Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I requested Seraphina from Netgalley because the summary mentions dragons that fold “themselves into human shape”. Shapeshifters in the fantasy genre is something I’m still thrilled by, even though I should have my fill already in urban fantasy. Not sure how, but it’s different I tell you. Other things that also drew me: tensions between humans and dragons, a heroine trying to hide a secret while working beside a “dangerously perceptive” prince, and the great blurbs by Naomi Novik and Tamora Pierce. Not to mention some very tempting book reviews.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Rachel Hartman

The Premise: (taken from goodreads) “Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.”

My Thoughts: This story starts with Seraphina.

“I remember being born.
In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart’s staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe.
Then the world split open, and I was thrust into a cold and silent brightness. I tried to fill the emptiness with my screams, but the space was too vast. I raged, but there was no going back.
I remember nothing more; I was a baby, however peculiar. Blood and panic meant little to me. I do not recall the horrified midwife, my father weeping, or the priest’s benediction for my mother’s soul.
My mother left me a complicated and burdensome inheritance. My father hid the dreadful details from everyone, including me. He moved us back to Lavondaville, the capital of Goredd, and picked up his law practice where he had dropped it. He invented a more acceptable grade of dead wife for himself. I believed in her like some people believe in Heaven.”

 
Not surprisingly, my first impression of Seraphina was that she is an odd duck. Clearly there’s something strange about her for remembering her birth, and the inheritance she alludes to. Then she tells us that her father has told her time and again that to stay safe she must stay under the radar.  That her secret, if discovered, would mean her death. Only a select few know it, among them her father and Orma, a her music tutor (who happens to be a dragon). But Seraphina can’t help herself. She doesn’t want attention, but she is herself. Despite her best intentions, Seraphina stands out. Her prodigal musical talent is difficult to suppress, and after she’s noticed for that, it’s hard to forget her.

When the story begins, Seraphina has been court composer’s assistant for two whole weeks. Two weeks of rushing to be ready for the kingdom’s forty year celebration of the treaty with the dragons where the Ardmagar (the dragon equivalent of a king) is scheduled to make an appearance. Then Prince Rufus is found dead during a hunting trip. He was decapitated, and whispers that a dragon is responsible begin to be passed along. Things are difficult enough with the peace without these new rumors — many Goreddis still fear the dragons and worry about Goredd disbanding the knights who practiced dracomachia (a fighting technique used specifically against the dragons).

Seraphina thinks something is about to happen because of Prince Rufus’s death. She isn’t sure what, but she wonders who really killed the Prince and why. Seraphina’s position within the palace gives her special access to the royal family and she tries to keep an eye out for possible threats. She devises her own ways of finding things out, often finding herself face-to-face with Prince Lucian, head of the guard, as a result — and he proves a little too smart and nice for Seraphina’s comfort (especially since he has a fiancée). In the meantime, she also worries about her tutor Orma and the ominous message he received at the Prince’s funeral. Interwoven with that is Seraphina’s own issues with keeping her secret — her flute solo at the funeral moved everyone to tears and of course made her noticed. I’m half tempted to say what Serphina’s secret is in this review (it’s a big part of her character), but I am not sure it’s exactly revealed in the first fifty pages and the blurb dances around it. Let’s just say it is a great secret for storytelling. There’s a lot of little anecdotes about Seraphina’s past and how they relate to her secret all while everything else is going on. Her struggle to understand her mother (who died at childbirth) is a big part of Seraphina’s ruminations. If that isn’t enough, there’s also this strange mental garden that is tied to Seraphina’s secret.

Maybe that sounds like a lot of odd little threads, but these things are related in a smooth and interesting way. This is the type of world building that you sink into and while it has that medieval, city-built-around-a-castle setting that a lot of Fantasy has, much of the world felt fresh and new to me. The highlight was that dragons can shapeshift into people. What I loved about this that is in Seraphina, becoming human is a truly alien experience for a dragon. They can’t really deal with a new body that sometimes makes them feel and think in ways dragons aren’t supposed to. They needs Censors to make sure they don’t go insane – which in their culture, is when a dragon allows emotion to overrule logic. Dragons literally have memories of such a distasteful lapse scrubbed away. Of course, with the dragons so concerned with being dragons and keeping themselves apart from what they think of as human weakness, they also stay unknowable to their human allies who say they have no souls. There’s so many little details like that that are thrown in here. Seraphina knows more about dragons than most people so she bridges the cultural gap in her narrative. Tidbits about dragon and human relationships are dropped as needed throughout the story (not to mention the cultures of neighboring countries Porphyry, Samsam, and Ninys), and they fascinated me. I couldn’t get enough of the meeting of different worlds.

The other thing I really loved about this story were the characters. Seraphina was my favorite. She has more than one facet – sometimes quiet and a bit grumpy, sometimes scared and secretive, other times just fierce and brave. She starts off as a sixteen year old girl who wants to blend into the walls, but as the story progresses her chutzpah shines through as she throws herself into stopping anything from ruining the treaty. I loved this, but I also loved her vulnerability because she has the daily anguish of hiding her true self. And let’s not forget the secondary characters. First of all: Prince Lucian – my goodness, the awesome interactions he and Seraphina have! There was something a little fun about how they both surprise each other, and I can’t wait to see how their relationship develops. Then there’s Seraphina’s father, who tells her to stay unnoticed every chance he gets, but who does so because of his fear for his daughter; Orma, who is a dragon and who has always seemed distant, but who Seraphina still trusts and loves; even Princess Grisselda, granddaughter of the current queen and Lucian’s fiancee proves to be more complicated than she initially seems.

Overall: You know those books that kind of make you excited because you read them and think, “This is right up my alley! This book has things I find awesome in it!” ? Seraphina is one of those books for me. I just want everyone who likes Fantasy with girls doing stuff (and dragons!) to read it already. The characters! The world building! Have I mentioned the shapeshifting dragons?! Alright, I get that not everyone loves YA Fantasy and books with a drop of romance, but if you like that sort of stuff, just a little bit? If you like the quality and creativity of Robin McKinley, Megan Whalen Turner, and Diana Wynne Jones? Then maybe you should try this one.

Seraphina is out July 10th

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Stella Matutina – ” SERAPHINA is just plain delicious from start to finish. I want all of you to read it as soon as you possibly can. “

Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

This was the latest readalong book that Holly, Chachic, and I read.

