Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore is one of my most anticipated titles in 2012. I’ve been waiting for YEARS for Bitterblue to be published, ever since I found out that Graceling will have a sequel. I loved both Graceling and Fire so I had high hopes that I’d feel the same way about their companion novel. On the week that it was released, I kept dropping by local bookstores to ask if they already have a copy of Bitterblue. Luckily, I found a copy soon enough and got even more excited when I discovered that there are beautiful illustrations inside the book. Spoiler warning for those who haven’t read Graceling! Read Kristin Cashore’s first novel before picking up this one.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle — disguised and alone — to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Going in, I knew that Bitterblue would be different from Kristin Cashore’s other heroines, Katsa and Fire. She’s not Graced with fighting and she doesn’t have mind reading abilities. What Bitterblue has is a horrific past care of her psychotic father, truly a creepy villain. There’s a lot of confusion in the kingdom of Monsea because of the mind-altering ways of its previous monarch. I found the first few chapters (maybe even the first half) of the book a bit slow, which I guess is a given because Bitterblue is still trying to work through the mess left by her father. I understood that and I really felt that the writing in this book is even better than the author’s previous work, which is why it pains me to say that I didn’t love Bitterblue as much as I expected. It’s hard to explain, really, because I admired Bitterblue’s character. I think she’s developed well throughout the course of the novel – she learns how to stand up to her advisors and her friends. She eventually comes out of her shell (or should I say her palace) and learns so many truths that have been kept from her for her protection. I guess the pacing was a factor but I think it was mostly because I wasn’t able to connect with Bitterblue and that prevented me from wholeheartedly enjoying her story.

I think I have to mention the romance and my problems with it. I was disappointed because I LOVED the romance in both Graceling and Fire. However, I didn’t feel the same way about the romance in this book. I felt like it would have been better if there had been no love interest for Bitterblue. It’s still a slow burn romance, with a lot of tension between the two characters, but I felt like it was half-baked. Does that make sense? The relationship didn’t have the depth that I was looking for and to be honest, I kind of felt like Bitterblue would have been better off with a different leading man (am I the only one who noticed that there was something between her and a certain someone she can’t lie to?) Kristin Cashore is still an auto-buy author for me – I really liked seeing how characters from her other novels are doing and I think she did a great job of tying everything together in this installment. As always, it’s just a matter of personal taste and I can never predict how I’ll feel about a novel until I read it – which is why I’m still recommending Bitterblue to fans of YA epic fantasy and those who like their novels with a healthy dose of political intrigue. It’s a well-written novel, it just wasn’t as brilliantly amazing as I wanted it to be.

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers
Good Books and Good Wine
The Readventurer

Read-along Review: The King Commands by Meg Burden

My good friend Michelle (See Michelle Read) and I decided to do a readalong of Meg Burden’s The Tales of the Borderlands duology. We kept exchanging messages back and forth, updating each other on our progress and our thoughts. We thought it would be a good idea to post conversation-type of reviews for both books. Drop by her blog to see what we have to say about Northlander. While this is a spoiler-free discussion of The King Commands, we discuss specific details about the books so if you’d rather not know anything about the story before reading it, you might skip this and just read the last paragraph.

Ellin never wanted to go to the Northlands but she didn’t have a choice when the Northlander king’s physicians requested for her father’s help. So much has happened in her life and surprisingly, she’s learned to like living in the Northlands just as much as the Southlands. Sure, people are still wary of her red hair and her healing abilities but she thinks that’s a small price to pay for being with her friends – the Northlander princes. Just when she thinks peace has settled in the kingdom, a series of unexpected events force Ellin to travel back to her homeland to find answers.

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Chachic: Yes, let’s go on and read book two! I read the first few pages last night but I didn’t want to continue because I wanted to wait for you so we can discuss the first book. Have you read the synopsis for book two? The love interest is mentioned right away. I wish they hadn’t done that.

Michelle: So I’m so very glad that you mentioned that the synopsis gives away Ellin’s love interest! I usually don’t read the back cover anyways once I decide to start a book but I appreciate the warning. Still, the temptation is GREAT to peek! And the hubby keeps taunting me cause he read the back when I told him what you said 🙂 I started it tonight, but I’m only a few pages in so I’m looking forward to see where it goes.

