Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

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Amani has crossed the desert with her foreign prince and joined forces with his brother Ahmed, the Rebel Prince. The Rebellion has taken half the desert with the help of the Blue-Eyed Bandit. When a mission to take back a rogue city in the Rebellion’s and a rescue from the capital go sideways, the Mirajin Army find the rebel camp in the oasis and ambush. Amani, hours after reuniting with Jin, is taken to the Mirajin capital of Izman, where the Sultan is paying top dollar for any Demdji.

Have you ever read a sequel that’s as good as the original or even better? Traitor to the Throne is. The plotting done so well. There are plots and sub-plots, intertwining brilliantly to create a fully fleshed story. Faces Amani knew in her old life come back to haunt her; those who were once her friends, help the Sultan keep her down. And someone she never trusted turns into her greatest ally. Once captured, Amani makes herself useful to the Sultan, giving him reason to give her a little more freedom and a little more trust.

Hamilton doesn’t really bother with filler. If a part of the story doesn’t serve a purpose or if we need catching up, we get it in her gorgeous prose, told as a story within a story. And I absolutely love reading the stories. The Mirajin mythologies and legends are all so beautiful and so sad. The last book was heavy on the legend of the Atiyah and Sakhr. This time we keep hearing the love story of Princess Hawa and Atillah. As per usual, the stories are based in truth, and provide valuable lessons that are important to the real events of the book.

I’m a sap. I love reading about love, and this book has a lot of mushy love stories in it. Amani and Jin, Imin and Navid, Madhi and Sayyida. It’s all so swoon-insipiring and sad. The actions of so many of these characters, and the events that occur as a result of them, are done in the name of the person they love. Jin’s a runner; we knew that back in Dustwalk. I just don’t think Amani thought he’d ever run on her. The time they spend apart in this novel only increases the impact when they’re together again.

I still don’t like Ahmed. Is he charismatic and inspiring? Yes, definitely. Would he make a benevolent ruler? Probably. He obviously means well. But, like Amani, I have doubts about his ability to hold a country against the foreigners fighting over Mirajin deserts. He’s having trouble holding half the desert with his forces, and I’m not sure he can do what needs to be done even with the full Mirajin army at his back.

5/5. Would recommend.

 

King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

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Mare is being held prisoner by King Maven. She lives out her life trapped in the Palace, lightning suppressed by Silent Stone, and tortured by the whispers Merandus family. The Scarlet Guard is growing, expanding their operations. Once they were confined to the Lakelnds, now everyone in Norta know their name and they’re spreading to the kingdom of Piedmont. Cal, the exiled prince and one of the Guard’s strongest strategists, will stop at nothing to get Mare back. But once he’s got her, will his allegiances remain with the Scarlet Guard?

Is the writing style any better than the first two books? Not really. Is the world-building any more developed? Eh. Am I any more attached to these characters than I was in the first book? Heavens no. So why did I like this book any better than the first two?

I think the answer to that question can be summed up in one word: Maven. Let’s make one thing very clear: I couldn’t care less about this love triangle. I am so unattached to these characters, it hurts. Reading about their love life is so dull. But I did enjoy the insight into the mad king’s mind.

Maven is a lost little boy without Elara. She stripped him of anything that made him real. She took his fears and desires and emotions, and she filled his mind with what she thought would make him powerful. Elara loved her son, I know that. She did what she thought was best for him and for her family’s image of power. The Silvers decided a long time ago that love was weakness. So the queen took that from Maven. She turned him into this empty, plastic little boy filled with blackness and hate. And if there’s one thing Aveyard has shown she can write in a book, it’s plastic characters.

I liked the politics. I enjoyed watching the Silver High Houses continue to fight amonst themselves and alter their allegiances. It took Mare far too long to realize the war with Lakeland was less about resources than it was about oppressing Reds. Remember 1984? A constant war is the perfect distraction to tyranny and oppression; the people hate the enemy more than their own country. But Maven ending that fake war was genius. The people celebrate peacetime and the king that brought it to them. It was a great way for him to garner support where before he had none. In a way, what was probably meant to be filler was one of the most interesting parts of the novel.

