Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Alexis:

Today is the last day of National Library Week! I’m always grateful for my local library; most of the books I’ve read lately have been from the library, whether digital books on my Kindle or physical library copies. Since I’m finishing up grad school, I don’t have a budget for book buying!

Now onto my review:

The Bone Witch follows Tea, a necromancer capable of wielding Dark Magic. She only learns about her power when she accidentally raises her brother, Fox, from the dead. Fox accompanies Tea as she travels around the eight kingdoms and trains to become an asha in order to learn how to control her magic. 

Chupeco’s writing style is lovely and lyrical, and the sentences flow like water on the page. The amount of detail and worldbuilding they manage to include in this book is mind boggling at times. I loved learning about all of the delicious foods Tea gets to experience, and I loved reading about the beautiful, unique huas that Tea and the other ashas wear, as well as their powerful necklaces called heartglass. The magic system was dark yet lovely, and I enjoyed learning about it. 

The story is set in two different time periods. Before each chapter is a mini-chapter set in the future, when Tea is seventeen, from the point of view of a Bard asking Tea questions. Unfortunately, these prologues before each chapter didn’t really work for me. I kept waiting for the events that were hinted at in the future sections to happen, but they don’t happen in this book. Because of this, I constantly felt like I was waiting for the actual plot to happen, and it made this whole book feel like a prologue to me.

That being said, I think if you love slower-paced, coming-of-age stories that are heavy on the detail and lyrical images but with minimal plot, then I definitely think this is the story for you. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐/5

NOTE: It’s also worth noting that I happened to get this book from the library when Chupeco opened up about how they received hate and xenophobia when this book was first published. It sucks when authors and books receive hate for dumb reasons and things out of their control. I will always be honest in my reviews, but I don’t tolerate hate and bad ratings for books and authors purely because some people don’t like where the author is from??

That is all. Have a great weekend, everybody!

Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Alexis:

Jade City was unlike any book I’ve ever read; however, it wasn’t really for me. I honestly considered DNFing it 50 pages in, but I’m glad I stuck with it!

Jade City is described as a high fantasy, and that’s not entirely true. Sure, the world is a fantasy world, based on Japan, but the use of jade, which grants the Kekonese people superhero-like powers, is really the only fantasy element. The rest of the book has a gritty, almost noir feel. The best way to describe this book is The Godfather mixed with martial arts movies.

The writing style is cool, almost business-like, but it flows well. The worldbuilding is intense, and this book as a whole is very dense, so much so that it sometimes felt like a chore to read it. That being said, I did really enjoy certain parts of this book, and Lee is clearly a master worldbuilder. 

My main critique is that I never became super invested in the characters. I enjoyed reading Shae and Anden’s perspectives the most, yet they never really shone on the page. The third person POV was too distant, and it didn’t help that each chapter was from the perspective of a new character, and there were a myriad of characters in this book. 

If you’re specifically looking for a book that’s majority fueding mobsters, with a small dash of fantasy and political intrigue, then go for it. But unfortunately, it wasn’t my kind of read.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐.5 /5

Review: Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko

Alexis:

Raybearer is an impressive novel. The worldbuilding, based off of West African folklore, is intricate, and I often had to re-read sections about the world’s history because it was so detailed. But Ifueko went above and beyond when it came to shaping her world, and even if I couldn’t always keep up, it made the world very real.

There’s political intrigue, romance, magical creatures (including fairies), a found-family, and family drama. 

The writing was great, I loved the main characters (and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better in the sequel, since this first book was a little more plot/world-driven than character-driven) and I enjoyed being swept into this magical world. 

I only have two small critiques, one being that I didn’t get to know some of the characters well enough, and the pacing was a little slow in the beginning. However, this book reads like an epic, and the beginning starts out when Tarisai is a child, so I guess that is to be expected, and once it picked up its pace, I didn’t care!

Even though I’m not usually as much of a fan of high fantasy as compared to contemporary fantasy, I was pleasantly surprised with the dense, intricate world Ifueko crafted, and the plot unfolded in ways I never would have predicted. I love books that surprise me, and this book surprised me in all the right ways.

I found this to be a unique and engaging read, and if you’re looking for your next well-drawn, diverse YA fantasy, then I recommend it!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst

Alexis:

This is my third five star review in a row. This is so rare for me! Clearly, I did a good job choosing books from the library.

I found Race the Sands to be a complex book, full of politics and magic.

In Becar, everyone is reincarnated based on how you act in your current life. The lowest of the low are reincarnated as kehoks, savage monsters. Tamra is a kehok trainer, trying to save up enough money to fund her daughter’s education. And Raia is a seventeen year old trying to make her own life by becoming a kehok rider. She ends up riding a black, metal lion kehok, and together, Tamra and Raia work hard to win the Races.