Chachic: So I’m a couple of chapters in and I’m still confused regarding Ellin’s love interest! Haha I’m not even sure if the guy mentioned in the synopsis is really the romantic lead because I can see the story going in other directions. So funny that your husband keeps taunting you though. Don’t worry, you’ll probably go through the chapters quickly and you’ll reach the place where I currently am (end of chapter 12) in no time.

Michelle: So I’m up to page 100 or so now and once again Meg Burden is astounding! So much happens and it always catches me completely off guard!

Also, how fun that we are getting a greater insight into Finn’s character! If possible I am loving him more than ever now due to those chapters from his perspective. Seriously! I just want gather that boy up and hug him tight.

Chachic: We’re at about the same page so that’s good. 🙂 Yes, I was so surprised at how quickly things unfolded in the first few chapters of the The King Commands! I haven’t been able to predict any of the events that have happened so far – and that’s a good thing, right?

I love the chapters from Finn’s POV! I did a bit of searching and found this interview that Meg Burden did on bookshelves of doom and she talks about how she wanted to write from a different POV in the second book but didn’t want it to feel disconnected with the first one.

Sorry, I just had to share this – Meg Burden replied to a conversation that Angie and I had on Twitter.

Michelle: How crazy is it that Meg Burden chatted with you on Twitter! Maybe she gets alert emails (like me) when someone happens to mention me there. Pretty cool tho. It is sad that she didn’t get to write a 3rd book for the series, but I am secretly thrilled that it does all get wrapped up in TKC since there isn’t another one for us to read. Nothing worse than being left hanging during the middle of a truly awesome series.

Chachic: I know, I was amazed when Meg Burden replied on Twitter! It is sad that there wouldn’t be a third book in this series but at least things are nicely wrapped up in TKC and we don’t have to wait for the next installment. So glad I decided to buy a copy of TKC when I ordered Northlander. I wouldn’t have minded waiting a bit to read the sequel because Northlander stands well enough on its own. It’s just that I enjoyed it so much so I wanted to start on TKC right away.

Michelle: I should start this out with an apology! I got reading tonight and couldn’t help but finish! I think you will too once you get going 🙂 And wow, what a ride it takes you on! Back and forth from the Northland to the Southland and everywhere in between. I do feel like this one was a bit more grown-up if you will. Ellin had seen and been through so much that I really feel like she changed buckets. Really all the characters, but I think that’s to be expected.

Chachic: No need to apologize! I understand that you wanted to keep on going until you finished the whole thing, I felt the same way. So much action was packed in TKC, I wanted to reach the end just to find out how everything will unfold. I agree that this book feels a bit older than Northlander, which is a good thing because it’s like the story grows with Ellin. That also means there’s excellent character development in the novel.

Michelle: Also, how lovely to see a YA book where there are true friendships developed between men and women without it ever getting weird. Ellin and Coll’s interactions throughout the book had to be some of my favorite moments. And seeing the teasing that went on with the other brothers never failed to bring a smile to my face either.

Chachic: I agree, it’s always nice when books focus on friendships or healthy relationships between family members (like the brothers in this duology – you can really feel how fond they are of each other). I also love how Ellin and Coll act like their siblings even though they haven’t known each other that long.

Michelle: Can I just say how much I adore Coll? His character has evolved so very much and he has become this amazingly strong and stalwart person that I never would have foreseen. I love his ability to speak from the heart and find comfort in his horses.

Chachic: I love Coll as well, he’s such a great character! Steadfast and strong in his own quiet way. Coll Horse Master is the perfect title for him and I love that he bonded with Ellin over his favorite mare.

Michelle: But really?!? That’s how Meg Burden ended the book? She just drops this little tidbit onto us in the last 10 pages? I guess it’s mostly due to the fact that originally it was planned out for 3 books so the story had to be condensed, but still! So many details were thrown out there at the last that I was so not expecting!

Chachic: I KNOW! So I know that Meg Burden said on Twitter that there wouldn’t be a third book so she wrapped things up in TKC. But even if I liked where it ended, I still felt like it was incomplete. I get the feeling that the story could have continued. I agree that the last few pages nicely sets up the rest of the story and it makes me sad that there wouldn’t be more set in this world.

