The Two Towers

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: JRR Tolkien
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: 1954 (re-read in Jun. 2019)
Series: The Lord of the Rings #2

I’ve never been able to decide what my favourite Lord of the Rings movie is. It’s always been a two way tie for first between Fellowship of the Ring and Return of the King, with Two Towers sitting firmly in second. But I loved The Two Towers book!!! I’ll have to see what I think of Return of the King when I re-read it, but as of right now, I definitely liked the second book better than the first.

In my review for Fellowship, I talked about how I was nervous to re-read it because I was afraid of the run-on descriptions and dense text, but ended up finding it easier to read then anticipated. Granted, I still love Fellowship and gave it 4 stars, but I think it does have the fault of having too slow a start. It takes forever for Frodo to leave the shire and for the story to get going, only to have it stall again with copious amounts of storytelling about each character in Rivendell. It’s not until the Company departs for Mordor that things properly pick up.

At no point does Two Towers suffer from this flaw. I remember being really frustrated when I read this book for the first time and I discovered I was going to have to wait until half way through the book to find out what happens to Frodo and the ring. But because I knew what was coming, I was able to enjoy the first half with the rest of the company a lot more. I think on my first read-through I didn’t really understand how important the rest of the characters were to the story because until that point, the narrative had always been centered around Frodo and the ring.

This book is way more fast paced and it was interesting to remind myself of Tolkien’s version of events, which differ from the adaptation. I think Peter Jackson does a great job on the adaptation (seriously, they are a masterpiece), but I think the reason Two Towers is firmly my least favourite movie is because it drags on a lot. The single chapter battle of Helms Deep dominates the movie and a fair chunk of the events that happens at the end of books 3 and 4 were moved to the final movie. I understand why this was done, there’s not a whole lot of material about Frodo and Sam’s quest in the final book, but it made for a bit of a dragged out movie (for reference, the third book is the shortest of the trilogy, while the movie is the longest).

I also didn’t like how Jackson changed Faramir and Frodo’s characters. He introduced a lot more internal and character conflict in the movie (I’m thinking specifically of Faramir trying to take the ring to Gondor and Frodo sending Sam away). But in reality Faramir was a total stand-up guy who did not suffer the same character flaws as Boromir and Frodo and Sam have a really beautiful relationship as they climbing the stairs and never question their loyalty to one another. There’s some beautiful text about Frodo and Sam imagining themselves in the great stories, which Peter Jackson did include in the final movie, but I loved how the two of them supported each other on the stairs, never letting Gollum come between them despite their differing opinions of him.

In the movies, I do love all of the characters and really enjoy the split between the different narratives. Peter Jackson definitely does a better job with the Ent scenes and I liked that this part of the story is told in real time in the movies, versus as a flashback like it is in the book. But Frodo and Sam in book 4 really do steal the story. Their story is so compelling and I love their strength of character. I love Frodo for his willingness to forgive Gollum and to trust him and treat him with respect, understanding what he went through as a ring bearer and how that still impacts him. But I also love Sam and his unfailing loyalty. I’ve always loved Sam, though Aragorn has generally been my favourite character in the movies. But Sam really shines in the books and he was hands down my favourite. There’s all these quotes about Tolkien and Sam and how Tolkien always viewed Sam as the true hero of the story. There’s not really any definitive proof of this, just heresy, but for me Sam has always been the true hero. The final chapter, the choices of Master Samwise, was definitely my favourite of the book. I love that a small hobbit that has mostly been afraid and unsure of himself, becomes a total bad-ass and takes down Shelob, and then immediately switches to be vulnerable and empathetic, garnering his courage to move forward in the bleakest of circumstance. Sam is the most selfless character, never making choices for himself, only for the good of Frodo and the quest.

I’m dying to pick up Return of the King right away, although I’m not looking forward to having to wait another 200 pages to read about Frodo and Sam again. Tolkien leaves us on a brutal cliffhanger at the end of Two Towers. But I have to read my book club book first, so I’ll have to wait another week or so to start the final book. I loved this second book and I’m thrilled and relieved to find that I still love these books after so many years!

