Magic for Liars

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah Gailey
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery
Pub. date: Jun. 2019 (read July 2019)

I’ve been on a fantasy hiatus for the last 6 months, so well done Sarah Gailey on writing a book that finally inspired me to break the fast! I’ve been really dis-enchanted with YA fantasy lately, but this adult fantasy finally piqued my interest!

Everything about Magic for Liars seemed interesting and unique. On the surface, it sounds like the same tired Magic School trope, but it has a lot else going for it. Yes, it is set in a magic school, but the premise of the story is about private investigator Ivy Gamble being asked to investigate a gruesome murder that took place at the magic school.

Ivy herself is not magic and lives firmly in the non-magic world. However, her twin sister, Tabitha, is magic and has been working as a teacher at the school for several years. Most non-magic folk are unaware of the existence of magic, but Ivy has been in the know since Tabitha was first invited to attend magic school and she was not. Since then, there has been a bit of resentment between the sisters and they have grown apart.

The magic system in this book was quite different than other fantasy books I read, which I really liked. People with magic are still very much ensconced in the real world, with the study of magic being very deeply ingrained in other fields, such as medicine, math, and science. Some branches of magic are little understood and the magic itself seems to be in some ways much more unstated then similar books, but in other ways much more intense.

What I liked about Magic for Liars is that Gailey takes many fantastical tropes and integrates them into their story, while at the same time, poking fun of them. The most obvious is the “chosen one” trope, but we also have the childhood misunderstanding, the competitive sisters, the psychopathic cool girls, the PI who has to solve their own childhood crime, and a misleading romance, just to name a few. I also liked the diversity that Gailey tried to include in the story. Gailey is non-binary and I thought they did a good job at including diverse relationships, without throwing them in your face.

Despite all the great things Gailey tried with this novel though, sadly I still didn’t love it. Something about the writing just didn’t flow that well and I felt pretty disconnected to the characters throughout much of the novel. I wanted to empathize with Ivy, but I did think she was unnecessarily harsh with Tabitha when they were younger and the misunderstanding between them seemed too obvious to have been the misunderstanding that it was.

So overall, this was a 3 star read for me. I definitely liked it, but I didn’t love it. I am impressed with it as a debut novel though and I’m excited to see what Gailey writes in the future!

The Grace Year

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Kim Liggett
Genres: Sci-fi, Dystopian, Young Adult
Pub. date: Oct. 8, 2019 (read in July 2019)

Special thanks to Netgalley and Wednesday Books for providing me with a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

I was halfway through this when I had to set it aside to read my book club pick for the month, No Exit by Taylor Adams. Both of these books are f***ed and I feel like I’ve been so anxious for the last two weeks because of it.

Both of these books succeeded in racking up my blood pressure, but that’s about where the comparisons end. No Exit was not a good book, this was.

The Grace Year is dystopian fiction about a society that believes women have a powerful magic that they grow into when they get their first period and that they must be sent away for a year to burn off that magic before they can be welcomed back into the community as wives. It’s a total wild ride that had me enthralled from the very beginning. It’s a dark read with a lot of violence, but unlike some other books I’ve read, the violence achieves something. Liggett uses that violence to make powerful social commentary on the roles of women in society, the way we treat one another, and how things could be different.

The Grace Year refers to the year when the girls are sent away to live in the woods and burn off their magic. The society is very much controlled by men who believes women need to be punished for Eve’s original sins. The Grace Year is never spoken about in the community, but is a grim time in every women’s life. Many come back missing body parts or emotionally scarred, and that’s just the girls that return. Many never return and are instead taken by poachers who harvest their body parts because the community believes in the medicinal properties of the dead girls magic.

While all the other girls are concerned with landing a husband before their grace year, Tierney is perfectly content to labour in the fields when she returns, not wanting the be controlled by a man. But once the girls begin their grace year and discover the freedom they have for the first time in their lives, they start to turn on one another and realize the real danger is not the poachers, but the pain they will inflict on one another.

It’s a dark book and I did struggle with it at some points, but like I said, I think the violence serves a purpose in this book, which is why I was able to read through it. Liggett has an interesting writing style and the book itself has a really interesting structure. The girls take out their frustrations on one another because they’ve never been allowed to express emotion before or learned healthy ways to deal with their anger. They have allowed the men to control them for so long that they’ve completely lost any sense of compassion and have never experienced the beauty of female friendship and empathy.

