Book Review: Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns
By Mark Lawrence

My Edition:
Paperback, 319 pages
2012, Ace
ISBN: 9781937007683

After watching his mother and brother murdered, young Jorg leaves his father’s castle and finds himself among a band of bloodthirsty bandits. By age thirteen he’s their leader and hell-bent on seeking revenge and claiming his role as heir to the throne of Ancrath. But to do that, he must once again face his father and survive the trickery of the court mage.

Yo, this book was really good. Real talk, I bought it last July and left it on my shelves to collect dust (“Like you do to all of us!” my books moan at me) until Mark Lawrence commented on the IG picture I posted when I hauled it. I immediately felt guilty and added it to my April TBR and I’m so glad I did.

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Book Review: The Tangled Lands

The Tangled Lands
By Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell

My Edition:
Hardcover, 295 pages
2018, Saga Press
ISBN: 9781481497299

Thank you to Geek Girl Authority and the publisher for sending me this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

The use of magic is forbidden to the residents of Khaim, except for the Magister, because magic causes the growth of the deadly vines that threaten to swallow the city and all its inhabitants. A touch from the hungry vines, referred to as the bramble, will sink anyone into a deep sleep and eventually death, the toxins persevering their bodies until mother nature’s creatures come for them.

I won’t say any more about the plot than that – but I will say that this book is comprised of four sections, each following a different character and their families, as they struggle to survive in the city of Khaim.

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Book Review: The Bone Witch

pic from NetGalley

The Bone Witch
By Rin Chupeco

My Edition:
ARC ebook, 432 pages
2017, Sourcebooks Fire
ISBN: 9781492635826 (hardcover)

Tea discovers she has the power to raise the dead when her older brother crawls out of his grave during his funeral. While many people of her land have magic, including some of her sisters, few have Tea’s abilities as a bone witch (or dark asha) and the people of her town are both awed and scornful. Tea leaves home with her reanimated brother in tow to join an academy for asha and starts on the rough road to mastering her powers.

Let it be known that despite the fact that young adult books disappoint me more often than they impress me, I continue to give them a chance (and will continue to do so, because I’m a sucker for punishment). Unfortunately, this book fell into the former category and I stopped reading at about 75%. I wanted to post my thoughts on why I stopped reading because I did actually request the book.

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Book Review: The Unicorn Series

The Unicorn Series
By Tanith Lee

My Editions:
Black Unicorn – 192 pages, 1993, Tor Books
Gold Unicorn – 244 pages, 1996, Tor Books
Red Unicorn – 192 pages, 1998, Tor Books

Tanaquil has grown up in her mother’s desert fortress, where, due to her mother’s powerful magic, household items are always disappearing or changing, and Tanaquil has grown restless and feels ignored. But when a peeve, who has picked up some language thanks to stray magic, brings Tanaquil a strange, shimmering bone, Tanaquil’s life is turned upside down. Thanks to her incredible mending skills and the hoard of bones the peeve finds, Tanaquil builds a unicorn that her mother’s magic brings to life. Through the unicorn, Tanaquil finally finds the willpower to leave her mother’s fortress and explore the world, the peeve at her side. Throughout her travels, she encounters several mystical unicorns and grows into her own skin as she experiences and affects the world around her.

It can be hard to review a series without spoiling plot details, but I’ll do my best. As you may know, I started this re-read of the series with Jacob because he’d never read Tanith before. I was happy to revisit a series that I know I love and it turns out there were many little details in this books which I’d forgotten.

Black Unicorn is our introduction to Tanaquil, the peeve and the world they live in. Tanaquil feels neglected by her mother, who is a powerful sorceress and disappointed that her daughter doesn’t share her knack for magic. Tanaquil does have the ability to mend things and when she uses her skill to create a unicorn, she is able to escape the isolation and loneliness of her mother’s fortress. The unicorn that she, the peeve and her mother’s magic created shows up periodically to both help and hinder Tanaquil as she makes her way to a city by the sea.

The peeve is utterly adorable and annoying in all the right ways. If you don’t want to own a peeve after reading this series, I’m not sure you’re human. Tanaquil is refreshingly bold, outspoken, but also unsure of herself and it was great to watch her come into herself throughout not only this book, but the series.

As always, Tanith paints a wonderfully detailed world with seemingly broad strokes. I would classify this series on the border of middle-grade and YA, and the books are very short, but Tanith accomplishes a lot of depth.

While we don’t see a whole lot of the unicorn in this book, we do get a glimpse of the world it comes from. Tanaquil’s mother has spoken of other worlds, both perfect and terrible, that those with magic hope to be able to explore. Tanaquil gets a glimpse of the perfect world the black unicorn lives in and understands that humans have no place in it. Yet rather than become depressed when she returns to her own world, Tanaquil learns to appreciate the beauty around her and that speaks volumes about her character.

