Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Red Sister – Mark Lawrence Review

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Rating: DNF at 30%

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was so conflicted about this post, but remembering my previous post on not forcing myself to read books I’m not enjoying (Giving Up On Books) I knew that I had to be honest. DNF reviews are tough, but I think they’re just as valid as other reviews. I haven’t given a rating for Red Sister a rating specifically because I didn’t finish it, but even so, here are some brief thoughts on why Red Sister didn’t work for me.

I was really looking forward to Red Sister. For one, I judge books by their covers, and the cover of this book felt inspiring. I wanted to know the story of the girl on the cover. Further, the convent of the setting really excited me, with the promise of lots of women living in close quarters, and together with them fantasy world and the fact that the nuns in the convent are not normal nuns, but murderous nuns, I could not wait.

Unfortunately, these various aspects just didn’t slot in properly for me and Red Sister fell flat from pretty much the first chapter (I’ll excuse the prologue from this, because with an opening sentence of “It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent, Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men” it was definitely not boring. It’s a shame that the rest of the book didn’t feel this inspiring. The first third follows a young girl Nona as she is rescued from being executed for murder by a nun, Abbess Glass, and taken to the Sweet Mercy Convent. At the point of DNF-ing, Nona had been at the convent for only one day, but it felt like I had been reading for months. We went to various classes with Nona, heard her telling other girls her life story various times, meeting other girls, but it all blurred together into something vague and foggy that I couldn’t figure out. As I was reading these scenes, I kept finding myself wondering what the point of them were. Was there a meaning to the conversation? Why is this character important? But as various scenes came and went without any apparent plot, I just lost interest.

I could have kept going with the weak plot if the characters had grasped my attention, but they also fell flat in my opinion. Nona was interesting in terms of her story, and there were moments where my interest was piqued, such as a moment where she challenges a nun in a lesson, but generally she just felt like an empty space and didn’t bring much to the scene. To be honest, there were complete passages where I was completely unaware of what Nona was doing, what she was thinking, or even that she was there – which is surely not what is supposed to happen with the protagonist. The other characters, the nuns and the other novices were bland and one-dimensional, and they all felt like the initial ideas behind really good characters, but they just didn’t feel alive on the page.

This book had so much potential and I wish that I could have enjoyed it. I wanted the magic, the characters, and the setting to come to life, I wanted to be excited about nuns trained in the martial arts, but it just did not happen. The writing was not bad, rather, sometimes it was beautiful, but the story just felt dull on the page. I couldn’t make myself care about the characters or their story. Perhaps if I kept going, I would have found something to enjoy, but in my opinion, I had simply read enough of the book without encountering what it was I was looking for.

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Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

A Court of Wings and Ruin – Sarah J. Maas Review

 

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Rating: ★

It’s very apt that this post follows my last post on learning to give up on books, because the A Court of Thorns and Roses series is a series that I have stuck through despite not actually enjoying any of the books that much. ACOWAR is the third book in the ACOTAR series – and what I also thought was the final book before I realised that a further four had been added (why?). It suffered many of the same problems that I found with the previous two, mainly being that it just fell completely flat, and was hard to follow.

This post will probably become a structure-less rant, and will also probably be quite spoiler-y, so be warned if you want to keep completely spoiler-free!

I was initially intrigued by this book because of where the second book ended. Feyre was going to rejoin Tamlin’s household at the Spring Court, pretending that Rhysand had manipulated her mind to make her stay with him, and become a sort of spy with him. Apart from a few moments, one including Ianthe and a truly great little exchange with Lucien, she was the most boring spy in the history of spies. I was expecting lots of intrigue and tension, but for most of this part of the book, Feyre was just pretending to be the ‘old’ Feyre whilst being mentally furious. I find this sort of behaviour boring, and this part definitely did not need to drag on for as long as it did. However, the one positive of this was Lucien, who I genuinely have missed.