Unearthly
Cynthia Hand

The Premise: Clara Gardner is a regular seventeen year old, except for one thing – she’s part angel. With visions of a boy standing among pine trees as a fire rages towards him, Clara thinks she knows what her Purpose is. She has to save him. When her visions give her enough details to figure out where this fire is going to be, her mom uproots the whole family from Silicon Valley to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Clara thinks all she has to do is find the boy from her vision and make sure she’s there at the right time and place to fulfill her destiny. Except things aren’t always as simple as they appear. The longer Clara is in Jackson, the more she learns how little she knows about her powers and about her vision, and how life never goes the way you expect.

My Thoughts: I have to admit that I went into this story with a little bit of trepidation. It’s not really anything against angels (although they aren’t my favorite supernatural creatures), so much as a bias against young adult paranormals these days. I think I have this little aversion to this genre because I’ve read one too many with a predictable storyline. That said, I hadn’t seen anything about Unearthly that sounded any alarms. In fact, I’d mostly read good reviews. With that in mind, and without knowing much else, I borrowed Unearthly from the library, and I’m happy to report that Unearthly doesn’t go the predictable YA paranormal route (although it does do a couple of things that seem to be common in YA these days – more on that later).

What stood out for me was a few things. First of all there’s Clara’s voice, which felt like it had the right mix of pre-adulthood maturity peppered with sarcasm and angst. She’s no airhead, but there is a balance between her angelic traits (good looks, preternatural athletic ability and angel powers), and her human ones. For all her awe-inspiring ability (wings and glowing and speaking in tongues), she is still an awkward teen. Actually, it seems like Clara is more awkward than angelic – for every moment of celestial grace, she has more than her fair share of humiliation, like a hair dye horror story and New Girl dorkiness. Then there’s Clara’s relationship with her mother. They don’t always see eye to eye, but they have a close relationship, one in which her mom is in the picture, wants to know about her life, and actually tells her daughter that she’s part angel! Basically, she’s a mom that actually acts like one.

Because of her mother, when Clara talks about her visions, she is matter-of-fact. After all, she’s known what she is since her fourteenth birthday. We don’t have to go through the slow build-up of Clara discovering her angelic side, instead the story begins a little further along. Yes, there’s a lot that Clara still doesn’t know, and her mother isn’t always forthcoming, but at least it feels like Clara has a tangible goal, one that I was curious about:

“In the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees. He’s around my age, in that space between child and man, maybe all of seventeen years old. I’m not sure how I know this. I can only see the back of his head, his dark hair curling damply against his neck. I feel the dry heat of the sun, so intense, drawing the life from everything. There’s a strange orange light filling the eastern sky. There’s the heavy smell of smoke. For a moment I’m filled with such a smothering grief that it’s hard to breathe. I don’t know why. I take a step toward the boy, open my mouth to call his name, only I don’t know it. The ground crunches under my feet. He hears me. He starts to turn. One more second and I will see his face.
That’s when the vision leaves me. I blink, and it’s gone.”

The fire, the boy, and Clara’s purpose drive the story. At first, everything she does is for the sole goal of getting to the place and time that the vision foretells, and at first it looks like you can see where things are going. The first day Clara arrives at school, she sees him. His name is Christian, and of course, he’s perfect. All-American, popular, and as beautiful as can be. Clara promptly faints. I cringed, expecting the usual saccharine love story to follow.  In my mind, all kinds of red flags were going off. I didn’t like that Clara hardly knew Christian and was so intensely involved, vision or not. He had a girlfriend! Clara just looked like a stalker, so obsessed was she with fulfilling her purpose. But the story didn’t go the way I expected. It wasn’t about Christian so much as it was about Clara, making new friends (strange loner Angela and friendly, nice-girl Wendy), and finding a life outside of her vision. Things happen which begin to suggest that there is more to being an angel than a purpose, and there are darker things afoot that Clara’s mother never told her about. Another boy begins to get Clara’s attention. Things weren’t going like I expected and pages were flying by as I raced to find out what happened next.

The love triangle in Unearthly at first felt like a necessary evil. Clara had to discover some things about relationships for herself. I hoped that once she realized that one relationship was superficial compared to the one developed over the course of the story, that we’d see the end of it. It looked that way – the intensity of Clara’s feelings is palpable and reflected the emotions of first love. Clara seemed to know what her heart wanted, and I liked her more for it. I also really liked the romance. Then the love triangle is shoehorned back into the plot. Despite how much I want to know what happens next (enough to want to read the second book, Hallowed), and how much I liked the romance and the angel elements, the threat of the unending love triangle brought my enjoyment down a notch.

Overall:  There were quite a few things I enjoyed about Unearthly. It’s a compulsively readable – I wanted to know what would happen next and the pages just few by as I got caught up in the mix of real world teen drama and paranormal intrigue, all voiced by the very human Clara. In many ways it avoids the cliches of YA paranormals – but it doesn’t completely avoid common YA tropes like the dreaded love triangle, nor is Clara always poised – I winced a few times on her behalf. I think it will depend on the reader if what Unearthly does differently from your typical paranormal YA balances out where it treads over well-worn territory. For me, the differences outweighs the commonalities, and I am curious about the second book, but if Hallowed strings the love triangle out further, I’m going to bail.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks – “Hit it!”
Mystifying Paranormal Reviews – DNF
A Room with Books – 4.5 (out of 5)
The Crooked Shelf – “completely and utterly compelling”

Interesting links
Literary Swoon with Cynthia Hand

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon
Seanan McGuire

I’m a big fan of Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye books so I’ve been looking forward to reading Discount Armageddonever since I first heard of it.
 
The Premise: Verity Price comes from a line of cryptozoologists — people who categorize those mythical beings and monsters that humans don’t think really exist. If such a creature (a cryptid) is a danger to people and won’t curtail its harmful nature on its own, her family steps in, but mostly they leave the cryptids alone. They believe in maintaining an ecological equilibrium — not a philosophy that the Covenant of St. George shares. Ever since the Healy/Price family broke off from the Covenant, they’ve been branded as traitors to the human race. After emigrating to America, they’ve kept their heads down to make it harder for the Covenant to find and hunt them down. The exception to the “no publicity” rule is Verity. No one really thinks of dance training as fight training, so she’s allowed to move to New York City where she can monitor the cryptid population there while trying to make it as a dancer. All goes well until a Covenant member is seen in town and members of the cryptid population begin to disappear.
 