Cal actually shows some kind of emotion besides rage in this one, so that’s something. We get to see him being the excellent strategist we’ve been hearing about. Cal finds himself shirtless more than once in this book, which was fun. He finally made a choice this time around. And he chose what everyone knew he would in the long run, even if so many Red Queen fans are disappointed by it. Does he love Mare? Sure. Does that mean anything to a Silver? No.

I still can’t stand Mare. She continues to be as self-deprecating as ever. That’s all I really have to say on the matter.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

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Amani was raised in backwater Dustwalk, where you learned to shoot before you learned to walk, and she’s dreamt of leaving since her mother died. Amani plans to run away to Izman, the capital of the dessert nation Miraji. There, she can be her own person, not owned by her uncle or some husband she doesn’t want to be with. But first, she has to be able to pay her way there.

Which explains how Amani ended up in Deadshot, the crappy town next to Dustwalk. Specifically how she ended up meeting a handsome foreigner as they try to escape a riot at the pistol pit. It doesn’t explain why he runs into her shop with a bullet wound the day after being chased by the Sultan’s Army. Or why she rides off into the dessert with him on the back of an immortal horse.

I loved this book. It was exciting in so many different ways. I loved the characters and the mythology and the stories. My favorite part was Shihabian in the oasis. It hit me that Amani was celebrating the same holy day under the same sky, but now she was celebrating surrounded by people who had come to care for her, and with more food and drink than she’d probably ever been able to eat in her life. It was a brilliant testament to how much Amani’s life had changed. If I had one complaint, it was the pacing. Some scenes (especially action scenes) felt like they just dragged on and on forever.

This book was heavy on the romance. It was refreshing not to have to deal with the characters playing coy with each other. Amani and Jin started flirting the moment they met in the pistol pit. She made him laugh and he saved her from the rioters in the pit. He pulled her from her dead-end hometown and she saved him from the Sultan’s Army. There was never a moment where I didn’t think they would fall in love with each other.

I was not surprised that Amani was a Demdji. Jin had been hiding something the whole time, though I was admittedly convinced it was something deeply painful meant to turn him into a brooding stranger trope. But Amani was obviously special. Her strangely bright eyes were mentioned far too many times for it to be a coincidence, and her sharp-shooting ability was impressive, to say the least. She couldn’t be a First Being or a Djinn, because she’d have noticed. Too much magic in her and too much iron in her world for a First Being to go unnoticed. Being half-djinni makes sense once somebody mentioned that it was even possible. Iron weakened her enough that her abilities never surfaced, but it never hurt her, which was important considering how many times she held a gun growing up. But if I don’t see some repercussions to the fact that her gun, which has really been the most trustworthy thing in her life, is what was preventing her from developing her abilities as a Demdji and she won’t be able to shoot anymore, I’m going to be extremely disappointed.

Shazad is a secondary character worth discussing. She is no Mary Sue character. She doesn’t just think she’s great. She is phenomenal, even more so because she is not Demdji, and she uses her remarkable ability and strength to fight for a cause she believes in. She’s one of Ahmed’s best assets and I doubt the Rebellion would be anywhere close to where it was without her. I find her to be amazingly inspiring.

 

I’m surprised that I liked this book as much as I did, because I’m really not enjoying this Western trend at all. I am not big on the whole horse, saloon, gunslinger scene. I am, however, loving this shift toward the Middle East. The dessert sets a harsh and beautiful backdrop for any travels characters make. I aslo really love the look at Middle-Eastern mythos and culture. The Middle-Eastern fantasy mixed with civil disobedience and rebellion just vibes well with me right now.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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Make sure you check out our reviews for the other books in The Raven Cycle, Blue Lily, Lily BlueThe Dream Thievesand The Raven Boys.

Cabeswater is dying. It’s being poisoned. It’s being unmade by the second sleeper, a demon who shouldn’t have been woken. It was created by all the making in Cabeswater, and it’s mission is unmaking. It will start with the forest and all of its wonders and dreams. It will end by unmaking the dreamer who created Cabeswater.

