Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

I’ve heard of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy but I’ve seen mixed reviews of it so I’ve always been hesitant about picking it up. Especially now that we’re so close to the end of the year, I feel like sticking to books that come highly recommended. So when my good friends Angie and Michelle started raving about Six of Crows, I paid attention. If they both loved it then I knew chances were high that I would enjoy reading it too. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Six of CrowsKetterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price — and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Six of Crows was such a fun read! I would have devoured it more quickly if I wasn’t having such a busy work week. The pace was a bit slow at the start but quickly picked up after the crew of six has been assembled. And what a crew! I’m normally not a huge fan of having too many POVs in one novel but I didn’t mind getting a glimpse inside the heads of Kaz, Inej, Nina, Matthias, and Jesper. Only Wylan didn’t get his own POV but he was very much a part of the story. I couldn’t imagine the story being told any other way. I really liked all six of these characters – they were all well-developed and complex, with a full backstory of how they found themselves in the slums. I found all of their stories interesting, and I liked how their layers were peeled away throughout the course of the novel. Kaz and Inej are probably my favorites of the bunch. Kaz the scheming, lying and brilliant thief that he is. And his right hand, Inej, unparalleled in moving undetected and collecting valuable information. A thief and a spy, two types of characters that I thoroughly enjoy reading about! An early non-spoilery snippet that I think describes the characters well:

Kaz leaned back. “What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”

“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.

“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.

“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.

“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.

Kaz rolled his eyes. “The easiest way to steal a man’s wallet is to tell him you’re going to steal his watch. You take his attention and direct it where you want it to go…”

Words of wisdom from Kaz Brekker, ladies and gentlemen. It was just a pleasure to see all six of them working together, doing their best to trust and rely on each other. Even if they don’t always know what’s going to happen next. Even though they know each person in their group has done things he/she is not proud of. Each of them had their limits stretched during the time they’re all together. Their adventure kept me absorbed because the action never let up. I had no way of predicting how things will turn out and how these characters react to the situations they found themselves in. I was rooting so hard for them to get the prize that they all deserve. I also enjoyed the worldbuilding in this one. I was a little confused by the different kinds of powers the Grisha had (Six of Crows is my introduction to the world) but I became more familiar with them as the story progressed. Based on the descriptions, I think Ravka is based on Russia while Fjerda is probably one of the Scandinavian countries. I was also a fan of Leigh Bardugo’s writing in this one. I felt like the story just flowed smoothly, and there were lines from the characters that I kept highlighting. Last but certainly not the least, there’s more than one slow burn romance in Six of Crows with flawed characters that totally deserve to be together even if they don’t realize it yet. I can’t wait to see how these romances develop, especially the one which is the most subtle out of all of them. It must be noted that the story is not fully finished in this novel, and there will be a next installment due to be released next year. I was mildly surprised to reach the end, partly because I wanted to keep reading, and also because I wanted to know how the story ends. The second book can’t come soon enough.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Ivy Book Bindings

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I have been curious about Naomi Novik’s standalone fantasy, Uprooted, ever since I first heard about it. I read the first few Temeraire books and thought they were well-written. I just didn’t feel like continuing with the rest of the series. Closer to Uprooted’s release date, I saw glowing reviews pop up in the blogosphere and that just made me want to read the book even more. I picked it up when I was in the mood for a good fantasy novel – Uprooted delivered and even went beyond my expectations. It’s one of my favorite reads this year.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
UprootedAgnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows — everyone knows — that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I love how Uprooted’s first line just drew me in. Right away, I wanted to know more about Agnieszka and her village’s arrangement with the Dragon (who is a wizard and not a mythical beast). I really liked Agnieszka’s character. She had a lot of freedom because she was a Dragon girl and was able to run wild as a young girl. She used to think that one of her greatest skills was that she could always be counted on to mess up her appearance, getting her clothes torn and having mud stick to her skirts. But I think what’s great about her is that she cares deeply about people, especially her family and her best friend Kasia. I knew this was a significant trait that would shape her actions for the rest of the novel. At the start of the book, she has no idea why the Dragon chooses her and was as surprised as anyone else to discover that she is actually capable of doing magic. It was interesting to see her grow and develop her skills as a witch, more so because she has a different way of doing magic. I found her interactions with the Dragon entertaining! Some of the scenes were surprisingly funny for me. The Dragon was so ill-tempered, arrogant and a little vain. He was very reluctant to be a teacher to Agnieszka, he only did it because he felt it was his duty to train anyone who has magical abilities. He was snooty and kept looking down at Agnieszka when she couldn’t manage the simplest forms of magic. He thought she was a hopeless case. He strongly reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, which is not a bad thing because I loved that book. I just wish there was more about the Dragon, I wanted to know more about his backstory and I also wanted him to have more scenes in the latter half of the book. I was also pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Kasia. I thought she would have a small role to play in the story but she has an inner strength that’s very different from Agnieszka’s. I loved how solid their friendship was because I always enjoy reading about strong friendships in fiction.