My Thoughts: Although they are both classified as urban fantasy, the InCryptid series is very different from the October Daye books. Do not approach this series expecting something like October Daye. I had to do a mind-reset because I found myself comparing them, and it’s like comparing apples and oranges. The biggest difference is that this series is a lot less serious. Verity Price is a younger protagonist with no known baggage and a big dream. She just wants to dance. While she’s respectful of her family business and trained just as hard as her brother Alex and sister Antimony, her indulgence in her real passion, her blonde, blue-eyed look, high energy, and her Smart Aleck demeanor make her by far the least moody urban fantasy heroine I’ve ever met. Verity may not be what a lot of people expect in their urban fantasy, but I don’t think she’s a bad thing. She’s just a UF heroine coming from a different direction.
 
Since Verity is a more light-hearted character, if you guessed that other aspects of Discount Armageddon are light-hearted too, you wouldn’t be wrong. I wouldn’t call it light-hearted to the point of being a farce, because there is some gritty thrown in there (monsters and death and dark, damp, places), but it’s definitely a lot more fun than the UF I’m used to reading. Verity likes to let herself live in the moment with dancing her heart out at a club, free running across rooftops, or dropping into the dark from her kitchen window. She shares her apartment with a colony of talking, religious mice. Mice that worship her family, pepper her apartment with the word “Hail”, and enthusiastically celebrate mundane events as religious holidays.
 
The relationships in this book are blessedly uncomplicated by past drama. When she talks to her family she’s clearly happy and close with them, and they talk about killing monsters and have conversations where basilisks, crossbows, and “I’ll tell them you’re insane but being responsible about it.” are part of the conversation. Verity’s family isn’t in New York with her (with the exception of her cuckoo cousin Sarah), but we hear a lot about them from Verity, and they all seem great and kick butt in their own unique ways.  Verity approaches her romantic relationships without some dark past relationship clouding in her present. What you see is what you get with this girl. There is a blossoming romance in this book and I liked that Verity approached her attraction a straightforward way (although, whether things will work out remains to be seen).
 
The main plot here is the arrival of Dominic De Luca, a young member of the Covenant, to Verity’s turf, and the disappearance of cryptids not long after. Verity has to make a decision about the impressively trained but ill-informed Dominic, and she has to figure out what exactly is behind the missing cryptids. With the help of Sarah, Verity’s nerdy mathematician adopted cousin, who happens to be a Cuckoo (which means she’s got some amazing skills at blending in, including telepathy), the mystery feels relatively straightforward. OK, there are a couple of twists and turns, but I was so much more entertained by Verity’s life that the investigation took a back seat to that for much of the book before coming to the forefront at the end.
 
P.S. The cover – it matches the fun tone of the book, and I like that it’s different from the usual all-black, serious look of other UF covers, but still not in love with the scantily clad in stilettos look. Yes, Verity works as a waitress in a strip joint, and her uniform sounds like what she’s wearing on the cover, but still.
 
Overall: A refreshing urban fantasy that does not take itself too seriously. Discount Armageddon is full of fun and humor, but is balanced with just the right amount of grit. I thoroughly enjoyed Verity’s dynamo presence and her enthusiasm for being in the Now. She’s a kick-ass UF heroine who isn’t angry or angsty, doesn’t have a painful past, and comes with a supportive family. I recommend this one for urban fantasy fans that are looking for something that approaches the genre from a different angle.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Starmetal Oak Book Blog – 6.5
Tynga’s Reviews – positive
Fantasy Cafe – 8.5/10
Fantasy and SciFi Lovin’ News & Reviews – 4.5 out of 5
Lurv a la Mode – 4.5 scoops (out of 5)
Calico Reaction – 9 (Couldn’t put it down) (LJ link, wordpress link)
 
Interesting Links:
The Cryptid Field Guide
 

Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey

Undeniably Yours
Shannon Stacey

Undeniably Yours is the second book in the Kowalski series, this time centering on the romance of another Kowalski brother – Kevin. This is the brother who was introduced in the first book – the ex-cop, divorced bachelor who runs a bar. Although characters from the first book appear in this one, you do not need to read the series in order. (If you’re interested in the first book, Exclusively Yours, I reviewed it here:https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg)
 
This review based on an eCopy from NetGalley.
 
The Premise: (feeling lazy, here’s the blurb from the author’s website): “One-night stand + two percent condom failure rate = happily ever after?
 
Bar owner Kevin Kowalski is used to women throwing their phone numbers at him, but lately he’s more interested in finding a woman to settle down with. A woman like Beth Hansen. If only their first meeting hadn’t gone so badly…
 
Beth’s tending bar at a wedding when she comes face to face with a tuxedo-clad man she never thought she’d see again. She tries to keep her distance from Kevin but, by last call, she can’t say no to his too-blue eyes or the invitation back to his room. Then she slips out before breakfast without leaving a note and, despite their precautions, pregnant.
 
Kevin quickly warms to the idea of being a dad and to seeing where things go with Beth. After all, he’s not the player she thinks he is. But she’s not ready for a relationship and, given his reputation, it’s going to take a lot to convince her to go on a second date with the father of her child…”
 
Read an excerpt of Undeniably Yours here
 
My Thoughts: Beth Hansen is a nomad. She finds a place on the map that appeals to her and she moves there when things at her current town get too stifling: “when I reach the point in relationships people start keeping tabs on me and making decisions for me, I get on a bus to someplace new.” She is fiercely protective of her independence to the point of blind stubbornness. When she gets pregnant (even with a condom) from a one night stand with Kevin Kowalski, she is not thrilled that it means a permanent tie to someone she considers a womanizer.
 
Kevin may have had a lot of women throw themselves at him at the bar, but he’s ready to settle down, and he wants a real relationship with Beth. The problem is that after their night together, Beth constantly resists anything that feels like a relationship. For the baby, she has to accept Kevin’s offer to move her from a unsafe apartment to an apartment across the hall from his above the bar, but Kevin has to choose his words carefully to get her to agree to anything beyond that. She thinks a serious relationship would be too much on top of being pregnant, especially since, if it ends badly, it would affect their child.
 