But I really enjoyed reading these books! Yay us for picking winners for our readalong. I like how most characters from the first book changed (for the better) in the second book. It seemed like all of the characters did their fair share of growing up – enemies became friends and vice versa. So many changes in how things were!

Michelle: Yes! Everyone was able to put aside differences and see that working together was for the benefit of the group at large.

Chachic: Can we talk about the cover for a bit? I think the cover for Northlander looks okay but I feel like TKC could have a much better cover design. Is it just me or it looks like a picture straight out of an online game? And I can’t even figure out who is supposed to be on the cover. The blond guy is probably Alaric but who’s the red-headed one? I wish they just used a picture of Ellin (or maybe the brothers).

Michelle: Oh my, yes! We never did discuss that tragedy did we? And you’re right, Northlander is pretty good — sorta brooding, forbidding castle but TKC? Horrible. Every time I picked it up I just would cringe in disbelief that someone would actually choose to PRINT that. And I have no idea who those two are supposed to be either. Finn? Alaric? I wish they had just gone with another generic castle or something — anything would have been better than that photoshopping disaster.

Chachic: Maybe they used a stock photo instead of having someone specifically design a cover for the book? I agree, it would have been better if they had gone with a generic cover design – maybe a landscape of the Southlands or the Northlands? LOL but I’m glad we agree about the cover.

So excited to post our reviews of these two. I’m hoping we get to encourage more readers to pick up the books.

Michelle: And yep! I can’t wait to post these either. I really hope it spurs someone else to pick them up cause they were a lot of fun. I actually originally looked at getting my copies from the Book Depository but saw that they were $8 or 9 apiece so I actually got mine used off Amazon for around $8 for both. Super cheap. I know that wasn’t an option for you (very sad) but we could let people know that you CAN find them cheaply if not at libraries or something.
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There you have it, folks. I think we pretty much covered everything that we wanted to say about the sequel. I was telling Michelle that our thread for The King Commands is a bit longer than the one that we had for Northlander. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both of these books. I was reminded of how much I enjoy reading epic fantasy novels while I was going through Meg Burden’s books. There are so many things to like in this series – a strong female character (inner strength instead of physical strength), political intrigue stemming from the uneasy situation between the Northlands and the Southlands, friendships that you can root for and even a bit of romance. It’s sad that there aren’t a lot of readers who have picked up these books because they’re really good reads and both Michelle and I are hoping to encourage more people to pay attention to them with our reviews. Recommended for fans of Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale and Sherwood Smith.

Other reviews:
Charlotte’s Library
wands and worlds
A Jane of all Reads

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

I’m a Melina Marchetta fan girl. I love love love both Jellicoe Road and The Piper’s Son and I’ve read the rest of her contemporary novels. I recently got a copy of her first epic fantasy novel, Finnikin of the Rock, and thought that it would be a good idea to read it along with two blogging buddies – Holly and Janice. I had a lot of fun going through the novel with these two. We would comment on each other’s Goodreads update status and discuss how we felt about the novel as we moved along. I wasn’t surprised that I kept agreeing with everything that they said. Click here to see Janice’s review.

Here’s the summary from Melina Marchetta’s website for those who are curious:

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of his homeland, Lumatere. And so he stands on the rock of three wonders with his childhood friend Prince Balthazar and the prince’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood. And Lumatere is safe.

Until the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, when the King and Queen and their children are slaughtered in the palace. And an imposter king takes the throne. And a curse is put on Lumatere, which traps those caught inside and forces thousands of others to roam the land as exiles, dying of fever and persecution in foreign camps.

But ten years later Finnikin is led to another rock to meet the young novice, Evanjalin. A girl plagued by dark dreams, who holds the key to their return to the Land of light…

I knew going in that this wouldn’t be an easy read. Melina Marchetta is one of those authors who can perfectly balance pain and suffering with hope and redemption in their novels. The characters go through so much in the course of the book that readers can’t help but feel for them. Finnikin of the Rock is a classic Marchetta in that sense. Sadly, I didn’t feel like there was a perfect balance of light and dark in this novel. Early in the novel, it was said that Lumatere’s salvation is paved in blood and IT REALLY IS. Sigh, it felt like every character in the novel went through his or her own personal version of hell. It was a wonder that hoped still burned within their hearts. I just wish there was a little bit more love and laughter to lighten things up – an unexpected kindness here and there or a happy situation for some of the characters. As a reader, I felt bogged down by the heaviness of the book’s theme.