Overall, I loved the characters, especially Tamra. This book felt unique from other young adult fantasy books that I’ve read lately.

Durst manages to balance several POV’s very well. I’m not normally a fan of books with more than two different perspectives, but it worked well for this world.

I enjoyed reading about the races, and all of the different kind of kehoks. I enjoyed reading about the augurs, the almost monk-like figures who read other people’s auras to determine how they will be reincarnated. I also enjoyed reading from Dar, the emperor-to-be’s, perspective.

There were only two small apects that I wasn’t a huge fan of, but they didn’t deter me from enjoying the book. The first is that one of the main mystery plot points in the beginning of the book is extremely predictable. Thankfully, the plot got more complicated as the book went on. The second is that a lot of the minor characters felt pretty one dimensional and had similar voices, but because they were the minor characters, it didn’t bother me too much.

While this book is still YA, it felt more adult to me than the average YA fantasy, especially since it features the POV of several adult characters.

If you’re looking for a book with great worldbuilding, strong female characters, racing monsters, and politics, then I recommend giving this one a try.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review: Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Alexis:

Hi, everyone. I’m finally done with my first year of grad school, and you know what that means– I get to read for fun again!

Deeplight starts out as a slow burn. At first, it turned me off a little bit, but I know Frances Hardinge; she’s one of my favorite authors! She is a masterful worldbuilder, and she spends the first 100 pages exploring the world of Deeplight and letting you dig into the mind of her characters in order to set up a powerful punch later.

Synopsis: Deeplight follows Hark, a fifteen-year-old boy who’s a little lost in the world. He just feels like a sidekick to his longtime friend, Jelt, until he’s put on trial for a crime and sold as an indentured servant. If you couldn’t tell from the front cover, the story is set on an island, called Lady’s Crave, where thirty years ago, the sea gods “turned on one another and tore each other apart.” If the islanders are lucky, they can find relics of the dead gods called “godware,” which are powerful and valuable. Hark just so happens to find a heart, which saves the life of Jelt. But when it starts to change Jelt, and not in a good way, Hark searches for answers with the help of a girl named Selphin and an old priest named Quest. 

I think this is the first book I’ve read by Hardinge that has a boy narrator instead of a girl. I will admit: I kind of wish the story was told from the perspective of Selphin, a girl he meets on his journey. I connected with her character a little more than Hark. 

The plot picks up a ton during the second half of the book, and I found myself really appreciating how she set up the world in the first half. Hardinge’s plot always goes in a direction I’m not expecting, and her books (including this one!) are always the epitome of fantasy, always delving deep into her dark, imaginative world and filling them with masterful descriptions. And this is why she’s one of my favorite authors!

I love the morally grey characters, and how Hardinge focuses on a toxic friendship, a topic not often explored in fantasy. I think the character arcs were great. Hardinge also created a world where deaf culture is normal and accepted, and the characters often use sign language to talk to each other. Overall, this book is a well-drawn, imaginative sea story that travels in unexpected, vivid directions. 

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 

 

Review: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas

Alexis:

“Through love, all is possible.”

Maas has a way of writing worlds that suck you in and make you want to keep reading. While this world is pretty similar to the one in ACOTAR, I loved how the world in Crescent City blends modern technology with magic; we don’t get enough fantasy with modern technology, and it was really interesting and fun to see the characters use both cell phones and magic. It was also loosely based off of Ancient Rome, which was cool.

I really enjoyed all of the characters. I liked reading from both Bryce and Hunt’s perspective. They both have a great mix of admirable traits and flaws. And, as usual, Maas is great at writing characters who have suffered from trauma with care.

The first half of this book did a great job setting up the world, the characters’ backstories, and establishing the main plot, while the second half was more fast paced and action packed. While a lot of readers find Maas’ build up slow, I enjoy how she spends time establishing the world and letting us know the characters before diving deeper into the plot. And I thought the plot of this book was intricate. Honestly, even though this book is so heavy on the details and it took me a while the get all the worldbuilding details straight, it was just so much fun to read!

My cons are pretty small. First, let me just say that if you don’t like Maas’ writing style, just don’t pick up the book? A lot of people seem to be giving this book bad reviews without even reading it because they aren’t fans of Maas’ writing.

I will say, thankfully, this book has considerably less drawn out sex scenes; it still has a decent amount of people flipping each other people off, and a lot of f-bombs, which didn’t bother me. I’m still not a fan of her character name choices (Bryce and Hunt? And I never got over Tamlin’s name from ACOTAR) but honestly, that’s such a small bone to pick, and it boils down to personal preference.

Even though I loved reading the ACOTAR series, I thought this book was far better written. I still don’t think her writing is the absolute best, but what she IS good at is writing characters you will want to root for, and writing worlds that you will become obsessed with. And despite the fact that this book is over 800 pages long, I barely wanted to take any breaks from reading it.