Undeniably Yours is about Kevin and Beth slowly getting to know each other after they’ve already gotten pregnant. Kevin has to slowly break down Beth’s defenses and convince her to consider being with him. In the meantime, there are plenty of loud Kowalski get-togethers and family moments. I’ve decided that the wry, sometimes frank humor from a lot of tell-it-like-it-is characters is what I like the most about this series. I feel like I’m guaranteed a general feeling of amusement from reading these books. Some of the commentary can get a bit.. salty, but this is an adult book, so whatever (there’s sex too, FYI).
 
I think that this book makes a good go of trying to convince me that Beth has reasonable fears, but I never quite understood her need to not be tied down by relationships with other people. The reason given was that her parents were overly-suffocating when she was growing up, but to make a person never want to stay in one town and never want to have people keeping “tabs” on her? I didn’t quite understand it. That seemed extreme. Later, when she admits to herself that the real issue is “not only imagining herself in one place with one person, but wondering for the rest of her life, especially during the rough patches, if they were just pretending for the sake of the child”, that admission comes too late – I’m already convinced that Beth has weird intimacy issues. It didn’t help that while Beth herself is the big hurdle to her own HEA, Kevin is pretty much a saint. If I can pick on a trend in this series so far, it is that while the women have to work through some issue, the heroes in these books are almost too perfect in comparison. I mean, this guy waits all through the pregnancy, not caring about the women that are slipping him their numbers, for someone who shuts him out constantly and tells him that all they are are friends who happen to share a baby? Makes me feel like it’s a struggle between feeling slightly irritated at Beth or irritated at what a martyr Kevin is. Of course, with these surprise pregnancy romances, there’s only so many ways the story can go. If Beth wasn’t resistant, then  this would be a very short story. I just wish we could have had the “do you want to be with me for obligation?” issue as Beth’s primary issue instead of her improbable nomad complex.
 
Like it’s predecessor, Exclusively Yours, Undeniably Yours has a secondary story. In this case it is a romance between Paulie, who works at Kevin’s bar, and Sam Logan, a customer and someone from Paulie’s past. As with Kevin and Beth, the hurdle in their romance is on the female’s side again – Paulie freaked out on her way down the aisle because she felt like she was conforming to her parents expectations and not being herself. The improbability in this one was that Paulie loved Sam yet never confided her fears to him, but this was easier to believe than the hurdle in the main romance. It was a fine secondary story but I enjoyed Paulie’s friendship with Beth and with Kevin more than her romance, which I felt competed with the main one. I would have been fine without it or with it in its own separate book.
 
Overall: Enjoyable in a “escapist popcorn read” kinda way. The writing is compulsively readable, and the relationships between characters, especially the dynamics of big family, felt very comforting to read about. That, the humor, and of course the guarantee of a HEA make this a fun contemporary romance. My only issue, and I feel like a dog with a bone over it, is the heroine’s intimacy issues (I keep revisiting it and it just doesn’t make sense). I can see that being a big sticking point for a lot of people, but if you enjoyed any other of the Kowalski books, this is still worth a read – ultimately I feel like this book lost points from me over it, but not a whole lot.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Literary Escapism – positive
Pearl’s World of Romance – 9.0 (Awesome)
The Book Pushers – C-

Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall
Susan Ee

I first became aware of Angelfall by Susan Ee on Goodreads when I saw need-tea reading it and saw all the comments from her friends about her “finally” starting it. So I checked it out, and saw a lot of positive reviews. Now, I normally wouldn’t have read this because it’s a YA story that has angels in it, and I’m pretty ‘meh’ over angels and YA. But… 99 cents, good reviews, and need-tea’s review where she said about the lead, “You didn’t see her turning into some pathetic doormat over the male with her only goal in life being waxing poetic in lengthy passages about the male lead’s perfection and hotness. Oh, no no no.”  OK, phew.  With that assurance, I bought it.
 
The Premise: Six weeks ago, avenging angels appeared out of no where and wrecked havoc on humankind. Most infrastructure has been destroyed and the worst kind of people roam the streets preying on the weak. Penryn Young, her wheelchair bound sister Paige, and her mentally ill mother have been holed up in their apartment in San Jose. One night, they head for what they hope is the relative safety of the hills, but their timing couldn’t be worse.  They stumble upon a group of angels. Penryn’s mother runs away, and her sister is carried off.  Peryn’s only hope of finding her sister is Raffe, the angel whose wings the other angels cut off and left on the street for dead.
 
Read the first five chapters of Angelfall here
 
My Thoughts:  This is a story narrated by our heroine, Penryn, a relatively hardened teen who is used to taking care of her mother and sister. Now that the world has gone crazy, she has the skills to deal with it. She reminded me of a self-sufficient urban fantasy heroine, gritting her teeth and dealing with the latest disaster. When Paige is captured by the angels, and her mom runs off, Penryn just reacts with her usual determination. Raffe is the only card she has, and she’s going to use him, even if it means keeping one of the enemy alive.
 
I liked Penryn, and I liked that her first reaction to Raffe was appropriate for the situation. He may be gorgeous and otherworldly like all the other angels, but that doesn’t matter, she treats him like he’s dangerous, which he is. He’s not a guy she’s interested in dating, he’s the guy who’s going to help her get her sister back, and she’s not above making an injured angel suffer to get answers. We don’t get to see much of Raffe’s point of view, because this is in first person, but we get an idea of his take on things, and his view is pretty pragmatic. Getting to the angel stronghold where someone may be able to surgically repair his wings, among other things, is in his best interests. He has his own problems and Penryn is just a means to an end.
 
As the story continues, Raffe and Penryn are forced to rely on one another while navigating through empty streets, ruined buildings, and post-apocalyptical chaos. I liked the organic way their respective walls began to crumble, and I tend to be more hard on the paranormal otherworldly guy and young teenage girl relationships, but that said, the relationship was not at the forefront because both characters have more pressing things to deal with. What was at the forefront is getting Paige back, and later, all the complications that come from being in the middle of the war between humans and angels.
 
