Deathcaster

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: Mar. 2019 (read Feb. 2020)
Series: Shattered Realms #4

I’m a bit torn on how to rate this book and I think I’m somewhere between a 3 and a 4. I still flew through it – loving all the different characters and relationships, but I thought the plot could have been a little stronger. I was still really engaged in the story, I just wanted a more!

It was nice to finally see some resolutions between characters and some new relationships forming. As always, I think Chima writes interesting and flawed, but relatable, characters. Lyss and Hal were probably my favourites of the series, but I also really liked Lila and had a bit of a soft spot for Destin. I liked that he was introduced as a bit of a villain in Flamecaster, but turned out to be really nuanced and even though he’d done some questionable things, you still really wanted to root for him.

So the series still gets full points for characterization, but let’s get into where I thought the plot suffered. I have two main complaints – the first is about pacing and the second is about where the importance of the story was placed.

A lot of information was revealed in this book. Chima holds on to a lot of secrets throughout the series. I think it’s a huge bonus when a series has an overarching mystery that continues throughout each book. But I also think it’s important to provide some answers and closure to other mystery elements as the series progresses. I think Chima held on to a bit too much information and as such, the story felt a little overwhelming at the end, with too many things being tied up too quickly.

For example, we have to wait through this whole series to find out who attacked Ash in the first book, what the Darian brothers are, who was behind the attack on Lyss, and who the mole at court is. When everything is finally revealed, the answers just feel a little anti-climactic. The plot elements weren’t necessarily large enough to carry this mystery through 4 books and I was left feeling disappointed by the answers. I think the individual books would have benefited had Chima given up a little more information earlier in the story.

That said, there were some elements where I think it made sense to string along your readers for 4 books, namely with the mystery of Celestine and her relationship to Jenna, Breon, and Evan. Which brings me to my second criticism – how Chima chose to frame the story around these 4 “casters”, but then didn’t really give their story the airtime if deserved.

The books are named for 4 individuals. I’m assuming that Celestine was ‘deathcaster’. Every thing about Celestine and the north islands and her dynasty is shrouded in mystery. We don’t know who she is or what her tie is to any of the other characters. We can tell she is seeking more power and represents a big threat to the realms. But Chima holds out on the significance of these individuals until the very last minute and then throws in a couple of (in my opinion) poorly cobbled together explanations of their relations and then quickly defeats the empress in a chapter. I was left not really understanding who the empress was or why she was so powerful, and then disappointed at how easily she eventually seemed to be defeated. It just left me wondering what bearing she really even had on the story, except providing enough of a threat to the realms to finally mend the relationship between the Fells and Arden. I just wanted SO MUCH MORE.

Like I said, overall I still loved the series. It just felt rushed and I felt we were still left with some unanswered questions. It wasn’t totally clear what happened with Raisa and Han and I would have loved a little more time devoted to Aedion and the healing of this family the reader has grown to love. Still a fan though and I am planning to read Chima’s first series, which I’m pretty sure is now the only one I have left. 3.5 stars overall – disappointed I never got a 5-star book out of this series.

Stormcaster

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: Apr. 2018 (read Feb. 2020)
Series: Shattered Realms #3

Stormcaster is where the characters all finally start to catch up with one another and we get an idea of where the story is really going. I’ve read a lot of reviews from people that think this is the strongest book of the series, but I think I still preferred Shadowcaster over this one.

Stormcaster starts out with yet another character POV, Evan Strangward. We’ve been introduced to Evan in other books, but here we finally get to learn what team he’s actually on and all about his history. Plus we finally get to learn more about Destin Karn! Evan and Destin feature heavily in the first 100-150 pages of the book, which I thought was really strong and exclusively tells Evan’s story, before Chima finally commits to the multi-POV book and starts alternating between all of her characters. We finally get to return to Ash, Hal, Jenna, Lyss, and Lila, but with so many characters constantly changing and with the plot going in so many different directions, I feel like not a whole lot was accomplished in this book. It was a relief to finally get the merging of stories, but in my opinion Stormcaster felt like a bit of a filler book with just enough action to progress the story. I still loved it, but I was left feeling the tiniest bit disappointed.

I don’t have a whole lot more to say about the plot; the characters continue to be the highlight of the series for me because there is no shortage of complex and interesting characters. I’m excited to see what happens in the final segment – but find it hard to believe so many character arcs and plot threads can be resolved in just one more book!

Shadowcaster

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: Apr. 2017 (read Jan. 2020)
Series: Shattered Realms #2

Okay, this book was awesome! I loved the story and the characters and I’m super into this series, but I thought it was a really interesting choice in execution.

