Book Reviews, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Rebel of the Sands – Alwyn Hamilton Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

Rebel of the Sands is Alwyn Hamilton’s debut and the first in a trilogy that I cannot wait to finish. I already have the second book waiting at the top of my reading list, and I’m still riding a high from reading Rebel. If you’re looking for a thrilling, fantasy novel to transport you to a fantastic, original setting, this is definitely the book for you.

Rebel’s protagonist is Amani, a young girl who lives in a dead-end town in Miraji, where magical creatures made of sand roam the desert. She can’t wait to get out of Dustwalk, the town where she has grown up, and the opportunity presents itself when a mysterious foreigner shows up in her shop, on the run from the Sultan’s soldiers. Soon, she’s fleeing Dustwalk on a magical horse with a wanted criminal, but she can’t begin to imagine where her journey will take her.

Amani captures your heart from the beginning of the novel. She jumps right off the page. What I loved about her was that despite growing up in a place where she’s sure to end up either dead or married, neither of which she is particularly excited for, she still manages to be independent and fiercely ambitious. In the very first chapter, we see her sneak out of her home to a shooting competition, where she just about clears the floor with her brilliant shooting skills, and throughout the book, we see her putting herself and her goals first. At the same time, she isn’t a cruel character. She prioritises herself, but Hamilton manages to make her endearing all the same. Even if she is knocking people out and taking their money, you’re still rooting for her. Even better however, is the arc that we see Amani go through. She definitely isn’t the same girl at the end of the novel as she is at the start, and we see her begin to question herself quite early on. Without spoiling it for you, if you’re anything like me, there will be several points during the book where you will be fighting to keep yourself from cheering out loud for Amani.

The world that Alwyn Hamilton creates is one of the most fascinating settings I have ever read. It is so different from anything I had ever read before, and she crafts it perfectly. Hamilton herself describes it as a mixture between an ‘Arabian Nights’ desert, and a Wild West desert, and that is exactly how it comes across. I loved the mix between the historical feel of the setting with the much more modern additions like guns and trains, which made the setting feel unique. The magical creatures were also very original, with djinni, mythical horses (made of sand!), skinwalkers, demdjis… Every aspect of Alwyn Hamilton’s world is unique and fascinating, and I can’t wait to see what she does in the next two books! I hope we get to see more of the different locations in the world, and even more of the magic.

Now, some people might say that certain aspects of this are predictable, and even I might have said it if this book wasn’t so exciting and well-written, but I really don’t care about the predictable love story in Rebel, or other storylines that I won’t reveal. The chemistry between Amani and Jin was so intense that at one point I had to put down the book and take a breather! I loved the to and fro, even if I did know where it was going, and their dialogue was witty and easy to read. Even though it was predictable, I didn’t find it soppy or cheesy, and I hope that Alwyn develops and deepens the relationship in the later books. I’d love to see Jin and Amani not only get through crap situations together, but also face some crap between each other. I’m sure that she’ll make the love story in this series feel new, original, and exciting just like every other aspect of her book is.

Overall, I can’t really explain how much I enjoyed this book. Amani starts off as your typical ‘strong female character’, but throughout the book you see her soften and start to question herself. The central relationship, the world and the magic was all so much fun, and Alwyn Hamilton writes so well that I felt like I was watching an action movie unfold in my mind. I am racing towards the second book Traitor to the Throne like a buraqi in the desert, so look out for my review of that in the next few weeks!

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven Review

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

 

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

“You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.” 

This is the best YA contemporary novel I have read since I read Jandy Nelson’s books last year. Jennifer Niven’s writing is brilliant, and there is a great balance between the endearing relationship that is at the centre of the novel, and the far more weighty issues that it discusses.

all-the-bright-places-jktThe tagline of this book is “the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die” and there isn’t really much more to say without going into spoilers. Violet Markey has just suffered a great loss, and during one of her lowest moments, she meets Theodore Finch, who spends his days assessing different methods of committing suicide. Their story starts when Finch saves  Violet, who was wandered up onto a roof, and is standing on the edge, and from there, the story begins.

Both Violet and Finch were so well written that they felt like real people. I loved reading their conversations, especially Finch, who is so lively and funny. Niven adds another layer to the story in the form of a school project, where Finch and Violet have to explore Indiana and write about the hidden locations that they have found. This means that we get to see them going on a series of adventures, which was a lot nicer than reading about two teenagers falling in love in a ‘normal’ setting like at school.