Much like the first section, the rest of the book was unsurprisingly boring. There were long periods where nothing much happened except for character talking about Hybern and the wall and other courts, only for one big thing to happen, and then another hundred pages of nothing. I understand that there is a lot of discussion and plotting that takes place in war, but I just don’t think that Sarah J Maas captures the suspense and intrigue that these passages should have. In my my opinion, I found these passages boring for a few reasons. The first is that Prythian as a world does not feel like it has been very well-crafted, and the only way I can explain what I feel about the world-building in this series is that it is disharmonious. The second is that the overall tone of the book felt a bit too all over the place, and just like the world, the characters feel random and disunited. Basically, it was all just a bit too messy to get into.

In terms of the world-building, I didn’t understand the reasoning behind the war, who the different forces in the war were and why they were acting the way they were, and how the magic worked. The King of Hybern, the big bad villain threatening the whole world, has almost no real reason for his actions. All that we are told is that he has brainwashed his people to hate the wall, but not even this made sense to me because Hybern is an island. Does the wall only extend across Prythian, or the entire world? Why does he care about the wall, if his island is miles away from it? Second, there are just so many courts in this book, and they aren’t explored enough for me to remember them all. Maas introduces us to one High Lord on one page, his lovers and guards, and the next page to another High Lord, his lovers and guards, then another, and another, and another – or is this the same one from before? This isn’t even restrained to the other courts. Honestly, I can barely tell some of the main characters apart. Mor and Amren? Honestly, half the time I just guessed which one was which. What exactly does Azriel do with his shadows? Who is in love with who again? Eventually, as with the previous two ACOTAR books, I just gave up and started skim-reading.

Finally, the magic. There was a huge, glaring plot twist that I cannot believe nobody noticed and cannot believe nobody in the entire writing and editing and publishing process decided to fix that it has made me genuinely mAD. When Feyre is brought back to life by the other High Lords at the end of ACOTAR, she takes some of each High Lord’s magical skills. Now, why did the same thing not happen to Rhys? This was one of the only points that really grasped my attention. I was buzzing to see what Maas would do with this. The morbid-Morticia-Addams part of me was eager for him to stay dead, but of course, Maas rarely lets her beloved characters die, so I just wanted to know how he would be saved. I could have actually lived with the repetition of the same technique to save his life, but for him not to take their powers? And for this not to be addressed? Consider me disappointed.

Finally, the tone of this book just cements it as a hot mess in my opinion. This is a book about war. The entire world is being threatened by the mysterious evil baddie Hybern. Everyone could die. They are all terrified. Or at least, that’s the vibe I was getting until Rhys and Feyre keep sh*gging every other chapter. Have these two ever heard of a time and place? Is a war camp, just after a huge battle, when there are people dying, really an appropriate time? You know, I can accept that maybe some people have no qualms about this sort of thing – actually, no I can’t. This is unrealistic. It’s like having sex in a morgue. Or a hospital. Or a cemetery. No. No. Just no. Not to mention Maas’s sex scenes just became painful to read. Does Maas have a problem with ‘normal’, sensual, sweet love scenes? Does she have a problem against characters simply cuddling? Does she really think that talking to your lover about licking blood and dirt off their body is romantic? Am I really supposed to enjoy reading about faeries getting off by stroking each other’s wings? Honestly? Did anyone actually enjoy these scenes? Cannot. Relate.

I cannot believe I actually made it through this book, because to be honest, most of it was like trudging through waist-deep mud. I had initially kept reading these books because I thought that it would pick up and become more fun as it went on. After all, the author who wrote Throne of Glass could not write an entire series this boring? Well, it appears I have been proved wrong. I know that a further four books have been announced in this series, but I think that if you have read this review to the end you can probably guess for yourselves that it would take a lot for me to continue reading. Frankly, at the moment, I’m packing up my ACOTAR books to take to the nearest charity shop.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Seraphina – Rachel Hartman Review

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Rating: ★★★

I love fantasy, but it can be difficult to find original twists on old ideas. This is a perfect example of that. Rachel Hartman’s novel takes dragons and makes them into something new and fresh, and crafts a world full of complexities, nooks and crannies. I loved reading Seraphina, and while I think that the plot could have been tightened up in parts, I really enjoyed it.

