Review: The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas

The Sunbearer Trials rests on a marble table next to a white stuffed pumpkin and two candles.

Alexis:

The Sunbearer Trials follows Teo, a 17-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds.

This book is described as Percy Jackson meets The Hunger Games, and that’s the perfect description. 

Synopsis from Goodreads: 

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all—they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body used to fuel the Sun Stones that will protect the people of Reino del Sol for the next ten years.

In The Sunbearer Trials, I really enjoyed Thomas’ trademark voicy characters and fun writing style. The story is nice and fast-paced, and everyone’s outfits and superpowers sound so cool. I also like how this Mexican-inspired fantasy world is very diverse and inclusive, and how Teo’s wings play a role in the story and his trans identity.

While this was a fun read, there are some aspects that keep me from rating this higher.

For one, I never feel like the stakes are high enough. I mean, sure, one of the contenders will be sacrificed at the end, but the trials themselves don’t feel big enough to me. The games in The Hunger Games are thrilling to read because the stakes are so high, but in The Sunbearer Trials, Teo doesn’t even want to be there, much less take them very seriously. His motivation is to just…get through the trials so he can go back home. His lack of motivation plus the lack of high stakes meant I skimmed certain sections of the trials.

At times, this story feels more like Percy Jackson, aka middle grade. Now, I’m aware that I’m saying this as an adult reader who mostly reads YA, so maybe younger readers will feel differently. However, Teo is 17-years-old, and oftentimes, I thought he sounds like he should be closer to 14. Keep in mind reading is a personal experience and everyone interprets and reads things differently, but that’s how I perceived the character while reading this book. 

My last point is that the blurb makes it sound like this is going to be a high fantasy story, so imagine my surprise when the characters have phones and are watching TV. While I definitely think more fantasy worlds need modern technology and this is a cool aspect, moments of it took me out of the story. The world has its own version of Instagram and TikTok, and there’s also a reference to furries (what is up with books mentioning furries?? I read another one earlier this year that did the same thing).

That being said, the ending cranked up the stakes, which is exactly what I wanted! This is only the first book in a series, and the series definitely has a lot of potential. I’m interested in getting to know the large cast of characters better and to see what happens next. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐

Review: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Alexis:

We Hunt the Flame is a set in an Arabic-inspired fantasy world. It follows two main characters: Zafira, also known as the Hunter, who hunts to feed her village; and Nasir, the Prince of Arawiya, who is a trained assassin. This book is very The Hunger Games meets Katara and Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

What I liked: I loved the world that Faizal created. I liked how she described the clothing, and especially how she described the food.

This book also has a strong undercurrent of feminism which I liked; Zafira’s homeland, Demenhur, is sexist, and would punish Zafira if they knew she was actually a woman huntress. Throughout the book, she has to battle sexism in order to prove herself.

As I mentioned, the book follows both Zafira and Nasir. I enjoyed reading from both of their perspectives, and I appreciated that the book was in third person.

My favorite part was the last quarter of the book and the ending. Faizal had some really awesome plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I feel like the plot really came together at the end of the book, and I have high hopes that the next book in the series will take a step up.

What I disliked: While I loved the setting, this book could have used a glossary. In the beginning, I struggled to understand some of the terms that Faizal used, since I don’t have a background in Arabic. I figured them out through context clues, but a glossary would have been useful.

My least favorite part of the book was actually a character. This character plays a role in the beginning of the book and dies a little later on, and it felt completely out of place for me. The grieving over the character’s death didn’t last nearly long enough, and the character’s role in the story confused me. I felt like it could’ve been cut out completely and the book would have been better for it.

In addition, the story dragged on in the beginning and the middle of the book. Plot wise, it was a little lost. It didn’t really pick up until the end.

There were also some minor things with Faizal’s writing that I took issue with. Some of her phrasing felt off to me. The dialogue in the beginning felt a little stiff and too explanatory. Faizal also writes sentences like, “‘You scared me,’ Zafira exclaimed in a whisper” (112). She also has a tendency to use a poetry-like spacing in order to emphasize a phrase, and while I liked this the first two times, it ended up drawing me out of the story the more she used it.

Sometimes I would have to go back and re-read a section because I thought the characters were doing one thing, only for them to be doing something else. I think Faizal focused a little too much on describing everything. The book almost could’ve started 100 pages in.

And my last note: Nasir was just a little too Zuko, backstory, scar, and all. This book was supposed to explore his character arc by the end, but we already had too many hints of his underlying feelings for it to really pack a punch.

Overall, I wasn’t a huge fan of the beginning of the book, but I really enjoyed the ending!

VERDICT: 3 stars

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Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Alexis: Read 4/27/19

Spoilers Below!

While I have some mixed feelings about A Court of Thorns and Roses, overall, it was a 4 star read for me.

So, here’s the book in a nutshell: It starts out as The Hunger Games, then turns into Beauty and the Beast, and finally turns into Twilight.

I’ll start with what I loved about the book. While Maas writes the occasional cheesy and cringey line, I enjoyed her writing style overall. I love the way she describes color, and I was impressed by the landscape she painted in the beginning of the book. I related to Feyre in the beginning of the book the way I related to Katniss: she’s a girl turned hard from trying to survive, and I sympathized with her.

I found Tamlin an interesting character because of his role as a host and protector of his manor and land, because of his drive and sense of honor. His shapeshifting was written well. And I liked Lucien the most; he had the most vibrant personality of all the characters.

