Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Summary: Tella arranges for her sister, Scarlett, to be kidnapped and taken to a magical island where they can play a mysterious game known as Caraval. All Scarlet wants is to go back home. But when Tella gets kidnapped as part of the game, the only way to save her is to win. But the game is dangerous and nothing is what it seems.

Thoughts: I haven’t read a book so ridiculously magical in a very loooong time. Not since The Night Circus came out, to be exact. This book was very character-focused and light on the world-building. Usually, this is not something I look for in a fantasy novel, but with Caraval, I think any more world-building would have just upped the word-count without adding much to the plot because – put simply – everything important in it, revolved around the competition and the mystery around it. The prose in this book was so gorgeous. Scarlett felt things in color, and the writing reflected that very beautifully. As a character, I found her a bit hard to sympathize with at the start because she was very uptight and whiny – and for the better half of the book – very dependent on Julian – the love-interest and the sailor who Tella got to kidnap her. But I really loved their relationship’s progression and how she grew more confident of herself towards the end. And Julian is my favorite character in this book! What I loved most about Caraval was how every time I thought one thing, it turned out to be something else. Nothing is what it seems, for real. That’s so very literal in this book. Prepare to doubt every word you’ve read! Caraval is a thrilling book full of magic, intelligent twists and mysteries and a beautiful setting you’d be wishing was real.

Stars: 5/5

Book Review: Captive Prince Trilogy by C.S. Pascat

Summary: After Damen’s half-brother takes his throne from him, he gifts him as a pleasure slave to the prince of an enemy nation. Caught in the middle of a manipulative court, Damen must hide his identity from Prince Laurent because if there is one person Laurent hates, it is the Prince of Akielos, Damen, who killed his brother in battle.

Thoughts: Ahhh, where do I even start? I love this book so much I’m thinking of rereading it right now as I type this review. The first book was really a 4/5 for me but by the end of the second one, I was more hooked than I was after the first. The plot follows Damen as he’s sent off to Vere as a slave to the manipulative and sadistic Prince of Vere, Laurent. There he struggles to hide his identity in a court full of violence and lies and constant manipulation and back-stabbing. *sighs* What’s not to love, right? Add to that combination the one and only villain of his kind – Laurent. I want to wrap Laurent in bubble wrap and hide him from the world. I have so much love for that well-developed psychopath. Both Laurent’s and Damen’s character growth is amazing for a series as fast paced as this. The world-building in this book is flawless. It feels like you’re reading a historical fic and not a fantasy novel. I won’t say more, because really, these books leave you speechless, but I highly recommend you read them. If you haven’t read many m/m fics, this and The Song of Achilles are really good books to start with. Of course the latter will leave you crying into a bucket, so I’d start with the Captive Prince Trilogy and then move to TSOA. Happy reading!
Stars: 5/5!!

Book Review: Wintersong by S Jae-Jones

Summary: When Elizabeth’s younger sister Kathe gets kidnapped by the Goblin King to become his Queen in the Underworld, Elizabeth sacrifices herself in exchange. But life as Queen of the Underworld and wife to the Goblin King is not as Elizabeth thought it would be. She soon finds herself falling in love with the Goblin King and creating beautiful music but it all comes at a price that is bigger than just her life.

Thoughts: This is the book I’ve wanted to read for so long but I didn’t even know it. Even though the stakes aren’t so high, the writing is transportive from the very first page. Elizabeth is such a flawed and relatable. She starts off being very level-headed and selfless as the big sister taking care of everyone, and I loved how I got to see the other side of her after she struck the deal with the Goblin King. Who also made it into one of my top ten favorite male characters list, coming a close fourth after Will Herondale. A very high honor in my book. But my favorite character in Wintersong is hands down: Constanze, the rude-mouthed, salt-spraying and superstitious grandmother who I really really missed once the story progressed into the Underworld and left Constanze behind. You would assume that the setting would get depressing once it shifted to the Underworld, but the opposite is true. It’s so rare that I find a book where a character is passionate, actually passionate, about something like Elizabeth is about music and composing music. Reading about it really brought all the underlying emotions to life and I’m pretty sure my ears have been opened. Wintersong is ultimately a story about the selfish and selfless things people do for love, and it’s such a dark and raw book full of amazing mythological beings and music that you can feel.

