Return of the King

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: JRR Tolkien
Genres: Fantasy
Pub. date: 1954 (re-read in Oct. 2019)
Series: The Lord of the Rings #3

I re-read the first two books in the series back in June, but I got a little sidetracked over the summer before finally picking of Return of the King this month. I’ve had the goal to re-read Lord of the Rings for several years now and I’m so proud to have finally accomplished it!

The Fellowship of the Ring has pretty much always been my favourite of the 3 movies, but there’s no denying that it’s the weakest of the trilogy in book form. Tolkien spends a lot of time in the Shire in Fellowship and to be honest, it’s pretty boring, But TT and ROTK don’t suffer from that flaw at all! I found them both to be so fast paced and Tolkien has really created the most immersive fantasy world and some of the best heros and anti-heros.

All of the characters have grown so much since they first set out from Rivendell and it was really enjoyable to watch Merry and Pippin come into their characters in this book. Legolas and Gimli’s roles are much smaller in this book, but there was a marked change in Aragorn’s character as he finally lays claim to his birthright. There are also some really wonderful secondary characters in this book. I really liked Theoden. He suffers a little bit of pride in the Two Towers, but he’s incredibly kind and selfless in ROTK Eowyn is also totally badass in this book and it’s so fun to watch her and Merry team up and prove themselves.

Faramir proves himself at the end of TT, but is driven by his need for the approval of his father, which results in some bad decisions. However, you cannot doubt his love for his city and his people. Even Denethor seemed to be a better character in the book then his is portrayed in the movie. He is obviously flawed, but he has been corrupted by the seeing stones and is grieving the loss of his son. Unfortunately, he fails to maintain morale and be loyal to his soldiers and citizens, so it is hard to forgive him his faults.

I talked a lot about Sam in my review of TT and I have to devote some time again to him here because he is really the hero of the series for me. Sam is the most selfless, loyal, and caring character. He never gives a thought to himself and gives his whole being over to the cause of the ring and Mr. Frodo. I don’t want to dismiss Frodo’s role in the story, because he is also a hero, despite his failings. He was served a very hard choice and a heavy burden, and it took everything he had just to carry that burden.

But undeniably, he could never have made it to Mount Doom without Sam. Even when Sam is rejected by Frodo, he never gives up on him. He thinks little of himself, but he is one of the most courageous characters. He is driven only by love for the shire and Frodo and he is propelled by hope. Frodo has no room for hope, so Sam takes on that burden too – constantly pushing the two hobbits forward by his belief in a better world. The chapter where they are climbing the slopes of Mount Doom was one of my favourite chapters and I was totally inspired by Tolkien’s writing of these two characters and their ability to just keep pressing on despite all the odds stacked against them.

If I have one complaint about this book though, it’s that the climax is followed by 100 pages of “what happened after”. It’s not surprising because Tolkien is an indulgent writer, but it’s a little hard to power through for so long once the ring has been destroyed. Although, it is a story of epic proportions and in some ways it does feel fitting to give it all this closure.

The Scouring of the Shire is definitely Tolkien’s indulgence at its best. The whole chapter seems entirely unnecessary, but I have to admit I did still kind of love it. It seems more appropriate as a short story, but it was fun to watch the hobbits flexing their muscles around the shire to purge it of all the “ruffians” and “sharkey”. Plus it wasn’t totally without virtue and serves to highlight how all of the hobbits have grown and been changed by their experiences. Most poignant to me was Frodo’s total aversion to violence. I would argue that Frodo actually saw the least violence throughout his quest, but he is the most impacted by it. He wants to save the shire, but he is adverse to partaking in any more death.

But overall, this is a totally epic conclusion to a classic fantasy series. There’s a reason people respond so much to Lord of the Rings. Tolkien lived in this world and explored every part of it, so it’s existence feels so complete. It’s a classic story of good versus evil, but it is filled with flawed and inspirational characters. Now I can’t wait to go re-watch the entire movie trilogy to complete this experience!

The Lost Queen

Rating: 
Author: Signe Pike
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: Sept. 2018 (read Sept. 2018)

Thanks to Touchstone for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My blog has been pretty silent over the past week. I’ve been on vacation, so you’ll have to forgive me for my continued absence next week. As a result I haven’t been doing that much reading, but I did finish The Lost Queen, which I received back in August from Touchstone and have finally found time to read.

The Lost Queen is the first book in a trilogy set in 6th century Scotland. It’s recommended for fans of Outlander (which I love) and Philippa Gregory books (which I’ve been meaning to try). It features Langoreth, one of Scotland’s former queens, who has mostly been lost to history. Langoreth was the twin sister of the man who inspired the well known character, Merlin, and had a huge impact on Scotland herself. Signe Pike delves into the histories of both Langoreth and her brother, Lailoken, starting with their childhood and formative coming of age years.