There were a lot of things in this story that are very thoughtful. It felt like the author tried to address some of the kinds of questions a reader may have while reading the book. For instance, Raffe is very strong, but as light as a bird, which explains how his wings can sustain his weight. The story also hints at angel politics and makes the angels very human in their beliefs, which took away any religious implications I might have had, and I got the impression I would learn more about these things in subsequent books. Peryn and her family dynamics are also explained well. On the other hand, I still felt like there were places where the explanations were a little too convenient, and I did catch a couple of minor details that didn’t mesh (Penryn’s mother was a character that really poked at my sense of disbelief, but I have a feeling there’s more to her insanity that it appears). These things didn’t keep me from enjoying the story and wanting to read the next one though. My hope is that the world building continues to be expanded, and the back story behind the angels can be further developed. I’m also curious to see what happens to Penryn and Raffe’s relationship after the ending of Angelfall.
 
Book 2 is slated for Summer, 2012.
 
Overall: This is the sort of apocalyptian/post-apocalyptian YA that checks off some of my requirements for a good story: an independent heroine, a clear objective, a romance that develops at a realistic pace, and an exciting plot. There are flaws, mostly to do with some things being a little convenient in the story, but these are relatively minor, and I was willing to overlook them. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, as it’s the first YA with angels in it that I’ve liked.
 
P.S. Fans of Ann Aguirre’s Enclave may like this one. The fast pace, ruined world, and two people surviving in it are similarities between the two books.
 
Buy:  Amazon (kindle) | B&N (nook)
 
Other reviews:
Discussion (Katiebabs & Kmont) – Part 1, Part 2 (positive)
One More Page – 4 stars (out of 5)
Dear Author – B+
Escape In a Book – 4 (out of 5)
The Happy Booker – 5+
The Book Pushers – A

 

Magic Gifts by Ilona Andrews (Novella)

Magic Gifts
Ilona Andrews

This is a novella from the Kate Daniels universe that was a free gift for fans over the Christmas holidays. It was a limited time only download, so I don’t think it’s up anymore, but word is that it will be published with the upcoming Gunmetal Magic if you missed it. In the timeline of the series, this fits right after the last Kate Daniels book (Magic Slays, which is book 5).
 
The order so far:
Book 1: Magic BitesGoodreads
Book 2: Magic Burnshttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 3: Magic Strikeshttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Novella – Magic Mourns in Must Love Hellhounds anthology – https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 4: Magic Bleeds – https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Book 5: Magic Slayshttps://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg
Novella – Magic Gifts
 

 **** Magic Gifts probably has major spoilers of the relationship variety and minor spoilers of the plot variety for anyone who hasn’t read the first five books. ****

The Premise: Kate and Curran are out for a nice dinner at a local restaurant when a gift of a necklace at a nearby table ends in death and mayhem. Tracing the origin of the necklace before its latest victim, a seven-year old boy, can die, while also dealing with owning a business, being the Beast Lord’s consort, her grumpy best friend, and the politics of the Mercenary Guild, and you have your typical week in the life of Kate Daniels.

My Thoughts: At 97 pages (how long the pdf was on my nook with small text), this felt like a nice long novella, and fit much of the style of the previous books. As usual, Kate has her hands full in all aspects of her life. First, there is her struggling business at Cutting Edge Investigations. Her best friend Andrea is handing a big case and is off the page much of the time, but there is clearly something going on there that will be expanded in Gunmetal Magic. Then, there is the Mercenary Guild.  They want Kate to settle a dispute about Guild leadership, and Kate isn’t eager to be the deciding vote.

While those distractions are going on (the Guild business takes up a lot of Kate’s time), the meat of the story is about the necklace. This is a series that does not stick to one set of mythologies — we’ve seen Celtic deities, Indian demons, and Russian witches. This time, the mythology is of a Nordic flavor, which made me think I was seeing nods to Tolkien, but now I think it’s the Norse mythology he used in his books. Kate has to consult the Neo-Vikings for their expertise, and we get to see another new monster as part of the investigation. As creepy-crawlies in the Kate Daniels universe goes, I found this one quite nightmarish, thank you, but other than that, the impediments to solving the case were relatively minor, and this felt like a condensed but still substantial, version of the full-length books.

Overall: Quite satisfying and met my expectations of what a Kate Daniels story should be. If you are already a fan, you won’t be disappointed by this one. If you are not, I suggest you begin with the first book and work your way through the series before you get to this novella.

calico_reaction – 6 (worth reading, with reservations)
Chachic’s Book Nook – positive
One More Page – 5 stars (out of 5)

Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

Exclusively Yours
Shannon Stacey

Shannon Stacey has gotten a bit of buzz online amongst the romance reviewing community since she debuted with Exclusively Yours, which was published as an ebook by Carina Press, Harlequin’s e-only imprint. Now, her books are going to be in print too (from HQN). I stumbled on Exclusively Yours on netgalley a few months ago and requested it based on the good reviews. I’m always on the lookout for good contemporary romances and this seemed to have a great premise.
 
The Premise: Keri Daniels is a journalist, who unfortunately, has a boss obsessed with the reclusive author Joe Kowalski. Joe Kowalski happens to be Keri’s high school boyfriend – the guy she dumped when high school ended. Keri would like nothing more than to never see Joe again, but when her boss finds out Keri’s long held secret, it’s either get an interview or lose her job.  Now Keri is back in her hometown and living her worst nightmare. Joe says he will answer her questions, but for a price. All she has to do is join him on the Kowalski family camping trip, and for every day she survives with his siblings, their spouses, his parents and a rowdy bunch of Kowaski offspring, she can ask one question. Keri was never a camping sort of girl, but now she has to spend time with a family that has every cause to dislike her, especially Joe’s twin sister, Terry, her one time best friend who now holds a monumental grudge.
 
Read an excerpt of Exclusively Yours here
 
My Thoughts: With the premise of Keri’s ex-boyfriend being in the position to make Keri really suffer on the camping trip, I was expecting a lot of back-and-forth friction between the ex-lovers, but this story surprised me. Other than his idea of the camping trip, Joe seems rather forgiving of his ex-girlfriend that broke his heart and sent him into such a dark depression that he took to drinking. In fact, he looks at Keri with much the same appreciation as he used to in high school and is pretty much a nice guy about the whole breakup. The rest of the Kowalski’s are pretty zen as well. Except for Terry, who has her own reasons to be angry at Keri,  no one seems to hold a grudge. This was a little weird, as I was expecting SOME resistance to Keri, and maybe some hurt feelings on Joe’s part, but it was also refreshing to have a not-so-predictable plot.
 