This book is obviously quite ‘deep’. It deals with very sensitive issues like grief, mental illness and depression, but I feel like Jennifer Niven dealt with these issues very sensitively, but also with sincerity and honesty. She captures the characters and their emotions so well that you really relate to their emotions, which helps you to understand a little of what they are feeling, and you feel captivated by the story, even though a voice in the back of your mind tells you where it’s going to end.

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

The Sin Eater’s Daughter – Melinda Salisbury

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Rating: ★ ★ ★

This book was so passionately recommended to me by a friend that I was dying to read it by the time I picked it up. The concept seemed so intriguing that I was sure it would be great, and although the concept of it was, I found the book as a whole to be a little disappointing.

Twylla lives in the palace, and is engaged to the prince, but that doesn’t mean she’s happy. She is the embodiment of the goddess Daunen, which mean that her touch is fatal and she must serve as the Queen’s executioner. The only people who are immune to her touch, and so not terrified of her, are the royal family themselves, but they barely speak to her, and so she is mostly alone. However, this all changes when Twylla is assigned a new guard – Lief. He treats her like an ordinary girl, talks to her, tells her stories, and jokes around with her, but more importantly, he can touch her. Twylla must figure out how much of what she has been told is truth, and how much is a lie, and what her place in the world is now that everything is being thrown into doubt.

I absolutely loved the idea of a girl who can kill with her touch. I absolutely loved the idea of a girl who isn’t sure whether she really is who people say she is. Everything about this sounded great to begin with, but Twylla just fell flat. Although I understand that her character is that of  a girl who has been raised pretty much in isolation, devoted to her goddess and to tradition, I didn’t feel like there was enough of an insight into Twylla’s mind to make me relate to her. She didn’t do anything because she’s terrified, but I didn’t see her thinking anything of note either. She spends the whole book afraid, while everyone else acts, and I kept waiting and wishing that she would do something to gain my respect, but it just didn’t come. Although I’m not exactly a big fan of stereotypical ‘strong female characters’, Twylla was the complete other extreme. I don’t feel like she deserved the title of heroine based on her actions in this book.

sineatersdaughterMost of this book is quite slow-paced and based around Twylla realising the dark realities of her life in the palace. To be honest, I had no idea where anything was going for most of it, but I didn’t mind because Melinda Salisbury’s writing is easy to read and, while not right up my street, I didn’t mind it. It didn’t linger too long on any one aspect like some writers do, and the book isn’t particularly long, so I didn’t get bored. However, that all changed towards the end of the novel. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that made me do such a drastic switch from being sort of uninterested but reading because I didn’t want to give up to making me stay up late into the night to finish it! The last few chapters moved so quickly, and everything – I mean everything – went to hell. All of the passages from earlier in the novel that I didn’t really know the relevance of suddenly were relevant and fit together like a puzzle. While I would have liked for the drama to have been a bit more evenly spread, it didn’t really ruin the reading experience because it’s quite a short book, but it does mean that if you get bored, you just have to stick it out.

The final part of this novel that I’m going to discuss is the romance plot. It was predictable from the moment I read the blurb, but predictable isn’t necessarily bad. Lief wasn’t a bad character or love interest, but he also fell a little bit flat because he just seemed too perfect. I’m not sure if there is a male equivalent of a Mary Sue, but Lief was it (Google tells me it’s Gary-Stu, but that sounds stupid, so I’m not going to use it). While there were some plot twists with regards to this, I just didn’t really care about Lief or the love story. I resented how quickly the relationship developed and deepened, but this won’t bother people who are more into love stories than I am, and the way that Melinda Salisbury wrapped up this novel rescued this plot line as well.

Update: Since reviewing this book, I’ve reviewed the second book in the series The Sleeping Prince. You can read that review here!

 

 

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Uprooted – Naomi Novik Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

There are so many great fantasy series out there, but it is quite hard to find a brilliant standalone fantasy novel. For that reason, Uprooted is so refreshing to read as a lover of fantasy – even though I love a good series, it was so much fun to see well-crafted characters, an exciting and complete storyline, a fascinating magical world with its own unique history and culture, all in one book!

uprooted-naomi-novikAgnieszka, our main character, lives in a valley that is bordered by a forest. However, this forest is unlike any others. It is full of dark magical powers that corrupt those that come into contact with it. By corrupting the people who live around it, the forest gradually grows and grows, taking up more and more space, and encroaching further and further on Agnieszka’s village. In return for fighting the forest and protecting the people in the valley, a wizard called the Dragon asks for one thing only: a 17-year-old girl to live with him in his tower for 10 years. Agnieszka is chosen to be this girl, much to the surprise of everyone in the valley, who expected her (prettier and sweeter) friend Kasia.