Flamecaster focuses on two characters: Ash and Jenna, with a strong supporting cast. Picking up Shadowcaster is almost like starting a completely new book because suddenly Ash and Jenna are nowhere to be seen and we have new protagonists: Lyss, Hal, and Breon. I really liked both books, though I might give a slight edge to Shadowcaster, but it was a little disorienting to be separated completely from all the characters you spent the first book bonding with and have to build a bunch of new relationships. Especially when the first half of this book completely overlapped with the timeline of the first book. So even though we didn’t know the specifics, we pretty much knew what was going to happen. I kind of wish these two books had been combined to make one big book with many POV’s. Although I can see how a 1000 page book would be daunting to readers, but I could still see it working as 2 books with multiple POVs.

Anyways, that was the main flaw I had with this book. I still thought the storytelling, plot building, and character development were all excellent. I fell just as much in love with the characters in Shadowcaster as I did with the characters in Flamecaster and I excited to see them all together. The first half of the book was on the slow side because we were missing some of the tension because we ultimately knew what was going to happen, but the second half was a thrill!

I love Lyss and Hal! Not necessarily as a couple, but definitely as individuals. I wasn’t really into Ash and Jenna’s relationship in the last book and I while I felt Lyss and Hal’s could still have been drawn out a bit more, there was definitely more tension and less instalove. Though I could do without Hal constantly mooning over how Lyss “isn’t like the other girls”. But I did love Lyss!

Lyss’ story isn’t a story that hasn’t been told before, but I still loved it! She’s bold and brazen, but also caring and respectful. One of my favourite scenes was when she refuses to run off and start a war without first consulting the queen. I was totally expecting her to run off and make mistakes and ultimately be a hero, and it was cool to see her instead acknowledge another woman’s power. Then when she overhears her mother talking to Captain Bryne, again I thought she was going to run off and be reckless in revenge, but instead she just calls her mother out on lying to her. It was very mature and I loved how honest she is throughout the book. I don’t believe for a second she’s only 15 though. I’m not really sure why Chima insists on having all her characters be 15-16 years old. Literally none of these characters act like 15 year olds and I think the story would be a lot more believable if they were all in at least their early 20’s.

Anyways, despite my criticisms, I still loved this book and I’m already 100 pages into Stormcaster. A quick browse through the next book looks like we finally get to return to some of the characters from both books, but the first 100+ pages is still about yet another new character, so I guess Chima might have struggled to structure this series differently. Multiple POV stories definitely have a very different dynamic than 2-3 POV stories and I feel like maybe she was trying to avoid a confusing epic with too many characters and too complex a plot. Structured as is, the plot is still pretty easy to follow because we only focus on a few stories per book.

Flamecaster

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: Apr. 2018 (read Jan. 2020)
Series: Shattered Realms #1

I read the Seven Realms series about a year ago and loved it, but I knew something bad was going to happen at the beginning of this series and I couldn’t face it after becoming so attached to the characters in the first series, so I didn’t jump right in.

After returning from my 5 week vacation, I wasn’t feeling super motivated to read, so I decided it might be easier to return to a world I was already familiar with. It was a great choice because Flamecaster gripped me right from the first chapter! I found the Demon King pretty slow and it took me a while to get into it, so I was expecting a similar experience with Flamecaster, but Chima had lots of action packed into the first few chapters and I was immediately drawn in to the story.

Flamecaster is set in the same world as the Seven Realms, but a generation later. Our protagonist is Adrian sul’Han, or Ash, son of our heroes from the previous series. When something bad happens at home, Ash feels forced to flea and takes up residence at Oden’s Ford, learning to be a healer and wizard. In another part of the realms, Jenna is forced by the Arden Empire to work in the mines in Delphi. Her hatred of the king motivates her to join the rebellion, but a strange magemark on the back of her neck draws the attention of those she’d rather stay away from and she finds herself hunted for it.

I don’t want to say too much else about the plot for those that haven’t read the first series. Everyone warned me that you must read the Seven Realms series before the Shattered Realms series, but I disagree. This book is easy enough to understand without having read the first series, I’m just not sure why you’d want to skip the first series. The Seven Realms series is great, as is this one, so why not read them in order!

I really liked falling back into Chima’s writing. She’s definitely an accomplished writer and I enjoy how smart her plots are. I’ve read some reviews that this is a slow burn book, which in a way it is, but I was never bored and I loved the natural progression of both the plot and the characters. I love how you’re not sure how you’re supposed to feel about some of her characters and that her questionable characters are just as intriguing as her protagonists. Lila was a real favourite for me in this book and I’m dying to learn more about Destin Karn. We get a glimpse at the end that there’s something else going on with him and I can’t wait to learn more.

The only part I didn’t totally love was the romance. There’s not a lot of romance in the book, but I think the romance that is present came on a little too fast. I do enjoy a bit of romance in my fantasy books, but tension is key. I like watching the natural progression of a romance throughout the course of a novel or series, and the anticipation and build up. This book had very little romantic tension and I really struggled to buy into the characters attraction.

But otherwise, this book gave me the perfect amount of resolution and intrigue at the end. Luckily for me I don’t have to wait a year for the next book, but had I read this when it first came out, it would still have been a satisfying ending. Can’t wait to see where Chima takes this in the next book!

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!