Champion by Marie Lu

 

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Champion is the thrilling conclusion of the Legend trilogy. When we first see June again, she’s working with the Elector as his Princess-Elect in Denver, learning to be his right-hand-woman. Day is back in LA, middling through his clot? Aneurysm? Brain damage? I’m not really sure, so we’ll stick to chronic headaches that will probably kill him. While the Elector has brokered peace with the Colonies, the threat of a new, mutated virus brings with it new attacks from them. And this time, they’ve got help from Africa (which is now a major military power).

 

Do you know how you can tell if you need a good soul-crushing book? Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t one and that’s okay. But when you read something sad (like about a boy whose slowly dying of a brain lesion) and you’re not sad (at all) because you know everything will workout in the end. I was more sad about June’s first birthday without Ollie in the epilogue. And I think that says more about the headspace I’m in than anything else, so that’s cool.

I still am really appreciative of the character building in this series. There was never a moment where I was like, “WHY are you doing this?” Everything made sense and no one went off the rails. I think June’s story is much more compelling than Day’s throughout the whole thing, but I’ve always enjoyed the political side of dystopian, and she got to see much more of that than Day ever did.

That ending was really something. All the loose-ends were tied without seeming like it was cheated. Our main character didn’t die because we weren’t sure how to tie up everyone’s relationship with her, and we didn’t magically and unreasonably get over the fact that major sources of both characters pain was the other. It felt plausible and real. In the acknowledgements, Lu says that she’s not sure when June and Day are headed, but that she’s sure they’re going to be okay. After the trip that we’ve had so far with them, I’m really glad. They deserve to be okay.

I genuinely don’t have a bad thing to say about this book. It was well-written, it’s a fun read, and I like the characters. My favorite part about Day and June together is how he interacts with her. It feels very southern-hospitality-ish. I’m sad about how little time they spend together throughout the series. I most enjoyed

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Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton

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If you’re interested, check out our previous reviews for Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne.

 

Amani and Jin are together again, and it feels like its them against the world. With Ahmed and the bulk of the rebellion imprisoned by the Sultan, Amani is in charge. Her jobs include: figuring out how to stop the Abdals, stopping the Sultan from killing innocent girls as revenge for kidnapping his daughter, rescue the others, and keeping everyone alive long enough to get those things done. In the words of my favorite internet child, that’s just 4 things.

So yes, Amani and Jin are back together again. After a whole book apart, there’s this weird tension between them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entirely understandable and there are definitely some things that they need to unbox, but it was still weird for me to get through. If Amani and Jin could just talk to each other, everything might be easier, but neither of them have even been very good at talking about anything.

It’s also worth talking about the insane altruism of these two. Amani’s right, she’s not the same girl from Dustwalk. Now she’s Amani al’Bahadur, powerful demdji of the desert, and her duty is to Miraji and the rebellion. And Jin showed remarkable character too. I think what’s more remarkable is that he’s not in this for the millions of people of the desert country. He’s got a list that’s exactly 3 people long who matter to him: Amhed, Delila and Amani. And he’d still give up one of them for the others. While the excessive sense of selflessness is frustrating because of the barrier it creates between Amani and Jin, it’s also admirable, and it’s why things worked out the way they did in the long run.

And that’s part of why the djinn find the humans so fascinating: they live such short, insignificant lives compared to the djinn, but everything matters so much to the humans. When you’ve got a fire that burns for such a short time, it can’t help but burn bright. They’re willing to sacrifice anything for something that really matters to them, and that’s kinda beautiful.

More than anything else, I love how Hamilton writes stories. She emphasizes how reality never truly lives up to the legend, and she really uses that in the chapters that are written as stories. It creates this wonderful sense of magic and contributes to the world she’s worked to build.

Not to mention, her writing style is beautiful. Do you ever read books aloud? Just to marvel at how the words sound? Sometimes I do that with this series, because it sounds so pretty and builds so much suspense. Hamilton is a true wordsmith, and the stories she tells are mesmerizing.

