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Days of Blood and Starlight and Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

I read and loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone the year it came out. I can’t believe it’s been four years since then! I don’t know why I put off reading its sequels, I think I wanted to wait until the trilogy is finished so I can read all three books together. I was in the mood to read about Prague and also to immerse myself in a good fantasy world so I picked up Daughter of Smoke and Bone to reread and dove right into the second and third books. There are unavoidable spoilers for the first book in this combined review.

Days of Blood and Starlight
Days of Blood and StarlightVastly different from the first book in the series, Days of Blood and Starlight is all about the cycle of violence and vengeance involved in the never-ending war between the seraph and chimaera. Karou and Akiva are on opposite sides of the war and both are struggling to make the most out of their current situation, to find a way to atone for everything that they’ve done previously. The peace and tranquility of Karou’s human life in Prague gives a nice contrast to the war-torn world of Eretz. If Daughter of Smoke and Bone was about an epic love, its sequel is about soul-crushing heartbreak. Heartbreak not just for Karou and Akiva but also for all their people, for everyone who has only ever known war. I can’t say that I loved twists and turns that the story took but I have to admit that it’s a compelling read. Laini Taylor has a beautiful writing style. I wanted to keep reading but also didn’t want to continue because I didn’t want the characters to go through more pain. While it’s not easy to read, I did appreciate the empathy that this kind of story invokes in the reader. I really just want things to get better for everyone (well not the villains, of course). I started the third book right after finishing this one because I couldn’t wait to find out what’s going to happen.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Dreams of Gods and MonstersYou know how some series just keep getting better as it progresses? For me, this series was the opposite of that. I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone and thought it was a beautiful story. I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the second book but I still found it an absorbing read. With Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I kept thinking more along the lines of, “What? What is going on here?” While Karou and Akiva’s storyline continues, other threads featuring new characters (Eliza and Scarab) are introduced. I wasn’t really invested in Eliza’s story and even skimmed some of the sections that were devoted to her. Scarab was more interesting but it might have been better if there was more than a hint about her people in the earlier books. At the end of the book, the varying threads of the story are pulled together but it didn’t feel seamless to me. I got the feeling that Laini Taylor was trying to tie loose ends and create an epic mythology encompassing Eretz and Earth but it felt a bit all over the place for me. From the start, the trilogy was focused on Karou, Akiva and the war between their people. The new elements in this last installment made the main focus of the trilogy feel smaller and less significant. I think there really was just one thing that I liked in Dreams of Gods and Monsters, which was the sweet secondary romance. Aside from that, I kept reading only because I wanted to see how the story would end. And even that wasn’t as satisfying as I would like. The end felt more like the beginning of the end – raising more questions than settling answers. It really makes me sad that I didn’t love the whole trilogy since it started really strong for me.


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Mini Review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Goblin EmperorThe youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

I had high hopes for this one since it kept being recommended by bloggers I trust. Also, they said that it’s a good read for fans of Megan Whalen Turner. In my eyes, that’s the highest praise that they can give! I did enjoy reading The Goblin Emperor and I really liked Maia’s character. But it didn’t become a favorite novel. I just didn’t love it as much as I was expecting. It’s a quiet kind of fantasy, a lot more introspective than action-oriented and filled to the brim with political intrigue. Maia was never groomed to become the emperor and his education is sadly lacking but he rises to the occasion beautifully. He’s a smart guy and never loses the compassion that’s such a big part of him even though he had a gloomy upbringing. He has an inner strength that others gradually recognize and admire, which helps him gain allies along the way. I like how Maia inspires loyalty because of how kind he is and how unusual that kindness is in an emperor. He deserves all the help that he can get so it’s a good thing that there are some people on his side. One thing that I liked about the novel is that it’s a standalone… as much as I love reading fantasy series, it’s refreshing to read a book that is complete on its own. While I believe this story wouldn’t linger in my mind, I did have fun reading it and would recommend the book to readers who like quiet fantasy with a strong dose of politics.

Other reviews:
By Singing Light
The Book Smugglers
Things Mean a Lot


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Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

I haven’t read a Sharon Shinn novel recently so I picked up Troubled Waters when I was in the mood for some fantasy. I have fond memories of the author’s Samaria books, which is an excellent series about angels. I also remember enjoying the Twelve Houses series although I’m a bit fuzzy on the details since it’s been years since I read them. From what I’ve heard, Troubled Waters is the first in a series but was initially written as a standalone. I liked knowing that I could read Troubled Waters by itself and that I didn’t have to worry about committing to a whole series.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Troubled WatersZoe Ardelay receives astonishing and unwelcome news: she has been chosen to become the king’s fifth wife. Forced to go to the royal city, she manages to slip away and hide on the shores of the mighty river.

