Book Review: Kingdom of Ash (ToG #7) by Sarah J. Maas (2018)

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Review #103

The long-awaited conclusion to Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Kingdom of Ash sees Aelin and her friends risking everything they have to fight against the dark armies of Morath and the vicious Queen Maeve. Effort was made to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but some key plot points may be revealed.

Aelin has risked everything to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. Aware that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, though her resolve begins to unravel with each passing day.

For her final installment, bestselling fantasy author Sarah J. Maas wants to make sure that she harnesses every available drop of tension and substance from the world she has worked so long to build. I commented in an earlier post that the first installment of ToG felt rather flat and one-dimensional, with the heroine boasting about her prowess a hell of a lot more than demonstrating it. In the six books following Throne of Glass, the world of Erilea has taken on sharp definition and an emotional weight that builds satisfyingly to a final conclusion.

As always, Maas gets major props for having a diverse cast of kick-ass female heroines at the forefront of her novel. Aelin’s journey comes full circle here, and the readers have been with her for so long as she struggled towards her destiny that to see her reaching her potential was a wonderful moment. Maas has a tendency to use very dramatic writing when narrating Aelin’s point of view. It gives the proceedings a very operatic feeling, but occasionally goes too far to where it begins to feel like self-parody. The character arcs of other important female figures such as Elide and Manon Blackbeak are also brought to a satisfying conclusion.

As strong as all these characters are, Maas certainly does make sure that they are all happily settled in their committed, monogamous, heterosexual relationships by the end of the novel. I wasn’t necessarily bothered by the very traditional “happily ever afters”, but I definitely did notice that the plot would not allow for such-and-such characters to end up apart from one another. It ended up giving the final climactic scenes a predictable feel, since I knew that any of these matched-up characters would not be permitted to die.

At nearly one thousand pages, the rising action of this novel encompasses nearly two-thirds of the book’s length. There are periods when Kingdom of Ash spins its wheels a bit, and feels the need to check it with various characters even when there is no new information to report. It takes nearly seven hundred pages for all of the main characters to finally get together, which gives the middle section a bloated feel, like some of the slower episodes of Game of Thrones.

Overall, I have fully enjoyed my time in Erilea. These novels aren’t perfect but they’re a lot of fun and creative addition to the YA fantasy genre. I continue looking forward to reading more from Sarah J. Maas.

Full disclosure: I skipped Tower of Dawn, the sixth installment in the ToG series. I didn’t want to spent six hundred pages with Chaol, who I always thought was completely boring. I did not regret my decision, and was able to follow the plot of Kingdom of Ash without difficulty.

My rating: 4/5

You can find Kingdom of Ash as well as the rest of the Throne of Glass novels here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch Trilogy #2) by Rin Chupeco (2018)

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Review #39

The second installment of Rin Chupeco’s Bone Witch trilogy continues the story of the dark asha Tea. War and treachery are looming among the kingdoms. Given her newfound connection with the daeva monster, Tea must try to unravel the plots against her while trying to fight the dark power that seeks to engulf her. The plot interlaces the past with the present as Tea begins her ultimate mission to defeat those that she feels have wronged her.

Last month I read The Bone Witch and came away with mixed feelings. The fantasy world that built by Chupeco is both elegant and intricate, and the majority of the first novel is devoted into building the Nine Realms into a solid and believable place. The downside is that so much time and effort was spent on detailing politics, music, and fashion that it felt as though the novel ended before anything significant had happened concerning the plot. I said in my review of the first book that a better title might have been Memoirs of a Magical Geisha.

Following that vein, the second novel could easily be renamed Avatar: The Last Corpsebender. The action that was lacking from The Bone Witch is definitely made up for in The Heart Forger, as we see Tea and her fellow asha wield the four elements (as well as the dead) to defend their allies and defeat their enemies. These sequences rely heavily on the reader being able to follow the action, and here Chupeco succeeds admirably. The long fights between the forces of good and evil could easily have become bogged down and difficult to visualize, but instead they are clearly imagined and conveyed through her writing style.