Seraphina is the newly hired assistant music mistress at the Goreddi palace, but she has arrived at a period of turmoil. Prince Rufus has just been violently murdered, and it appears that a dragon is to blame. Tensions rise between the humans and dragons, who have lived side by side in Goredd since a peace treaty between the two sides was signed forty years previously. In the novel, Seraphina gets drawn into helping Prince Lucian to investigate the murder, and balances this not only with court politics and her duties as the music mistress, but also with keeping a dark secret that could get her killed.

My favourite thing about this novel was Hartman’s world-building. I was sucked into this world where humans and dragons live side by side, and loved learning about all of the different facets of the society. I was intrigued by how dragons took on a human form, the rules that they lived by, and all of the more subtle details that Hartman included, like how a dragon in human form still had a particular smell, how dragons take care of their scales, how dragons are by nature logical and cold, and have to keep their emotions in check so as to not become too ‘human’. There is so much to unpick and love in this novel without even discussing the plot, and I am a sucker for a well-crafted fantasy world.

Although I did have some issues with the plot, I still found the story to be intriguing enough to keep me entertained. The plot was exciting and I loved how the different aspects and characters featured in the book all linked together like pieces of a puzzle. My main issue was that I found it difficult to care all that much about Prince Rufus, and I kept forgetting that he was at the heart of the investigation. I think I would have preferred it if we had at least seen a glimpse of him at the start of the novel to get a feel for his character, rather than jump right into a world that is grieving for him. Also, while I was excited when I found out Seraphina’s secret, I resented her ‘powers’ a bit for seeming a bit too useful, in a sense, and didn’t understand why they existed. I also found the ‘resolution’ to her secret being revealed to feel a little rushed.

Unfortunately, I felt like some of the weaker aspects of the plot reflected less than well on the characters. For example, Seraphina as a character was great to begin with. She was smart and ‘prickly’, and I admired reading about a YA female fantasy protagonist with a hard-earned and well-respected job. I liked her curiosity, her loyalty and her complicated feelings towards Orma and dragons. However, she seemed to fall in love with Lucian from one page to the next and with no warning apart from the fact that it was somewhat expected considering that he is a prince that kept popping up in her path. Although Lucian and Seraphina do spend time together and seem to get on, I wasn’t getting any romantic vibes, sexual tension, or flirtation going on between them, and the sudden declaration of love from Seraphina felt forced by the author, and in my opinion, makes her look a bit flighty.

Overall however, the world-building was enough to keep me hooked in this book. I wanted to know if the peace would survive, I wanted to know whose side the dragons were on, I wanted to know which dragons I could trust and who was secretly a dragon in disguise. This saved the novel from some of the less perfect aspects, and redeemed it in my eyes. Whilst I will definitely be putting the sequel to Seraphina, Shadow Scale, on my to-read list, I won’t be pushing it straight to the top of the list.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

American Gods – Neil Gaiman Review

 

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I said in a T5W post a few weeks ago that I was desperate to read more of Neil Gaiman’s work, and with the release of the television adaptation of this book, American Gods seemed like a good place to start. I was so excited to read this, and I was well rewarded for making it through the 600+ pages with a winding tale of mythology, fantasy, magic, murder, and American road trips.

At the start of the novel, Shadow is awaiting release from prison so that he can return home to his beloved wife Laura, however, days before his release, he is told that his wife has died suddenly and allowed to return home early. On the journey home, he meets the mysterious and charismatic Wednesday who offers him a lucrative job for him, and having no other options, Shadow agrees. This leads him on a journey with Wednesday that takes him to intriguing locations in small town America, and also introduces him to a vast array of gods, old and new gods, loved and forgotten gods, gods that he had never heard of.

It was impossible to not be drawn into the cast of this novel. There are so many interesting gods in this novel that I had mostly never heard of. While I had heard of big names like Odin and Loki, Mr Jaquel who was the Egyptian god Anubis, and Eostre, the goddess of Easter, I hadn’t heard of others like the Zorya sisters, Czernobog and the characters of Mad Sweeney and Whiskey Jack. What I loved was that the characters are often initially introduced as ordinary characters, and then we piece together what gods they actually are. I also really enjoyed the new gods, such as the technology kid and Media. The concept of gods dying if they are forgotten was interesting to read not only as a plot point but also as a sort of commentary of modern society, and it makes you think about what makes certain deities and beliefs fade away and what makes certain aspects of our modern lives like television and freeways take their place.