The first few chapters were a bit confusing because I felt that I just got thrown into the world and I kept checking the maps to pinpoint the places mentioned. The worldbuilding and the writing weren’t as smooth as I was expecting, it felt uneven in some parts and there were bits that pulled me out of the story. It was a little frustrating that I felt this way because I wanted to love Finnikin of the Rock just as much as Melina Marchetta’s contemporary novels. Having said that, I still cared enough for the characters to want all of them to have a happy ending so I didn’t have a hard time reading until the end. I even read ahead of the assigned chapters for our read along because I was curious where the story would lead. So I think the strength of this fantasy novel lies in the characters and how readers will sympathize with them. Both Finnikin and Evanjalin are strong characters – they had to be to endure everything that they had to go through. There were some parts where I got frustrated by their relationship because both are really stubborn but I guess that’s just part of who they are. I liked that the secondary characters were fully fleshed out and the focus wasn’t just on Finnikin and Evanjalin. My favorite relationship in this book is probably the one between Finnikin and his father.

Finnikin of the Rock is not an easy read. I’m not even sure if it’s classified under young adult because for me, it reads like an adult epic fantasy novel. It’s definitely a worthwhile read if you’re an epic fantasy reader or a Melina Marchetta fan but it’s the kind of book that would make you pick up something light and fun afterwards (well, that’s what happened with me). I think it’s great the author decided to write a novel in a different genre. I have nothing but respect for authors who move away from what they’re known for to see what they’re capable of. I may not have loved this one as much as her other novels but she’s still an auto-read author for me and I actually just started on Froi of the Exiles because I got the galley from NetGalley. Melina Marchetta is still the queen of Aussie YA for me.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Random Musings of a Bibliophile
Persnickety Snark

Silksinger by Laini Taylor

Silksinger is the second book in the Dreamdark series by Laini Taylor and is the sequel to Blackbringer. Laini Taylor has become an auto-buy author for me because I fell in love with her YA books: Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Lips Touch. I found Blackbringer a little harder to get into that her other books but ended up enjoying it quite a bit once I got used to the writing and the worldbuilding. I picked up Silksinger right after reading the first book because I wanted to see how the story would progress. Okay, I just realized that I posted my Blackbringer review a month ago – I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about the sequel. Sorry about that!

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Whisper Silksinger is the last of the secret guardians of the Azazel, one of the powerful Djinn who dreamed the world into being. Relentlessly pursued by bloodthirsty devils, she flees to the city of Nazneen to restore the Azazel to his temple. At the same time, Hirik Mothmage is also on a secret quest, to find the Azazel and restore his disgraced clan’s ancient honor.

And behind them all flies Magpie Windwitch, desperate to rescue Whisper and the Azazel alike before they fall in the clutches of a sinister hidden enemy.

I’ve heard from other bloggers that Silksinger is a lot better than its predecessor, Blackbringer, and I have to agree. The second installment in Laini Taylor’s series about faeries is a lot easier to get into that the first book. Or maybe it’s also because I’m more familiar with the details so it wasn’t as difficult as experiencing Dreamdark for the first time. I found the action-packed adventure story engaging right from the start. Here’s a glimpse of how the first chapter begins:

“Whisper Silksinger knew two kinds of death. There was the peaceful kind, quiet as eyelids fluttering shut, and there was the kind with teeth, sudden as a spurt of blood, a devil pounce, a scream. She had seen both. Of her whole clan only three faeries remained, and now death had come for them too.

And it had come with teeth.”

