Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Review - Siege and Storm - Leigh Bardugo

Siege and Storm (The Grisha, #2)

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha #2
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on June 4 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 432
Rating: 2/5 stars
Darkness never dies. 
Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long. 
The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her--or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.
I don’t know why I decided to read this book. Well, I do, but I probably shouldn’t have. I knew going into it that the likelihood of it impressing me was miniscule. But when I saw it sitting pretty on the shelf at the library, I just couldn’t resist grabbing it and Ruin and Rising. I really regret that spur of the moment decision.

The pacing in Siege and Storm is wildly inconsistent. The first two or three chapters move at a break-neck speed (I almost felt like I was getting story whiplash it was going so quickly) and then about a third of the way through the book it takes a serious nosedive into epic slowness. The scenes on the Hummingbird just didn’t work for me. I think what got me about this section of the book is that there is just so much monotonous travelling going on. There just wasn’t much to keep my interest. The pace picked up again toward the end of the book with a very sudden and abrupt battle that I was about as prepared for as Alina and company were. The last quarter of the book was SO DISAPPOINTING to me. It got my hopes up that a certain twist was in store and that I’d get to see more of the Alina I actually find interesting, but alas, it was not to be. Siege and Storm was, in so many ways, a series of let downs.

The biggest qualm I have with this book is the characters. As you may know, I am very much a character reader. I don’t have to necessarily like a character, but if I don’t feel any connection to the characters there is zero chance I will enjoy the book. This is one of those books where I just can’t get on the same emotional level as any of the characters. Alina has moments when I think she’s totally awesome, but then she lets her guilt take over and gets very self-sanctimonious and I just have no patience for that. Mal is a complete write-off as a character. He’s so freaking boring. I’m two books in and literally the only thing I know about Mal is that he’s a good tracker. Not because he works really hard at it, he just is. Also, he’s really attractive and all of the ladies fawn over him. Lame. I have never seen any chemistry between Alina and Mal, especially compared to the chemistry she has with both the Darkling and Nicolai/Sturmhond. Sure, the chemistry she shares with them are very different, but at least there’s something. I can honestly say that I prefer the side of Alina we see when she’s around the Darkling to when she’s with Mal. When Alina is around Mal she becomes an insecure mess. The Darkling makes her feel powerful. Be honest, which would you prefer?

I was quite happy to meet Sturmhond in Siege and Storm. He’s definitely my favourite of the three main men in Alina’s life. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a charmer. He also seems a bit more complex than Mal and the Darkling. Where there is a clear indication of good versus evil when it comes to Mal and the Darkling, Sturmhond occupies the grey space in between and I’m into that.

One other niggling thing that I noticed while reading Siege and Storm is the way that Alina perceives other women. It is so unhealthy and there is a vast amount of internalised misogyny clouding her judgement. It’s particularly evident in the way that she interacts with Zoya. Every time Zoya is mentioned, some aspect of her appearance is noted. She is constantly described as beautiful and threatening, and I find it rather disconcerting. The only character who isn’t looked down upon for her beauty is Genya, and we all know what happens to her by the end of the book. It just struck me as odd that all of the men in the book are praised for being good looking, yet Alina is constantly comparing herself to other women and simultaneously putting down herself for not being pretty enough and them for being too pretty.

Because I’m already two thirds of the way through the series, I’ve decided to read Ruin and Rising, just to see how everything turns out. I figure I’ve already invested so much time and energy into this trilogy that I might as well see it through to the bitter end. I’ve read about 20 pages and so far I’m even less impressed with book 3 than I was with book 2. How promising… Hopefully things will turn around enough in the next 400 pages to make me not regret ever bothering with this series. If not, I probably won’t be reading whatever Leigh Bardugo comes up with next. It’s not you, Leigh. It’s me.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

TTT - Books for Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish
Each week a new topic is given and weeks topic is:

Top Ten Books for Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels

Jellicoe Road
Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta
Wanderlove - Kirsten Hubbard
Like Mandarin
Like Mandarin - Kirsten Hubbard
Y - Marjorie Celona
Salvage - Alexandra Duncan
Ask the Passengers
Ask the Passengers - A.S. King
Second Chance Summer
Second Chance Summer - Morgan Matson
I Capture the Castle
I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
A Brief History of Montmaray (The Montmaray Journals, #1)
A Brief History of Montmaray - Michelle Cooper

Monday, 6 October 2014

Review - Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2)