Seven years ago, a life that should not have been lost was taken on the ley line and  Gansey’s life was saved when it should not have been. It’s time for him to repay the favor.

Are Adam and Ronan a spoiler if you’ve seen it coming? I’m going with no. A relationship between Adam and Ronan has been building since early in the story. And it fits. Ronan saved Adam from his dad that night. Ronan brought Adam (and everyone, really) to Cabeswater, a place that has become a part of Adam’s identity and that fights to protect him. And in Adam, Ronan sees someone who fights so strongly for what he wants. I don’t know that Ronan is capable of that kind of fight anymore. I know he respects that in Adam, even if he finds it as exhausting as the rest of us sometimes.

Seondeok is a dream artifacts collector. She specifically collects Niall Lynch’s dream-things. Henry Cheng is her son. When Henry was young, he was kidnapped and held hostage by Seondeok’s competitor, Laumonier (the creepy triplets-who-are-actually-the-same). Henry knows about magic (or whatever you want to call what’s up with Gansey and the gang) and it’s not so much that he wants to be involved, but he wants to share that with other people. I think everyone can understand that need to be included and to know that there are people who know what you know.

I can’t imagine that saving Gansey would have worked half as well if it had been attempted by any other author. Stiefvater’s been building up to Gansey’s death for the entire series, and she’s also been building up to a grand loophole involving Glendower and the wish granted for whoever wakes him. When that plan goes down the drain, all of our hearts break. Will this truly be the end of Richard Gansey III? An death in service to his friends and Cabeswater would be noble enough for our Raven King, but what a sad ending to a story that has otherwise been so much more about the magic in the world than the misery.

The only real negative is the resolution. We received so much more Adam than Blue and Gansey. I’m not sure why she Stiefvater thought we’d be more interested in Adam and his parents than Blue and Gansey’s new life, but that’s what we got. Honestly, I could’ve told Adam that his parents didn’t want him back. They don’t want to hear about his success or his future. They don’t want ownership and they won’t be proud of him. I didn’t need or want to watch that trainwreck.

I’m so excited for Blue to go off and discover the world. Gansey’s been there, done that, but it’ll be a different experience with Blue. Her sense of wonder at anything that isn’t Henrietta will thrill them both and her authenticity will win over everyone they meet on their travels. It’ll be the time of their life. After that we just have to get Blue into college (if that’s still what she wants); she’s got hella admissions essay materials.

The Raven Cycle‘s final act was everything I hoped it would be. It was terrifying and exhilarating and sad. All the pieces of this giant puzzle of a story finally fell into place. Questions were more than satifactorily answered, and my expectations were not only met, they were smashed straight through. One of the best conclusions to a book series I’ve ever read.

Frostblood by Elly Blake

Frostblood is Blake’s debut novel.

Frostbloods and firebloods are natural enemies in this world.  The king is being controlled by an evil entity called the Minax.  However the king is a frostblood with a vendetta to kill all of the firebloods in his hunt to find the Daughter of Darkness.

Ruby is a fireblood livng in a small village with her healer mother when the soldiers of the king raided the village and taking Ruby prisoner.  For half a year, Ruby is held prisoner until a handful of frostblood refugees break her out.  Confused, Ruby reluctantly agrees to go with and help the refugees destroy the throne, which wields the darkness, controlling the king.  Arcus and Brother Thistle, frostblood refugees, help Ruby control and master her fire.  However, some of the other refugees come to find out that Brother Thistle and Arcus are housing a fireblood.  Most of the residents are very iffy about Ruby putting their safety in danger.

Ruby is taken prisoner again but this time taken to the palace to be held prisoner.  She is forced to fight for her life against frostblood champions to get close to the king.  The king has his suspicion that Ruby is the Daughter of Darkness that he has been searching for.  Wishing to take Ruby as an ally, King Rasmus tried to convince her with the Minax’s help, they could rule the kingdom with an iron fist.  Arcus then storms the kingdom with this followers, claiming he is the rightful king Arelius Arkanus.

This is a page turner, however it is predictable.  Arcus turning out to be Rasmus’s elder brother, thought to have died in a fire, comes out of no where to claim his throne.