Doesn’t that make you want to know what happens next? The characters in the first book – Magpie, her crow companions and Talon – are back in this novel but new characters are also present. What I liked about Silksinger is that Laini Taylor continued to breathe life to the world that she created in Blackbringer by introducing new characters like Whisper and Hirik, moving the setting to different locations in the same world and adding new kinds of magic. I feel like there are more layers to the story as it moves forward, giving it more depth. I like that each Dreamdark novel focuses on one of the djinn and the fairies that have special connections to them. So even if Magpie, Talon and crows are in this novel, it really is more of Whisper and Hirik’s story. At the start, Whisper might seem like such a timid person but she has a backbone of steel when it comes to doing her duty as a guardian of Azazel. She’s not as feisty as Magpie but she has her own strengths. And Hirik is the same – he’s determined to bring back honor to his clan by serving the Azazel in spite of all the dangers involved.

I’ve only read a handful of middle grade novels this year but I’ve really liked all of them, which shouldn’t be surprising because I base my reading choices on recommendations from blogging buddies or Goodreads friends. After reading Silksinger, I really felt bad that the publisher has decided not to continue the series. I don’t understand why because it’s well-written and I would really like to read more of Laini Taylor’s writing. Her Dreamdark books are different from her YA novels, which I think is a good thing because it shows her capabilities as a writer. She switches from middle grade epic fantasy to YA urban fantasy and does it successfully. Isn’t that amazing? I believe she’s working on Daughter of Smoke and Bone’s sequel and then she’ll probably work on the third novel in the trilogy after that. Which means she won’t be able to come back to Dreamdark until after a few years have passed. SAD. There’s closure in both Dreamdark books and they don’t end in cliffhangers so they can be read on their own but come on, I want to know what happens to the other djinn! I really hope the series finds a new publisher and that we’ll eventually see the rest of the books. So if you’re a Laini Taylor fan and you love epic fantasy, support her Dreamdark books by reading (and if you can, reviewing) them.

Here’s another reason to read the books, they include beautiful illustrations by Jim di Bartolo:

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe
Charlotte’s Library
By Singing Light

Finnikin of the Rock Read-Along

Just wanted to make a quick post saying that I’m reading Finnikin of the Rock by the queen of Aussie YA, Melina Marchetta, along with two of my favorite bloggers: Janice of Janicu’s Book Blog and Holly of Book Harbinger. I have the Aussie edition of the book and I opened up my copy to discover that the inside is just as pretty as the cover. So I decided to take some pictures.

Colored illustration in the inside cover:

Maps:

Section headings:

Chapter headings:

Here’s the summary from Melina Marchetta’s website for those who are curious:

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of his homeland, Lumatere. And so he stands on the rock of three wonders with his childhood friend Prince Balthazar and the prince’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood. And Lumatere is safe.

Until the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, when the King and Queen and their children are slaughtered in the palace. And an imposter king takes the throne. And a curse is put on Lumatere, which traps those caught inside and forces thousands of others to roam the land as exiles, dying of fever and persecution in foreign camps.

But ten years later Finnikin is led to another rock to meet the young novice, Evanjalin. A girl plagued by dark dreams, who holds the key to their return to the Land of light…

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll love this just as much as I loved the author’s contemporary novels. Watch out for our reviews in the coming weeks!

Retro Friday: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

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.

Laini Taylor is one of my favorite discoveries this year. I fell in love with both Lips Touch and Daughter of Smoke and Bone when I got to read them. Since the latter is getting a lot of attention from bloggers and readers alike, I thought it would be a good idea to feature her lesser-known Dreamdark novel during Retro Friday.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Magpie Windwitch is not like other faeries, most of whom live in tranquil seclusion. When she learns that escaped devils are creeping back into the world, she travels all over with her faithful clan of crows, hunting them down. The hunt will take her to the great forest of Dreamdark, where she must unravel the mystery of the worst enemy her folk have ever known. Can one small, determined faerie defeat the forces that threaten to unmake the world?

Blackbringer is the first book in the Dreamdark series. Laini Taylor mentions in her website that she initially wanted to write five Dreamdark books but the publisher has decided not to continue with the series. When I found out about that, I rushed to the bookstore to get my own copies of both Blackbringer and Silksinger because I was afraid I would have a hard time looking for copies later on. I had a difficult time getting into Blackbringer at first because it’s different from the other Laini Taylor books that I’ve read but after a couple of chapters, I was hooked and enjoyed reading the whole thing until the end. It’s written for younger audiences, middle grade instead of young adult, and is epic fantasy rather than urban fantasy.