This was all I knew about the novel when I decided to read it, and I was surprised to find that all of this happened within the first chapter. I had hundreds more pages to read, and absolutely no idea of where the story would go! This made the reading experience so different to anything I had ever had before, because I went into most of the novel completely blind. In fact, the story was like a rollercoaster, with each chapter bringing a new challenge, a new twist, a new surprise. No part of this book’s story is predictable, and apart from a small section of a few chapters in the middle that lost me a little bit, none of it was boring.

The characters in Uprooted were also a pleasure to read. While the Dragon remains an enigma and quite vague the whole way through, this is part of his distant character, it is really Agnieszka and Kasia who stole the show. Their friendship is central to the whole book, and drives the entire storyline. I liked to see a close relationship that wasn’t romantic be at the core of a novel, even despite the fact that there was a romantic relationship. The ‘romance’ plot was very much a subplot, and I liked that you could have taken it out and the novel would have remained by and large the same.

This is also one of the best examples of world-building I have read in a standalone novel. I loved that the villain wasn’t a person, or a monster that could be easily identified, but the vast, spreading forest. This, together with Naomi Novik’s twisting plot, meant that there are plenty of times during the novel where I was sure that there was no way out. When we finally found out what the forest actually is and how it is stopped, I thought it was a beautiful explanation that perfectly wound in the history that Novik had crafted for the world. However, I would have loved to have seen more of the ‘forest’ as a proper character, as this only really became clear in the last few chapters.

I definitely recommend this if you love fantasy novels. The world and magic are interesting and unique, and Novik makes you root for the characters and genuinely fear for them as they face so many different and unpredictable trials over the course of the novel.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

A Promise of Fire – Amanda Bouchet Review

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

 

Rating:  ★ ★ ★

I read this book in two days, and while I consider myself to be a relatively fast reader, 400+ pages is not something I usually achieve in two days. I just couldn’t help myself. There was Greek mythology, a feisty protagonist with an intriguing backstory and powers, and an original setting with politics and magic woven in. This book wasn’t perfect, but I did really enjoy it and probably will read the sequel at some point.

The book is about Cat, who at the beginning of the book is a circus member (but not for long, because if there is one thing that this book does, it is move fast). One day, a war lord called Griffin shows up and senses that her magical powers are more than they seem, and kidnaps her. It turns out that this war lord has just taken over the kingdom and put his sister on the throne, upending a political structure that has been around for centuries and he needs Cat and her magical skills to help him keep hold of the throne.

I loved the setting and the magic in this story. It was unlike anything I had seen before. For one, the mix between Greek mythology and magic was so different. The book probably would have been good with just the one, but the melding of the two systems was really interesting to read. Secondly, Cat’s powers were so cool! She can not only sense when someone is lying, but she can also steal magic from other people and creatures, meaning that she can store it up for use later (she spends half of the book breathing fire, and how much cooler can you get?). The society itself was another thing that I loved; people are either Magoi (magical) or Hoi Poloi (humans). The Magoi have always ruled before, but now Griffin and his family have ended this. Towards the second half of the novel we see a lot of the politics of this taking centre stage of the story, and I can’t wait to see how this part of the story develops in the second novel.

kingmaker_landscape_mktpc-edit-700x394My issue with this book was the central relationship. I hate when male love interests are possessive and irrationally jealous, and especially when this is portrayed as being romantic or endearing. Even worse, I hated the passages where it seemed like Cat was being pressured into doing things that she really didn’t want to do, and where her concerns weren’t being listened to or respected properly. There was literally a passage where Cat (talking about having sex) says something along the lines of: “I should have known I couldn’t keep saying no.” I understand that people’s views can change, but I would have really appreciated seeing Amanda Bouchet more clearly highlight the issues of consent in the representation of the central relationship, especially as the novel gets quite steamy. If it wasn’t for this, which really rubbed me the wrong way, I would have loved this novel!