Uprooted - first line

I loved the fairytale feel of the writing. It reminded me of some of my favorite authors like Robin McKinley, Juliet Marillier and Diana Wynne Jones (because of the Howl-like character). I thought the first half of the book had great pacing. I was very absorbed and wanted to ignore everything else so I can keep reading. The pace slowed down a bit after reaching the halfway mark, but it picked up again for the last few chapters. I enjoyed reading about the world that Naomi Novik created, from the mysterious and horrifying Wood to how magic works in different ways. Agnieszka’s magic is more instinctive and closely tied to nature and her environment. While the kind of magic that the Dragon wields is a more traditional (in their world), more scientific, with specific steps that need to be followed in order for a spell to be executed well. I also liked the experimental feel of the two kinds of magic being combined, I thought that was described beautifully. It felt like the combined magic worked specifically because it was Agnieszka and the Dragon doing them. Even though I wanted to read more about this world, I’m very satisfied that Uprooted is a standalone novel. Nowadays when so many series books are being released, it’s refreshing to read a book that is complete on its own. Beautifully written, Uprooted has everything that I love in a good fantasy novel: solid worldbuilding, political intrigue, strong heroine, friendships and family ties, and a romance that has a bit of a love-hate flavor. Highly recommended for fantasy fans. I felt like I was reading an old favorite when I picked this up. I’m pretty sure it’s a book that I will be rereading in the future. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Naomi Novik will write a companion novel set in this world with cameos from Agnieszka and the Dragon! I’ve also heard the news that the rights for an Uprooted movie adaptation have been bought and I’m really hoping they’d do a good job with that.

Other reviews:
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
By Singing Light
Angieville
Fantasy Cafe
The Book Smugglers
Me and My Books

Andrea K. Höst’s Ebooks On Sale

AKHost Covers

Andrea K. Höst has generously lowered the prices for individual copies of her books for US$0.99 each until the end of the year. Links to Amazon and Smashwords. I LOVED both the Touchstone trilogy and Medair duology, which I read earlier this year. Since then, I’ve reread most of the Touchstone books just because I’ve been itching to do so. I’ve also reviewed And All the Stars here. I also wrote a guest post for Andrea K. Höst week back when Rachel Neumeier organized it. I hope all of that is enough to convince you to give her books a try, especially while they’re currently on sale!

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.

Top Ten Underrated Authors in Epic Fantasy

Top Ten Tuesday2

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish. I think epic fantasy is becoming more of a trend lately because I have seen other bloggers raving about recently published novels that they’ve loved. I’ve tried some of them but unfortunately, I didn’t think they were as strong as some of my favorite epic fantasy books. So for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I wanted to focus on one of the genres that I love. Some of the epic fantasy authors I think more readers should check out:

Megan Whalen Turner – I think I’ve made it pretty clear how much I love MWT’s books. I know it’s gotten a bit more attention from authors and bloggers in the past few years but I still don’t think it’s enough!

Robin McKinley – I love Robin McKinley’s lyrical writing style and how her books have a fairy tale feel to them (of course, some of them are fairy tale retellings). My favorites are The Blue Sword, Beauty and Pegasus.

Diana Wynne Jones – I haven’t read all of DWJ’s books but I’ve really enjoyed the ones that I have. I wish I discovered her novels much sooner. I loved Howl’s Moving Castle and also enjoyed the Hayao Miyazaki film adaptation of it.

Sherwood Smith – I think Sherwood Smith writes fun adventure stories and I also love the slow burn romances in her books. I need to catch up on her books because I haven’t read her more recent releases. My favorites of hers are Crown Duel and the Sasharia en Garde duology.

Kristin Cashore – I recently reread Graceling and Fire for a book club discussion and I was reminded of how beautiful Kristin Cashore’s writing is. Strong female protagonists, wonderful worldbuilding and love stories I could root for.

Meg BurdenNorthlander and The King Commands are seriously underrated novels that they’re now out of print. I really enjoyed reading them and I wish they would get more attention. Also hoping that Meg Burden will publish more books.

Andrea K. Host – AKHost is a fairly recent discovery for me, I read and loved her Touchstone trilogy (YA sci fi) and Medair duology (epic fantasy) earlier this year and I’ve been itching to reread them. I’ve been recommending her books to anyone who will listen.

Rachel Neumeier – I thought House of Shadows was a really good read and I’ve been meaning to read The Floating Islands for a while now! I like that Rachel’s books are standalones, which is rare for the genre.

Frances Hardinge – I thought both A Face Like Glass and The Lost Conspiracy were amazing and I feel like Frances Hardinge is a reliable author when it comes to epic fantasy. These two books are also standalones so you can start with either of them.