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #2
Published by Bloomsbury on August 27 2013
Genres: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 420
Rating: 4/5 stars
From the throne of glass rules a king with a fist of iron and a soul as black as pitch. Assassin Celaena Sardothien won a brutal contest to become his Champion. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown. She hides her secret vigilantly; she knows that the man she serves is bent on evil. 
Keeping up the deadly charade becomes increasingly difficult when Celaena realizes she is not the only one seeking justice. As she tries to untangle the mysteries buried deep within the glass castle, her closest relationships suffer. It seems no one is above questioning her allegiances—not the Crown Prince Dorian; not Chaol, the Captain of the Guard; not even her best friend, Nehemia, a foreign princess with a rebel heart. 
Then one terrible night, the secrets they have all been keeping lead to an unspeakable tragedy. As Celaena's world shatters, she will be forced to give up the very thing most precious to her and decide once and for all where her true loyalties lie...and whom she is ultimately willing to fight for.
Crown of Midnight excelled in almost all of the places where Throne of Glass failed, and it definitely earned the extra star. I’m so glad to have been able to read Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight back to back, because if I hadn’t had Crown of Midnight on hand right after finishing Throne of Glass, I may never have bothered to read it. That said, it was so worth reading.

As you probably know, I’m a busy university student. I’m doing a double major in English and Women’s Studies, and I started this book right around the time that the fall semester (AKA the beginning of my fourth year of university) began. Let me tell you, I have had zero time for reading thus far this semester. I have managed to read all of three books in the three weeks. Over the summer, I read an average of about 2.5 books per week. Clearly, that has slowed down. The point that I’m getting at here is that amidst all of the craziness of getting back into the swing of studying nonstop, I managed to read this book in less than four days. I know that may not sound like much, but that’s a big deal right now.

This book definitely raised the stakes from Throne of Glass. It was on a higher level on both a political plane and an emotional one. I’m not ashamed to admit that it made me shed a tear or two. I got a little weepy. The character development shown in Crown of Midnight surpasses anything I could ever wish for. Celaena grows tremendously over the course of the book, and you can see her thought processes changing and she slowly learns to listen to and trust the people she cares about.

I’m going to keep this review short because I simply don’t know how to gush over this book without releasing all of the spoilers, but I am really impressed with Maas’s progression as a writer and as a storyteller. Where Throne of Glass often lacked a certain finesse, Crown of Midnight was practically flawless in execution. It flowed wonderfully, the pacing consistent and quick-moving, and the slow unraveling of the mysteries was tantalizing in a way that was completely unmatched by the smaller scale mysteries of the first book. I’m so excited to see where this story will go in Heir of Fire (which I need to get my hands on NOW). I’d also really like to read The Assassin’s Blade, though I’m typically not a fan of prequels or add-in short stories/novellas. I’ve heard great things about these ones, and I might just order the whole series (to date) on my next pay day.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Review - Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #1
Published by Bloomsbury on August 7 2012
Genres: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 404
Rating: 3/5 stars
After 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 exhilirating. 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.
I’ve been hearing about the Throne of Glass series all over the blogosphere for as long as I can remember (basically since 2012, when it was published), but I never got into it. Why, I have no idea, considering it is full of things I love, namely badass assassins and political fantasy. Yes please. However, I have had to take this book out of the library on three separate occasions before I was finally able to get past the first fifty pages. I just wasn’t feeling it.

I think that this book suffers from a rather weak opening, but it definitely builds as the book progresses. I grew to really like Celaena – it’s a nice change to see a YA protagonist who isn’t self-deprecating and is fully aware of how amazing she is. Celaena has her flaws, but that’s what makes her so dynamic and interesting to read about. I was also a humungous fan of the fledgling friendship between Celaena and Nehemia. I think that friendship between girls in YA is incredibly important and it was so refreshing to see that come about on the pages of Throne of Glass. Honestly, I’m quite enamoured with Nehemia all on her own; she’s a seriously ballsy lady.

There is what might be considered a love triangle in this book, which I wasn’t particularly pleased with. There’s some killer romantic/sexual tension between Celaena and the captain of the guard, Chaol, but there is also a weird romance between Celaena and the crown prince, Dorian, which I was less fond of. I do like the way that Celaena and Dorian’s relationship grew and changed over the course of the book, and I’m quite happy with where they left off at the end.

The one thing I found rather lacking in Throne of Glass was the action. It simply wasn’t as action-packed as I was expecting. There was a lot of reading and walking and running, but only a few real high stakes scenes stick out to me. I found that Celaena, for all her confidence regarding her abilities as an assassin, didn’t really do anything to live up to her reputation. She wasn’t as impressive as I wanted her to be. I also thought that the mystery wasn't as breath-taking and suspenseful as it should have been. I never worried for the safety of any of the main characters, nor was I particularly panicked to find out the identity of the murderer.

On the whole, Throne of Glass wasn’t a bad book, and it definitely had its interesting moments, but it wasn’t up to the standard I hold for fantasy books (by which I mean it wasn’t Froi of the Exiles calibre excellence). It was a decent introduction to the series, but I definitely think that things will improve as the tale progresses. The way that the first chapter or two were the shaky beginnings to this novel, I believe Throne of Glass stands as the shaky beginning to what will amount to an overall solid series.