The Bear and the Nightingale

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Katherine Arden
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fantasy
Read: Nov. 2017

 

Well this was disappointing.

I have mixed feelings about how to rate it because the writing really was quite good and Arden created a very good sense of atmosphere in the novel. But the story just dragged on and on!

I found it hard to get into the plot and honestly for the first third of the novel I didn’t even really know what the plot was. The Bear and the Nightingale is set in this medieval version of Russia and focuses on the life of a young girl, Vasya, growing up in cold, northern, Rus. The story begins with her mother dying in childbirth and her nurse plying her with stories and fairytales about the spirits of the village.

The villagers believe in a number of different spirits – which I initially found very confusing because Arden never really explains them – and they leave gifts and sacrifices to the spirits in exchange for the protection of their village. Vasya is special because she can actually see the spirits – no one else can, they just trust in their existence.

The story finally gets going when the priest Konstantin shows up in the village and sees it as his task to convert the entire village to Christianity and save them from the demons. Vasya attends church out of duty, but continues to keep the old ways and Konstantin becomes determined to “save” her.

I did find the conflict between Konstantin and Vasya (Christianity and the old ways) interesting and very reminiscent of how colonizers and missionaries were determined to convert colonies to their ways and beliefs. But overall the story just felt too disjointed for me. Arden provided way too much background on Vasya’s childhood and I found the whole bear and winter-demon thing really confusing. Maybe I just didn’t get it, but I need some more context about where the bear came from and why the hell he cares about Vasya. It just all felt very contrived and too easily resolved at the end.

Overall I just thought it was weird and I never really got into it. A+ for the cover art, but I may take a pass on the rest of this series.

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Even the Darkest Stars

Rating: 
Author: Heather Fawcett
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Read: Sept. 2017

 

I can’t decide between 3 and 4 stars, so I’m rounding up.

Yay for Canadian authors and even more yay for a Vancouver author! I absolutely loved the setting in this novel. I live in Vancouver and I’m a little bit obsessed with hiking and mountains (as are a lot of Vancouverites) and I’ve always been fascinated with climbing expeditions, so I was super stoked to read the synopsis for Even the Darkest Stars. Also, the cover art is the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen!

Even the Darkest Stars is set in a fantasy version of the Himalayas. Kamzin and her sister Lusha live in a tiny village at the base of Mount Raksha, the biggest and least explored mountain in the empire. All her life Kamzin has dreamed of setting off on an adventure and of being an explorer, so when the Royal Explorer River Shara shows up in her village on an expedition to climb Mount Raksha and retrieve a rare talisman, Kamzin is determined to assist him. When Lusha disappears in the dead of night with one of River’s expeditionary crew to retrieve the talisman first, River hires Kamzin and they race to catch up to Lusha and get to the talisman first.

I liked the narrator and the writing from the start, but it took about half of the book for it to really pick up. There was a lot of journeying in the first half of the book and limited action – and when there was action it often happened very quickly and felt kind of out of place. But I really enjoyed the second half of the book and I definitely want to read the sequel!

I thought the “twist” was a bit obvious, but it didn’t take away from the story. I loved Kamzin and River’s characters and I can’t wait to learn more about River in the next book, but I felt the rest of the cast was a bit lacklustre. I don’t think I really learned enough about Lusha or Tem to really love them. We’re told that Lusha and Kamzin had a contentious relationship growing up, but I would have liked to have learn more about their history to back it up.

But like I said, the setting was really the strongest part of this novel and I’m interested to see what Fawcett does with it in the sequel!

A Conjuring of Light


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: V.E. Schwab
Genres: Fantasy
Read: June 2017

 

Yes! This book was everything that I wanted from this series!

This is the third and final book in the Shades of Magic series and disclaimer, there are a few spoilers in here (I can’t figure out how to hide them in wordpress…), so maybe best to wait until you’ve read the series for this review.

For some reason I had a hard time getting into the first two books in the series. I can’t really pinpoint why – I liked the characters and I thought the writing was good, but whenever I’d put the book down I never felt anything compelling me to pick it back up again.

A Conjuring of Light still took me a fair bit longer than normal to read, but it was because I was on vacation and not for lack of suspense! The story starts right where A Gathering of Shadows leaves off and the action completely draws you in right away. I still found the pacing a bit off in places, but overall, a very fast-paced and compelling story.

The characters were everything to me in this installment. Holland has fascinated me from the start and I was thrilled to finally get the full breadth of his backstory. What do other readers think of Holland because I thought the characters were quite hard on him – he had his faults, but I totally sympathized with him and I couldn’t blame him for Osaron. Kell questions whose actions set everything in motion – his decision to smuggle vitari into his own world, his decision to send Holland to Black London, or Holland’s deal with Osaron? I couldn’t condemn either of them, but it’s a powerful testament to the power of our choices, even tiny choices, to change and influence the world.

This story had a lot of depth and boy, was it dark. I never know what to expect from Schwab, she doesn’t hesitate to kill off characters, so it’s hard to predict how things will turn out. For example, she set the story up for us to hope that Holland would be able to trap Osaron in the inheritor, leaving Kell and Lila to pursue their own happy ending. And even though this is what happened, I really didn’t know which way things would go and I wouldn’t put it past her to have had either Lila or Kell take the fall.  I loved how each character had their own strengths and weaknesses. This was consistent in all 3 novels, and I liked that Kell and Lila looked out for each other and both came to each other’s rescue depending who was having a better day.

