3 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake: slow start for the first in a series

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Three Dark Crowns

Three Dark Crowns #1

author : kendare blake

pages : [hardcover] 398

summary :

When kingdom come, there will be one.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.

review :

Three Dark Crowns is a book that’s been on my radar for a while. I’ve loved Kendare Blake’s books in the past, so I knew the writing would be solid and the plot summary intrigued me. Somehow it all sort of fell apart in the execution.

While this is the first book of a series, it sort of read like a very long, overextended prologue. Basically setting up the characters for the real action and political intrigue, Three Dark Crowns offers us . . . not much of real substance. We are already aware of the driving force of the novel: there are triplets who must kill each other and the surviving girl will become the next queen. We know that intensity will begin at this ceremony after their birthday. Except that ceremony doesn’t take place until the very, very end of this book.

Why do we linger so much on the characters beforehand? I’m not sure, because there isn’t much that couldn’t have been explained in a few clever flashbacks. The relationships between the characters as well as their adoptive families are in no way unexpected or overly complex. Mostly it’s them meandering around thinking about the future and complaining about things that they can’t currently do, while I was left wondering why I couldn’t be taken to a point in the plot closer to when they could do them.

Maybe this slow pacing is what made it impossible for the plot twists to work: there was nothing surprising about this book. The grand reveal was something that felt obvious after the opening chapters, and left me disappointed that I was right when I had been hoping I was being misled.

Still, the writing is excellent. It makes me think that maybe book two will be great, now that everything is finally set into its place. I’ll probably read the sequel eventually, and hope that the series keeps improving upon itself.

3/5 stars

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2 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Black Wings Beating by Alex London: so many birds

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Black Wings Beating

Skybound #1

author : alex london

pages : [hardcover] 432

summary :

The people of Uztar have long looked to the sky with hope and wonder. Nothing in their world is more revered than the birds of prey and no one more honored than the falconers who call them to their fists.

Brysen strives to be a great falconer–while his twin sister, Kylee, rejects her ancient gifts for the sport and wishes to be free of falconry. She’s nearly made it out, too, but a war is rolling toward their home in the Six Villages, and no bird or falconer will be safe.

Together the twins must journey into the treacherous mountains to trap the Ghost Eagle, the greatest of the Uztari birds and a solitary killer. Brysen goes for the boy he loves and the glory he’s long craved, and Kylee to atone for her past and to protect her brother’s future. But both are hunted by those who seek one thing: power.

review :

I really really really REALLY wanted to like this book but in the end, it simply wasn’t for me.

Black Wings Beating is about . . . birds. Okay. I should have realized that. I went in knowing very little because that’s my favorite thing to do. I knew I’d read one of the author’s books before and absolutely loved it, and I knew there was LGBTQ+ rep which there needs to be more of in fantasy, so I was ALL IN. But . . . Birds.

At first I couldn’t quite comprehend how a society that seems to be literally always on the brink of annihilation/starvation would be obsessed with capturing and selling different birds. Hawks, falcons, eagles. Even those who are seen as wealthy in this world . . . I mean, how many birds do you need to buy?? It seems like everyone is only ever walking around with one. Where are all these other birds going??!! And if EVERYONE in the village is capturing birds as often as possible, how is the population not nearly entirely dwindled in the wild? Why do none of these people try to breed them in captivity if they wanted more birds?

So many questions that aren’t really important.

I was also a little thrown by the setting. Most of the book takes place in this village nestled in the mountains. The people go into the mountains to hunt their birds or use their birds to hunt for bigger birds. BIRDS. Anyway. Whenever someone is on a mountain they seem to be able to see . . . All of the people climbing the mountain below them. I’m not sure if you’ve been on a mountain before, but if you aren’t in an area where there are few trees and it’s mostly sheer ground, you’re not going to . . . easily spot who’s climbing up below you, and also see who they are and how fast they’re going. WHAT IS HAPPENING.

BUT, most of my problems stemmed from one of the two narrators of the book. Brysen is an idiot. I don’t know if we’re supposed to feel badly for him because he’s always trying hard and stuff. But the plot LITERALLY ONLY MOVES FORWARD after he does something dumb. He never learns from his decisions. He never stops making mistakes. Even in his POV he’s surprised himself by how selfish he’s being, and how that affects the people around them. But THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES. I know that this is only the first book, but I’ll be darned if a character arc can’t start in book one.