In Gold Unicorn, we get more information about the unicorn and I think it strengthens the story. This is actually my favorite book in the series (though the other two are close behind) because we get more depth from the characters and the world-building. In Black Unicorn, the unicorn is a catalyst for Tanaquil’s adventures, but in Gold Unicorn, we have a beast that is affected by the humans who created it. In turn, the unicorn leads them to a dark world that reflects the purpose for which the humans intended their creation and opens all their eyes.

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot (the back of the book gives enough away and I wouldn’t recommend reading it – just dive right in!) but Tanaquil’s adventures strengthen her as a character and as usual, I enjoy her dry sense of humor. We also get a better look at Tanaquil’s mending abilities and how she uses them and allows them to be used by others. The dark world that the crew enters because of the unicorn is a change-up that also adds depths to the characters because of how they react in the new environment.

In Red Unicorn, Tanaquil makes her way back home to her mother after a couple years away. She is more self-assured, yet is unsure how to approach her mother, especially now that her mother has found love. It seems to Tanaquil that everyone she knows has paired off now, even the peeve, and she feels more alone than before she left home.

She spends the majority of this book in yet another world, one that appears to be a sort of twisted version of her own world, where there are copies of people she knows, but with opposite personalities. There’s even a copy of herself, who constantly breaks things, and another peeve (called a veepe) as well. Here, Tanaquil discovers more of her own magic and learns a lot about herself and those she knows thanks to their doubles. Her time in this world finally makes her realize she feels lonely because she let the man she loves leave her life, so she decides she must go after him.

There’s another unicorn (red, obviously), but it’s back to being a background character, leaving the focus on Tanaquil and her actions and personal discoveries.

It was a wonderful ending to the series and contains my favorite lines:

“Say yes properly, or I’ll push you into the fire.”
“Yes properly.”

If you enjoy YA/middle-grade fantasy with smart and smarmy female charactersand a focus on self-discovery, I highly recommend you give this series a shot!

Book Review: Cold-Forged Flame

Cold-Forged Flame
By Marie Brennan

My Edition:
(Signed!) Paperback, 100 pages
2016, Tor
ISBN: 9780765391391

“The sound of the horn pierces the apeiron, shattering the stillness of that realm. It is a summons, a command. There is will. There is need. And so, in reply, there is a woman.”

I’m sticking with part of the blurb on the back of this book because anything I try to summarize either won’t do the story justice or will give too much away.

I was lucky enough to win a signed copy from Marie Brennan’s blog giveaway and I was thrilled. I love her Lady Trent series but have yet to branch into any of her other work. While the Trent memoirs are fantasy, I feel they’re more of the historical fiction genre (even if Brennan is making up her own history), whereas Cold-Forged Flame gave me a taste of Brennan’s true fantasy writing.

Cheesy as it is, I’m so hungry for more! Seriously, this little book fuckin’ rocks. We’re introduced to a character who is mysterious, deadly and badass, with a razor-sharp tongue and just enough heart to make her feel real. She doesn’t know her own origins, only that she’s bound to a task set to her by those who summoned her. Throughout the novella, readers learn little tidbits about her and the world she inhabits at the same moment she learns them. I really don’t want to say more because the fun is in not knowing what’s going to happen next and the less you know going in, the more impactful the big reveal at the end will be. :]

Brennan wrote an article for Tor regarding this character and how she is based on a character that Brennan used to roleplay as and how she adapted those elements for her novella.

I was only about thirty pages in when I turned to my husband and told him that I already felt the book was too short and that I knew I was going to be desperate for more when it ended. That’s my only complaint – it’s too short. I know it’s a novella, but it flew by and I need to know more about this character and her world right now!  The next book, Lightning in the Blood is coming out next April, but that’s not soon enough for me. I’m sad I have to wait, but (clearly) very excited for more.

You can visit Marie’s website, Swan Tower, and connect with her on Twitter. You can also read an interview about CFF that she did on My Life My Books My Escape.

And of course, a few extra pictures. The book is even more special now that it’s signed:

Then…when I was bored…I decided to mess around with a couple Snapchat filters:

Book Review: Pennyroyal Academy

Pennyroyal Academy
By M.A. Larson

My Edition:
Paperback, 314 pages
2014, Scholastic
ISBN: 9780545888486

Young ladies and gentlemen all across the land are enlisting in Pennyroyal Academy to help fight the witches that are taking over the land and for the first time ever, those of non-royal blood are allowed to join the ranks of hopefuls waiting to become Knights and Princesses. They must all train under the strict regimen of the academy if they wish to graduate to the next class and help fight. A mysterious girl with no name enrolls and as she learns what it means to become a true Princess, she discovers more about herself and her past.