Liggett keeps us guessing throughout the novel and I thought she did a great job with world building. At first things are a little confusing, but the confusion makes it more engaging because you don’t really understand the terrors lurking in the woods or why they exist. The narrative doesn’t follow the traditional storytelling structure, yet the concept of moving through the seasons of the grace year provides enough structure to guide us through the story.

I’m not sure if this is meant to be a standalone or not. I went into it thinking it was a standalone, but now I think it could go either way. It still works as a standalone, but I could also see the author expanding the story. There’s lots of room to continue developing the ideas of this book, but sometimes it’s not needed. The ending is ambiguous and I kind of like it that way.

The Grace Year will be available in stores Oct. 8, 2019.

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!

Queen of Shadows

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: Sep. 2015 (re-read Oct. 2018)

I’m five books in and still going strong! I’ve decided not to re-read Tower of Dawn since it’s just too soon since I last read it and I’m not ready to sit through it again. That said, Tower of Dawn is the only book I have already written a review for (prior to my re-read), so I will post that review on my blog before Kingdom of Ash comes out in case anyone is interested. So I’ve got 10 days to read Empire of Storms, which should be a breeze because I remember Empire of Storms being SUPER INTENSE.

Back to Queen of Shadows. Everyone rags on this book and I’ve never really understood why. Heir of Fire was definitely the dud of the series for me on my first read through and I thought Queen of Shadows picked up the pace again by bringing all our beloved characters back together. However, on the re-read I absolutely loved Heir of Fire and while I still liked Queen of Shadows, it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it. I disagree with anyone who says this book is slow – I thought it had so much action, but I did notice a few slower parts between action scenes the second time around. Maas gets more indulgent with each book and because of her popularity, her editors seem to let her. I thought this book had a small case of overindulgence where some parts could have been shortened up.

My favourite part of this book is the resolution of Sam’s murder and Aelin finally being reunited with Arobynn. We’re introduced to this juicy origin story in The Assassin’s Blade and it is then suspended for 3 entire books. I loved watching Aelin return from Wendlyn stronger and ready to confront her demons. Lysandra is pure brilliance and I’m so glad Maas brought her back into the story and created a new female friendship for Aelin. She’s constantly surrounded by petty, possessive men and she definitely needs a female friend. Plus, Lysandra is hilarious and my hero and I LOVE HER.

Arobynn makes me cringe. In my opinion he is a textbook abuser. Everything is about power and dominance for him. He tries to control Aelin with gifts and affection, seeking influence over her as a sort of creepy father figure, but it is all about power for him. He is a great antagonist though and I thought Maas wrote Aelin and Arobynn’s reunion and resolution so well. It was clever and I loved how it tied in to the greater plot of the series.

I can’t help but dig Rowan. In my first read of the series I still harboured feelings for Celaena and Chaol and hoped they’d make things work. But my second re-through of the series has just totally changed the way I feel about Chaol, even in the first two books. I’m just going to say it – Chaol sucks in this book. I appreciated that through Chaol’s inner monologue, Maas raises moral questions on who will keep magic wielders in check if magic returns. It really is an important question. Aelin threatens to burn a city to the ground in Heir of Fire and she’s proven again and again that she’s not the most emotionally stable individual, so the idea of there being no checks on her power should be a concerning one. But Chaol is just so whiny and ‘woe is me’ that I really just didn’t have a lot of sympathy for him. He lets his guilt and shame rule his life when he really needs to come to terms with it and forgive himself and forgive Aelin.

As for the other characters, Dorian breaks my heart in this book. He’s controlled by a valg prince, so he’s more or less absent from the story and I did really miss him. He has become one of my favourite characters in my re-read and it was actually heartbreaking to see him broken in this book. He is just so pure and precious and it’s upsetting to know he’ll never really be that way again after what has happened to him. Manon’s mostly just doing her thing in this book, being angst-y and unforgiving, but she finally grew a backbone towards the end upon learning the truth about Asterin and I am so ready for her to kick some ass in Empire of Storms. Elide is an interesting character, but I find her kind of boring. Elide is to Queen of Shadows what Manon was to Heir of Fire. She’s the newest character being introduced to us, but she doesn’t serve a whole lot of purpose to the plot at this point and is mostly just there for character development. Lysandra is new to the series in this book too, but she carries plot and development – she’s easy to love quickly, whereas with Elide and Manon, it takes longer to really care about them when they are first introduced (or at least that’s how it was for me).