What did I like about this book? The LGBTQ+ rep was refreshing, because it wasn’t a plot point. It’s integrated well into the story and the setting. There was a good portion of the book, maybe 3/4 of the way through, when I was very intrigued and wanted to keep reading. Except a lot of the interesting bits of this book gave way to VERY violent things which . . . I’m not really against on the whole but didn’t feel necessary, here.

I don’t think I’ll end up reading the sequel. I don’t think I’ll be recommending this book. It was definitely unique, but the setting, story, and characters weren’t for me.

2/5 stars

 

 

 

3 stars · Fantasy · middle grade

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes: a slow-paced fairy tale

 

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Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Peter Nimble #1

author : jonathan auxier

pages : [hardcover] 400

memorable quote :

“A boy your age should know better than to consider anything impossible.”

summary :

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery. One fateful afternoon, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher—a box that contains three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he is instantly transported to a hidden island where he is presented with a special quest: to travel to the dangerous Vanished Kingdom and rescue a people in need. Along with his loyal sidekick—a knight who has been turned into an unfortunate combination of horse and cat—and the magic eyes, he embarks on an unforgettable, swashbuckling adventure to discover his true destiny.

review :

There’s one thing I love as much as fairy tales and fairy tale retellings: books that have completely unique plots that are told with a fairy tale voice. That fantastical tone where magical things can happen and they’re just matter-of-fact, because of course these wondrous plots are just seen as normal in a fairy tale world. The writing in Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is amazing and beautiful, so I definitely want to read more by this author.

That said, the plot of the book does drag a bit in the middle. It seems so very long when it doesn’t really need to be, like everything is being over-explained. It draws you out of the story, away from what the characters are going through, and certainly puts a damper on those magical twists and turns when you know how the plot is going to go and it keeps getting put off and off and off.

The characters were a little flimsy, sometimes flipping opinions or allegiances too easily, but for the most part this can be explained away by the fairytale vibe. After all, characters in those stories are really more caricatures used to teach lessons–as happens in Peter Nimble.

One thing I absolutely loved about the book was that it was an adventure story, about friendship and found family and accepting yourself. It was also great to see a story where the main character is blind and that isn’t the entirety of the plot. The other characters don’t feel sorry for Peter because he’s blind; he doesn’t feel sorry for himself, either. I love that we’re shown how strong, cunning, and capable he is and his blindness is almost an afterthought. It certainly doesn’t stop Peter from trying to save the day.

So this is a book that I’m torn on. It’s an important book, and fun at times, but the pacing left a lot to be deserved and definitely detracts from the entertainment of it.

3/5 stars

 

 

 

5 stars · Fantasy · middle grade

Nightbooks by J.A. White: a magical middle-grade novel

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Nightbooks

author : j.a. white

pages : [hardcover] 304

favorite character : lenore

summary :

Alex has loved scary stories his whole life.

He never imagined he be trapped in one.

When Alex sneaks out in the middle of the night, he becomes imprisoned by the witch Natacha in her magical apartment. Another child in the apartment, Yasmin, assures Alex that she’s already tried every means of escape. Only Natacha holds the bonekeys that lead back to their world, and she’ll never part from them.

But Natacha likes stories. And Alex’s only chance for survival is to keep Natacha satisfied by reading her one of his own hair-raising tales each night. But Alex is running out of time—and original stories—and he’s desperate for a way out of this twisted place.

review :

All of us know the power of a story.

When Alex sneaks out at night to destroy his stories, instead he ends up trapped in a witch’s lair–er, apartment. To keep her from cursing him, or worse, he must tell her a different scary story each night.Nightbooks is like a combination of 1001 Nights and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Alex needs to please the witch with his horror stories long enough to escape, or he’ll be permanently trapped in the witch’s apartment.

This story was so unique and magical and absolutely lovely. It’s a middle-grade book and exactly the sort of story my middle school self would have loved. It was very creepy; there were moments that freaked out present-me as well. I think readers will appreciate having Alex as a main character, too, because so many readers are interested in the creation of stories, even if they aren’t writers themselves. Alex experiences many of the struggles typical writers do, and maybe that only occur to horror writers. Plus there’s the whole cursed-by-a-witch threat hanging over his head, which would be sure to give anyone writer’s block.