Bottom line: this was so much to fun to read! And considering the fact that the plot centers around a murder mystery, apparently murder mysteries are my new definition of “fun.”

VERDICT: 📚📚📚📚📚

 

Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Alexis:

The Bone Season is packed with worldbuilding information. From the first page, Shannon slams you into a futuristic London where clairvoyants have to hide in order to survive and avoid persecution. The main character, Paige, works for an underground crime gang of voyants, each with a varying forms of power. But when Paige is drugged and kidnapped, she’s forced into slavery by an alien race called the Rephaim.

I tried to read this book sometime late last year but I wasn’t in the mood. This time around, the beginning of the book was just as hard to get through. Shannon wastes no time trying to explain Paige’s world. She introduces a plethora of jargon that I had to slog through until I figured it out, or until Shannon gave an explanation. And once I got used to that, Paige was thrown into the Rephaim’s space, and then I had to learn a whole new set of jargon.

Shannon certainly understands the world she’s created. I do wish the beginning of the book wasn’t so much of a chore to get through. I never fully understood all of the terms or all that was happening, and maybe that’s partly my fault for being a fast reader and not letting the information properly sink in.  

On the plus side, the first half of this book felt wholly original, despite the dystopian world and the aliens. I enjoyed learning about the world once I understood it a little more. The voyants and Paige’s abilities surrounding dreamscapes were fascinating and well-written by Shannon. I also really enjoyed the plot.

My favorite part of the book was Paige. Sometimes I struggle with liking main characters, and oftentimes strong female characters are strong and impulsive for the sake of it. But I really connected with her character. I found her actions and feelings true to her character and her surroundings. I think her flashback scenes and memories could’ve happened earlier on, though.

My biggest issues with the book happened in the second half. I wanted to understand Nashira more, so that I could understand her better as the villian. I also wanted to get to know Warden better. I liked his character, but by the end, Shannon never fully explained his motives.

I’m interested to see how Shannon will create a seven book long series. She definitely teased a lot of information for the next book.

VERDICT: 4 stars

To check out the book, click here:

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SPOILERS BELOW:

 I had a feeling that romance was coming, but I didn’t want to believe it. Romance doesn’t fit in The Bone Season. It’s about survival and Paige finding herself and developing her powers.

It would’ve been better if it had grown over more time. But Paige didn’t trust Warden and then all of a sudden she was having feelings for him. It just doesn’t help that was a huge part of her being kept as a slave: beaten, broken, and even branded. His true intentions don’t really matter, because he was still involved in it. So it made the romance problematic for me.

Review: The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

Alexis:

The Blood of Flowers focuses on an unnamed fifteen-year-old girl in 17th century Persia, which is now modern day Iran. Her passion is making carpets, and after her father dies, she and her mother are taken in by her carpet-maker uncle. But then she is forced into a sigheh, a three month contract of marriage, with an older man, in order to have money for her and her mother to survive.

I loved the descriptions of the fabled city of Isfahan. The author spends a lot of time describing the marketplaces and the people that the main character runs into. She writes beautiful descriptions of the food, drink, and clothing of the characters. My favorite part of this book was the carpet making. It was such an interesting process to learn about, and the author did a great job describing the carpets, which were such an important way of life in 17th century Persia.

That being said, this novel is very slow-paced. It took a couple of chapters for me to get into it, and even then, I never felt particularly connected to the main character, despite the book being in first person. The plot is very simple: girl’s father dies, girl and mother must find a way to live, girl accepts a short marriage contract for money.

Unfortunately, way too much of this book focuses on the sigheh. Every chapter focused on the main character trying to sexually please her husband. The first couple of times were necessary, in order to show how the main character has no say in society, her life, or her marriage. She only exists to please a man. And while this is important to focus on, as a historical fiction novel, the author spends an increasingly amount of time on their sex scenes.

The novel also has many tales intersected throughout. While I liked these at first, there were too many of them and they drew me out of the story.

Eventually, the novel pulls away from this and focuses on the carpet making once again. But when the novel ends, I felt like I only got a glimpse of the main character’s life after her sigheh. The novel drags on and on, and then all of a sudden the girl is nineteen, in a better place, and the book just ends.

Overall, I can see the main point the author was trying to make. Life was terrible for women in 17th century Persia. Carpet making was not for women. Girls were supposed to be forced into child marriages by the age of fifteen. The author tried to show that the main character was different: she had a voice, she got out of a marriage, and she had a talent in a man-dominated field. But she and the other characters often felt flat.

The book had a great premise, and I loved the author’s worldbuilding. But I struggled to connect with the characters and the story.

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VERDICT: 2 ½ 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