What didn’t I like about this book? Aedion, Rowan, and Aelin’s weird little love/power triangle. I hate how Maas talks about fae dominance and power struggle. I don’t like how Rowan and Aedion were always competing with one another over Aelin and who treated her better, should be her protector, take the blood oath, yadda yadda yadda. She can take care of herself and make her own freaking decisions! She’s been looking out for herself for like 8 years before either of these sods came along, so give it a break already. I also hated how they would constantly refer to her as ‘the queen’ and treat her like a god. She is a human being and Rowan and Aedion are the backbone of her court. If anyone should treat her like a normal person, they should. She doesn’t need groveling and deference from them, she needs a friend and someone who will respect her decisions, but call her out on her bullshit.

I have to admit though… Aelin and Rowan’s flirting in this book was kind of sexy. I know all the weird ‘mate’ and ‘claiming’ business is coming up in the next book, but I was kind of into Aelin and Rowan in this book. I just think they’re kind of bad at actually treating each other like equals. Rowan (and Aedion) give Aelin too much license, while at the same time being too controlling about what she does on her own. I’m not really sure what the right balance is, but it’s off in this book, between both Aelin and Aedian and Aelin and Rowan.

But overall, still a great read. I’m pumped to read Empire of Storms and to be honest, slightly terrified of how Maas is going to end it all in Kingdom of Ash. A Court of Wings and Ruin was a bit of a disappointment for me as a series conclusion and I’m nervous about how this series is going to play out as well. But only one way to find out – so it’s on to the next book and then finally the epic conclusion!

Uprooted

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5
Author: Naomi Novik
Genres: Fantasy
Pub date: May 2015 (read Aug. 2018)

This was a hard book to read for me and also a hard book to review. I’ve been putting it off and I must admit I’m already starting to forget the story a little bit.

Novik’s writing is gorgeous in this book and she really knows how to create a sense of atmosphere. I really did feel the danger of the Wood lurking over me throughout the entire time I was reading this book. I thought the story was really original and well written, I just really struggled to get into it. I felt like the plot would finally get moving and then a chapter would change and the plot would get really slow again.

Uprooted has the feel of a traditional fairytale. It starts off with our main character Agnieszka, who grew up in the valley, in the shadow of the ever ominous Wood. Their valley is protected from the Wood by the Dragon (not a literal dragon, but a wizard named the Dragon), who in exchange for his protection, takes one girl to come live in his tower for 10 years, after which the girls is released, but never returns to her village. Everyone expects the dragon to take Kasia, but instead he sets his sights on clumsy Agnieszka. Once she moves to the tower, she discovers she is a witch in her own right and joins forces with the Dragon in trying to fight back to corruption of the Wood.

First off, I loved that the villain of this story is a wood. How brilliant. Not an evil wizard or neighbouring kingdom, but an evil woods, whose trees and creatures literally corrupt those who wander in, forcing them to do evil things. How futile it seems to be fighting against something as deep and dark as the woods, yet the Dragon and Agnieszka are unrelenting in the fight to drive the Wood back. But the Wood’s corruption has spread into the King’s castle as well and they must fight the corruption on two fronts.

I also thought that the character development was good. Agnieszka grows a lot over the course of the novel. At first she is afraid of the Dragon, but as she learns magic and grows to understand her power, she becomes more and more confident. She is driven by her love for the Valley and because she has grown up of the valley, she understands the Wood in a way that the Dragon, who holes himself up in his tower away from the Wood, cannot. She fights for what she believes is right and she isn’t afraid to disagree with the Dragon, or even the Prince.

Overall, the story was clever and it was really well writing, so I did like the book, it just wasn’t a quick read for me. I would still really like to read Spinning Silver, which is Novik’s new book, a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Spinning Silver was actually the reason I was inspired to pick up Uprooted, I’ll just need to make sure I’m in the right mindset before I pick it up.