I’ve got to hand it to Schwab for her diversity of characters, a cross-dresser and a gay love story between two major characters seems like too much to ask for in a fantasy novel, so I loved seeing both of these elements play out in this series. There was a lot of sub-plots happening in this book and it was interesting to learn more about some of the minor characters. Lila is definitely my favourite character of the lot, but I enjoyed Rhy and Alucard’s story, and the insight into Rhy’s parent’s lives as well.

A Gathering of Storms was probably my least favourite of the 3 novels and felt a bit like a filler novel. In the scheme of things I didn’t think the Essen Tach was important and I was bored with the endless fight scenes. It was good character development and relationship building, but offered little in terms of the plot. The final book in the trilogy had it all though – a fast paced plot and a ton of character growth. A redeeming novel for me!

A Darker Shade of Magic


Rating: 
Author: V.E. Schwab
Genres: Fantasy
Read: May 2017

 

I feel like A Darker Shade of Magic probably deserves more than 3 stars, but it took me a while to get into it. The book has a really interesting premise. There are 4 parallel versions of London: Grey London, Red London, White London, and Black London. Grey London is essentially our world and doesn’t have any magic. Red London is a vibrant world filled with magic, as was White London once upon a time. But Black London is also known as Dead London and the dark magic that destroyed it has slowly been leeching into White London.

Our main character, Kell, is an Antari from Arnes in Red London. Antari are the only people who can create doors and travel between the Londons. Kell acts as ambassador for the king of Arnes, travelling between London’s to deliver messages to the other reigning monarchs. On the side Kell is a smuggler, sneaking objects between Londons. But when he mistakenly transports a dangerous magical stone from Black London, he is forced to pair up with Lila Bard, a cross-dressing pirate from Grey London who is in great want of an adventure, to try and destroy the dark magic that begins wreaking havoc in Red London.

I was intrigued by the concept of multiple Londons and I really liked the diverse set of characters in this book, but I found this book to be pretty slow paced at the beginning and it wasn’t really until the halfway mark that I got into it. I was really busy while reading this one though, so I’m optimistic about the rest of the trilogy and I’ve jumped right into A Gathering of Shadows and I already think it has a much stronger start.

I loved all the characters in this book, from Kell and Lila, to Holland and the evil Dane twins. I really liked that Kell and Lila both has strengths and weaknesses and both helped each other out of scrapes. I felt like they both made so many bold and stupid decisions, but that it was realistic of two young people bumbling along trying to make the right choices and not be seduced by the power of the stone from Black London. They both had a lot of vulnerabilities and I enjoyed the honest portrayal of their characters.

I really hope Holland returns in the next book because I found his character fascinating and I would really love to learn more about his background. I liked Rhy too, but I feel I haven’t got to know enough about him yet either. Kell obviously loves Rhy and I’d like to know more about his character so that I can better understand their relationship.

There were a lot of plot points that weren’t addressed in the first novel and the story still has so much potential, so I am excited to see where it’s going to go in the next book. I’m hoping for something a little more fast paced, but I did still enjoy A Darker Shade of Magic. Onwards and upwards!

Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Laini Taylor
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult
Read: Mar. 2017

 

I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did, but with all the hype about Strange the Dreamer I decided to give this series a try first. The plot is a little outside of what I usually read, but I’m so glad I decided to broaden my horizons because this was wonderful!

Even with the bizarre plot in Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Laini Taylor had me hooked from the first chapter! Karou is a young art student living in Prague; she’s just broken up with her loser boyfriend, Kaz, and would rather spend her time drawing pictures of monsters with her best friend Zuzana. But Karou’s secret is that all the monsters in her sketchbook are real. She was raised by two of these monsters, Brimstone and Issa, in a shop with a door that can transport Karou to any city in the world, and often does as she runs strange errands for Brimstone, collecting teeth in exchange for wishes.

But Karou’s world is torn apart when strange scorched handprints begin showing up on all of Brimstone’s portals and she finds herself alone in Praque, cut adrift from the only family she’s ever known.

I immediately liked Karou, thought the dialogue was witty, and I loved the setting. Actually, I thought the setting was one of the strongest parts of the novel and created a sense of mystery and excitement from the very beginning. I really enjoyed learning about Karou’s Prague and I found Brimstone’s shop with it’s many portals intriguing. Plus I had a good laugh watching Karou mess with Kaz!

This was my first Laini Taylor book, but I can see why everyone loves her – her writing style is excellent and I loved the depth of her characters. Zuzana was one of my favourite characters and I’m so glad she stays in the entire series. The novel is centered on a romance, but it never felt too romance heavy. Karou and Zuzana had a great relationship and I loved watching their friendship grow and the way they supported each other.

The reason this one gets 4 stars instead of 5 though is because I didn’t think the second half of the novel was a strong as the first. I know Madrigal and Akiva’s story is central to the series, but the change in the storytelling felt very abrupt. I found Karou’s errands for Brimstone fascinating, as well as the whole concept of trading in wishes. I was captivated with the mystery of the teeth and where the scorched hand-prints were coming from. Once Akiva entered the story I found the pacing a little off and I didn’t like having to put aside Karou’s story to learn about Madrigal.

I still really enjoyed Madrigal’s story, but I wish it had been better integrated in the story. I felt like Taylor was taking a break from the main plot to tell us this side story, but then the side story ended up being the entire second half of the novel.

Despite this shortcoming, it was still a fantastic novel and I will definitely be reading more of Taylor’s work! A+ for setting and relationship building!