Stars: 4/5

Book Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

Summary: After a failed assassination attempt on the day of her coronation, Crown Princess Rhiannon vows to reclaim her thrown and seek vengeance on the person who led to her family’s murder years ago. Alyosha is the star of a reality show and a war refugee who is framed for the alleged death of the Crown Princess Rhiannon. Both Alyosha and Rhiannon travel across the galaxy in search of answers.

Thoughts: I have so many mixed feelings about this book. For starters, it’s a beautiful blend of science-fiction and fantasy, with great and complex world-building that is boosted by a diverse cast of characters facing real-world problems (like being refugees and immigrants in a place they’re not wanted). The book is fast-paced and full of daring adventure and it’s this very thing that made it so hard to connect with the characters. There’s scarcely a moment where they stop running to take stock of themselves and one another. Everything is happening so fast, that by the end of the book, I was more familiar with the plot than the characters. There were a few things that I found repetitive like Rhiannon’s determination to seek vengeance. It just pulled me out of the story every time she mentioned it, and I think it reads repetitively because there was more “telling” than “showing” her need for vengeance. Despite what the blurb said, the fugitive and empress don’t actually join forces to do anything. The one scene where they met was when they spotted each other across a crowded room, for one second, and used each other’s presence to make their own individual escape. I was sort of let down by that because I kept waiting for them to cross paths and join forces. The big spoiler at the end wasn’t a spoiler, really. I saw it coming, and I think the ending would have been much stronger if it wasn’t so obvious. Nevertheless, Belleza’s prose was very beautiful and aside from characterization, repetitiveness and a sort of misleading blurb, this was an enjoyable read with great world-building and high stakes.

Stars: 3/5

Book Review: Nemesis by Anna Banks

Summary: Princess Sepora escapes her kingdom and her cruel father only to find herself in the court of a rival kingdom and falling in love with the young king. She tries to hide the secret that could save his people from a fatal plague, but the cost will come at the price of her own kingdom.

Thoughts: Let me start by saying that I really really like Anna Banks as a writer and a person who I’ve never met, and her twitter account is one of my favorites. And I hate it when I end up not loving books by authors that I like and admire. I was expecting so much more action and much higher stakes from this story. Be prepared, because this is a statement I will be repeating a lot throughout this review. I read Banks’ previous series – Of Poseidon – and I really liked it. Awesome setting, original take on an old myth, swoon-worthy romance. Nemesis, however, started off at a very slow pace and then it fell steady without increasing. The writing was clear and to the point, but at the same time, some descriptions were lacking. The story took place in a vibrant and very intriguing world, but because the setting wasn’t fully described, I found it hard to visualize some places. Basically, while it was informative and packed with emotions, it was lacking in sensory detail. I felt Banks went easy on her characters, which is one of the reasons why the story wasn’t as action packed as I’d hoped. And the ending of the story was too easy for my liking. While I did enjoy reading this book at times, I’m not quiet sure I’d be picking up the next one unless the pacing really increases and the stakes become much much higher. If you liked Graceling or the Wrath and the Dawn, you might enjoy this book if you keep in mind that this isn’t a story with high stakes and perilous adventure with an added mix of dangerous court politics and a looming war. It’s more of a simple love story between a King and a Princess of rival kingdoms and the slow work they do to ensure that both their kingdoms don’t go to war against one another.

Stars: 2/5

Book Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Summary: Safi, a witch with the ability to tell truths from lies is hunted by nations on the brink of war. Her best-friend, Iseult, is on the run with her, but a dark shadow that turns people’s blood to acid haunts Iseult’s dreams that could mean the end of the world.