Ruby is a weak teenager who doesn’t know how to control her gift, or even summon it unless she is mad.  She is afraid throughout most of the book to even summon her fire, which grew irritating, especially when Arcus would taunt Ruby. Towards the end of the book she learned how to use her fire to kill the frostblood champions she was going against, which drew the Minax towards her even more.

Blake does a phenomenal job describing scenes and how the characters look in her head.  Arcus’s face is burned and scarred due to an assassination attempt on his life when he was young.  Brother Thistle took Arcus  under his wing when he was banished from the kingdom.  Blake made sure to leave no loose ends in this novel, leaving me satisfied with finishing it.  However, the predictability of the book is a bit of an upset.

The character development was meager.  There was little improve on Ruby throughout the story.  She was just as scared at the beginning as she was in the ending.  She never seemed to be brave, just a poor forced soul that went along with the plan unwillingly.

  • 3/5
  • Decent read, although slightly predictable
  • Little character development
  • Some romance 


Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

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This is a world where the color of a person’s blood determines who they are and what they do. Those with silverblood have power, in the political and supernatural sense. Those who bleed red are normal. They are the lower class workers and soldiers. Life is hard, but uncomplicated for the Reds; they must find work before they turn 18. If they cannot (which many can’t), they will be drafted conscripted into the Nortan army, where they will likely die on the front lines.

Mare Barrow is a Red who’s about to turn 18. She’s a pickpocket, which isn’t exactly considered legitimate work. But when she pickpockets the right person, she finds herself summoned to work at the palace, effectively taking her out of the running for conscription. In an accident, it’s revealed that Mare has powers. The King forces her to pose as a lost heiress to a Silver High House and uses her as a tool to quell the growing unrest among the Reds.

Just to get the inevitable discussion about the love-triangle out of the way, Maven and Mare should work so much better than Cal and Mare. Maven is kind, and believes in the same things Mare does, and he supports and protects her as she’s learning to navigate this new life. Cal is busy studying battle tactics and training and, oh yeah, spending time with his actual fiancee. But the chemistry between Cal and Mare is so much stronger. Which is something I’m sure Maven is used to; being overlooked in favor of his brother for something intangible like chemistry or charisma. And while I’m on the subject, don’t get me started on the upcoming Kilorn drama. We can ask Gale and Peeta how that one’s going to turn out.

Mare is self-centered. She makes some poor attempt to help a once-scrawny boy turned best friend who she can’t seem to get rid of and who obviously doesn’t want to be saved in an effort to help her conscious. Golly gee, can’t wait for the oncoming boy next door triangle. Her self-centeredness ruins her sister’s career; her need to save herself results in the hunting-down and the execution of her friends; her belief that the Prince is so in love with her destroys Scarlet Guard’s plans for a coup. She shows no development and never stops to take a look at herself, choosing instead to think about how awful the snakes she’s being forced to live with are.

What becomes increasingly clear to me as this story continues is that Mare is an expendable piece in the cog that is this ‘rebellion’. If you can call it that. Because at some point, the Scarlet Guard is going to have to take a look at whether or not the ends justify their means right now. Yes, there are people with rights who need to be fought for. But the Scarlet Gaurd isn’t so much fighting as playing God. They are choosing the Silvers who live and die. They are letting their actions result in the deaths of innocent civilians. Now they need to ask if it’s worth it to them.

But Mare is replaceable. The only thing that makes Mare noteworthy in this novel is that she can’t be shuffled off and killed quietly because hundreds, if not thousands, of Silvers saw her powers. In order to maintain the fragile facade that the Silvers are strongest because of their gifts, the King forces Mare to pretend to be a long-lost heiress of a Silver House. If it had been any other Red, they would be where Mare was. If any other Red were in this position, the Scarlet Guard would have sought them out and asked for their help. We find out there are hundreds of others who are Red and Silver, and for some reason, we’re stuck with whiny, self-centered, hard-to-swallow Mare Barrow.

A lot of the problems with fleshing out these characters is that there isn’t any time to do so. There’s a lot of description of what’s going on, and not a lot about who is doing what and why they’re doing it. Part of this comes from it being a debut novel. Aveyard has yet to find a strong voice and a distinctive style. Events of the book are relayed to other characters, and the events themselves become meaningless in the retelling.