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The Fellowship of the Ring

Rating:
Author: JRR Tolkien
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: 1954 (re-read in Jun. 2019)
Series: The Lord of the Rings #1

So I first read Fellowship of the Ring when I was around 10 or 11 years old. My Dad played a big role in fostering my love of reading and encouraged me to read the series before the first movie came out. I have to admit, I’m a little impressed that I read this whole series as a pre-teen and actually loved it. I’ve always remembered the books (and heard them described by others) as being super dense and descriptive, and for some reason I was totally intimidated to re-read them.

I’m a huge fan of the movie franchise and I re-watch the whole trilogy every couple of years. I recently re-watched it with my friends and convinced two of them to re-read the trilogy with me. I’m a little embarrassed now at how much I was actually intimidated by this book, because while it is a little indulgent in the descriptions, it’s nowhere near as dense as I had built it up to be in my head and I really had no problem reading it.

I’m going to skip the synopsis because we all know what the Lord of the Rings is about. It’s a classic good-versus-evil fantasy story that puts everything else in the genre to shame. It was fun to re-read and compare what lines Peter Jackson lifted right out of the book and what liberties he took with the characterization (I’m looking at you, Arwen). This is our introduction to hobbits, middle-earth, and the fellowship and re-reading the first book only cemented my love for all of Tolkien’s characters. ‘Hobbits really are amazing creatures’ and I loved Sam, Merry, and Pippin for being so willing to follow and support Frodo, no matter where he went or what challenges they faced. Even hobbits like Farmer Maggot and Fatty Bolger went out of their way to support the hobbits without asking anything in return.

I’m giving this 4 stars instead of 5 stars because there were parts of the story that dragged. It felt like it took forever to actually get out of the Shire and Rivendell and Lothlorien went on a little too long for my tastes. I was really impressed with how Tolkien wrote Gollum in this book. He dogs the fellowship for the entire second half of the book without them ever putting a name to what’s following them and it was pretty creepy. It takes a while to get to know each of the nine in the fellowship as well, but slowly Tolkien starts to tease out their personalities and develop each of them into more fully fleshed out characters.

The action definitely translates differently then it does on the screen, but the book had me on the edge of my seat for most of the second half. I thought things picked up a lot once to the fellowship left Rivendell. There were a few parts from the book that weren’t in the movie that I did remember, like the old forest and Tom Bombadil, but there were other parts I didn’t remember at all, like the fellowship getting attacked by wolves. Overall, I still think Peter Jackson did a great job on the adaptation and I can’t wait to re-watch the series again and get started on Two Towers!

The Everlasting Rose

Rating: ⭐
Author: Dhonielle Clayton
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Mar. 5, 2019 (read Mar. 2019)
Series: The Belles #2

Thanks to Hachette Book Group Canada for providing me with a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I liked the first book in this series, The Belles, so I was really excited to receive an advance copy of the sequel and had high hopes going into this book. Unfortunately, I did not find the sequel as compelling or captivating as the first book and it took me several weeks to trudge my way through The Everlasting Rose.

The Everlasting Rose starts off right where The Belles left off, with Camellia having fled the palace and Sophia being named as heir to the monarchy. Camellia is desperate to find Charlotte in order to prevent Sophia, with her twisted politics, from ascending the throne. Sophia is definitely an A+ villain, so this should have been super captivating, but I don’t think it was well plotted and I struggled to get through it.