Thoughts
: Why do I have so many mixed feelings about books that I love lately!? I loved this book!! That’s for sure even though there were things that could have been improved. We will get to that. My favourite thing about Truthwitch was the world building because it was unlike anything I’ve read before. It reminded me a little of the Legend of Korra in the best way possible. This story is told from the perspective of four people. Safi is a Truthwitch. Iseult is a Threadwitch. Merrick is a Windwitch tasked with getting Safi to safety from the Emperor who wants to marry her and use her for her powers. And Aeduan is a Bloodwitch hired by the Emperor but who also has his own agenda and is on the hunt for Safi. Even though I hated Aeduan at the start because he read very scary, I ended up loving him the most by the end and I feel like there is still so much I want to know about him. I think out of all the four characters, his character development was the best because there was a very stark change from the Bloodwitch first introduced to the one that I got to know by the end. First and foremost this is a story about friendship and I haven’t read a lot of (or any) fantasy books that revolve around female friendships. I loved Safi and Iseult’s relationship and how they kept finding each other after getting separated and how they tried to help each other at the cost of their own lives. I really wanted to know more about them in this book but the plot was very fast paced and it didn’t really settle down long enough for me to get to know the characters as much as I would have wanted to. The ending was very dramatic but it also felt a bit rushed. So many things were happening and I just kept feeling like I forgot to read a few chapters leading up to the showdown. Not that it wasn’t clear because it was but I would have liked a chapter or two that would have prepared me for what was to come. For a fantasy this was a very fast read and a very enjoyable one and I will be picking up Windwitch when it comes out!

Stars
: 4/5

Book Review: The Paper Magician

Summary: Ceony wants to bespell metal, but much to her disappointment, she’s assigned an apprenticeship in pager magic with Magician Emery Thane. Once bonded to paper, she can’t become any other sort of magician. Yet, paper magic turns out to be more incredible than she’d initially thought. However, her education is threatened when a practitioner of dark magic (Emery’s ex-wife) invades the cottage and pulls out Emery’s heart. Ceony embarks on an adventure that takes her into the chambers of Emery’s heart to face the evil that did this to him and save him before the paper heart she replaced his actual heart with crumples and finishes what his ex-wife started.

Thoughts: A friend got me all three books and I was so sure I was going to love this before I even started on the first book. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I went in with so much expectation only to reach the end, half-dissapointed. There were many things I loved about the story: the magic, the society surrounding it, Emery Thane and his backstory, even Ceony who I couldn’t really stand at the start, I ended up warming up to by the time I finished. The writing and prose were very beautifully done, and I wanted to keep reading the descriptions of the cottage and the magic etc. But everything happened way too fast. Her attraction to Emery came as a surprise. I knew she cared about him but it wasn’t very clear that she loved him more than a teacher or a friend. That wasn’t an issue though, because I assumed having watched his heart being ripped out of his chest must have brought her feelings into focus, but even then, I felt like Emery fell in love with her even though he was unconscious for the better half of the book – so was that love there from the start, or not? That wasn’t really clear to me. So many things happened once Ceony went into Emery’s heart but I felt like so many things were shown without explanation. The reader had to assume it was magic and just be at peace with that. And given the illusory quality of her surroundings and quest, I felt like I needed more handholds. There were a lot of places where I had to pause and re-read and think, “wait, how did this happen?” But all in all, I’m pretty sure I’m going to read the second and third books and I really hope I love them and get to discover more about the characters because this book felt more like an introduction to something bigger rather than a full arc with possible sequels.

Stars: 3/5

Book Review: Dreamdark by Laini Taylor

Summary: Magpie Windwitch is a fairy who hunts demons with her gang of crows, until she stumbles on the opened bottle of an evil demon (Blackbringer) whose bottle was sealed by the ancient Djinn King. Together with her band of crows and a wingless fairy prince, they seek the help of the Djinn King to seal Blackbringer back into his bottle before his darkness ends the world.

Thoughts: I really love Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, so I went into this with very high expectations. I was expecting a darker take on Tinkerbell, and I was partly right, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the story itself. Partly because I just couldn’t relate to Magpie and feel the urgency of her quest, and partly because the narrative read a bit passively to me. Like a story that was told a long time ago. I loved the illustrations and I loved the world-building and Laini Taylor’s lyrical prose is just as beautiful here as it is in Daughter of Smoke and Bone but I couldn’t get into the story or the character, try as hard as I could.

Stars: 3/5