Instead of the expected drama of Keri’s inclusion to the Kowalski camping trip, much of the story focuses on the personal dramas of Joe’s siblings amongst the woods and ATVing. His sister Terry is dealing with hurt feelings because her husband moved out. She can’t help herself from reliving her husband’s departure and wondering what went wrong. She’s in no mood to deal with Keri, her once best friend that phased her out, then broke her brother’s heart. You can’t help but feel like Terry is taking out all her pain on Keri, just because she is a convenient scapegoat, and this would be right. Terry’s complicated situation and the way she acts out was well done. I didn’t particularly like Terry, but I understood why she acted the way she did, and I liked the secondary story of her marriage woes (I had quibbles with how this was resolved, but nothing major). While Terry has her problems, Joe’s brothers also have theirs. Kevin is a bachelor and bar owner who just got out of a bad divorce. Mike is a family man with four boys and who doesn’t want any more kids, but his wife Lisa, wants one more. This leads to some spectacular spats.
 
Compared to the drama going on among the people around them, the drama between Keri and Joe feels relatively tame. The biggest issue starts off as the conflict between Joe keeping his secrets (a mysterious engagement, his subsequent shunning of the limelight), and Keri needing a juicy story. But as the story continues Keri realizes that she has the same choice to make as before: whether she should choose Joe and her hometown, her career and L.A. Along the way of course, there is also the sexual tension they have to contend with, and much of the camping trip involves the dance between two obviously attracted people. Joe sees Keri and feels just like he felt about her in high school, and Keri feels like getting involved with Joe again would just be a big mistake. I liked the relaxed banter and the adult way that the hero and heroine acted throughout the book, and their obstacle to a happy ending felt more realistic than some of the others I’ve read in contemporary romance.
 
Overall: An enjoyable contemporary romance with humor and likable protagonists. I would say that it was a nice romance but the sense of family (their shenanigans and tribulations) and the well developed secondary characters brought Exclusively Yours up a notch from the average ‘fun romance read’. I’m interested in reading the next in the Kowalski series – this time about bar owner brother Kevin.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Buy ebook: Amazon (kindle) |  B&N (eBook)
 
Other reviews:
Monkey Bear Reviews – B-
One Good Book Deserves Another – 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Dear Author – B-
Pearl’s World of Romance – 10 out of 10

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder
Marissa Meyer
As a fairytale retelling with a cyborg Cinderella, and set in “New Beijing”, Cinderpromised to deliver a story containing some of my favorite themes. I’ve had high hopes for this one so when I saw a contest for an ARC, I made sure I signed up. This review is based on an ARC copy I won from the publisher.
 
The Premise: It’s now 126 T.E. and in the teeming city of New Beijing, Linh Cinder is a talented mechanic who works out of her stall at the Weekly Market. While she’s a teen-aged girl, not your typical store owner, she’s also a cyborg, and thus the property of her stepmother Adri,  who uses Cinder’s income to run the household and keep her two daughter’s Pearl and Peony in relative comfort. Adri has no love for Cinder, and the feeling is mutual. Cinder’s life is not easy, but even the limited peace she has is gone when the plague comes to her home. While things are at their lowest point with her step-family, Cinder finds herself entangled in international politics and in the life of Prince Kai, heir to the Eastern Commonwealth. Somehow this is all tied to her own past and the ruthless Lunarians poised to take over the planet.
 
Download the first 5 chapters in Kindle format here
Download the first 5 chapters in eBook (nook) format here
 
My Thoughts: This story starts off very well. It begins with Cinder at her usual stall in the market, a space that is obviously her own.  I loved the way Cinder’s skill as a mechanic and her ostracization as a cyborg are incorporated with the sights and sounds of the New Beijing marketplace. When Prince Kai arrives, incognito and carrying an android for Cinder to work on, he has no idea that Cinder is part machine. Cinder, faced with a cute boy that every girl in the city has a crush on, isn’t eager to reveal something that she’s vilified for on a constant basis. It was a great opening scene and the tension of secrets between the two characters added something to the whole meeting. Another great dose of drama is added when there is an outbreak of letumosis nearby, and the reader is made aware of this deadly and horrifying disease and how its victims are treated.
 
That was all on the first chapter. I was happy with just the thought of a story that contained Cinder, the prince, and letumosis, but the story becomes much larger in scope. Beyond Cinder and her step-family (whom we are introduced to soon after Cinder and the prince), are world-wide machinations. It isn’t long before Cinder’s world is upended and she is involved in a frantic see-saw between trying to save a loved one from letumosis and trips to the palace where she continues to run into Prince Kai and discovers surprising things about both herself and the Lunarians. All the while, Kai has his own problems. His father has the plague too, and the diabolically evil Queen Levana wants the seize power through marriage to an inexperienced young monarch.
 
I really liked Cinder’s character. She is a girl who doesn’t have many supporters but she makes the best of what she has. She knows how to fix things, she has a realistic attitude, and she’s rather scrappy when things go south. I adored all the little reminders of her cyborg status like readouts and her leg compartment that liberally peppered the story. Kai struck me as a generally nice guy trying to do the right thing under trying circumstances. There are brief sections of this book told from his point of view.  Overall, he’s not as well fleshed out as Cinder, but his frustration at his father’s sickness and the way the Lunarians are exploiting the situation is palpable.
 
There’s an obvious intent for there to be a romance between the two characters but the romance is not quite there yet. I had the impression that there was an instant like between Kai and Cinder, but that’s as far as it goes. With the weight of the world on their shoulders and with moments in each other’s company, it was a stretch to believe Kai would have any interest in Cinder being at his ball. Thankfully, the book didn’t try to sell me on a full-blown love between the two, which saves things somewhat, but it does skirt on the edges of disbelief without really going over. I think that the real romantic development is being saved for later books. I hope that the characters can spend more time with each other before the romance really happens.
 