The setting and the way magic interacts with it is so cool and vivid that I could picture it all. Honestly, I could see them turning this into a neat children’s movie. The way that the setting itself feels like a character and influences the plot so much is done incredibly well.

The writing is fun, too, and I love that we actually get to read Alex’s stories as he tells them. It’s a testament to J. A. White’s skill that Alex’s stories have a completely different voice and feel to them than the rest of the plot. We know when we’re reading Alex the narrator, and we know when we’re reading Alex the writer.

I think that readers will absolutely adore Nightbooks. It’s a standalone and a very quick, magical, creepy read. It’s completely unique, and middle-grade readers will love getting something new on their shelves.

5/5 stars

 

1 star · adult · Fantasy

The Magicians by Lev Grossman: this book was gross, man

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The Magicians

author : lev grossman

pages : [paperback] 402

summary :

A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel about a young man practicing magic in the real world

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.

He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

review :

I really wanted to like The Magicians because there need to be more books written with characters in this age range. Late teens-early twenties is like a second coming-of-age that’s remained untapped because people don’t know whether to lump it in with YA or adult, and New Adult kind of went nonexistent apart from self-pubbed romance. So The Magicians is something of a rarity, with its cast of characters spending the majority of the book in their early twenties.

And I hate them so much.

I’m a character-driven reader. Even if the plot for whatever reason feels unbearable, I could push through something if I liked the main characters enough. The Magicians sort of morphed into the exact opposite, where I literally wanted to knock some sense into every character but found the overall concept/story/setting very interesting. If you want some basic comps, the story is a little bit like Hogwarts, a little bit like Narnia, if both settings were dingier and flipped on their heads.

Quentin drops his old life, immediately distances himself from and looks down on his old friends as well as his family, and begins attending a magical school. It’s very small and elite. The magic system in this book is very different and I liked that; it sort of takes the ‘wow’ factor out of magic and turns it into complicated hand signs and mathematical formulas. So it isn’t the sort of magic system a lot of people would imagine themselves into, because it’s a hell of a lot of work.

Quentin’s school is different from Hogwarts because it’s “gritty”. I don’t think there’s any better way to describe it. Certain things and tests seem to happen only to distance this book from the “lighter” magical school fantasies that are out there. I’m not really intrigued by the idea of “darker” things just for the purpose of . . . I don’t know, trying to be shocking?

But all of that could, I guess, be forgiven, because at least it’s something different and new. Then enters Quentin’s toxic masculinity.

He’s never very likable even in the beginning of the book. But it’s like his character arc is designed to only expand his ego and as his confidence grows, so too does his propensity toward being an asshole, and then entirely problematic. I can’t go into the details without being spoiler-y (but if you’d like to know, ask me, because I don’t recommend you read this book, anyway). He’s literally the kind of guy that every woman hates and, also, fears, because it’s very likely that once he gets angry he’ll turn abusive, or murderous. There’s literally a line where he thinks about murdering the girl he’s supposed to be in love with.

And, you know, if all of this was portrayed in a negative way–if Quentin is a horrible person and we’re supposed to see him as such, I think that would be fine. Not all characters need to be actually good people. But we’re meant to like him. We’re supposed to root for him. Even if he’s horrible, and selfish, and cruel, even if he makes stupid mistakes and decisions and blames everyone but himself for the consequences.

The ending is just . . . it’s so ridiculous that it made me want to laugh. It’s idiotic. And it literally erases any remaining chance that Quentin will actually experience some character growth and become a decent person.

And there are two more of these books.

I don’t recommend picking this up. I can’t even say if watching the TV show would be any better.

1/5 stars

 

1 star · Fantasy · fiction

Kill the Farm Boy: more like kill my interest in this book

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Kill the Farm Boy

authors : delilah s. dawson and kevin hearne

pages : [hardcover] 364

summary :

In an irreverent new series in the tradition of Terry Pratchett novels and The Princess Bride, the New York Times bestselling authors of the Iron Druid Chronicles and Star Wars: Phasmareinvent fantasy, fairy tales, and floridly written feast scenes.

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a hero, the Chosen One, was born . . . and so begins every fairy tale ever told.

