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.

Advertisements

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!

The Exiled Queen

Rating:
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: Sep. 2010 (read Feb. 2019)
Series: Seven Realms #2

At the end of the day, I really liked this book, but similar to the first book, I struggled with some pacing issues. Overall, this month was a really bad reading month for me and I’ve been in a bit of a book slump, so I’m not sure if it was the book or just the timing, but it took me over a month to finish this! Granted, I put it down for a good chunk of time in the middle of the month, but that’s still a really long time for me.

I thought the pacing was odd because I was really into this at the beginning when I was fresh out of reading The Demon King, but the action quickly tapered off and it wasn’t really until the last 200 pages of the book that I really got into it again. For comparison, Raisa and Han don’t meet again until the last 200 pages, so I’ve come to the conclusion that this series is at its best when Raisa and Han are together. I like them both in isolation, but together they are wonderful! I was so much more invested in the plot once they were re-united. Until that point it was pretty much two separate stories being told in tandem, bringing the two stories together made for a much more interesting and dynamic plot.

In relation to this, my second complaint would be that this book was just too long. Oden’s Ford was fascinating and I liked the way the world building and magic system are expanded – I also love the whole magic/boarding school vibes – but I think a little less time spent on this part of the story would have helped with the pacing issues.

Anyways, let’s get on with what I liked about it, because despite my complaints, there was a lot I liked about this. The Exiled Queen starts right where The Demon King leaves off, with Raisa and Han both traveling to Oden’s Ford to attend different schools. Raisa believes Han to be dead and Han still believes Raisa to be ‘Rebecca’. There’s a fantastic cast of secondary characters – Amon, Micah and Dancer return in this book – and we are joined by several new characters.

Let’s talk about the main characters first. Consistent with my review in the first book, Raisa is hands down my favourite character! I really like Han and his story as well, but I was always a little disappointed when the narrative would switch from Raisa back to Han. Raisa doesn’t have a lot of power, but she is still an incredibly strong character. She is small and people are constantly underestimating her, to their own disadvantage.

Romance is definitely a side plot in this book, but it works so well! I find romance to be hit or miss sometimes in fantasy, but somehow Chima has me loving every single relationship in this book! All of these characters have such great chemistry together. I’ll be totally sold on one relationship and then Chima will switch it up in the span of a few chapters and have me totally shipping the new relationship. Raisa is such an inspiring character in that she’s not afraid to love, despite having been hurt, and in how thoughtful she is about the ways in which she might hurt people. I do think she is to be admired as a monarch because she is very thoughtful and intentional in her actions, even though she just wants to be a normal 16 year old and have a little fun.

I do love Han too. He’s pretty suave and I loved how much he grew throughout this installment. While I love Raisa, I do think Han was really the one to drive much of the story. Han arrives at Oden’s Ford as a poor street rat surrounded by wealthy aristocrats and he really doesn’t fit in. He is rejected by many of his classmates and teachers, but he is a quick learner and has an inordinate amount of magic, which helps him win over the dean. Micah is also a wizard at Oden’s Ford and he doesn’t hide his disdain for Han. Han is forced to constantly watch his back and is always at odds with the Bayars.

I have to say though, I kind of love the Bayars. Fiona is still a mystery to me because she’s definitely different than Micah and it’s really hard to know where she actually stands and what she thinks. I think there’s a lot of room to grow her character in future books and I’m interested to see what Chima does with her character. Micah is very confusing to me. He represented a bit of grey area in the first book. He had some shady morals, but you still kind of wanted to like him and he seemed to like Raisa. His character is much less grey in this book and acts as a huge foil to Han, but I still kind of loved him. He’s still complicated and I think he makes a great villain because of the chemistry he has with both Han and Raisa. He’s definitely evil, but it’s a delicious kind of evil if you know what I mean? I loved all the banter between him and the other characters and he did a great job in elevating the tension throughout the book.

There is definitely a lot of anticipation in this book. It was a little slow going in the middle, but I was always anticipating when Raisa and Han were finally going to meet and if Micah was going to attack Han or discover Raisa’s presence. There is always tension running throughout the story because the reader is first worried about Raisa being discovered and later the threat to her throne.

Again, I thought the last 200 pages of this book were delightful. After how long it took me to get through this book, I was planning to set the series aside for a little while, but I was way too intrigued to take a break and I ended up jumping right into The Gray Wolf Throne. I’m about 100 pages in already and it is proving much faster paced, so I’m hopeful that will continue for the rest of the series!

Bookish Academy Awards Tag

I love watching and reading people’s lists for this tag every year, so this year I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do the tag myself! It’s basically a list of all the awards at the Academy Awards, but for the books I read in 2018. I’ll be picking my winners from all the books I read in 2018, not just the ones that were published in 2018. So I have a total of 120 books to pick from and you can see my full list here if you’re interested. I’ve done my best to avoid selecting the same book for multiple categories, but in some cases I felt the same book really was the best pick for both awards. Here we go:

Best Male Protagonist (Best Actor)

Winner: Bitty from Check Please!: #Hockey

Reason: He’s a gay hockey player who loves to bake and make people feel good! What’s not to love?!