Amani’s story is one of my favorites of all time. I encourage everyone I know to pick up a copy and own both digital and hard copies. Alwyn Hamilton crafted some amazing characters and this book was the conclusion they deserved. I am so sincerely looking forward to reading all of her future works.

 

Prodigy by Marie Lu

 

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Before you check out this review, you should flip back and check out our review of Legend.

Prodigy begins where Legend leaves off, with our heroes June and Day on a train bound for Denver and the warfront. There, they come face-to-face with the Patriots, who they ask for help to save Day’s life. In return, they must complete a mission for the Patriots: assassinate the new Elector. June is asked to play the part of dutiful soldier to the Republic one more time while Day enters the ranks of the Patriots as one of their Runners. Collectively, they may bring down the Republic.

In Prodigy, we finally get to see the famed Colonies, and we realize that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. While the Republic is a classist military state, the Colonies are a solidly capitalist state, and June and Day find they’re not too fond of that either. While the Republic controls their people based on fear and might, the Colonies create control by suppressing the lower class.

I wish we’d gotten to spend more time with June and the Elector. She was with him for a total of days, but I think he’s an interesting character who deserved more time to develop and interact with. On a contrary note, when Lu develops Anden and Tess in the context of love interests for Day and June, it’s a bit contrived. The love triangle this is played out, and to be expected. June & Anden and Tess & Day make much more sense together than June and Day do, but that’s part of what makes them compelling together. Also on the other hand, June and Day are right; there’s a lot that went on between them, and some of it doesn’t feel forgivable.

The twist at the end of the novel was drafted really well by Lu. She uses June’s sense of perception to hint at who turns tail in the end. It creates a sense of surprise that you don’t really see coming.

In my review of Legend, I decided the story of the Republic was fun, but lacked substance. Prodigy changes that a little bit, as the readers eyes are opened a bit farther to the world we’re dealing with. I hope that the trend continues in Champion.

The Girl Who Knew da Vinci by Belle Ami

Angela is an American art historian with a concentration in the Italian Renaissance. That makes her perfect for her internship at the Getty museum, where she’s working (and being sexually harassed) when she meets Alex, an international art detective. He’s investigating a lost painting believed to have been painted by Leonardo da Vinci. Alex and Angela find they have an immediate connection fueled by centuries of their reincarnations finding each other and suffering tragically for it. Together they set out on a fast-paced mission to find the missing painting before the sleazy, scheming curator of the Getty can get his hands on it.
I liked the idea of the novel. European history is fascinating, and the truth is there’s a lot of information from that time that has been lost. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but the most interesting is the practice of destroying documentation from that time period. Some powerful people from that time period were really invested in keeping certain events quiet. I also liked this book because it was a well-timed read for me. I just arrived back home from my own study abroad experience in Florence studying art history, which is where a large part of the novel takes place.
The layering of the different timelines was done really well. This book was really three stories told in one, but it would have been overwhelming to go through them all at the same time, and it would have been boring to only go through one at a time. The choice to provide relevant flashbacks when they’re useful was good for pacing and for allowing the reader to really absorb the story.
The dialogue is choppy and awkward. It works for how we assume people of the Renaissance era talk, but it works less well for the storyline that takes place in WWII, and even less for the conversations that take place in the modern time period. The author also needs to work on her strategies for making significant reveals. This book is supposed to suspenseful, but any major moments lacked the necessary subtlety or tact to give it the gravity it deserved.
The relationship Angela and Alex share is enjoyable, I might even call it steamy. But I don’t like how Alex views Angela, or, more specifically, how Alex’s view of Angela is portrayed as virtuous or chivalrous in some way. There’s a point where he’s going on about how she’s hard to resist, even though she’s in a vulnerable position. That doesn’t make him better than a decent person, but the author attempted to attribute a lot of gravity to the situation. That made me uncomfortable.
It’s eventually revealed that Alex and Angela are reincarnations of several couples throughout history. I loved that because I like the idea of reincarnation and “one true love” and all that nonsense. I get it, it’s cheesy. However, when it’s written well, it’s swoon-worthy. Alex and Angela’s relationship lacked the nuance and subtlety necessary for it to feel like a well-fleshed romance story.
I eventually give The Girl Who Knew da Vinci 2 out of 5 stars. There were some things I liked a lot, but my biggest complaints were with the writer’s technique. This book amounted to a lot of unfulfilled promise for me. I do recommend this book to people who are interested in European history (for example, if you enjoyed the storyline for The Da Vinci Code, Reign, The Crown, etc.), but would dissuade anyone for whom writing style can be a deal breaker.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Quentin Coldwater thinks there should be more to life than the daily grind. More than growing up, going to school, going to college, getting a corporate job and then dying. Maybe something more like Fillory from hisfavorite children’s novel Fillory and Further. Turns out Quentin is right. On the day of his interview for Yale, weird things keep happening until he finds himself transported to a strange house with a strange exam that he manages to pass and is accepted to a strange magic school. His journey toward becoming a Magician is long and more difficult than he expected, but Quentin finally feels like he’s where he belongs, like his life has a purpose.