Our heroine, Tea, is finally given something more interesting to do than marvel over her pretty new clothes and pine after the prince of Kion. She comes into her own in The Heart Forger, and begins questioning the strict rules and traditions that dictact the lives of her and her fellow asha. The bone witches are often scorned and looked down upon by the elders of her guild, and Tea is the one who begins to wonder if this is because they are feared for their powers. There is still a light romantic element to the story, but it is there to empower Tea as opposed to chain her down.

Just as in The Bone Witch, each chapter is preceded by a short flash forward which shows Tea raising an army of monsters and preparing to exact revenge on those who have wronged her. These short previews are used much better here than in the first novel. There, they were somewhat useless and kept pulling me out of my enjoyment of the main narrative. In The Heart Forger they are used to heavily foreshadow events to come. They slowly built a level of suspense that left me eager to find out what was going to happen next.

Overall, this novel was superior to the first installment in many ways. The final book in the trilogy is due to be released next year, and I am greatly looking forward to it.

My rating: 4/5

You can find The Heart Forger here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber (2017)

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Review #9

 

Having spent her entire life on the island of Trisda and under the thumb of her bullying father, Scarlett Dragna has dreamed for years of Caraval. A yearly game run by an enigmatic man known only as Legend, Caraval entices participants with the prize of a single magical wish. With the help of a renegade sailor, Scarlett and her sister Tella escape their island and arrive at Legend’s magical island. But Scarlett quickly learns that nothing in Caraval is what is seems, and the consequences could be deadly.

The last two books I read for this blog were both about horribly dysfunctional families and the lasting scars they leave on their children. Having been through the emotional wringer, I wanted my next book to be something a little lighter. I chose Caraval because its cover is gorgeous and I knew it was YA fantasy. Turns out I might have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction.

Caraval is a fantasy that exists in a vacuum. The novel opens on the “Conquered Isles” in “Year 50 of the Elantine Dynasty”. Yet we are never told why these Isles were conquered, or by whom. What is the Elantine Dynasty, and what happened fifty years ago to set it in place? A lot of the place names are derived from Spanish such as the hotel La Serpentiene and the Castillo Maldito. Even the name of Scarlett’s home island, Trisda, comes from triste, the Spanish word for sadness. So we’re on Earth? In the past or the future? None of these questions are addressed which made it increasingly difficult to envision this world as a place that has weight and meaning.

Caraval is also a fantasy that exists without any meaningful character description. The only thing we know to be true of Scarlett is that she loves her sister. This is repeated twice a page, lest we should forget. When the generic love interest is introduced, we are subjected to the familiar “I hate him but he’s so intriguing”. Which of course changes without warning to “I cannot live without him”.

Then there are descriptions such as this:

“He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded.”

What does that even mean? What the hell does midnight taste like? But that’s not the only example:

“The world tasted like lies and ashes when Scarlett woke.”

“Every touch created colors she had never seen. Colors as soft as velvet and as sharp as sparks that turned into stars.”

“She remembered thinking falling for him would be like falling in love with darkness, but now she imagined he was more like a starry night: the constellations were always there, constant, magnificent guides against the ever-present black.” 

None of that makes a bit of sense, and it kept pulling me out of the novel because I had to roll my eyes. I can get on board with a bit of purple prose, but when you use it at the expense of actual character development it becomes tedious.

The biggest problem was that, at the end of the day, this book was not written for me. It was written for thirteen year old me. Thirteen year old me would have bathed in all of those overly romantic descriptions. She would have reveled in the countless descriptions of gorgeous ball gowns. She would have relished the oh-so passionate and yet determinedly chaste romance between Scarlett and Julian. This book was written for thirteen year old me. Thirty year old me is just too savvy (cynical?) to fall for it.

In the immortal words of Agent Murtaugh, I’m getting too old for this shit.