Runner ups: Prince Cas from Ruined, Radu from Bright We Burn, Cormoran Strike from Lethal White

Best Female Protagonist (Best Actress):

Winner: Morrigan Crow from Wundersmith

Reason: She is brave and perseveres though she is alienated at her school. She just wants to be accepted and be a good friend.

Runner ups: Kimberly from Girl in Translation, Felicity from The Ladies Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, Maddy from Code Name Verity

Best Male Sidekick (Best Supporting Actor):

Winner: Axel from The Astonishing Color of After

Reason: He is so sweet and such a good friend! He is always there for Leigh and understands when she needs some personal time.

Runner ups: Mitch from Vicious/Vengeful, all the boys in Fence, Benji from Us Against You

Best Female Sidekick (Best Supporting Actress):

Winner: Kitty from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Reason: She has such a great personality and she loves her sisters. She made me laugh so much and I loved her energy!

Runner ups: Amari from Children of Blood and Bone, Sheilagh Fielding from The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Rosa from Rose Under Fire

Best Writer you discovered for the first time (Best Director):

Winner: K.A. Tucker

Reason: I read her newest book, The Simple Wild and fell in love with her writing, characters, and setting!

Runner ups: Alice Oseman (Radio Silence), Emma Hooper (Our Homesick Songs), Courtney Summers (Sadie)

Best Plot Twist (Best Cinematography):

Winner: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Reason: There are a ton of crazy plot twists and I didn’t see any of them coming! Blew my book club’s mind!

Runner ups: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager, The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Best Action in a Book (Best Visual Effects):

Winner: Ruined by Amy Tintera

Reason: It is so fast-paced, it just throws you into the action right away and it never stops!

Runner ups: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Best Book Cover (Best Costume Design):

Winner: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Reason: LOOK AT IT! This is my first repeat, but I am just so in love with how beautiful this is and all the colours – I had to pick it!

Runner ups: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Best Audiobook (Best Musical Score):

Winner: Joanne Froggatt in Wuthering Heights

Reason: Froggatt is an accomplished actress and she did a wonderful job with all the accents and drawing me into the story!

Runner ups: Kyla Garcia in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Phoebe Robinson in Everything’s Trash, but it’s Okay, Rebekkah Ross in The Nowhere Girls

Most Unique Plot/World (Best Original Screenplay):

Winner: Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

Reason: I am obsessed with everything about this series. I love the world-building, the plot, and all the characters.

Runner ups: Women Talking by Miriam Toews, The Poppy War by R.F. Huang, Sadie by Courtney Summers

Best Book to Movie Adaptation (Best Adapted Screenplay):

Winner: Love Simon

Reason: I actually liked this more than the book. The acting, storyline, and soundtrack were all amazing! Technically I didn’t read the book, Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda, this year, but I did see the movie!

Runner ups: To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han on Netflix

Best Graphic Novel (Best Animated Feature):

Winner: Fence by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad

Reason: So much wonderful character development in this series! Somehow these authors succeeded in making fencing super interesting!

Runner ups: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Check Please!: #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu

Best Novella or Short Book (Best Short Film):

Winner: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Reason: Unique storytelling that demonstrates women’s ability to find solace, humour, and healing in one another.

Runner ups: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, Songs of a Sourdough by Robert W. Service

Best Historical Fiction (Best Documentary):

Winner: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Reason: The writing, the setting, the characters, and the story are all so captivating and richly developed.

Runner ups: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Best Standalone (Best Picture):

Winner: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

Reason: The writing is magical and transporting. I loved this mix of historical fiction and magical realism.

Runner ups: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker, Women Talking by Miriam Toews

All the Wandering Light

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Heather Fawcett
Genres: Fantasy
Pub Date: Dec. 2018 (read Feb. 2019)
Series: Even the Darkest Stars #2

I was REALLY REALLY hoping this would be a trilogy! I didn’t love Even the Darkest Stars that much the first time I read it, but since re-reading it, I’m pretty much trash for this series! I’ve read a lot of fantasy and to be honest, I haven’t been loving a lot of it that much. I took a 3 month break from fantasy and after reading mostly fantasy in January, I think I’m ready for another break.

But I LOVED this series! I haven’t felt this way about a fantasy series in a while and I loved the outdoor adventure aspect of this one. I can tell Fawcett loves the outdoors and I really related with Kamzin’s desire for adventure. I was really impressed with the depth Fawcett added to the plot and to her world building in this book. There were several subplots and a few mystery elements that ran throughout the series, like what is Ragtooth? What will be the long term impact of creating a contract with Azar-at? and what’s up with Tem and River?