It’s worth mentioning that I specifically sought this book out because it’s a current television show on the Syfy network that I happen to really enjoy. There are some changes between the media, but overall the adaptation is pretty true to form. I am a little sad that I watched the show before I read the book because there are some reall blow-your-mind moments that I knew were coming because I’ve already experienced them. I would have liked to have the full impact when I read them for the first time, so if you’re considering watching the show/reading the books, just think about that.

I’m sure Grossman’s gotten this mroe times than he can count, but The Magicians is basically the adult crossover of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It lacks the iconography, historical references and morality lessons from either of the stories, but that contributes to the atmosphere of the novel. It’s very much intended to be an imagining of what would happen if these whimsical stories of childhood wizardry took place in the real world, where there isn’t always a lesson and there are consequences for the choices you make or don’t make.

Mental illness and addiction are undercurrents of the novel. Quentin, for example, the main character, suffers from chronic depression. It shapes his worldview and taints it. It’s why he’s always looking for more, why he’s always so whiny when things don’t go the way he hoped they would, and why he’s so good at self-sabotage. He’s not an incredibly likable character, and he’s not meant to be. This also contributes to the complexity of the story and speaks to the intended audience of the novel. The Eliot of the television show says something about where he thinks magic comes from: pain and suffering. There a reason that not everyone can do magic. They simply don’t have the misery to draw from. That’s probably why they all feel the need to numb everything with alcohol or drugs or whatever they can find really.

The pacing is a tad confusing. They get through the entirety of their time at Brakebills in Book One, but the novel still has three acts left. We don’t really have the time necessary to grow with the characters. Suddenly they’re in college, suddenly they’ve graduated. Next we spend a lot of time doing nothing in the real world until Penny shows up to take us on an adventure. One of the brightest spots of this novel when compared with other novels about magic is it’s inclusion of magical theory. That could have been used more effectively to expand upon the growth of the magicians.

I’m really excited to read the sequel and subsequent novels of the series. Thankfully, I am at a point in my binge-watching of the television series that will allow me to enjoy the novel version the first time through. I give this book a hopeful 4 out of 5 stars for characterization and world-building. Those who grew up on fantasy novels and are looking for a more adult take on their genre will enjoy this.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Juliette has a curse. When she touches another person, she absorbs their energy. Since a terrible incident when she was younger, Juliette’s been locked away and isolated in an asylum to protect others from her. Until she gets a roommate. A boy roommate. Juliette tries to keep her distance from Adam, but he’s just so clueless. Or… is he? Because the next thing Juliette knows, their both being pulled from the asylum to work for a deranged military commander named Warner, and Adam seems pretty chummy with the other soldiers.