Second, I absolutely loved how this book crosses so many genres. There was fantasy, mystery, adventure, love, history, and my personal favourite, the murder mystery that takes place in the town of Lakeside. I always looked forward to the ‘Coming to America’ chapters, which take the form of individual short stories describing how certain gods were brought to America by all sorts of figures, from travelling tribes, to prisoners who were transported to America, to slaves and modern immigrants. Neil Gaiman did a really good job of developing these characters well so that you felt a connection to them even in a short time. My favourite was probably that of Salim and the jinn, but all of these stories are emotional and tell stories of people from all over the world throughout history.

I didn’t know how long this novel was, and at times it did feel quite dense, but it always paid off in the end. I think I am getting out of the habit of reading longer novels, but American Gods was overall a lot of fun with lots of plot twist that I didn’t see coming – maybe I am slow, maybe they were obvious to other people, but they definitely shocked me! I am definitely looking forward to continuing my journey of reading as much of Neil Gaiman’s work as I can get my hands on.

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Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

If you check out my review of Maria Turtschaninoff Maresi, the first book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, you’ll know how much I loved it. I had to read the second instalment in the series, and it was both more of what I wanted and something new and exciting. Maria’s writing is exquisite, and I love how she weaves her stories slowly and subtly, and the story in this book was so different to Maresi that it still felt new.

First of all, although this is the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel to Maresi and not a sequel. It tells the story of the first women who founded the Red Abbey, the women-only society on the island of Menos that Maresi is set in. The majority of the story takes place in the palace of Ohaddin and starts with Kabira. She visits the Sovereign’s palace and meets Iskan, the son of the Vizier who sweeps her off her feet. Iskan is intrigued and obsessed by the mysterious source of magical power in Kabira’s lands, the spirit of Anji, and tricks Kabira into marrying him for control over it. Over the years, we see Kabira as well as Iskan’s subsequent wives, concubines, and slaves, as they suffer mercilessly under his rule, until they finally decide to escape. There is a reason why the Red Abbey Chronicles are being hailed as ‘feminist fantasy’, and that is because these novels focus on women – their strengths, their dreams, their fears, and their stories.

The novel is told through many different perspectives and these various stories take us to many different locations in Maria’s world. Sometimes I am apprehensive when authors do multiple perspectives as it can often feel confusing and the characters can feel superficial, but Maria Turtschaninoff does not fall into this trap. I have absolutely loved the way that she writes since I first opened Maresi, particularly in that her novel’s form is that of written accounts by the characters, looking back on their experiences. This novel consists of the written account of the women once they have arrives on Menos, and it is easy to believe that these are real women remembering their lives. You really get a feel for them as human beings through this structure, and this way of telling the story means that the story builds up over time, just as the characters become clearer and more distinct to you as the novel goes on. I also love how this format means you get a really good idea of the characters’ personal journeys over time. For example, when the novel begins, Kabira is a teenager, and we see her age until she is an old woman, and we see her not only through her own eyes, but through those of the other women as well, so we get a really well fleshed out image of her.

I’m constantly amazed by how Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing seems so effortless. I’m sure that endless hours go into crafting her work to make it so perfect, but as a reader, I felt like every choice of word was perfect, and even though the words are simple, there were many passages that blew me away. She also expertly manages to craft a unique magical world whilst not making it feel overcomplicated or confusing using the different characters to teach us this. Instead of having a huge info-dump, we learn through each of the characters’ different skills. Kabira has grown up with Anji, Garai has grown up with a close affinity to the land, Orseola is a dreamweaver (one of my favourite stories), and Sulani is a warrior woman. They each bring their own knowledge, talents and skills to the story and to the team, so that by the end of the novel, we see women who don’t even all like each other that much form a strong community together.