Clayton definitely has a unique writing style. Her writing is quite flowery, which I think works really well in the beauty-obsessed fantasy world that she has created. The plot definitely seemed to move slowly in the first book as well, but there was a large mystery element in the first book that compelled me to keep reading and the last third of the book was super high stakes. The mystery was missing from this book, as was the twisted villain.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I actually wanted more of Sophia in this book. She is incredibly twisted and evil, but she brought a lot of tension to the story. The Everlasting Rose is also a high stakes plot, but it relies on Sophia’s malice from the first book to carry the conflict through this story and I just wanted more. Sophia is a looming threat, but she doesn’t drive the conflict and plot in the same way as the first book and even though Camellia is forced to race against time to find Charlotte, I never really felt any fear for her character. Most of the book is spent travelling around Orleans, but never actually advances the plot of the story. Camellia accomplishes very little until she actually returns to Trianon towards the end of the book. The ending was pretty good, but it just took so long to get there that it actually felt rushed when we finally arrived back at the palace. The first three quarters of the story really just felt like filler to get us to the last quarter.

Some authors can really pull off “travel” stories (I’m thinking of Heather Fawcett’s Even the Darkest Stars series), but it lost me in this book. There are 6 Belles in the Camellia’s generation and we meet and interact with almost all of them, but never long enough to really care about them or get a sense of who they are. Coming into this book I only really cared about Camellia and Amber, and I was intrigued about Edel. But then the author seems to abandon the relationship conflict she was developing between Amber and Camellia, which I thought was a real shame because it was really interesting to examine the competitive relationship between them and how it manifested with their individual ethics.

The romance also threw me for a total loop in this book. It was unexpected and very ‘insta-love’ and I wasn’t into it. The first book ended with so many broken relationships and I just don’t think any of them were resolved well in this book. August was a bit of a mystery to me in the first book and I don’t understand what drove his character. It’s developed a bit further in the sequel, but was overall, unsatisfying.

Mostly I just wanted to see more interactions between Sophia and Camellia. I was really expecting for this to be a trilogy, but based on the ending of this book, it seems it’s a duology? But the whole time I was reading this I was like, “oh, this book is totally suffering from middle book syndrome, it’s just going to be a travel book and the third book is where we’ll get a really intense showdown between Sophia, Camellia, Charlotte, and the Iron Ladies.” But it seems like that is not to be and I didn’t think this worked as a final book.

One thing that bothered me was the assumption that Charlotte would make a good ruler. Everyone wanted her to be queen because she was the rightful heir and Sophia was so vile that literally anyone else would be better. But Charlotte was in a coma for years, so I thought she would probably be devastated when she awoke by all the lost time and would likely be stunted in development as she was essentially a child when she went into the coma. Something clearly went wrong with Sophia to make her the way she was, but why assume that Charlotte would naturally be better? She wouldn’t have even understood the drama and politics of what went on at court over the past years because she was effectively absent, and I feel like it would be hard for her to accept the narrative that she was told about her sister. Why would she trust the Iron Ladies, who essentially abducted her, over the word of her sister? It seemed really problematic to me.

So unfortunately, there wasn’t really much that I liked about this book. Clayton has a really interesting style of writing and I think this world had so much potential, but I was ultimately disappointed.

The Crimson Crown

Rating:
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Oct. 2012 (read Mar. 2019)
Series: Seven Realms #4

I need to write my review for The Crimson Crown before I start forgetting things!

As I said in my review for The Gray Wolf Throne, I absolutely flew through the last 2 books! I got a little bit hung up on the first half of the series, but the second half totally blew my mind. And if I liked The Gray Wolf Throne, then I LOVED The Crimson Crown.

Cinda Williams Chima knows how to write a finale! The final book is non-stop drama, action, and romance. What I loved so much about this series is that is was the perfect blend of action, political scheming, world-building, and romance. Han and Raisa very much carry the story, but there is a vibrant cast of secondary characters supporting them.

Chima really ups the ante in this book and weaves so many different plot threads through the story. This book has really high stakes and I literally could not put it down! I felt like all of the other books could maybe have cut down the length a little bit, but even at 600 pages, I wouldn’t have cut anything from this book. I’ll try and keep this review spoiler free for the last book, but my review will contain spoilers from the first 3 books.