I have mixed feelings about the book. The authors note at the end was fascinating – I love historical novels that explore the history of lesser known figures, especially women because women’s history is rarely recorded and often lost. But I struggled to stay engaged in the book. I’ve had this problem with several books this year (Naomi Novik’s, Uprooted, and Madeline Miller’s, Circe, come to mind), reflecting on the book, I generally enjoyed it and learned a lot, but it wasn’t that enjoyable a reading experience.

I did find this book a bit better than previous books in that I got pretty into it in the last 30 percent and I am interested to see what happens to these characters. We’re told in the book summary that both Langoreth and Lailoken led remarkable lives, but we don’t discover in this book what made their lives so remarkable. This might be why the book read a little slower and may have lended itself better to a single volume instead of a trilogy. It was pretty slow moving and served mainly to introduce us to the characters and the setting. I think it has the potential to get much better in subsequent books.

However, the setting was pretty great. I can say for sure that I’ve never read a book set in 6th century Scotland. I’m not sure I’ve even ever read a book set in the 6th century. I haven’t read a lot of old, old history, so I found this fascinating in that the history is so ancient that England and Scotland don’t remotely resemble the countries they are today. This was a time when Christianity was starting to spread. Scotland had always practiced the “old ways”, but in an effort to gain support from powerful Rome, Christianity comes to the country, creating tension between this new religion and the old ways. It’s incredibly frustrating to read about the injustices committed in this book in the name of Christianity, but still relatable to today.

I also appreciated the familial relationships. So often in this time period, women were seen as little more than property. But I liked how both her father and brother respected and treated Langoreth. Everyone was forced to acknowledge that despite their wishes that things could be different, Langoreth would need to wed to form political alliances for their kingdom. Both the King and Lailoken see value and strengths in Langoreth outside of being a wife, but they also acknowledge that in their time and age, marrying is one of her greatest strengths as well.

Like I said, I struggled with the book in the first half, but ultimately I am interested to see what happens to Langoreth in the next 2 books and to discover what makes her such a remarkable woman. I think this book could have been shorter and I’m hoping for more action in the next book, but I really liked learning about the spread of Christianity and the tension it created in it’s condemnation of the old ways.

Allied

Rating: 
Author: Amy Tintera
Series: Ruined (Book 3)
Genres: Fantasy
Pub Date: May 2018 (read May 2018)

I’m between 3 and 4 stars on this book, but after writing this review I’ve settled on 3 stars. Allied is the final book in the Ruined Trilogy. I won’t give a whole lot of a plot synopsis because I don’t want to spoil the first two books, but if you haven’t read the first 2 you should probably skip this post. I’ll keep this review spoiler free for Allied though if you have read the first 2.

I was pretty much trash for the first book in this series. I didn’t expect to love Ruined, but it was so fun and fast-paced that I just got totally pulled into the world. I loved Cas and Em in the first books and Olivia is straight up crazy and I was just totally flabbergasted by her character in the first 2 books. I didn’t love Avenged as much as Ruined and while I liked Allied and was excited to return to these characters, it’s not quite the series finale I was hoping for.

Let’s start with what I liked. This was still super fast-paced and enthralling. We get perspectives from a larger cast of characters and I enjoyed the addition of Gallo and Mateo to the story. What I liked so much about Ruined was that it’s not a traditional good vs. evil narrative and the idea is that there’s not really a right and wrong side. Both parties have made mistakes and harmed other people and at some point you have to start working at forgiveness and reparations instead of continually chasing after revenge and violence. I really liked Cas in this novel and I thought that his character had some really great insights.

I loved when he was reflecting on how easy and good things used to be for him, but how he had to acknowledge that while things were good then for him, they were not good for Em, and so you can’t romanticize the past because the past is painful for some people. I thought this was so relevant to America (and Canada too!) and Trump’s whole “Make America Great Again” approach to politics. Sure, America was great for rural white folks 30 years ago, but that success was also built on racism and oppression and you can’t romanticize it just because things were good for you.

I also liked that Cas and Em arrived at a point where they were able to talk about their families again. Even though their parents both did bad things, they were still loving parents in their own ways and I loved that they were able to look fondly on the memories that were positive, while acknowledging that their parents still did bad and inexcusable things.

