are never good for one’s health as the following novels are always slight, if not complete, letdowns.

I’ll start with the relationship between Alina and Mal. To be blunt–I hate it. Deeply. With a passion. As separate characters, they’re acceptable. Of course, I care more deeply about Alina than Mal, but together, they’re a catastrophe. I understand the tension and gradual degradation of their relationship is essential to the plot and Alina’s recession into the Darkling’s state of mind, but to my mind, Mal is always wrong.

Trust me, I sympathize with the whole abandoning a successful army career to be with Alina thing, but he didn’t have to do it. His constant sullenness and expectations of Alina are really freaking annoying if I’m going to be honest with you. His burden is far less than hers. Does he have to save the country? Does he have to protect both Grisha and humans from the Darkling’s wrath? Does he have to be a political puppet for the crown? No? Not at all? Didn’t think so, dude. So shut the fuck up.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest. Who else thinks Alina and Nikolai are the true lovers of this story? They understand each other. He’s far less mopey, and is driven toward the same goal as her–saving Ravka. I know he’s not trustworthy, but at least he’s honest about the fact that he isn’t, and, in my opinion, Mal isn’t exactly at the top of the class in that respect either. Nobody is.

Besides the obvious love triangle situation that Nikolai’s presence introduces to the series, his existence is one of the novels most compelling elements. His ambition, constantly overshadowed by rumors of his illegitimacy, is the pulse that that makes the narrative thrive beneath Alina’s increasing desperation and isolation.

To that end, isolation is something Bardugo knows how to explore better than most YA authors out there. The conflicting push and pull relationship she has with her power leaves her stranded from Mal–the only the person she ever loved. And he is all at once afraid, jealous, and angry with her for that very power, which she tells him she would never give up, even if she could.

That sense of power, constantly pushing her closer to the Darkling until the moment of their mutual self-destruction, is the most powerful part of the narrative, and I am, once again, eager to see how it will play out in the third novel, Ruin and Rising.

I hope that last installment has Alina a little less driven by Mal/what Mal thinks/what Mal’s doing. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but one can dream. I want much more Nikolai. There better be much more of him, Leigh Bardugo. He is the greatest character to spring up in this book.

On “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas

acotar
courtesy of goodreads.com

This review appears on Paperbackparis.com:

I’ve officially entered the cult fandom that surrounds Sarah J. MaasA Court of Thorns and Roses series. Somehow I missed the hype about her books until this year when the series’ second installment, A Court of Mist and Fury won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fantasy. When I started reading ACOTAR, I didn’t even bother to read the book jacket, so I had no idea it was meant to be a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I kept thinking, “Hmm…this story seems vaguely familiar,” and, sure enough, that is what Maas intended.

That, perhaps, is one of the only elements of the novel that I had an issue with. Labeling ACOTAR as a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale is a stretch. To say that it was freely adapted is a bit of an understatement, guv’nah! (Kudos if you get the Easy A reference). It was, nevertheless, a gorgeously written contribution to fairy tale literature.

Feyre (Fay-ruh) lives in a destitute village on the south side of a wall that divides her country into two sections: the faerie inhabited Prythian, and the small mortal section in the country’s southernmost region. After a brutal war, hundreds of years earlier, humans and faeries hate each other with a contempt that has been bubbling under the surface for years.

After Feyre’s mother’s death and the loss of her father’s fortune, the family must scrape by however it can. For years, though, Feyre has shouldered the brunt of the effort. She is the only one who hunts and cooks and trades for what her father and two sisters need. Feyre made a promise to her mother before she died, vowing to take care of them until the end. And in Feyre’s world, a promise is kept until death.

In one moment, Feyre changes everything when she kills a wolf in the woods—a faerie in his transfigured state. She is taken from her home by a beast who tells her she must live in Prythian or submit to execution. When she reaches Prythian, Feyre finds herself wrapped up in the world of two High Fae named Tamlin and Lucien; it is their friend that she murdered. As much as she tries to resist getting used to their world, the magic—and Tamlin’s allure—keep her ensnared.

Feyre soon learns, though, that the magic surrounding Tamlin’s court is constantly under threat of dangerous faeries that only he can kill. But soon enough, even his power won’t be able to keep away whatever darkness is plaguing Prythian. Something—or someone—is trying to force Tamlin’s upper hand. Trying, perhaps, to harness all of Prythian’s magic.

After five Throne of Glass novels, Maas is a master of world-building. Clearly she has a penchant for fairy tale retellings, but it is her inclusion of ancient fairy lore that captivates the reader in ACOTAR. Pucas and bogges lurk in the shadows surrounding Tamlin’s court, along with other creatures whose stories have been passed down through folklore for ages. Maas weaves these creatures’ stories seamlessly into the story’s plot line and develops a sinister backstory in which humans were once slaves to faeries. Humans, in turn, hate faeries for their power and ruthlessness.