But before I get ahead of myself, Even the Darkest Stars is a duology set in a fantasy world based on Nepalese culture and early exploits of Mount Everest. The legendary Mount Raksha is the focus of the first book, with Kamzin chasing after her dream to be a Royal Explorer by attempting to climb the treacherous mountain to claim a lost talisman so that the emperor can stop the witches from regaining their powers. In All the Wandering Light, Kamzin has succeeded in climbing Raksha, but failed in her task and the witches have regained their powers and now threaten the empire. When a falling star lands in the Ashes Mountains, Kamzin sets out to retrieve it and stop the witches from using it’s incredible power.

Even the Darkest Stars was told entirely from Kamzin’s point of view and in the second book, we get some more perspectives, mostly from River and occasionally Mara. Kamzin and River have split up, but because of Kamzin’s new contract with Azar-at, their fates seem to be closely entwined. Kamzin sets out with Lusha and Tem to claim the star, while River fights with his brothers about the future of the witches and empire. I wasn’t really sure what the focus would be of book 2, but I was glad it included more wandering around the wilderness. Kamzin eventually makes her way to the Three Cities, which changes the direction of the plot, but introduced some new elements and tension into the book. Up until Kamzin arrives in the Three Cities, the conflict in this book was mostly person vs. nature, with the exception of the internal and relationship conflicts. But the story becomes a bit more of a traditional fantasy when River’s brother Esha claims the witch throne and becomes the main villain of the story.

So what did I like so much about this book? Obviously, I loved the adventure element of the story and the fight against the natural elements. I really loved Kamzin as a character. I thought she was a fantastic heroine for the story. She is courageous, but extremely relatable. She makes a lot of mistakes, but is driven by a desire to shape her own destiny. She very much wants to be recognized and this desire sometimes gets her into trouble and causes her to make poor decisions. But ultimately she cares about those closest to her and will do everything to protect them.

I also really liked River’s character. He was so fickle in the first book and it always catches me off guard how detached he is. I like that Kamzin is driven by feeling, while River is mostly driven by logic, except in the case of Kamzin, who inexplicably holds a powerful influence over him. I think it’s because he’s never really been tested and is used to always being the best. Kamzin was the first person the challenge him. River is conflicted in this book and I loved the dichotomy of him wanting to free the witches, but also wanting to protect the empire he has grown to care about.

Like I said, the depth of the world building in this book surprised me. The first book was a little confusing, but the world building in this book felt fully formed, with just enough mystical elements to keep us guessing. Fawcett explores what is right and wrong and how our perceptions can be influenced by our experiences. The witches are undeniably evil in this book, pillaging villages and seeking revenge for the binding of their powers. But their rage is born out of having their powers stolen from them for the last 200 years by the emperor. At one point there was balance between the witches and the shamans, but that balance is lost and seeks to be restored. Kamzin struggles to think of the witches as inherently bad because of the time and experiences she had with River.

There’s also the question of what impact Kamzin’s contract with Azar-at will have on her soul and what kind of powers Ragtooth is actually hiding? I loved Ragtooth in this book (and the last book) and I was really happy to see Fawcett spend time on smaller plot points, because the culmination of all these thoughtful details is really what makes a book great. She also explores the power of the fallen star and whether power is always a good thing. All power comes at a cost and Fawcett repeatedly re-visits this idea in her characters.

My biggest complaint would be having this series only be a duology instead of a trilogy. I know now that the series was originally purchased as a duology, but I really think this series has the potential for a third novel and that it’s actually doing the series a disservice not to have one. I think the world Fawcett expanded on in this book outgrew it’s 400 pages. She took the story to more depth than she was able to resolve in the confines of this book.

The ending was very unsatisfying to me because I don’t think the conflict has been resolved. I no longer think Kamzin in interested in merely wandering the empire as an explorer, but rather that she wants to be an agent for change and for good in the empire. She’s one of the few people who understands the plight of the witches and questions the ultimate power of the emperor. I don’t think the witches would just roll over and move on after the showdown in the palace and I think there is so much room to explore more about the Emperor and where his powers come from. He’s a pretty big enigma in the story and it was never clear to me if he was eventually meant to be a hero or a villain. He’s up to some shady-ass shenanigans and I would really love to see his power explored more, as well as the relationship between the empire and the witches.

Mostly I just think this world and story has so much more potential. I’d love to see it expand and grow to include more character perspectives, like Tem and Lusha’s. I would say the character development of the secondary characters is probably the second flaw with this series. Kamzin has a wonderful character arc and I thought her development was really well done, likewise River. But I don’t think either Tem or Lusha’s characters were fully developed. Especially Lusha. She’s a bit of a controversial character in that she is so important to Kamzin, yet constantly acts as a foil to her. Lusha is really interesting and I’d love to know more about her history and the experiences that have formed her into who she is now. She’s a bit of a grating character, but I’d like to understand her better.

Don’t get me wrong though. I think this is an extremely strong debut series. I think there are ways it could be improved, but I had a great time reading it. Fawcett has already been signed for a middle grade series and you can bet I’ll be reading it! In the meantime, I’ll be lamenting the third book to this series that never was, but should be!