My rating: 2/5

You can find Caraval here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: Throne of Glass (Books #1-5) by Sarah J. Maas

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Over the summer I discovered Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) trilogy on a Buzzfeed list of fantasy novels. I read the entire series in a few days and thoroughly enjoyed it. The second installment, A Court of Mist and Fury, was one of my favorite books of the year. When I learned that Maas had another fantasy series out, Throne of Glass (ToG) I quickly downloaded them from my local library and got to work.

I will try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but there may be important plot points given away. You’ve been warned!

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Magic has been banished from the continent of Erilea. The king of Adarlan has expanded his empire by overthrowing the nearby kingdoms, leaving thousands either in poverty or in slavery. Celaena Sardothien is in the latter category. An infamous assassin, she was sentenced to life in a labor camp after she and her partner were betrayed and caught. After a year of struggling to survive, a man shows up with the power to change her life. The king of Adarlan is holding a contest to find a new Champion. He is recruiting thieves and killers from all of Erilea to compete against one another, the winner to receive riches and a position in the court of Adarlan. Celaena must now compete against others just like herself or risk being thrown back into the horrors of the slave camp.

Aelin Galathynius is a princess without a throne. After the king of Adarlan had her parents slaughtered, she has been running and hiding for most of her life. She journeys across the sea to Wendlyn, the kingdom of the Fae, to beg for help from the ruthless Fae Queen, Maeve.

I love a badass heroine, and there is no more heroine more badass than Celaena Sardothien. I’m going to be very frank right now, the first novel does not do her justice. I noticed something similar with the first installment of ACOTAR. Maas struggles to get her characters on their feet and behaving like people as opposed to paper dolls. Had the series as a whole not gotten such rave reviews I might have stopped reading midway through Throne of Glass. The other characters spend an awful lot of time referring to Celaena as a dangerous, bloodthirsty, heartless killer…but we are often treated to long descriptions of her pretty dresses or the books she likes to read. Celaena frequently muses on how quickly she could kill the people she is interacting with, but we never actually see this happen throughout the duration of the first novel. I got the sense that Maas was trying to make sure her deadly killer could still be seen as likable, but she somehow managed to declaw Celaena in the process. This problem is quickly solved in the next few books, so I would encourage readers to at least get to Crown of Midnight before making any final judgments.

It must be acknowledged that ToG is YA fiction. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I really enjoy YA fantasy, however; it still is reined in by the limitations of its genre. Parts of the series get overly hung-up on various love affairs and relationships. There were times when you want to roll your eyes and tell two of the characters to please just f*ck already so we can move on with the plot. And Aelin Targaryen – I’m sorry –  Galathynius’ journey to reclaim her kingdom takes a lot of time to get off the ground as she weebles and wobbles her way from place to place. ToG shares many themes with GoT except that, for me anyway, it lacked a little of emotional resonance. I never doubted that the characters were going to end up where they wanted to be, and with the impossibly good-looking people they wanted to be with. This isn’t necessarily a criticism; there are few authors in world who can match George R. R. Martin’s malevolent delight in killing off his main characters. It does, however; take away a certain amount of suspense. Who knows, perhaps the next novel in the series will make me eat those words. One can only hope.

After the underwhelming first novel, ToG shakes off its early sluggishness and begins fleshing out its characters and their various story arcs. Our primary focus is on Celaeana, and her journey builds momentum at a blistering pace. Once she gets into her groove, Maas is an expert at hooking her readers and keeping them on the edge of their seats. I recently finished the fifth novel and am livid that I have to wait a few months until the sixth installment becomes available for checkout at the library.

Overall, I would definitely recommend these novels to anyone who is a fan of high fantasy in general and YA fantasy specifically. Yes, there are some moments when you are going to roll your eyes. But overall, the Throne of Glass series is a fun and riveting set of books that is perfect for those days when you want something that is generally uncomplicated but still capable of packing a punch.

Note: I will mention that this series is on the mature end of the YA genre. Some of the scenes get very steamy. I wouldn’t recommend this series to anyone under the age of sixteen. 

You can find the first book of the series here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

My Rating: 4/5

Happy reading everyone!