Maas is also a master of character development and deft plotting. It was nearly impossible to put the book down, and never possible in the middle of a chapter. She devotes the perfect amount of time to developing each piece of the story, EXCEPT when it came to explaining the real reason for Prythian’s “blight.” When Alis—Feyre’s maid during her stay at Tamlin’s Spring Court—reveals all that happened in the past, I felt like I had to read the page at least five times to catch all the details. The reader goes from knowing bits and pieces about the whole damn thing in, like, five seconds. It was a little too much to process all at once.

In terms of character development and interaction, Feyre had me hook, line, and sinker in the first chapter. I thought she was the most bad ass chick, especially since her family was such a ball and chain. These feelings started to flicker about halfway through the book, however. I started to get annoyed at her endless thoughts about escaping the Spring Court and consistently not believing that Tamlin had her family taken care of. It’s understandable to a point, but my sympathy started fading quickly.

On top of that—she made some STUPID decisions. Like, say, the night of the spring solstice when both Tamlin and Lucien tell her repeatedly to STAY IN HER ROOM. But no. No one can tell Feyre what to do, which nearly gets her in a heap of trouble. Which leads me to the…shall we say…steaminess of Tamlin and Feyre’s affair.

I did not expect things to be so hot and heavy. Usually, YA books suggest things—use innuendo—then cut out before the actual sex acts. Maas sure didn’t beat around the bush. (Mind out of the gutter!) Feyre and Tamlin—one they realize they do, in fact, harbor a burning desire for each other—go at it. Besides the fact that it was unexpected, I approved of the fact that Maas doesn’t make a conundrum out of it. Feyre wants to be with Tamlin. She initiates what happens between them, as she did with her childhood lover across the wall. I like the idea that Feyre can want something and have it without going through a moral dilemma about it as many young people in novels do.

That being said, I’d go for Lucien over Tamlin any day of the week. So much sass.

As the novel comes to a close, several threads are left open for the next installment. Several messed up threads, if I’m going to be honest. Maas’ ending leaves a lot to be desired because it really just fades out the way things do before shit hits the fan. I’m mentally preparing myself now for the second book, and I can’t even fathom what the third book will bring us upon its release. Spare us from pain, Sarah J. Maas. Spare us.

On “Shatter Me” by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter-me-new-eye-co1A459Ohhhh boy….This book…

I’m going to keep my criticism of Shatter Me as succinct as possible because my grievances are many. I felt assured by various outlets–book reviewers, a nice Buzzfeed list, and several goodreads ratings–that Tahereh Mafi’s debut novel would be worth by time.

I barely got through it.

I held onto my optimism for the first few chapters, which weren’t horrible, but not nearly as good as I had been led to believe they would be. The crossing out lines convention, for example, was more irksome than creative. Halfway through the book, it became such a nuisance; Mafi had already established the character’s self-loathing and guilt, but she had to keep doing it for the sake of fluidity.

I wouldn’t have minded the crossing out had the writing been marginally better, but it was, in my opinion, abysmal. This seems cruel, but if I had the book next to me, I would pull some quotes. As a matter of fact–the next time you’re in the YA section of a book store, pull this book off the shelf and read a few pages at random. You’ll see my point.

It’s easy for the reader to see Mafi’s potential in her prose, but I can’t help but wonder if publishing companies sometimes overindulge young writers just because they seem precocious…There are several very young writers like Veronica Roth and Sarah J. Maas who are fabulous, but Shatter Me was just a little too half-baked.

The novel’s world building wasn’t well developed enough to redeem the metaphor laden text, nor were the characters particularly interesting. (On a side note, I feel like the concept of a young protagonist who cannot be touched for the threat of inflicting pain and/or death was rendered much more fully in Roth’s Carve the Mark.) The dialogue between them was certainly intriguing at times–especially between Juliette and Warner–but it was a far cry from where it needed to be to sustain the character development Mafi pushed throughout the novel.

Back to the writing itself, though…The metaphors and similes are so rampant, it was nearly impossible for Juliette to make it through a thought without saying something was like something else, or using over-the-top emotive expressions that ruined any kind of connection I could have had to her.

I’m not sure if the series will get better, but I might try the second novel just to see if it gets better at all. Some of the characters Mafi introduced at the end of the novel–those involved with Omega Point–seem genuinely interesting. So…we’ll see. I don’t think the series is redeemable though.