Other faeries are content to live in their own world, enclosed by protective spells that keep away both humans and devils. But Magpie is different, she gets her restless energy from her parents and her grandfather, the West Wind. She travels with her band of crows to fight against devils, just like the champions in the golden days of Dreamdark. Devils are evil creatures who devour and destroy everything they can get their hands on. Magpie is one feisty character and I didn’t have trouble liking her. She’s young for her race, about a hundred years old, but she’s determined to do something for their dying world. Even though I didn’t think the writing in Blackbringer is as beautiful and lyrical as her YA novels, I still think she created an enchanting world in her first Dreamdark novel and I look forward to seeing how she builds upon that. Some things that I liked about her faeries: they belong in different clans and have their own special skills (e.g. one clan tends to plants and trees while another warrior clan is in charge of protecting Dreamdark) and their wings vary too. Some faeries have butterfly or moth wings while Magpie has dragonfly wings. Another thing that I liked is how significant dreams are in this story – dreams play important roles in the events that unfold in this novel. Illustrations by the author’s husband, Jim di Bartolo, also appear in various sections of the book. Here are samples:

I love books with illustrations in them and I think these are beautiful. While the book didn’t end on a cliffhanger, it’s set up in such a way that the reader knows that there’s more to this world. I’m excited for the sequel, Silksinger, especially since I’ve heard that it’s even better than this one. Recommended for those who enjoyed reading R.J. Anderson’s Knife or for fans of faerie books. I’m hoping that because Daughter of Smoke and Bone is getting a lot of attention, more readers will pick up Laini Taylor’s backlist.

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe
Charlotte’s Library
The Book Smugglers
Squeaky Books

Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn

Reader and Raelynx by Sharon Shinn is the fourth book in the Twelve Houses series. My friend Celina of The Bookkeeper was nice enough to let me borrow her copy of this book. As always, thanks! Reading order: Mystic and Rider, The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, Reader and Raelynx, Fortune and Fate. Should the books be read in order? Yes. Also, don’t read any of the synopses of the latter books if you haven’t read the earlier ones. They contain spoilery bits. Seriously, what is up with the summaries for these books? They all have spoilers. Reader and Raelynx is about the mystic Cammon, the last of the six companions featured in the series. In this world, mystics are people who have magical abilities. Cammon’s skill lies in being able to read people – while he can’t exactly read minds, he can still get a sense of what people are feeling and what their intentions are. He can spot violence miles away because that emotion stands out. He can also sense the other companions in the series – Senneth, Tayse, Kirra, Donnal and Justin – wherever they end up in the country. Cammon’s talents are pretty useful when it comes to spotting danger. At the start of the novel, he’s assigned to protect the princess and help her in selecting the right husband. Princess Amalie needs to marry and preferably produce an heir to the throne so the succession would become less of a problem for the kingdom. So Cammon’s job is pretty important. I found it easy to like Cammon as a character because he’s nice, friendly and has good intentions. He doesn’t care about material wealth and is actually pretty clueless about social classes. He judges people based on how he feels about them and not on how influential they are to the realm.

Out of all the books that I’ve read in the Twelve Houses series, Reader and Raelynx is the one that I like the most. I feel like the rest of the books are all about the build up and the climax occurs in this book. Right from the start of the series, war has been brewing in the land and the six companions are doing everything that they can to support the king and keep the peace. There’s not much that I can say without giving away details or spoilers about the plot so let me leave it at this: Big Events happen during Reader and Raelynx and a lot of secrets are revealed. I didn’t find any of the revelations surprising but I still enjoyed reading about them. As expected, all the other companions are present in this novel and that’s one thing that I like about this series – all of the books focus on one set of characters and the story arc ties them all together. I appreciate knowing more about the characters from the other books and I liked seeing them in this one. The last novel in the series is more a companion novel because it doesn’t focus on the initial six companions and is set a couple of years after this one so no need to hurry to read it. Like I said in my reviews of the other books, I recommend this series to fans of epic fantasy. Overall, I still like the Samaria series more than the Twelve Houses novels but at this point, Sharon Shinn is pretty much an auto-buy (or auto-read) author for me.