Actually, a lot of this story felt like it was set up for later books. There are several ongoing threads that deal with Cinder’s past and her true identity which obviously won’t be resolved in this book. Unfortunately, there was a bit of frustration with having Cinder kept ignorant until the book’s climax. I could see where the story was manipulated there. I think that with the intent for this to be the series, it also necessitated that the Cinderella formula wasn’t adhered to in Cinder and the introduction of the ultimate bad guys – the Lunarians, in particular their evil queen. As bad guys go, I much preferred Cinder’s stepmother, who misdirects her anger and grief at her losses toward Cinder. Andi was a villainess with a motivation I understood. The Lunarian queen is just felt evil for no reason. Yes, fairy-tale bad guys are usually like that, and taken from that perspective, she is typical, but I wish Cinder could have stuck more to the original than it did.
 
I also was hoping to have a better sense of place in this story than I did. Other than the marketplace introduced all the way at the start of the book, there was little to show that the story was set in New Beijing. The only thing to indicate where everyone lived was their names. Even while preparing for the ball, the ballgowns sounded western: satin and tulle, big and fluffy, rather than silk and embroidered. I felt like the author had a missed opportunity in not making New Beijing a presence in the narrative.
 
Okay, so I have my complaints about this story, but none of them were deal breakers. There were things that I think affected my enjoyment of the middle part of the story, even though Cinder is well written and flowed well. I just found the middle part of the story not as compelling as the beginning and the end. There were parts that dragged because I felt like I could see what was going on behind the curtain. The ending was a good one though – it sealed my like of Cinder’s character and I enjoyed how the fairytale elements showed up. We’re left with plenty to look forward to in the sequels. Cinder continues with Scarlet (inspired by Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel), and Winter (Snow White). I will be interesting to see how the series plans to keep Cinder’s story within the frame of stories meant to be about other characters.
 
Overall: I loved the premise of a cyborg Cinderella so much that I wanted this story to really wow and excite me the way the premise did. The execution was good, but it didn’t thrill me like I wanted to be thrilled. The beginning and the end were great, but the middle suffered under the weight of being set up for a series and I had several qualms with the setting, romance, and antagonists. In the end, I liked Cinder, but it wasn’t a home run. I’d recommend this with reservations.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers – 6 (Good, recommended with reservations)
Good Books and Good Wine – loved it
Books and Things – 3 and a half stars (out of 5)
Pirate Penguin reads – positive
Giraffe Days – 4 giraffes (out of 5)
The Cozy Reader – a perfect score
On the Nightstand – “highly readable blend of science fiction and fairytales”
The Canary Review – 3 canaries (out of 5)
The Book Pushers – C+
Inkcrush – “It would have sucked me in big time when I was a teenager. I liked it as an adult.”
 
Other links:
Glitches” — a short story that prequels Merissa Meyer’s CINDER

Embers by Laura Bickle

Embers
Laura Bickle

The Premise: Anya Kalinczyk is a Lantern, a special type of Elemental with an affinity for fire and the ability to consume spirits. Her day job is as an arson investigator for the Detroit Fire Department, but on occasion Anya gets a call from DAGR (the Detroit Area Ghost Researchers) and uses her abilities to help people with their ghost problems.  Detroit is a place of unrest. Low employment and crime drives more people out of the city every day while ghosts seem to overrun it. Keeping up with a rash of arson as well as with driving out malicious spirits is wearying work, and other than her fire salamander sidekick, Anya is very alone. Now, a serial arsonist is leaving mysterious symbols with his work, and the spirits have begun to talk of something big coming. Something big and associated with fire, and with Anya’s special abilities, she may be the only one able to stop it.
 
My Thoughts: I’ve been interested in Embers for a very long time, but it’s been one of those books that I’d planned to read if I ever ran into a copy and it took a while for that to happen. When I finally had a copy in my hands, I fell easily into its pages. Anya’s life is a fascinating one. An ex-firefighter, Anya now spends her days in the charred hulks of buildings investigating whether or not a fire was actually arson. Every so often she gets a call from DAGR, a ragtag group of mediums and ghost hunters when there is a particularly stubborn spirit that needs removing. By her side is Sparky, a fire salamander that only she can see (who stole the show every page he was on).
 
Unfortunately for Anya, her life is a weary one, especially lately. The calls for DAGR are becoming more frequent as their usual methods aren’t working like they used to. Every spirit she consumes takes it’s toll on her, but this isn’t something DAGR’s leader Jules seems to grasp. And while Sparky is a lovable and rambunctious supernatural pet, Anya is isolated from human connection. Her abilities and Sparky aren’t things Anya can exactly explain to a your Everyday Joe, and letting people near her always seems to end in someone getting hurt. The closest thing she has to a friend is Katie, the DAGR witch (and baker by day) that Anya sees only occasionally, and then there is Brian, a sweet and geeky guy who Anya always pushes away.
 
Sparky is the only constant companion Anya has ever had, but her loneliness is just one facet that makes Anya human. She’s not your kick-ass urban fantasy heroine, she’s just a tired woman trying to make things right. Right now, making things right looks like finding and stopping the supernatural arsonist terrorizing Detroit. But with Anya lonely and tired, she is also vulnerable, and the lines get a little blurry. I felt like Anya wandered into a gray area in a way that I found surprising and yet so-human, and this was a strong point of the book – the meeting of opposing sides that were fascinated with each other. I don’t think I can recall the last time I read a book with such a sympathetic bad guy. I liked it! The only wish I had was that Brian, Anya’s possible romantic interest, could have had as much character development as the arsonist.
 
Overall: In the end, I was pretty satisfied with this urban fantasy. The investigation parts were straightforward but Anya and her opponent had a deliciously conflicting relationship that upped my enjoyment. It’s obvious too that Anya has a lot to learn about who she is as a Lantern and that she needs to drop her walls when it comes DAGR, so I expect more character development and world building to come. This is a promising start to a series and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
 
I have also been informed that the author has an alter-ego: Alayna Williams. More books for me to check out.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
Tez Says (a bit spoilery) – positive
Scooper Speaks – positive
Angieville – “exactly what I was hoping it would be”

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

Froi of the Exiles
Melina Marchetta

It was a few weeks ago that I read Finnikin of the Rock, and although I found the book dark, there was enough light bits in the story for me to finish without trouble and overall would say I enjoyed it. Since Froi of the Exiles was up on Netgalley, I decided to request it to see how the story would continue. Since I’d already known the second book would be about Froi, I paid attention to his character in Finnikin and I was curious if I would like a story about a character I found darker than Finnikin or Evanjalin.
 