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On “Caraval” by Stephanie Garber

caraval
courtesy of goodreads.com

This review appears on paperbackparis.com:

Oh boy. Where do I begin? From everything I read about Stephanie Garber‘s highly-acclaimed debut novel, Caraval, I expected it to be perfectly crafted with world-building and character development. And in the first few chapters of the book, I thought it would. But as the novel progressed, things went went south. Quickly.

In the novel, Scarlett and Donatella “Tella” Dragna live on the Isle of Trisda with their physically and emotionally abusive father, Governor Dragna. For years, Scarlett has been writing letters to the illusive Master Legend who runs an infamous game called Caraval. Her grandmother’s stories of magic, adventure, and romance captivated her so completely that she would do almost anything to play the game. That is until the year of her engagement to a duke she’s never met—her only way to get herself and her sister away from her father’s abuse.

Much to her surprise, Legend sends her three tickets to the game just two weeks before her wedding. She knows she can’t go if the wedding is to take place without incident. But her sister, Tella, has other plans. With the help of an attractive, braggadocious sailor named Julian, Tella successively subdues Scarlett and brings her to Legend’s personal island where she is thrust into the game, and to her surprise, finding Tella is the goal. She has five nights to find her and win the coveted wish Legend promises the winner.

To be fair, much of Garber’s writing suits the subject matter to a tee, complete with lush descriptions and heady imagery. She tactfully gives the novel’s protagonist, Scarlett, synesthetic abilities; every emotion she feels manifests itself in vivid color. This struck me as an inventive, compelling way for Garber to draw the reader into the magic, fear, and passion of Scarlett’s world.

Unfortunately, such a creative literary convention falls far short of salvaging the rest of the novel. Its only redeeming parts form bookends to a muddled story line marred by a shallow romance that must have been ripped from a cheap Harlequin romance. While the novel’s twists and turns are mildly entertaining at the start, Garber takes the surprises a little too far; they feel like punches, one after another, that pass along without any real analysis or second thought. Perhaps that was always the intention.

The world of Caraval is meant to be unpredictable and maddening with an unhinged master puppeteer pulling his players here and there in the name of adventure. But Garber does this through a protagonist who is far too uncertain and repetitive in her thoughts and insecurities. Oh, you can’t sleep in the same bed as a man who isn’t your fiance? Your dad is going to freak out when he finds out what’s happening? We know. You’ve only said it about 500 times now. Kthanksbye.

Instead of investing my empathy, I became dismissive of it all about half way through the book. There was quite a lot of eye-rolling if I’m going to be completely honest with you. The forbidden nature of the growing romantic tension between Scarlett and Julian is meant to be the glue holding the plot together; it’s meant to be passionate, slightly lustful, and mutually adoring.

But, it’s mostly just a series of tawdry moments strung together, most of them full of sighs, gasps, hands gripping lower backs and hips, meaningful stares, etc. I got to the point that if I ever saw another sentence describing Julian’s tanned muscles, I was going to throw the book across the room. Since their romance is such an integral part of the story, it needed to be so much more than what it appeared to be on paper.

Nevertheless, there is a moment in the novel’s final pages where it seems the two characters have a real moment of mutual development as Garber builds up to a cliffhanger for the next installment of the series. I can only hope that the second book will do the interesting subject matter more justice than the first novel did.

On “Sea of Monsters” by Rick Riordan

percy jackson
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is an incredibly funny and intelligent addition to any reading list, so if I find myself reading something that isn’t catching my attention, I turn to these books.

In my review of The Lightning Thief, I praised Riordan’s delightful sense of humor and effortless ability to integrate the stories of Ancient Greece and Rome into his narrative. The second novel in the Percy Jackson series–The Sea of Monsters–is no exception. Like Harry Potter and his friends in J.K. Rowling’s beloved series, Percy Jackson, Annabeth, and Grover grow along with their expanding abilities. But they also find themselves hurling faster and faster towards an uncertain future in which Percy’s life could be at stake.

I especially appreciated the twist at the end when the reader find out that Percy might not be the only hero capable of fulfilling the Oracle’s prophecy. *SPOILER ALERT* Percy and his friends succeed in retrieving the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters in order to save Thalia’s tree–the only form of protection Camp Half-Blood has. What they don’t realize when they attempt to revive the tree is that Luke (who is now attempting to bring Kronos back to life and destroy the gods) intended for Percy to bring Thalia back to life the entire time. He believes that because Thalia’s father, Zeus, neglected her during her lifetime the way he’s been ignored by Hermes that she’ll join his and Kronos’ battle against Mt. Olympus.

Now it comes down to Percy and Thalia. Who will be fulfill the prophecy?

Of course, Riordan leaves us hanging at the end. The series’ next installment–The Titan’s Curse–is sure to bring along another heap of trouble for the heroes.

Until next time. Happy Reading!