Once the plot picked up, I enjoyed the action-packed third section of the book. I think Maas’ writing shines the most when she writes action scenes. I also enjoyed (finally) learning about the political and historical backstories of the world.

I also liked the romance. The middle section of the book was very slow-paced, so Feyre and Tamlin’s budding romance didn’t feel too rushed or insta-love.

As for what I didn’t love about the book, my biggest issue was that most of the important backstory/plot points weren’t revealed until 250 pages in. Yep. 250 pages. Even the synopsis of the book includes the curse, which Feyre doesn’t know about until, again, 250 pages in. Here’s the thing: everyone knows the basis of Beauty and The Beast. So the main, mysterious plot of the most of the book wasn’t so mysterious, because this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. If Maas had switched it up a little more, the reveals would have been more interesting.

I also had issue with some of the characters. I didn’t have any issue with Feyre, though I found her name annoying because I had to remind myself how to pronounce it. I’m also not a fan of Tamlin’s name; it just sounds like the name of a modern five-year-old boy. But that’s just personal preference. I wanted Tamlin to have more of a stand-out personality, especially since he doesn’t have much of a role in the latter half of the book. Rhysand has more personality than Tamlin, and unfortunately, I have a feeling a love-triangle is going to make an appearance in the next book.  

As for the ending, I guessed it about halfway through the book. There were too many similarities to Twilight, and I knew human-Feyre wouldn’t make it too much further in the series.

Overall, this was a fun and engaging read. Though the middle was a little slow, it allowed time to get to know the characters better. I enjoyed the final section of the book the best, despite the Twilighty ending. I’m definitely going to continue the series, as I tend to like the first book in a series the least!

VERDICT: 4 stars

Review: Shadow and Bone; Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Alexis:

I’ve dedicated this past week to reading the first two books in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, and hopefully I can get the last book from the library next week!

I read the Six of Crows Duology last year and I absolutely loved it, so I was looking forward to reading the first books in Bardugo’s Grishaverse.

I seem to agree with everyone else (at least on Goodreads) that the second book in the trilogy is better than the first. I was surprised to find that the first book relied on some tropes, the most prevalent of which is the love triangle. However, I thought that Shadow and Bone did a great job when it came to worldbuilding and introducing the Grisha’s powers. 

The second book’s plot is much more intricate than the first. It honestly reminds me of The Hunger Games. Politics come into play, and Alina starts to become a powerful symbol of hope. I enjoyed the new characters that were introduced, but I felt like Mal’s character wasn’t as strong as he was in the first book. However, Bardugo’s keen sense of humor comes out more in the second book.

Minor spoilers below:

One of the biggest issues I have with the two books is the way that male characters interact with Alina, which, unfortunately, only gets worse in Siege and Storm. Multiple male characters touch and kiss Alina without her consent, and the way the Darkling interacts with her makes me sick. In Siege and Storm, no one respects that Alina and Mal are in a relationship, and she gets kissed and even gets marriage proposals. I understood all of this happens for plot reasons, but here Alina is, in a different love triangle than in the first book, and she even enjoys the attention from Nikolai.

I feel like I say this in every review, but despite my issues with the books, I did enjoy reading them. I love the Grishaverse and I’m interested to see where the third book goes. I just can’t help comparing this series to the Six of Crows Duology. It’s interesting to see how much Bardugo’s writing has evolved.

Shadow and Bone: 3 out of 5 books

Siege and Storm: 4 out of 5 stars

Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Alexis: Read 11/22/18

Yesterday, I finished The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang.

I loved the first half. It reminded me of a mix between The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Avatar: the Last Airbender. On her website, R.F. Kuang even mentions that ATLA and Game of Thrones were some of her inspirations.

This brutal book deals with every heavy theme you can think of: genocide, addiction, experimentation, rape, death. Despite being a high-fantasy book, I found many aspects of the war in the latter half of the book to be extremely realistic.

This is because Kuang is a genius. She graduated from Georgetown and is now studying at Cambridge. She’s studying Chinese studies, and you can tell. I was amazed at her worldbuilding. Kuang knows everything about the world she’s created. The book describes the hierarchy, the history, the mythology, you name it. She talks about it. She describes it in detail. She fully understands the world she’s created, and I admired that from the very start of the book. I love the way she based the world off of Chinese history. This includes fascinating aspects like martial arts and mythology. But it also includes the dark side of history. And I love a good dark book.

I generally like the main character, Rin. She is established out-right: we know what she wants and how she’s going to get it. We know her motivation. But Jiang is my favorite character. His personality is the most well-defined, and I love all of his quirks. I love a good quirky, underestimated character. To be honest, I didn’t really care about any of the other secondary characters, though Altan annoyed me in the second half of the book.

Something is lacking in the second half. Even though the plot is still well-defined, too many new elements are thrown together too fast. A whole new crew of characters are introduced. Characters from the first half come in and out. And some huge decisions are made. It isn’t rushed; it takes place over a couple hundred pages. Yet for some reason, it feels jumbled. To be fair, the entire second half is war. War is a mess; war is a jumble. This Poppy War is brutal and messy and isn’t for the fair-hearted reader. But the way Rin acts in the second half almost turned me off from her (I mean that was kind of the point, but still). Her actions and way of thinking are justified in the world, but that doesn’t mean I like the direction her character is going. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I loved the messy history and the mythology of the world. I will definitely read the rest of the series in the future, but it just wasn’t a 5 star read for me.

VERDICT: 4 out of 5 books