I honestly feel like I could talk forever about how much I love Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. I enjoyed Naondel not only for the self-contained story within its pages but also because it adds another wonderful layer to the story that we see in Maresi. Learning about the origins of the Red Abbey and the way of life that Maresi lives was interesting and exciting. As I said with Maresi, I think a wide range of people could love this series. It has something for everyone, whether you are new to the fantasy genre or you have loved it for years as I have, whether you read adult or YA, whether you don’t read a lot at all. There is something in the Red Abbey Chronicles for everyone.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

The Mechanical Bird: A Tale of Two Ladies – Glenn Song Review

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Rating: ★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was excited to read this for various reasons: it’s steampunk, includes two women grasping at the opportunity to attend university, and it’s the first book in a series. I was intrigued by the short length of this book and at just over 100 pages I was looking for a novella, but in fact, A Tale of Two Ladies felt more like the opening of a full-length novel than a story in itself, which is the reason for the low rating in this case.

Alicia and Elena are from very different worlds. Alicia is a country farm girl who has dreamed of flying since childhood. Elena is a noblewoman who loved mathematics but is being pushed into marriage by her traditional mother. When the kingdom goes to war, the university in the capital city of Aeterall opens its doors to women for the first time, and these two women both jump at the chance to chase their dreams. This story follows their journey to becoming students at the university, from filling in their applications to meeting briefly at the university’s entrance tests and interviews. I understand from the description that this is a serial, but personally, for me, there was not enough of a story arc in this book. I think that the first part of a series in particular should always have a self-contained story to it as well as being the beginning to an overarching story so that people can enjoy the book in and of itself, but this was just an opening to a larger story.

Apart from the flaws with the plot in this book, I really liked other aspects of this story, and definitely think that if it had been the opening to a full-length novel I would have kept reading. I was getting strong Anne of Green Gables vibes from Alicia’s character, who loves her family and seems to live partly in her dreams of flying. I also enjoyed Elena’s rebellious streak and her resistance to her mother’s choice of husband – there was also a moment with a biscuit that made me laugh out loud. The story in general, with two women from different walks of life meeting and clashing at university, also reminded me of Wicked, which I enjoyed. I liked how the two women clashed somewhat, but there was still a hint at a future relationship. However, I did have some issues with the character development, especially for Elena. She seemed smart and funny in the first half of the novel, but at the university she was suddenly socially awkward and incapable of verbal communication, which felt odd. I would have liked some more consistency here.

I definitely feel like Glenn Song has all of the ingredients for something really fun and exciting – the world-building was good, the steampunk concept was intriguing, and the characters are easy to get behind in their respective goals. With some tweaking, I think that this could be a great opening to a really interesting novel, but on its own, The Mechanical Bird: A Tale of Two Ladies just doesn’t stand up all that well.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Maresi – Maria Turtschaninoff Review

 

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Rating: ★★★★★

This book is quite unlike anything I’ve read before. Everything felt different, from the setting, to the calm and soothing narrative voice of Maresi telling the story from her memory. I couldn’t recommend this more, whether you typically enjoy fantasy or not, this novel is so unique and wonderful that I wanted to disappear inside of it.

Maresi came to the Red Abbey when she was thirteen after a harsh winter. Since then, she has settled into the women-only community and can’t imagine leaving the sanctuary of their island again. Life at the Red Abbey, with its routine, safety, and knowledge is all that she wants. Jai’s arrival, after fleeing a violent home, only reaffirms Maresi’s view that life with the Red Abbey is the best option. However, Jai’s past has come back to haunt her, and the island is no longer safe from intruders. The women must fight to protect each other and her way of life, and Maresi must find the strength within her to face up to her destiny.

My absolute favourite thing about this book is the writing style. Maresi is the narrator, and she is writing down the events of the story so that they can be kept in the Red Abbey’s library for future reference. I really loved the tone of her writing, it felt very calm and assured, but you could also sense the emotion running beneath her retelling. You get a feeling that as Maresi is telling you the story, she herself is dealing with the events themselves. There is also a lot of foreboding because of this, because you know that something so big and important has happened to Maresi that she is being asked to write about it, you know that Jai is at its centre, and that this has made Maresi change her view on life, but you don’t know what it is for a while. This means you’re eagerly waiting for the action to begin.