Juliet Marillier – Another author I need to catch up on since she has several books that I still haven’t read. I highly recommend her Sevenwaters series, Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows are brilliant works of fiction.

Have you read any of these authors? Would you have recommendations for me that would have similar writing to these authors?

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.

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

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

I’ve heard so many good things about House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier from other bloggers. I borrowed it from the Singapore public library last year but didn’t get a chance to read it before the due date. Which is why I decided that it would be better to just get my own copy – that way, I could read it when I felt like picking it up. A few weeks (months?) ago, I noticed that I haven’t read fantasy in a while so I thought it would be good try this one. Can I just say that I think it’s great that House of Shadows is a standalone? Most fantasy novels are part of a series so it’s always refreshing to come across a fantasy book that stands well on its own.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

House of ShadowsOrphaned, two sisters are left to find their own fortunes.

Sweet and proper, Karah’s future seems secure at a glamorous Flower House. She could be pampered for the rest of her life… if she agrees to play their game.

Nemienne, neither sweet nor proper, has fewer choices. Left with no alternative, she accepts a mysterious mage’s offer of an apprenticeship. Agreeing means a home and survival, but can Nemienne trust the mage?

With the arrival of a foreign bard into the quiet city, dangerous secrets are unearthed, and both sisters find themselves at the center of a plot that threatens not only to upset their newly found lives, but also to destroy their kingdom.

You know when you feel like you read a book just when you were in the right mood for it? House of Shadows was exactly what I needed, it’s the kind of epic fantasy that I enjoy reading. Magic, intrigue, a world I can get lost in and characters I had fun getting to know. The premise suggests that the main characters are sisters Nemienne and Karah, but we also get the points of view of Leilis and Taudde. It was easy enough to like all four of them, plus the secondary ones within the story, but I feel like it was Leilis and Taudde who stood out from everyone else. It may sound a bit confusing to read about so many individuals but I didn’t have a problem with it, probably because I usually focus more on characters than anything else in the books that I read. The switching points of view gave me a better understanding of the different types of people who inhabit this world. I also really liked the idea of the keiso, modeled after the Japanese geisha. The keiso choose to devote their lives to their art (e.g. dancing, singing) and they are well-respected for that. Living as a keiso is considered an honorable way of life, which I think gives them a higher status than geisha. Instead of becoming mistresses, the keiso can choose to marry men (who are usually powerful or wealthy) and become flower brides if they wanted to. Children of flower brides are recognized by their affluent fathers.

Aside from the characters, I enjoyed reading about the world in The House of Shadows – where there are different kinds of magic and there’s a brewing war between two nations. I liked how the political intrigue added to the character development, how the different layers and motivations behind everything that they do were shown. To be honest, I’m having a hard time pinpointing what worked for me in The House of Shadows. I just feel like all the details came together to produce an enjoyable fantasy read. I was absorbed by the story and I read the whole thing fairly quickly. There are times when I really like a novel but I find it difficult to explain why – I kind of just want to say that I enjoyed this, maybe you should give it a try as well. It’s been months since I finished reading it and I still I haven’t found the right words to articulate my appreciation of this book. And yet I want to post a review so I can recommend it to other readers. If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, then you will probably enjoy reading this just as much as I did. Although I probably wouldn’t recommend this to non-epic fantasy readers, I don’t think this will be a good introduction to the genre if you’re not familiar with it. I really like how pretty and eye-catching the cover is, I think it suits the story even if the dress the girl is wearing wasn’t described in the book. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked The House of Shadows and I’m delighted that I have a copy of The Floating Islands waiting on my TBR shelf. I hope it’s just as good as this one.

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Charlotte’s Library
The Book Smugglers
By Singing Light
Specfic Romantic

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass

I first noticed Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass when several Goodreads friends began reading review copies of the book. It’s been getting a lot of attention lately and I heard positive things about it so I became curious. My friend Janice generously sent a copy and since I wasn’t in the middle of anything when it arrived, I started on it right away.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Throne of Glass coverAfter serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men — thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Well, that didn’t turn out as well as I expected. I’m a huge fan of YA epic fantasy when it’s done well. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like that was the case with Throne of Glass. The premise had so much promise – I wanted to read about an assassin trying to balance court intrigue with the fierce competition to become the King’s Champion. After just a few chapters, I knew I wasn’t going to get what I expected. I found it odd that an assassin as notorious as Celaena is more concerned about her looks and her dresses rather than honing her fighting skills. I was surprised by how often the characters focused on physical appearances rather than personalities – even the prince kept noticing how pretty Celaena is when he should be noting how well she fights as his candidate in the competition. Aside from not being fully invested in the characters, I wasn’t impressed by the world-building, either. I was initially intrigued by the mystery in the novel – what the country’s history was like, why magic has been banned, who was behind the murders – but that eventually fell flat for me. I don’t know, it just wasn’t as tightly woven (if that makes sense) as I’d like.