After Raisa’s coronation at the end of the previous book, she is suddenly tasked with trying to unite the peoples of the Fells, while simultaneously continuing to avoid her many would-be assassins and hope that the war in the south remains in the south. She immediately takes steps to clean up the river and integrate homegrown soldiers into their army, which until this point has been comprised mostly of southerners. Because of her Briar Rose ministry, she is beloved by the townsfolk, but struggles to fight against the wealthy and privileged wizards on her council.

The wizards, particularly Gavan Bayar, are desperate for more power, as are the clans. The Bayars seek to elevate their positions by either removing the Gray Wolf line or marrying into it. The clans also seek a marriage into the line, but they are driven more by the desire to bring more clan blood into the Gray Wolf line. And poor Raisa is stuck in the middle of their warring interests. Raisa has always known that she would likely have to seek a political marriage. Queens don’t have the privilege of marrying for love, they must marry for the good of the realm. She’s always been prepared for this, but her prospects for marriage both within and outside of the kingdom are disappointing, especially when faced with the reality of actually losing the person she really loves.

Raisa was my favourite character in the first two books, but I thought Han really started to come into his own in the last book and I adored him in this book! For someone who grew up in the slums, he is incredibly smart and self assured. He continuously seeks to better his position, partly in a desire to prove his worth, but also as a way to take down his enemies. Suddenly he is more powerful than he’s ever been. Han has always held his cards very close to his chest, reluctant to trust anyone. But he is really forced to grow in this book and learns that while trusting others can make you vulnerable, it is also rewarding.

Han never really struck me as a romantic or as a person who feels entitled to anything. But I loved his principals in this book. He’s both unwilling to give Raisa up, but also unwilling to settle for only a piece of her heart. At some point he realizes that he can’t fault Rebecca for lying to him because he’s never really been totally honest himself. It would have been so easy for him to hold on to his anger against Raisa, but I loved that he knew his heart well enough to decide to stay. After having lost everyone he’s ever cared about, I thought he was incredibly brave to be willing to love again.

I loved how some of the secondary characters grew in this book too. I am in love with Dancer, Night Bird, and Cat. Dancer is so willing to see the best in people and to be the bridge that the wizards and the clans so desperately need. I love that Night Bird is able to see past her prejudice and see people for who they really are, good or bad. And I love Cat’s unfailing loyalty and trust, both to Han and Raisa. I also loved how Chima grew Crow’s character in this book and reconciled the story between Hanalea and the Demon King. I wasn’t super into the historical aspect of the book and found it kind of confusing in earlier books, but I liked how it was integrated into and impacted the main plot in this book. History is very much written by the victors and just because something has been the same way for 1000 years, does not make it right. As people and communities, we need to learn to forgive and accept one another.

Overall this story just had so much depth. The characters go through such a huge transformation between the beginning and the end and I liked how Chima plays with the conceptions of good and evil and how perception sometimes is everything. The clans and the wizards have been at odds for 1000 years, with both sides trying to consolidate more power. The task of uniting the wizards and the clans is seemingly insurmountable, but Raisa, Han, and Dancer, individuals who were born of both factions, are brave enough to try.

We get a lot of new drama with the Wizard Council in this book, as well as with clan politics and Raisa’s tense relationship with her sister. Some characters from Oden’s Ford return in this book and help Han in shaking things up. Though I loved all the politics and the drama, I’m still a little unsure how to feel about the Bayars. I think that Gavan, Micah, and Fiona make for incredibly dynamic villains because they are united, but at the same time each working towards their own goals. They often work at odds against each other, posing multiple problems for both Han and Raisa.

Gavan has always been classically evil, while Micah and Fiona have been more nuanced. I’ve never really been sure how to feel about either one. Micah kept giving me whiplash in this series because he is at times evil and selfish, but he also clearly cares about Raisa. I definitely condemn his actions and thought he didn’t deserve the time of day from Raisa, but he is also a victim of his father’s ambitions and was in his own way, just trying to do the best thing for Raisa. I’ll admit though, I didn’t really love how things were resolved with each of the Bayars, particularly Fiona. I feel like I never really figured out who Fiona actually was and I don’t like how things ended with her story.