This book starts off quite slow and descriptive. You learn quite a bit about the way of life at the Red Abbey as Maresi guides the newcomer Jai through her first few months on the island. We learn about their traditions and their routines, and also about Maresi and Jai’s lives before they arrived at the Abbey. I can’t really describe how the writing style in Maresi made me feel apart from comfortable. Turtschaninoff has a great way of making everything feel magical and wonderful but also cosy and homelike, so that I jut wanted to jump onto a ship and visit this amazing island. When the action does begin to pick up, the magical atmosphere of the island really comes to life. By the end, I was amazed at the depth and reality with which this entire culture and community was brought to life.

Overall, I absolutely adored this book. The writing style really made the characters and the location feel real, and I was really impressed at how there was such a good balance between a calm and quite reserved set of characters and daring action. It was nice to read about women who don’t have to be bold warriors wielding weapons to win, and about women working together. I was completely enchanted by this book, so look out for my review of the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles: Naondel in the future!

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Traitor to the Throne – Alwyn Hamilton Review

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Taken from @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating:★★★★★

Why did I put this book off for so long? Was it the 500+ pages? Was it the possibility of Sagging Middle Syndrome? Did I just want to avoid having to wait so long for the next book? Probably a mix of the three. Whatever it was, I am so glad that I finally got around to reading Traitor to the Throne. I loved the first book (read my review here), and this one continued with the exciting plot and characters, and sets up the series for an explosive ending that I am already buzzing to read.

This book picks up some time after Rebel of the Sands. Amani has been with Prince Ahmed’s rebellion for a while now, but near the start of the book she is captured and taken to the Sultan’s palace where she is kept as a prisoner in his harem, bound to the Sultan who wants to use her Demji powers for himself. Amani decides to use her position to her advantage and begins spying on the Sultan, trying to learn as much as she can for the Rebellion, but this is a treacherous game. If it is discovered that she is a rebel, the punishment would be severe, not only for her but for her friends, and the Sultan knows exactly how to manipulate her.

The new setting means that the story takes a completely different tone. While Rebel of the Sands felt to me a bit like playing Temple Run – running and jumping and fighting at 100 mph – Traitor to the Throne is a much more slow burn story. It is politics and scheming and power plays. It is backstabbing and turncoats and disguises. Who is Amani’s ally and who is her enemy? We’re never quite sure. We see a different side to Amani in this novel because we get to see her planning her moves and making her own way. She no longer has a team of rebels at her side – she doesn’t even have Jin, and to make matters worse, the Sultan knows exactly how to control a Demji. With pieces of iron under her skin, Amani is cut off from her magic, and she can do nothing but obey all of the Sultan’s orders. She is bound to the very man who she is fighting to overthrow, and a slip of the tongue could reveal everything. While I found the first few chapters difficult to get into, once I remembered who all of the characters were and got used to the slight time jump between Rebel and Traitor, I got used to the harem setting and loved it.

I also loved all of the new characters that we got to meet in the harem. The characters in the rebellion are all very bold and bright, with magical powers and/or strong personalities that clash and make themselves known. In the harem, everything is more subtle, and I loved this shift. In Rebel, it was easy for Amani to know who she could be herself around, but in the harem she doesn’t have that luxury. I loved the atmosphere of the harem as this sort of miniature realm ruled by the politics of the Sultim’s wives. I also loved the Sultan’s character and found him a lot of fun. I’m glad that he wasn’t obviously evil, and even Amani begins to question her alliance. She spends time with him and listens to the reasons behind his decisions, his motivations and goals, and begins to doubt whether Ahmed, for all his good intentions, can really be a ruler. I always enjoy seeing this sort of moral ambiguity and find it so much more interesting than a villain who shows no humanity. I also loved the changes we see in Amani over the course of this novel. She begins to make her own decisions, plotting her own moves, and stepping up to take the lead when it seems like the rebellion may crumble. I actually felt a surge of pride at  her becoming a leader in her own right, and I can’t wait to see what other changes we see in her in the final instalment of the trilogy.