There are things I didn’t like that much about this novel though. While it was still a fast-paced book overall, I thought the pacing was a little off in the middle. We go from battle to battle and then all of a sudden there are all these political negotiations in the middle. I thought it was super cool that Tintera basically disbanded a monarchy in favour of democratic government in this book, but I thought the location within the plot was so odd. She ramps up the reader with all these battles and escape scenes and then suddenly there’s just all this boring negotiation. It brought the plot down a little and I thought it was overdone and a bit unneccesary.

I was also a little over the romance in this novel. I’m sorry, but Cas and Em have pretty much already decided to be together before this novel and the chemistry just wasn’t really there anymore. I don’t want to be super critical because I still liked reading about them and having just read A Court of Frost & Starlight (which was way worse and a lesson in how to totally kill a romance dead), this wasn’t actually that bad. I do think the author tried to re-focus the romantic emphasis on several other characters, but they just didn’t work that well for me either. I really liked Aren and Iria, but they both just fell a little flat for me in this novel. Aren just doesn’t make mistakes anymore apparently and Iria wasn’t as moving for me in this book.

My biggest criticism is just that I didn’t think this book was clever. Characters always find themselves in these crazy situations that you have no idea how they’re going to get themselves out of and then the author writes this crazy sequence to resolve things, but that didn’t really happen in Allied. I was waiting for this epic showdown with Olivia and her cronies and things just kind of fizzle out. I feel like Tintera wrote herself into a situation that she couldn’t elegantly write herself out of and the action towards the end of the novel felt forced. I had also anticipated some plot twists and surprises from some of the secondary characters that just never materialized and left me feeling disappointed that the plot was so simple. I kept waiting for more.

Anyway, I did really like this series overall. I liked the writing and the fast-paced nature of the story. Was it perfect? no, but I did get a lot of enjoyment out of reading this series and I totally flew through each of the books.

Sleeping Giants/Waking Gods

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Genres: Science-Fiction
Read: Nov. 2017

 

I read Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods back-to-back and they are quite unlike anything I’ve read before – granted, I don’t read very much sci-fi. I saw these two popping up on my newsfeed throughout the year, but the synopsis sounded so weird I immediately passed over them. But I decided to give them a try when I saw them nominated in the Goodreads Choice Awards.

I can’t remember if the time period in which the books take place is ever stated, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume they occur around modern day. The story starts when young Rose Franklin falls off her bike in the middle of the woods and finds herself in the palm of a giant metal hand at the bottom of a glowing hole. Fast-forward to the future and Rose is now a doctor of physics and is recruited to solve the mystery of the hand she fell into as a child.

It turns out the hand is just one piece of a giant robot that predates technology by ~6000 years. Sleeping Giants raises some really interesting questions about extraterrestrials and how small it makes you feel to think there may be other lifeforms far more advanced than you, that have presumably visited your planet in the past and could theoretically return at any time. Especially when that species in the owner of a 200-foot tall killer robot and could conceivably destroy your entire planet if they so desired. I think humans are pretty proud of our intelligence, so it is a humbling thought to think of what it would be like to suddenly realize that you’re not only not alone in the universe, but that you are not the most intelligent life form in the universe either.

I rated both books 3 stars, but I think I liked Sleeping Giants a bit better. The plot felt like it had a bit more direction, whereas in Waking Gods, I really had no clue wtf was happening or where the story was going.

I didn’t think I was going to like the format of the series, which is told entirely through a bunch of interviews, news articles, and journal entries known as the Themis Files, but actually the format really worked for me. Most of the interviews are conducted by a nameless agent who has put together a team of scientists and military personnel to scour the globe for all the robot pieces, study them, and learn how they work. I really liked the team, particularly Kara and Vincent, and I liked that the story spent a lot of time on their personal relationships as well.

Waking Gods opens with the appearance of an unknown robot in the middle of central London. The team has learned a little bit about how to pilot Themis (the name of their robot), but still know very little about where she came from. Waking Gods looks at some really interesting moral issues as well and is a fast-paced apocalyptic novel about a robot invasion, but I found it slightly less compelling than Sleeping Giants. They were both quite good, but I’ve reached the point now where I really need some answers! We did get some insight into the aliens motivation towards the end of the book, but I need to know more!! I think that is part of the genius of the series though. In the scenario of a hostile robot invasion, you probably wouldn’t get a lot of answers and the speculation is what makes the story so compelling.

It really is a hard-to-put down series and I would recommend for sci-fi fans. I’m just not really the biggest sci-fi fan and I preferred some of the other sci-fi books I read this year over the Themis Files. Notably I loved Dark Matter, which is extremely compelling and science-y and Marie Lu’s Warcross, which is arguably a much lighter version of science fiction.

A Conjuring of Light


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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