But don’t get me wrong. This book was fun. There was definitely a lot of action, and I am always a sucker for a book about any kind of royalty. The plot twist, though predictable, was at least understandable. You can’t treat a person so horribly for their entire life, constantly overlooking them and patronizing them, and expect them to be okay with it. Like I said, Red Queen is a fun ride, just not a particularly good book.

 

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Cycle #3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by [Stiefvater, Maggie]
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Blue and her Raven Boys are still searching for a long-dead Welsh king, but along the way they’ve found strength in their friendship, a mystical forest that protects 2 out of the 4 of them, and they’ve discovered their own strange abilities. They’re also braving incredible dangers like an uncontrollable ley line, the boss of the assassin who killed Niall Lynch and is after the Greywaren, and cursed caves. The pyschics of 300 Fox Way are trying to help guide them, but with Maura missing and so many things about the Raven Boys fate unclear, it’s almost impossible to untangle what is going on in Henrietta.

 

In Blue Lily, Blue and Gansey’s budding romance continues to bud. They can’t admit to each other that they may like each other because 1) let’s not forget Blue is cursed and 2) they don’t want to hurt Adam. This was probably the most emotional part of the novel, because it’s not hard to see how badly they want to be together, and we already know that Gansey is going to die. It’s impossible not to empathize with Blue’s panic any time she sees Gansey in his Aglionby shirt.

Robert Parrish wanders into Adam’s apartment before the hearing, and that was terrifying. It’s been impossible to forget the night we last saw Adam’s dad (in the first book). He’s volatile and hard to predict. His hatred for his son comes from fear and jealousy of what his son’s becoming. Mr. Parrish is tired of his son thinking he’s better than the rest of his family, but what’s really sad is Adam doesn’t believe that. In fact, his worst fear is that he is just like his father; angry and destined for nothing more than living in the same small trailer for the rest of his life.

Adam finally learns in this book that not all help is charity. He can’t do everything by himself. That’s something that he finds in his work with Persephone. An extremely powerful ley line, a magical entity with a mind of its own, cannot physically move items blocking its flow of power. It needs Adam to do that, and Adam needs Persephone to teach him how to communicate with Cabeswater. He’s grown so much, that when Gansey and Ronan show up at his father’s hearing, without his asking and without him even telling them when it was, he accepts their help and support. Sometimes people help people to make their lives easier, not because they expect or want anything in return.

Of the three sleepers, two are woken during this novel. We can safely assume Gwenllian was the third sleeper; the one that could have been woken or not. She’s batshit, but she seems to be harmless enough. And Blue is learning about herself through Gwenllian. Maura is found near the sleeper that shouldn’t be woken. She went underground to find Glendower (presumable the sleeper that should), and instead found Artemus, her long-lost lover, and is trapped by the second sleeper.

In the journey to find Maura, we find that Gansey has power too. Adam the Magician, Blue the Mirror, Ronan the Dreamer, and Gansey the King. Gansey III finally finds his voice, and its more than just charisma. With this voice, he is capable of commanding the dead to rise. But Gansey is a Gansey, and they don’t command, they only ask and hope. This unwillingness to command others is part of what makes Gansey who he is; it’s part of what binds the Raven Boys together. He never commands, never expecs, and rarely asks. But when he does ask, he receives.

Even the secondary and tertiary characters are real, fully developed people fighting their own demons and living their own lives. I’ve never read another series that has so seamlessly woven everyone’s story into one cohesive plot, while paying more than sufficient attention to the characters that aren’t directly involved. When your characters are that sound, that well-written, it almost doesn’t matter what plot you’re trying to sell.

Strange things happen in this world all the time. It would be easy to dismiss them as corny or impossible. But the authenticity of the characters breathes life into the magic of the events. The reader believes in the characters, so they believe what the character tells them. Maggie Stiefvater’s characterization is the key to The Raven Cycle’s success, because once the reader is attached to Blue and her Boys, they’re impossible to leave.