I also wasn’t a fan of the love triangle in Throne of Glass because I felt like it wasn’t necessary and the romance felt under-developed because of it. Sigh, I hate to be so negative in a review but I just wanted to list the reasons why I felt like Throne of Glass didn’t work for me. I was even tempted to DNF the book because I found the last hundred pages or so dragging, I just wanted to get it over with. It felt like I was reading paranormal YA (which I try to stay away from as much as possible) instead of epic fantasy. As always, feel free to pick up the book if this looks like the kind of thing you’ll enjoy reading, I’ve seen mixed reviews for it so I guess it really depends on how well you’ll be able to connect with the story. I feel like Throne of Glass would work for readers who haven’t read the likes of Robin McKinley, Megan Whalen Turner or Kristin Cashore. But if you’re like me and you’re aware of the awesomeness of other novels, I have a feeling you’ll just be disappointed. Throne of Glass will be released August 7, 2012.

Other reviews:
A Jane of All Reads
Emily’s Reading Room
Books Without Any Pictures

Retro Friday: The Dark Mirror by Juliet Marillier

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’ve been meaning to read the rest of Juliet Marillier’s novels ever since I fell in love with her Sevenwaters series. It’s taken me a while to pick up another Marillier book because the huge TBR pile keeps distracting me with other choices. Nowadays, I’m behind on reviews so I thought it would be a good idea to sink my teeth into a doorstopper so I can catch up on blog posts. The Dark Mirror, the first in the Bridei Chronicles, is certainly one of those with its 670 pages.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Dark Mirror by Juliet MarillierBridei is a young nobleman fostered at the home of Broichan, one of the most powerful druids in the land. His earliest memories are not of hearth and kin but of this dark stranger who while not unkind is mysterious in his ways. The tasks that he sets Bridei appear to have one goal-to make him a vessel for some distant purpose. What that purpose is Bridei cannot fathom but he trusts the man and is content to learn all he can about the ways of the world.

But something happens that will change Bridei’s world forever… and possibly wreck all of Broichan’s plans. For Bridei finds a child on their doorstep on a bitter MidWinter Eve, a child seemingly abandoned by the fairie folk. It is uncommonly bad luck to have truck with the Fair Folk and all counsel the babe’s death. But Bridei sees an old and precious magic at work here and heedless of the danger fights to save the child. Broichan relents but is wary.

The two grow up together and as Bridei comes to manhood he sees the shy girl Tuala blossom into a beautiful woman. Broichan sees the same process and feels only danger… for Tuala could be a key part in Bridei’s future…or could spell his doom.

The Dark Mirror spans several years – it starts from Bridei’s childhood when he was first brought to Broichan’s household to endure long years of training. While not cruel, Broichan is very strict and Bridei’s childhood seemed a little bleak without the company of fellow children. Which is why he was ecstatic when he discovers a child left on the doorstep – Bridei names her Tuala and he firmly believes that she is a gift from the gods and he is meant to protect her. As always, I found Juliet Marillier’s writing lyrical and atmospheric. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the pacing of the book was slow. The first half of the book was devoted to Bridei’s learning and how he relates to Tuala as a child. While I liked Bridei, Tuala and several of the secondary characters, I didn’t feel as connected to them as I did with the Sevenwaters characters. I was curious enough about the story to keep on going – I wanted to see how Bridei would develop into a young man and how he’ll face the plans that have been laid out for him. I also wanted to know what Tuala’s role is in Bridei’s life, why she was entrusted in his keeping. But I wasn’t as invested in the story as much as I’d like. I felt a little detached and I guess that prevented me from falling in love with this.

I still believe Juliet Marillier writes excellent historical fiction – I enjoyed reading The Dark Mirror because it reads like a well-researched historical novel with just the right amount of magic to make things interesting. She’s still an auto-buy, auto-read author for me and I’m planning to read the other books in the series because I already have copies. I’m just hoping I’d like them more than I liked this one. The Dark Mirror is a quiet kind of story so I feel like it’s not something that every reader will enjoy. I feel bad that I didn’t find this as amazing as I expected because Juliet Marillier is one of my favorite authors and I can’t even explain why the book didn’t work for me. This experience reminds me of the first Marillier that I read: Wildwood Dancing and the fact that I didn’t love that either. The Dark Mirror really is a well-written novel but I think it just wasn’t for me or I wasn’t in the right mood to read this. If this sounds like your kind of thing then go ahead and pick it up but if you’re reading Juliet Marillier for the first time, I recommend that you start with Daughter of the Forest instead of this one.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Calico Reaction