This book felt like such an X-men meets Delirium kind of story. Juliette is literally Rogue. The romance is what makes it feel like Delirium. There’s the tyrannical government sectioning people off, only allowing them to live in Zoned in Areas. I forget what it’s called in Delirium, but in Shatter Me, the governing body goes by the Reestablishment. They limit personal freedoms and people live in squalor in the name of protection from a world ruined by people. Then both of the love interests names start with “A”, and the steamy love scenes just felt so similar and had really similar dialogue. I don’t know, it’s just what it reminded me of.

Juliette’s been in the asylum since she was 13, so her tendency toward hyperbole is understandable. What’s really impressive is Mafi’s handling of the internal dialogue. She manages to convey Juliette’s naivete without making her seem juvenile. Mafi’s writing is poetic and hypnotic, and while I’m not usually a fan of writing in vernacular or purposefully messing with grammar to make a point, but Mafi does it so beautifull. Instead of thought and ideas coming in a sudden rush, like with many writers who write to mimic thought patterns, Mafi has a way of slowing the thoughts down and giving them space to breathe.

Adam’s reason for loving Juliette is the same reason that I don’t love her as a character; she’s whole-heartedly and unfailingly good. She has this power to hurt people, and it’s terrible, but people have also alienated her because of it for her entire life. Any normal person would have considered retaliating, especially when she’s taken by Warner. Any interesting character would have an internal struggle over the issue. But Juliette is uncomplicated this way, and as such, loses what would have been the most compelling part of her character.

The pacing is phenomenal. The author is so aware of the purpose that every even must serve to the story. She’s aware that every moment must mean some learning or action item for Juliette and it must help the reader to discover something new about his world. This knowledge is also helpful for the necessary world-building aspect of a dystopian. The exposition is delivered within the context of the story, not set aside to be synthesized on its own.

I’m excited to see where the story goes next. We leave Juliette and Adam in a promising place for character development and upcoming action. This book is fun, if familiar. The familiarity of it lends a sense of safety, like we know how this will end. I hope the author uses those expecations to her advantage and surprises us with the next installment. I give it a 3 out of 5 stars and recommend to those looking for a steamy YA, with a quickly moving plot and beautiful writing.

The Last City of America by Matthew Tysz

This review was originally posted on Online Book Club, and the original review can be found here.

In The Last City of America, a virus has rendered most of the human race sterile, leading to widespread panic and chaos. The United States government has been disassembled and the Seven Cities of America, where corruption and oppression run deep, were established. Meanwhile, the secretive Rush University in Chicago, the birthplace of the original Hephaestus virus, has been working to further scientific advancement and destroy what’s left of humanity.

This book is macabre and depressing. In fiction, the villain is rarely out to ruin the world just for the sake of ruining it. They’re usually vengeful and angry, or they think that they’re doing something terrible that will eventually pay off in some great gain. Not in this book. The people in power in this novel are just crazy and they enjoy manipulating and ruining lives for the funsies. And while we’re talking about characters, it’s important to talk about how female characters are represented in the novel. There are few female characters, and none of them have any ambition. They’re placed as plot points to further the ambitions of the men in the novel. Language used to discuss these women is disgusting and gives me the heebie-jeebies. These women need to be fleshed out as full characters and less objectified in order to work.

Little effort is made at world-building. The reader is dropped into the Seven Cities with very few contextual clues as to the history and customs of this new post-apocalyptic world. The author does have a good understanding of long-term story development. Pacing is not usually the strongest skill in debut authors, but this author’s ability to effectively establish and follow the pace kept it moving along. I’m not usually a fan of point of view changes or the short chapters (think Dan Brown style), but it was an important tool in this story because of the geographic diversity and number of significant players.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars because it’s a decent story and the pacing is good, but I need more in terms of character fleshing and world-building.