I couldn’t find a copy of the book cover with a higher resolution but I did see the artwork used for it on Tumblr:

Other reviews:
Angieville
See Michelle Read

Dark Moon Defender by Sharon Shinn

Dark Moon Defender is the third book in the Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. Reading order: Mystic and Rider, The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, Reader and Raelynx, Fortune and Fate. Should the books be read in order? Yes. Also, don’t read any of the synopses of the latter books if you haven’t read the earlier ones. They contain spoilery bits. Even the summary for this book has some spoilers. Dark Moon Defender is all about Justin, Tayse’s fellow Rider. He’s present in the two other novels and finally gets his own story (and romance!) in this one. Justin has been assigned on a spy mission. The king wants concrete proof that Coralinda Gisseltess, head of the convent of devotees of the Pale Mother, is committing violent acts against mystics. Mystics are individuals with magical abilities and Coralinda firmly believes that the Pale Mother, the moon goddess, hates magic. Justin settles down in the town of Neft as a stable-hand. He tries to keep a low profile so as not to attract attention. Without meaning to, he befriends Ellynor, a young novice at the convent. The companions from the earlier books – Cammon, Senneth, Tayse, Kirra and Donnal – drop by to visit Justin from time to time.

I feel like Justin’s novel is different from the rest of the companions’ because he’s a King’s Rider with no magical powers unlike the other mystics in the group. Justin and Tayse are two of the best Riders in the realm. Riders are skilled fighters, devoted to the king. For some reason, I wasn’t as convinced of their incredible fighting skills as I’d like. I realized that it’s mostly because the author tells the reader that they’re excellent fighters instead of showing their prowess through the Riders’ actions. It’s different with the mystics because there are several instances for them to demonstrate their power. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t like this book as much as I wanted. Also, it’s the first book in the series where the companions spend time apart. Justin is all by himself so the story jumps from his point of view to one of the other characters. The scenes that I liked the most were the ones where they’re all together. This storytelling format reminded me of Sharon Shinn’s Samaria series and Justin’s book, in particular, is similar to Angel-Seeker. Why? There’s forbidden romance in both books and the characters need to sneak around in order to be together.

I did enjoy reading the book as a whole because we get to learn more about other aspects of the world – Ellynor’s heritage and details about the convent when the story shifts to her point of view. It’s funny because even though I had problems with each book in the series so far, the author has managed to make me care enough about the characters to continue reading about them. As such, I feel like this is a series that I can recommend to anyone who’s looking to sink his or her teeth into a fantasy series that’s easy to follow. I’m going to stick with the series until the end. I’m already in the middle of the next book, Reader and Raelynx, and I think it’s more exciting than the other books because it’s marked with climactic events that the previous books have been leading up to.

Other reviews:
Dear Author
Songs and Stories
The Melander Bookshelf
Rosario’s Reading Journal

Retro Friday: The Thirteenth House by Sharon Shinn

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.

The Thirteenth House is the second book in the Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. Reading order: Mystic and Rider, The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, Reader and Raelynx, Fortune and Fate. Should the books be read in order? Yes. Also, don’t read any of the synopses of the latter books if you haven’t read the earlier ones. Don’t even read the summary for this book because it contains spoilers. I made the mistake of doing that and I think I would have had a better reading experience if I had no idea of what was going to happen. Mystic and Rider focused on two of the six companions in the Twelve Houses series, Senneth and Tayse. The Thirteenth House is all about the serramarra Kirra and there’s a bit about Donnal too because he’s always beside Kirra.

The novel starts with an adventure for Kirra, Donnal, Justin and Cammon. They’ve been requested by the king to rescue an important figure in the realm. Kirra is her usual fun-loving self although she manages to pull off being serious in the face of danger. I really liked Kirra’s character and I was looking forward to reading more about her. She’s such a vibrant character, so full of life. I did enjoy the fact that the other characters were present in this one, makes me feel like the characters are old friends. We get to know more about them as the whole gang tags along with Senneth as she accompanies the princess to tour the realm. Like I said, I liked Kirra’s personality but I didn’t think she made wise decisions in matters of the heart. I couldn’t root for her romance and was actually wondering how Sharon Shinn would pull off the ending. I was satisfied with the book as a whole. I still haven’t fallen in love with the series at this point but I like it well enough to continue with the rest of the books. I would have liked to have more of Donnal in Kirra’s story since he doesn’t get to have his own book. I feel like we don’t get to know enough about him.