Traitor to the Throne isn’t just an interesting setting though, there was a great plot as well. As I said, this novel’s plot is a lot more slow burn than the first, and for much of the novel, you are just getting bits and pieces of information without really knowing where it’s going, but Hamilton’s writing, the setting and characters mean that you don’t get bored or feel lost. There is a real sense of mystery and suspense, and you know that something is building. When the action finally does kick off towards the end of the novel, it is intense. I loved the clashing of the rebellion with the harem, and the rebellion finally becoming ‘mainstream’ so that it poses a direct threat to the Sultan. Without spoiling the end of the novel, the final chapters of Traitor to the Throne are filled with so much action, plot twists and shocks that I didn’t really know what to do with myself  by the time I finished.

I wasn’t sure quite how I would feel about the change of tone and setting in Traitor to the Throne. I had enjoyed the action of Rebel so much that I wasn’t sure if Amani and the story would feel the same in the more political setting, but there was nothing to fear. I had so much fun reading Traitor to the Throne, and Hamilton has really set up the series for an exciting ending.

 

Book Reviews, Historical, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating:★★★

This book was a bit like when you look at a recipe for a cake and when you read the list of ingredients you think ‘Well, that’s going to be the best cake I’ve ever had’ and then you eat it and it’s just plain, dry, and the icing-to-cake ratio is completely off. This is historical magical realism, with mystery, suspense, a hint of steampunk and romance, but all these aspects just didn’t sit right for me, and although Natasha Pulley’s writing was beautiful, I ended up finding this book confusing, slow, and difficult to finish.

The book starts in 1883, when Thaniel Steepleton, your average civil servant, returns to his tiny flat to find a costly golden pocket watch on his pillow. He tries to sell it, but nobody will take it, and so he appears to be stuck with it. However, he realises that there is something odd about the watch when it saves his life from an explosion that tears through Scotland Yard. He sets about investigating, and meets the Japanese watchmaker Keita Mori, whose creations are whimsical, unlike any clockwork he has ever seen, and who Thaniel suspects is hiding something. Elsewhere, Grace Carrow is battling her family’s expectations of her as she studies physics at Oxford and pursues her dream of making a scientific breakthrough that will help her gain her independence.

One thing that I loved about this book was the setting. Victorian London really comes to life, and Pulley makes you feel like you are there, among the grimy streets, at Whitehall, getting the tube, standing in the rain. At times, the book feels like Sherlockian, with a whimsical element to it that makes everything stand out just a little bit more. I also really enjoyed the Japanese elements that feature throughout the story. Keita Mori is Japanese, but he is far from a token POC character. Through flashbacks, we see his life in Japan, we learn about Japanese history, we see an entire Japanese community in London and a second Japanese character features heavily in Grace Carrow’s storyline. Mori’s shop was another favourite setting. I loved Pulley’s descriptions of all of the different clockwork creations, and despite being told repeatedly that they are just clockwork, you find yourself wondering whether there is something more to it.

There is an element of fantasy, but it isn’t in your face. A better term might be magical realism. There was clearly more to Mori than meets the eye, and I was eager to find out what it was. When we do find out, I was excited to see where the story would go. You do find out the truth, but unfortunately, I felt like all the fun was lost after this point, and the novel went from being magical and mysterious to being a bore. I was confused about how this ‘fantasy’ element worked, and how it fitted in with the characters’ storyline. Although I did get it, I felt like it was far too technical and confusing at times. Much like Mori’s clockwork, there were far too many different elements to understand, and I felt like it dragged the plot down a bit. A more simple explanation could have been better and given the story itself more room to shine.

Apart from these brilliant parts of the book, the simple reality is that this book was boring. It was so slow and I was just reading it without understanding what the characters were looking for, what they were trying to do and how they were hoping to get there. Even though the inciting action of this novel is the explosion at the start and Thaniel’s attempts to find out who was behind it, this fades into the backdrop of this story and when it stepped back into the forefront towards the end I was confused and a bit lost. I had basically forgotten all about it. I think that some storylines made the book too busy, like the scenes set in Japan, which would have worked better woven into the main storyline in my opinion

I’m gutted that this book wasn’t everything I thought it would be. I was really expecting this to blow me away, but it just fell flat in so many ways. I found myself fighting to get through it, and once I did, I wasn’t satisfied at all. I would have liked to have seen more character development for the characters, particularly Grace and Mori, and I might have enjoyed the story more if the plot was clearer throughout the book. I liked that the plot was mainly one of mystery and intrigue and that romance did not play a big part, but unfortunately, the romantic storyline that did feature fell flat in my opinion because the characters and the plot were so difficult to grasp.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy

The Scarecrow Queen – Melinda Salisbury Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

Wow! I can’t believe that this trilogy has already reached its conclusion. The Scarecrow Queen was such a fun read that I powered through, and is a really satisfying conclusion to the series. I feel like this series has been such a journey. After a rocky start with The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I grew to really enjoy this series while reading The Sleeping Prince, and this book was absolutely brilliant! I’m gutted that the trilogy is over, and hoping and praying that Melinda decides to return to these characters soon!

Beware, this is a review for the third and final book in the series so, while there are no spoilers for The Scarecrow Queen, there may be some for the first two books in the series. 

One of my favourite things about this book was that the plot progressed steadily, and unlike some other books that deal with wars and revolutions, we don’t have to deal with huge amounts of information, politics, or military tactics that can be hard to trudge through. Salisbury instead switched perspective from Twylla and Errin, the two narrators of the series so far, and uses time jumps so that you get to read the best parts of each story, and skip the long, drawn-out process of planning a revolution, which, although I do enjoy reading, I was glad to have a bit of a break from. However, this doesn’t mean that the plot was too simple at all, just that it was clear to understand, which makes it all the better. You’re never confused, or distracted from the story because you’ve forgotten what the characters are doing or what they’re planning, and so you’re never bored. There are still plot twists and surprises, mysteries and questions that you’re dying to find out the answer to, but things move quickly, which is refreshing. Apart from this, The Scarecrow Queen offers a genuinely satisfying conclusion to the story, and Melinda Salisbury ties together all the loose ends about the different aspects of the story, and yet the ending leaves me wanting so much more – in a good way! I don’t want to let these characters go, and I really hope that we see more of them.

The book also focused on the characters and their journeys as individuals, which I loved to read. Both Twylla and Errin are in completely different situations than we’ve seen them in before, and I liked that the book didn’t get bogged down with technical details so that we could really see the individual characters’ stories. I have always liked Errin’s character, her determination and resolve, but it’s Twylla who I really loved in this book. Although I didn’t really take to her in The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I couldn’t get enough of her in this book, and now I can see properly the full journey that she has gone through, which makes her even more interesting. In this book, Twylla is leading the fight against Aurek, The Sleeping Prince, so we see her having to do something that she isn’t very used to – leading people and making decisions. I loved that we saw her training to fight, which is miles away from the dainty Daunen Embodied from the first book, but even more than that, I loved that we saw her reaching for what she wants, and it was great to see her go from being indecisive and scared to knowing exactly what she wants. I also really loved the relationship between the main characters and the way that we see them engaging with characters that we haven’t seen before. I particularly enjoyed the relationships between Twylla, Errin, and Merek. For a while, I suspected a cliche love triangle, but Salisbury made it so much more interesting. Each of the characters shares a genuine friendship and camaraderie with each of the others that was so wonderful to see. Romance played a part in the book for several characters, but it wasn’t cliche, and it didn’t overpower the main storyline or the characters’ individual development.

Finally, more than in the previous books, I found Melinda Salisbury’s writing to be a real pleasure to read. I’ve found it to be quite simple at times, which is not a bad thing necessarily, but isn’t always my style. However in this book, I feel like she really managed to evoke atmosphere and emotion through her writing in a way that I hadn’t really felt in the previous two novels. A perfect example is the initial chapters that show us Errin’s imprisonment with Aurek. These were so creepy that they made my skin crawl, and I loved the way that Salisbury didn’t use the character’s names, which made it feel even scarier. There were more descriptions in this book than in the previous books, which I loved, and more in-depth insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings.

Overall, I’m quite surprised that I’ve given this 5 stars. It wasn’t even until I sat down to write this review that I realised that there wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this book, but then, every book in this series has surprised me in some way. I’m so glad that I stuck with this series. I felt like there as so much more to tell about the world and the characters after The Sin Eater’s Daughter, and I was thankfully proved right. This series was so much fun to read, and I definitely recommend it to anybody who is a fan of YA fantasy!