This review will have minor spoilers for the first book, so if you are interested in this series, I suggest you start there (https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg). I also warn you that this is an advance review for a book that doesn’t come out till March 2012.
 
The Premise: A few years have passed since Finnikin lead his people back to their beloved homeland, but Lumatere is still struggling with the horrors its people have seen.The new King and Queen focus on rebuilding and starting afresh, but have a desire for justice still burning in their hearts. They know that the ones behind their country’s ‘five days of the unspeakable’ and the ten year aftermath is the kingdom of Chayrn. So when Charynite refugees and resistence fighters say they have a plan to kill their despot king, Lumatere sends in one of their favorite sons – Froi, to do the job.  It seems that Lumatere is not the only country with a curse, for Charyn is suffering its own form of hell which may or may not be broken by its loony princess Quintana. Not quite understanding this curse, but seeing an opportunity, Froi impersonates a Last Born and infiltrates the palace. In the meantime, there is unease in Lumatere as those closest to the border, the Monts, deal with a slow and steady influx of refugees from Charyn and must battle with their own latent hatreds.
 
My Thoughts:  In this second book, things are somewhat different from the first. It’s much longer (a little over 600 pages on my nook) and wider in its scope.The main character is Froi, but the book constantly switches its focus from him back to individual Lumaterians in Lumatere – mostly Lady Beatrice, Lucian of the Monts, and Phaedra, Lucian’s Charynite wife. This is a book that’s about Charyn and Lumatere.
 
But since the book begins with Froi, I’ll start with him. His character is that of a unlikeable boy-thief rescued from the streets who has now grown into an accomplished young man. He still has trouble with his temper, but he is loved by those who raised him and eager to prove his loyalty to his Queen. When the opportunity to kill the Charyn king who was behind Lumatere’s years of grief presents itself, Froi is the one to go.
 
It’s from Froi’s point of view that we are introduced to Charyn, and it is a dark place. The people are desperate, the king is a tyrant, and it has a recent history of a terrible genocide. When I read Finnikin of the Rock, rape was alluded to, but not directly shown. Here, rape and sex with questionable consent is a common trope. In order to alleviate Charyn’s curse, princess Quintana, an obviously mentally ill girl must have sex with the last born sons of Charyn. I was pretty disturbed by this. I continued to be disturbed when I read the description of Quintana’s lack of care (unwashed hair, often wearing the same dress), coupled with her childlike airs and the voices she hears. The prologue described in heartbreaking detail her penchant for disconnecting during the sex act by making shadow figures on the wall. To warn those who avoid rape in the books they read: Quintana is raped in a scene that squicked the heck out of me, and she is of course, hated and called a whore by her whole country. I don’t think I can begin to describe the way reading this affected me.
 
While Quintana is introduced as a character who is abused, she is also clearly set up to be Froi’s love interest. This is a very difficult thing to achieve, because on her side, we have an abused, mad child, and on his side, Froi is the person who in the last book tried to rape Evanjalin/Isaboe. Part of me has a very, very hard time rooting for Froi after this act, but this story does not try to rewrite history or deny that Froi is a dark character. He is a person tainted with the darkness of his past, and in many ways his darkness makes him a match for Quintana’s own demons. But it was very difficult for me to connect personally to these characters and their romance. I think that while I rooted for their happiness, I could never really love them. They were too alien for me. Quintana is too shifting in her moods and manner, and Froi too self-serving. I did believe Froi’s attraction to a dirty, mad princess with dark calling to dark, but on a logical, not visceral level.
 
I also think that the romance was difficult to get lost in with all that happens in the story. This was an incredibly heavy book. A sense of either shocked horror or utter despair pervaded my whole experience. As the story continued, I hoped for better things to come, but one calamity seemed to follow the next. When innocents are not being killed in Charyn, we’re treated to the problems in Lumatere and its border. This includes the drama of unfinished business between Beatrice and Trevanion, who are letting their pain stand between them, and the constant friction between Monts and the Charyn refugees.  Lucian of the Monts struggle as a leader and husband through an arranged marriage was particularly compelling and at times heartbreaking.  I think that there is room here for things to eventually turn out right, but as a reader I felt the balance of this installment of the story slide more towards hopeless over hopeful. When things started on an upward swing, it wasn’t for long. And if you are someone sensitive to rape, this book is a hard hitter.  While Quintana’s rape is on the page, she is not the only one. There are at least 4 other characters that have had this experience, and it is common for the females to be labeled as sluts and whores. This left me full of anger, which I think is the point. I don’t think that Marchetta wants to keep the reader cocooned from the horrors of war and strife, but I was pretty worn out emotionally. There ARE bright spots in the story (like when Finnikin and Isaboe make cameo appearances), but overall, I found this to be a grim book.
 
As with Finnikin of the Rock there are revelations in Froi of the Exiles which are alluded to by prophecy. Again, these secrets weren’t too difficult to guess, but I did have fun being right. The truth of what brought about Charyn’s curse wasn’t as much fun though. More horror and needless killing by the corrupt, basically. It got to the point where I was numb and unsurprised by the evil of those behind the curse, but it was disheartening to read about the past pains of the characters who lived through Charyn’s dark history.
 
OK, so I’ve talked a lot about how dark this book was. Is this a dealbreaker? I think it depends on the reader. Froi of the Exiles ends on an unfinished note, but I am glad I have a year to recover for the next one. I do plan to read it. I wouldn’t have found this story so dark if I wasn’t so caught up by these people and their struggles, and I really want to see all of this end in something good. I’m not eager to reread this book, but I am eager for a happy ending. I hope to see one in the next book, Quintana of Charyn.
 
Froi of the Exiles comes out in March 2012
 
Overall: Compelling but not for the faint of heart. Froi of the Exiles continues where Finnikin of the Rock left off but brings more heartache and strife to the tale, making this story more painful than enjoyable. It widens the scope to focus not just Froi and the kingdom of Charyn, but also on multiple characters still coping in Lumatere. Now the story is no longer standalone and the darkness will hopefully make way for better times, but we’ll have to wait for the next installment to get to them.
 
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
 
Other reviews:
No one in my circles have reviewed this yet. Let me know if you have and I’ll link to your review.