In the first book, readers saw the Twelve Houses world through the stealthy travels of the companions. In this book, readers are given a glimpse of the nobility, the fine houses that they live in and the political intrigue that’s tied with their way of life. The plot hinting at possible war continues with the added complication of members of the Thirteenth House, the lesser nobles of the Houses. This is the kind of series that makes you want to read the books one right after the other to grasp the overall story arc. Also, when you’ve invested in the characters, you just want to stick with them until you reach the end of their story. I’m actually in the middle of the third book, which is about Justin, but I’ve been put it on hold to read some other things. I hope to get back to it soon. Recommended for epic fantasy fans who enjoy reading series.

Other reviews:
Songs and Stories
Rosario’s Reading Journal
The Melander Bookshelf

Retro Friday: Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

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.

Mystic and Rider is the first book in the Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. I enjoyed reading the Samaria series by the same author and Archangel is one of my favorite books. I think I’ve read more contemporary titles than fantasy this year so I find myself wanting to read more of the latter. I decided it would be a good idea to give this series a try.

Here’s the summary from Sharon Shinn’s website:

The fire mystic Senneth crosses the country of Gillengaria on a mission for the king, trying to discover if noble marlords from the Twelve Houses are planning an uprising. She is accompanied by the soldiers Justin and Tayse, two King’s Riders who are unswervingly loyal to the crown. Also on the journey are the shape-changers Kirra and Donnal, and a young mystic named Cammon who can practically read minds. It’s soon clear that not only are marlords planning a rebellion, but that they are being aided by Daughters of the Pale Mother, a fanatical religious sect that hates mystics. While Senneth can clearly take care of herself, Tayse finds himself unable to stop watching her — determined both to protect her and to uncover her secrets.

And an interesting tidbit from the author: The thing that most people seemed to find disappointing about the Samaria books was that they didn’t follow the same people through successive storylines, so from the outset I planned the Twelve Houses books as a series about six main characters. I gave Senneth my own headaches just so I could share the pain.

I like the idea that the entire series features one group of characters. I’ve actually finished reading the first two books but I’ll review the second one after this. Just like the Samaria books, each of the Twelve Houses books features a romantic couple. I guess it’s pretty obvious from the title Mystic and Rider who those two are. Senneth is a mystic, a person with magical abilities, and she can control fire while Tayse is a King’s Rider, a member of the elite guard dedicated to serving the crown. It’s easy to like both Senneth and Tayse – the former for being a strong female protagonist who has a mysterious past and the latter for his loyalty and willingness to serve and follow his king’s commands. I actually guessed Senneth’s heritage way before it was revealed but I didn’t mind knowing it early.

I liked that the point of view changes from Senneth to Tayse and back again because we get to see how both characters think. I also like that this series deals with the same set of characters. I felt like this first book was an introduction to the six companions – Senneth, Tayse, Justin, Kirra, Donnal and Cammon. I obviously liked the first book well enough to start the second one right away. While I felt that the romance in Mystic and Rider was more quiet and restrained than I’d like, I understood that it reflected the personalities of the two individuals involved. Like a friend on Goodreads mentioned, Senneth and Tayse become the mother and father figure of the group because they’re several years older than the other characters. They’re both older, wiser and more subdued than the rest of the group.

The same goes for the worldbuilding, I felt that this book introduces readers to the world of Gillengaria, where the nobles (and the ruling class) come from Twelve Houses. The companions travel all over the country to gather information for the king. The readers get to know more about the nobles and a possible uprising because of the growing distrust against mystics. Because the books were meant to be read in order, the plot will make you want to read one book right after the other to get more information not just about the characters but about the fate of the kingdom. While I wasn’t blown away by the first book, I think the Twelve Houses series looks promising and I recommend it for fans of epic fantasy looking for a solid series to read.

Other reviews:
Dear Author
ArtSeblis
Songs and Stories
Cookies, Books and Bikes