I also didn’t love how things ended with the clans. I always admired the clans and I was a bit disappointed with how things ended up with Elena, Averill, and Nightwalker. But throughout the course of the novel, the wizards were consistently the bad guys, so I do think it’s an important reminder that people on both sides have made mistakes and escalated the conflict between wizards and clan. The Bayars are definitely the villains, but to an extent, everyone is at fault in failing to acknowledge their prejudice against one another.

But, with the exceptions of these few minor criticisms, I absolutely loved this! I was really impressed with both the world building and character development. There is a follow up series to the Seven Realms series called the Shattered Realms series, so I’m definitely planning to read that series, but for now I’m planning to go on a little fantasy break for a while to work through some of the historical and literary fiction on my shelf!

The Gray Wolf Throne

Rating:
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: Aug. 2011 (read Mar. 2019)
Series: The Seven Realms #3

I liked the first two books in this series, but I struggled a little bit with some of the pacing and the books took me about a month each to read, which is a pretty long time for me. I did not have that problem with the last two books and flew through books 3 and 4 in less than a week!

I loved the ending of The Exiled Queen. I thought it was so deviously delicious that I couldn’t wait to pick up The Gray Wolf Throne and continue on the story. It picks up right where the last book left off, with Raisa and Han both trying (independently) to get back to the fells. I’ll do my best not to include any spoilers below for this book, but I probably will have spoilers for the first two books, so best to skip this review if you’re planning to read the series.

Pretty much the first 200 pages of this book are devoted to Raisa and Han’s journey back to Fellsmarch. Normally I don’t love when too much of a story is dedicated to travel or a “journey”, but it worked so well in this book and was pretty much the most fast paced and exciting part of the book. Raisa continues to inspire me. That girl knows what she’s wants and she just won’t quit. She wants to survive to continue the gray wolf line, but her motive is driven more by her desire to improve the Fells and bring her people together, rather than by any selfish motive.

The story wanes a bit after our MC’s epic journey, but I never found the narrative slow. By this point I was super committed to the characters and the plot and it never bothered me that the action slowed down. This book is super political and I enjoyed the contrast between the fast-paced action and fight scenes and the background political scheming. I haven’t really read that much high fantasy, but maybe I should, because I loved how intense and political this book was. The story had SO MUCH depth and Chima does a wonderful job at balancing multiple storylines and mysteries. At the end of this book I honestly couldn’t see how the story would be resolved in just one more book.

Because I haven’t read that much high fantasy, this series reminded me of beloved fantasy series like Game of Thrones. There were so many blood-thirsty characters competing at the games of kings and queens and it really was fascinating. Chima blends so many different elements together in this series and it really works. The wold building is really well developed and I loved the contrast between the conflicts within the queendom (between the clans, wizards, and valefolk), and well as the conflicts between neighbouring realms.

I read the last 2 books so quickly they are already starting to blend together in my mind, so I’ll try not to make this review too long to save some stuff for my review of The Crimson Crown. Again, I loved the main characters and how the secondary characters were developed further in this book. This was the first book where I really started to love Han as much as I love Raisa. He is blindsided when he learns who Rebecca actually is and understandably angry, but I loved his ambition. I don’t know where he gets he confidence from, but it makes him a really dynamic character.

Raisa, of course, kicks ass in this book again. She’s done hiding and ready to reclaim her crown. There are literally assassins coming at her from every possible angle, but she refuses to be cowed. My only complaint would be that there was not enough Micah in this book. I love the Bayars as villains and I loved the complicated relationships between Micah, Fiona, and Gavan. I also loved how Chima develops Cat, Dancer, Nightwalker, and Crow in this book. They’re all fascinating characters and I loved being surrounded by so many interesting relationships.

I shall end my review there for now because I want to write a full review for The Crimson Crown as well. However, this was definitely the book that sold me on this series and these characters. Loved it!