While I enjoyed the premise of this book and many of the ideas Larson had throughout, overall I have a lot of issues. I realize this is middle grade and as such, plots or themes tend to be more simplified – however, I also read a lot of middle grade fiction and rather than simplified, this book feels underdeveloped.

My biggest gripe is Pennyroyal Academy itself. Here’s a Hogwarts-esque (complete with dangerous, forbidden sections that are off-limits to students and will result in immediate expulsion unless of course you’re our heroine because then we make exceptions) institution that turns those of royal blood into Knights or Princesses.

  1. Why are young men trained to be Knights and not Princes?
  2. If you’re born the daughter of a king, are you not already a Princess?
    1. So are young men automatically Princes? Are they never Princes? Is there a different school for this?

Okay, I’m being snarky here – but I really did wonder why you weren’t already considered a prince (knight?) or princess based on lineage. Larson does add a little about “True Princesses” who battle to save the realm, etc. but I feel like that was a vague answer to this question.

There’s also the issue of what the Academy does. Traditionally they only allowed those of royal blood to enlist to battle the witches, but they’ve been losing so much ground that they’ve opened enrollment to those of the common blood as well. Awesome! So all who enter the academy are told that they are there to learn to be Courageous, Compassionate, Kind and Disciplined, so they can become True Knights and Princesses and thus be empowered enough to battle the witches. Also awesome!

Where it goes sour is the “training.” There seems to be a seemingly endless and frustratingly vague (or not even mentioned) list of reasons as to why students won’t “make the cut” and are thus expelled (or whatever) from the academy. Not only are readers not typically given clear reasons as to why students are expelled (making it hard to feel like our main character, Evie, might be in danger of expulsion for her actions), but this seems like a complete waste of able-bodied citizens. Even if the students don’t meet whatever wacky, made up standards the school staff holds them to during training, couldn’t they be used in another capacity to help fight the witches? We’re told several times throughout the story that different parts of the realm are falling to the witches’ power – don’t they want every person to help, in whatever way they can? Instead, those students who are expelled are just sent back home to whatever war-torn country they were from, to possibly be captured by witches or otherwise endangered. Perhaps mankind wouldn’t be losing the battle to the witches if they actual utilized all those who were willing to assist?

The other portion of my gripe with the training is what they’re actually training students to do. There are some courses here and there, like history, and dressmaking (I won’t go into my issues with this portion of the story), but the majority of the courses seemed to be physical, like wall climbing, pushing carriages up muddy hills, jumping out of towers onto horseback, some physical combat, and mild team-building exercises. While these classes likely foster discipline and maybe courage, I was left wondering where the kindness and compassion came into play. Students are encouraged to compete against each other and when dishonesty occurs, the staff doesn’t bother to stop it. Yet readers are told that some of a Princess’s greatest weapons are Kindness and Compassion (these give her magical heart magic somehow!) and I was left wondering why the academy did nothing to foster these aspects.

Perhaps I’m being too picky, but since the premise of the book is based of attendance at the academy shaping True Princesses, I was bothered by what felt like a lack of thought.

This turned into more of a rant than intended, so I’ll just touch lightly on my other concerns:

-There’s a boy princess, Basil: his mother has like twenty-something sons and really wanted Basil to be trained as a princess (read: be born a girl?), so he was assigned to their ranks, rather than those of the knights. This was an interesting concept, but rather than infuse any themes or morals, or even any interest in this topic, Basil was merely a boy who hung out with all the girls.

-Evie’s “family”: to avoid potential spoilers, I’ll just say that Evie wasn’t raised by humans. She stumbles out of the woods wearing “only spider webs” (I also wonder about that…) and readers are told her time at the academy is her first interaction with humans ever. Well, it sure didn’t feel like it. Aside from her strange sleeping habits, Evie has no issues adjusting to the human lifestyle and doesn’t seem to stick out at all due to her alternative parentage. I feel like her character, which fell flat for me, could have benefited from some struggles due to trying to adjust to “normal” life. Also…how did she learn how to read!? Or for that matter, use a toilet (or latrine or whatever they use) and wear clothing, and wouldn’t she be amazed or maybe freaked out by the different food choices she has? What about human speech, how did she learn that? I have a million questions about the way she was raised and how it could have possibly resulted in her being  a well adjusted human.

-Evie’s “powers”: she has two random moments in the book where she suddenly exhibits powers that those of her “family” have naturally. She briefly puzzles about why this is happening, as it happens, then gives is no further thought and readers aren’t given any clue as to whether she could potentially developed different magic, other than that of the True Heart of a True Princess. Again, her character really would have benefited from the complexity of displaying a different form of magic than her fellow students.