It’s there that Zoe realizes she is a coru prime ruled by the elemental sign of water. She must return to the palace, not as an unwilling bride for the king, but a woman with power in her own right. But as Zoe unlocks more of the mysteries of her blood—and the secrets of the royal family — she must decide how to use her great power to rise above the deceptions and intrigue of the royal court.

At the start of the novel, Zoe is grieving and mourning the loss of her beloved father. He was a powerful man at court but was exiled by the king for reasons that aren’t really clear to Zoe. They lived simply in a remote village far from the city. Numb with grief, Zoe isn’t even surprised when the king’s right-hand man shows up at their village to whisk her away to the capital, saying that she’s meant to be the king’s fifth wife. At that point, Zoe doesn’t really care what happens with her future but eventually, the numbness wears off and she realizes that she has no intention of being forced to marry someone she doesn’t know. I found Troubled Waters an absorbing read mostly because I liked Zoe as a character. It was very easy to get into her story and read about her adventures – living with the squatters near the river, working as a shopgirl and slowly discovering her powers. I also knew right away that there would be a romance. It was subtly done but I noticed how carefully Zoe kept paying attention to this guy. It’s a really good slow burn romance that’s drawn out throughout the length of the whole book. I enjoyed the conversations (mostly arguments) between these two characters and looked forward to their moments together.

I liked the world presented by Troubled Waters, where everyone receives random blessings a few hours after they’re born. Supplicants can also enter temples and draw out blessings whenever they feel like they need guidance. These blessings are based on the elements (air, water, fire, wood and earth). Everyone’s personality and way of life is tied to these elements. Zoe is coru, a woman of blood and water, which she inherits from her mother’s side of the family. As a result, she adapts easily to changes and surprises in her life. But she also gets sweela, which is fire, from her father. I don’t think I’m explaining it well but I found these blessings and elemental characteristics charming. I found Troubled Waters to be a quiet kind of fantasy. Kind of like a smooth and steady ride instead of wild and bumpy. Reading this book was a pleasant experience, it’s the type of book that I enjoy curling up with on a lazy weekend or to help me unwind after a work day. I can sense that Troubled Waters isn’t the kind of book that everyone will enjoy but I have a feeling most epic fantasy readers will probable have fun reading it. Troubled Waters reminded me a bit of my reading experience of House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier, not because of any similarities in worldbuilding or characters but just in the sense that I found both of them satisfying reads but couldn’t quite pinpoint why they worked for me. All I can say is that Sharon Shinn is a good storyteller and I enjoy reading her books. A minor quibble that I have with Troubled Waters is that I think the ending should have been extended a bit, it would have been nice to have an epilogue in there. But that’s not a major issue and I enjoyed reading the book overall. I might be tempted to read another Sharon Shinn novel soon.


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Retro Friday: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I read both Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore when they first came out. That was a few years ago, back when I didn’t have a book blog. I recently reread them for a discussion with my online book club YAckers. I loved rereading both and realized that I have never written a review for Fire. It’s a good thing I refreshed my memory by rereading it recently because that gave me the perfect opportunity to talk about one of my absolute favorite epic fantasy novels.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

FireIt is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she has the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, the royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there’s more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren’t afraid of becoming the monster her father was.

Fire is such an achingly beautiful novel. It is wonderfully written with engaging characters, set in a dazzlingly colorful world. Fire is a human monster, an amazingly beautiful person who can read minds and manipulate people through her powers – either with just the way she looks or by compelling them to say or do things. Having seen what her cruel father Cansrel was able to do with his own monstrous powers, Fire is very cautious with hers. She has no intention of manipulating people and doesn’t even want to be involved in court politics. But the kingdom is on the brink of civil war and Fire has a role to play in all of this.

I loved Fire’s character. It was a pleasure to see her stretch as she opens herself up to possibilities. It’s understandable that she’s afraid of what she’s capable of but she has such a good heart that she doesn’t really have to worry about it. Aside from Fire, there are also plenty of fully fleshed out secondary characters to love in this novel. Can I just take a moment to say how much I love Brigan? Remarkable character and brilliant in so many different ways. I loved how Kristin Cashore portrayed the relationships in this book – they’re very messy and complicated but work so well in the context of the story. I liked seeing the dynamics of different types of relationships – romantic, platonic and within families – in the story. There’s a lot of love in there but also has some sadness and violence mixed in. Here’s a snippet that illustrates this:

“She had thought she’d already reached her capacity for pain and had no room inside her for more. But she remembered having told Archer once that you could not measure love on a scale of degrees, and now she understood that it was the same with pain. Pain might escalate upwards, and, just when you’d thought you’d reached your limit, begin to spread sideways, and spill out, and touch other people, and mix with their pain. And grow larger, but somehow less oppressive. She had thought herself trapped in a place outside the ordinary feeling lives of other people; she had not noticed how many other people were trapped in that place with her.”