This is not that fairy tale.

There is a Chosen One, but he is unlike any One who has ever been Chosened.

And there is a faraway kingdom, but you have never been to a magical world quite like the land of Pell.

There, a plucky farm boy will find more than he’s bargained for on his quest to awaken the sleeping princess in her cursed tower. First there’s the Dark Lord who wishes for the boy’s untimely death . . . and also very fine cheese. Then there’s a bard without a song in her heart but with a very adorable and fuzzy tail, an assassin who fears not the night but is terrified of chickens, and a mighty fighter more frightened of her sword than of her chain-mail bikini. This journey will lead to sinister umlauts, a trash-talking goat, the Dread Necromancer Steve, and a strange and wondrous journey to the most peculiar “happily ever after” that ever once-upon-a-timed.

review :

I’ve never DNF’d a book so fast. I’m sure that this is someone else’s cup of tea, but Kill the Farm Boy is not for me.

As something compared to The Princess Bride, possibly one of the greatest, funniest takes on fairytale tropes that still manages to tell a fantastic story, Kill the Farm Boy is nothing like that. I read slightly less than fifty pages and then, when I found out this had a sequel coming, decided to end things there. I have too many other books to read to commit to . . . this.

I’m genuinely confused because I feel like if this book was scaled back–like if the lewd jokes disappeared and the characters were aged down, this would work so well as a middle grade book. In all seriousness, I think readers would love that. Because in the 40-50 pages I read, there were at least a dozen poop and fart jokes. In an adult novel. Ooooooooookay.

Besides that, the rest of the humor wasn’t for me either. Like, there was a lady running around in an armored bikini, I think just because it would be ‘funny’ to have her do certain things in a bikini? The bulk of the rest of the jokes felt like I was reading a mash-up parody of The Three Stooges. And that sort of humor doesn’t work on the page.

That said, I’m sure someone will like this. But if this sort of humor isn’t for you–maybe skip it, because Kill the Farm Boy is more about the jokes than the plot anyway.

1/5 stars

 

5 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Muse of Nightmares: I’VE DONE MY WAITING FOR THIS! IN AZKABAN!

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Muse of Nightmares

Strange the Dreamer #2

author : laini taylor

pages : [hardcover] 514

favorite character : lazlo strange

memorable quote :

Wishes don’t just come true. They’re only the target you paint around what you want. You still have to hit the bull’s-eye yourself.

summary :

Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.

She believed she knew every horror and was beyond surprise.

She was wrong.

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the Muse of Nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this astonishing and heart-stopping sequel to the New York Times bestseller, Strange the Dreamer.

review :

Have you ever dreamed up something wild and improbable? Something that isn’t just in your mind but in your heart–your soul? These books are for those dreamers. The ones working toward those dreams and the ones who’ve realized them. The ones who’ve had others achieve them not knowing how precious they should regard them, and the ones who’ve reached their dreams only to find they are not quite what they had hoped they would be.

Lazlo and Sarai are dreamers. Their dreams are beautiful and kind. But Muse of Nightmares explores what can shatter or twist them into mere shadows of themselves. Dreams and nightmares are not so far apart. Laini Taylor effortlessly wove this thread in with another big theme in this book: what makes the different between a hero and a villain? Seen from different perspectives, the “good guys” might not be so great. The villain might be able to save everyone. The hero can destroy them all. Laini Taylor’s cast of characters is so diverse and flawed and lovely. One of the things most impactful in her books is the fact that the characters never shy away from their true selves. They do not bend to fit the plot; there’s no breaking of character here. The characters, and the character arcs, are gloriously complicated.

The world of Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares is so rich and beautiful that it’s hard not to crave more of it. The world-building here is fantastic; Muse picks up on it right where Strange left off. And the connections that appear, linking this story back to another beloved one by Laini Taylor, are both fun and curious.

I can’t wait to see what she’ll write next.

These books are like sugar and dreams–they’re so rich and sweet and beautiful, that you want to take your time sinking into them so you won’t overindulge. Still, you’ll be tempted to devour them all at once.

Muse of Nightmares is a perfect conclusion to this duology. It’s gorgeous. It’s terrifying. And it’s complicated. It’s . . . strange. And if you haven’t read either book yet, you should. Then you too can dream up something wild and improbable.

5/5 stars