All this being said (whew, I sure said a lot!), I didn’t dislike this book. It was pretty fun to read and I enjoyed the idea, as well as the entire princess lore. Here we have a book where Cinderella, Snow White and other famous princesses are real – they’re prior students of the academy, all trained to fight the witches. Some princesses are still on the battlefront while our main character is in training. I liked that all these women existed in one universe. Plus, battle princesses! I also enjoyed the final twist to Evie’s backstory, which at least gave her past some interesting layers, even if I didn’t find her to be an engaging protagonist.

Also, the Scholastic edition’s cover art is on point!

There’s a sequel coming out in June of this year. I’m not sure if I’ll read it – perhaps if Scholastic comes out with a matching edition, then I’ll add it to my collection. Overall, I really wish more time had been spent in developing Larson’s great ideas. But this is an easy read and probably fairly enjoyable for young fantasy fans.

Book Review: The Oversight (and The Paradox…sort of)

The Oversight
By Charlie Fletcher

Not My Edition:
Paperback, 434 pages
2014, Orbit Books
ISBN: 9780316279512

The border between the natural and supranatural is thin and growing thinner. The Oversight must keep the peace between the magical and non-magical beings of this world, but with their membership dwindling and the forces of darkness growing bolder, they’re finding it harder than ever to do their jobs. Will a mysterious girl dropped at their doorstep be their savior or their undoing?

This book is a wonderful mix of Victorian and paranormal fantasy. I was lured in by the premise (okay, and the cover too!) and hooked by the characters and setting. I’m a sucker for books that blend magical elements with the “real world” (versus ones that just create a whole new world where magic is the norm). It makes me feel like there could be strange magical creatures lurking in the shadows of my own life. Then you throw in the fantastic Victorian-era (I keep saying this, but I know nothing about history so sorry if it’s Edwardian-era or something) clothing, demons with bone pets and mirrors you can travel through and I’m a happy camper!

As mentioned in a previous post, this book opens with a “dramatis personae” list of characters before the story starts. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of these and I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated. I worried that perhaps I would need a cheat sheet because I was about to be overwhelmed by the characters, or that perhaps they would fall flat and I’d have a hard time remembering them.

Fortunately, my first impression proved wrong. The characters stood out on their own and I didn’t end up referencing the pages at all. I found each of the main characters to be interesting and I love most of them. I especially love the relationship between the enemies (of which there are many) because they are working together temporarily, but there’s enough tension to keep it interesting and you never really know who is more powerful and who might be double crossing the others.

I also enjoyed the slow exposition regarding the history of the Oversight and how readers were given little tidbits here and there. I still have a lot of questions, but in a good way – I’m interested in what else Fletcher is going to reveal. This is a much better strategy than the info-dumping that can often be found in fantasy (and other genres) – whenever there’s a new person someone has to unnaturally deliver all the information they could ever need to know about the group/kingdom/whatever and it gets tiring.

I’m glad I borrowed the second book from the library at the same time so I could dive right in! The Oversight was exciting and pleasure to read and I highly recommend it.

~

I don’t want to talk too much about the plot of The Paradox, because it picks up right where The Oversight left off. But I will say that as a sequel, it lived up to its predecessor by keeping me invested in the plot and characters. Fletcher did a good job of lightly reviewing some of the information from the first book without overloading (I hate when books dump half of book one back into your lap – I already read the first book, that’s why I’m reading the sequel!) He also continued to divulge new information about the history of the Oversight. He added a few new characters (yes, there’s more Dramatis Personae pages) without clogging up the central plot.

I just found this series to be really fun and exciting. I’m upset that the book ended on a cliffhanger because I need to know what happens next! Fletcher’s website says the third book, The Reddest Hand, is due out in May of this year, but I can’t find anything on Amazon or Barnes and Noble to confirm that. I need more!

Book Review: Indigara

Indigara
By Tanith Lee

My Edition:
Hardcover, 195 pages
2007, Firebird
ISBN: 9780142409220

Jet Latter and her robo-dog Otto are dragged by the family to Ollywood, city of dreams, when her sister’s film career takes off. Jet is bored and feels ignored, so she sets off to explore the city alone (well, except for Otto, of course) and finds the strange underworld of Subway. But Jet and Otto soon discover, there’s another city, even deeper than Subway, where the magic of film becomes a reality.

I’ve been neglecting my quest to read more Tanith, so on impulse, I grabbed this off my shelf. What fun!

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Book Review: Uprooted

Uprooted
By Naomi Novik

My Edition:
ARC e-book,  448 pages (hardcover)
2015, Del Rey
ISBN: 9780804179034 (hardcover)

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

From NetGalley: Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

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Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

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A Darker Shade of Magic
By V.E. Schwab

Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 400 pages
2015, Tor Books
ISBN: 9780765376459

From Amazon: Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king, George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rogueish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now. Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

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