Fire just has everything that I look for in my epic fantasy reads. Great characters, solid worldbuilding, a slow burn romance that I can root for and complex relationships that feel realistic. I cannot recommend it enough. It makes me happy that Fire stood up to a reread and I loved it just as much as when I was first introduced to it. In fact, I had to wait a couple of days for the story to fade from my mind before I could move on to another book. After rereading both Graceling and Fire, I am now craving for a new Kristin Cashore novel. I will be eagerly waiting for news about what she will publish next.


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The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Curse came to my attention when my good friend Nomes mentioned that it’s one of her favorite reads for this year. For some reason, this title flew under my radar when it first came out. I think the cover doesn’t really represent the story very well and might be one of the reasons why I wasn’t initially curious about The Winner’s Curse. I tried reading a couple of chapters just to see if it’s something that I would be interested in and I was fully absorbed. I was surprised at how easy it was to get into the story.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Winner's CurseAs a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him — with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

The Winner’s Curse is set in a make-believe world but has no magic or mythical creatures in it so it has more of a historical fantasy feel to it. Kestrel is the daughter of a well-known general, which is a pretty big deal since their society holds the military and warfare in high regard. The Valorian empire is already huge and yet it still continues to extend its reach and enslave the nations it conquers. The story is set several years after the Valorians have conquered the Herrani people. While Kestrel loves her people and she knows that slavery is part of their culture and their way of life, she doesn’t really approve of it. When she unexpectedly buys a slave at an auction, she has no idea what to with him. But she recognizes Arin’s strength of spirit and admires that. A friendship slowly develops between the two of them. Kestrel is bound by the constraints of the Valorian society – she only has two choices when she comes of age: to join the military or to get married, neither of which are very appealing to her. She’s not a good soldier even if she keeps training and she’s not interested enough in any guy to marry him. She’s great at military strategy, which is why her father keeps pushing her to enlist, but she’s not passionate about that kind of thing. What she loves is music, something which Valorians believe shouldn’t be taken seriously. A snippet to show how Kestrel feels when she plays the piano:

“Music made her feel as if she were holding a lamp that cast a halo of light around her, and while she knew there were people and responsibilities in the darkness beyond it, she couldn’t see them. The flame of what she felt when she played made her deliciously blind.”

I wish I felt that strongly about music but I don’t have the skill or talent for it. Instead, I will liken Kestrel’s passion to how I sometimes feel when I read – entirely focused in the world created by the author, paying no attention to other tasks that need to be done. Which is exactly what happened while I was reading The Winner’s Curse. To be honest, I have a hard time pinpointing why I enjoyed this book so much. I suppose it’s mostly because I like Kestrel, I like Arin and I like how their friendship developed. They’re both intelligent characters who slowly learn to respect and trust each other, in spite of their differences and the enmity between their nations. I also liked the setting and the contrast between the Valorian and Herrani cultures. How one was all about gaining power by expanding its borders, and one was a more peaceful culture centered around the arts. I was engrossed by The Winner’s Curse and yet I also feel like it could have been a stronger book. Let’s put it this way, this is a good introduction to the series and the story arc wraps up nicely but I feel like by the time the sequel comes out (maybe next year?), I would have forgotten most of the details in this one. It wasn’t mind-blowing but it was a pleasant and enjoyable read which I recommend to YA fans, even those who don’t usually read fantasy.

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe
Good Books and Good Wine
Ivy Book Bindings
Shae Has Left the Room
The Bookish Manicurist
Alexa Loves Books


3 Comments

Thorn by Intisar Khanani

At the beginning of the month, I was working on my monthly recap for April when I realized that I only finished reading one novel for the whole month. Instead of doing a recap, I thought I might as well just write a review for Thorn by Intisar Khanani. Thorn is one of those titles that I would never have discovered if it hadn’t been recommended through the blog. I was immediately curious when I found out about the premise of this book since it’s a retelling of The Goose Girl fairy tale. The only retelling of The Goose Girl that I’ve read prior to this one was Shannon Hale’s which is one of my favorite books so of course, I wanted to find something similar.

ThornHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had… until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies – and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

I read Thorn in bits and pieces, while traveling from one place to another. I can’t tell if it was because of this that I didn’t enjoy Thorn as much as I was expecting. I wonder if I would have liked the book better if I was able to read it in one go. I thought the writing was beautiful, I felt that it had a fairy tale feel to it. I also liked Thorn as a character and I was curious about her and what would happen after she loses her place as a princess. In spite of that, I felt that I wasn’t as invested in the story as much as I would have wanted. None of the other characters, except maybe for Falada the talking Horse, stood out for me. I would have wanted to care more for the prince and maybe even the king. I definitely wanted more of the thief Red Hawk. Maybe there were too many characters in the story, which made me feel that there wasn’t enough character development for most of them. The tone of the book is also a bit bleak and dark, with several characters having to endure so much but I was fine with that since the original story isn’t exactly a light and fun read. I just felt that some of the problems weren’t properly addressed towards the end of the novel. Maybe I’ll have a more positive reaction if I get to reread Thorn. I’m glad I gave it a try since The Goose Girl retellings are hard to come by. I would still be interested in checking out the author’s other books.


16 Comments

Retro Friday: Medair by Andrea K. Höst

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

MedairHaving previously loved Andrea K. Höst’s sci-fi novels And All the Stars and the Touchstone trilogy, I picked up her Medair duology when I needed to be fully absorbed by a good novel. It’s funny because out of all of her books, I wanted to read this epic fantasy duology first but I didn’t get the chance to read them until recently. Once again, I would like to thank the author for providing a review copy of the omnibus edition which contains both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost. I feel that both books have to be read together so I’m glad I got them in one edition.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Medair an Rynstar returned too late to drive back the Ibisian invasion. Centuries too late.

When friend and enemy have become the same thing, what use are the weapons Medair planned to use to protect her Empire? There is no magic, no artefact, no enchanted trinket which can undo the past.

But no matter how Medair wishes to hide from the consequences of her failure, there are those who will not allow her the luxury of denying the present. Her war is already lost, but she carries weapons which could change the course of new battles.

With the skirmishes of war beginning, and hunters in near pursuit, it is her conscience Medair cannot escape. Whose side should she be on? What is she really running from?

Silence of MedairI was completely immersed in Medair’s world right from the start. I read the whole thing in just one weekend because I couldn’t get enough of the story and just had to reach the end as soon as I could. I wanted to be swept away into a wonderful world filled with magic and adventure and I’m happy to report that Medair lived up to my expectations. Having had prior experience reading Andrea K. Höst’s other novels, I knew there would be surprising twists and turns in both The Silence of Medair and Voice of the Lost and I was right. I was immediately intrigued by the premise – Medair is a Herald of her kingdom, tasked with finding a powerful magical object that will help her people win the war. She succeeded in finding what she was looking for, but she stopped to rest in a place outside of time and when she woke up, she discovered that 500 years have passed. Not surprisingly, Medair feels lost, with no idea how to move forward. A large part of the reader’s enjoyment of Medair would depend on whether one will be able to sympathize with her and the issues that she faces. Her narration is very introspective, going back and forth from the past to the present, and trying to reconcile the differences between them. There’s a lot of reflection on her part as she reluctantly becomes involved in making decisions that would irrevocably change the world she found herself in. I loved Medair’s character, I understood her hesitations, her feelings and her worries. She’s an intelligent and resourceful woman, loyal to her liege and her country, and inherently a good person. But completely at a loss with how much has been altered in her world. I do admit that there could have been less of her thoughts going around in circles, even Medair was self-aware enough to realize that she keeps doing that, but I wasn’t really bothered by it. I can see why the narration wouldn’t work for everyone but I’m delighted that I was completely engrossed by it. Aside from Medair, I was also invested in several other characters in the story and I loved seeing her interact with them even as she tries to keep a distance.

Voice of the LostThere’s a whole lot of history and political intrigue intertwined with the story, partly because of the invasion centuries ago, and also because of the alliances of the various governing bodies around the region. I enjoyed these aspects and how magic was also involved in all of it. I like that there weren’t any lengthy explanations on how the magic works but it never got confusing for me. I felt that it was seamlessly woven into the story. I believe that this review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the romance in these two books. While I could see it coming, it was how the characters got there that mattered. In keeping with her personality and the situation she’s in, Medair doesn’t take her attraction to a certain someone lightly. As a result, there’s tension and ambiguity. I really had no idea how things would unfold between them. Andrea K. Höst has consistently surprised me with how she builds and develops relationships in her books. While I wasn’t exactly able to predict how things would end, I can say that there was a nice build up and I couldn’t see Medair’s story ending any other way. Similar to the Touchstone trilogy, I can see the Medair duology will be a very good reread. I look forward to finding the time for it. In the meantime, I need to work on convincing more readers to pick up her books because I seriously find it surprising that they’re not as well-known as they should be. I had a book hangover after reading these two books and the only solution I could think of was to start on another Andrea K. Höst title.

Other reviews:
Me and My Books

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