Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass, #1)
Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass
Volume: 1
Genre: High Fantasy
Release Date: August 7, 2012

A Quick Introduction: Celaena Sardothien was the kingdoms most feared assassin before being captured and enslaved in one of the kingdom's salt mines for her crimes. Now the Crown Prince has come to her with an offer that could lead her to freedom: act as his champion in his father's contest to select the royal assassin, become the King's Champion for four years, and then she will have her freedom. It is an offer with high enough stakes, even without other champions turning up savaged and disembowled, hints of something evil stirring in the castle and Celaena's own interest in both the Prince and the Captain of the Royal Guard. Navigating the dangers that lay in  the palace might be too much for even Adarlan's Assassin to face.

Out of Ten: 6/10 

Review at a Glance: A decent series opening, though the lack of emotional connection to the characters hindered the reading experience somewhat.

Review: Overall I found Throne of Glass alright. The story didn't consistently carry me, and frankly the love triangle could have been improved by not existing at all (as is typically the case with love triangles), but I still found it reasonably enjoyable.

The characters were interesting enough, though I didn't find myself emotionally connecting with or investing in them. There was just something that was missing that stopped that level of emotional connection for me. That said, I found Celaena and interesting character, and she certainly had traits that I could appreciate, and some that I didn't. She's an assassin, trained from the time she was eight years old, when her parents were brutally killed, and has spent the past year enslaved in a mine after her capture. Despite the fact that she is trained to kill, and had killed before, she's also feminine and aware of her own attractiveness (which made a nice change). Sometimes I have a hard time wrapping my head around her as an assassin, though- she just doesn't seem ruthless or manipulative enough. While I didn't really feel an emotional connection to her, I still enjoyed reading her story for the most part. Same goes for the two love interests, Dorian and Chaol. I feel like I need to see them develop more as characters. Nehemia, a visiting princenss whom Celaena forms a friendship with would benefit from some development as well, since she still came off as somewhat flat at times, but has potential as a character. I think that they all do.

The relationships between the three of them weren't something I was completely invested in- likely a symptom of my lack of emotional connection to the characters. While I gripe about love triangles (and don't get me wrong I still think that they are a worn out plot device that is very rarely done well), this one was at least well balanced. Sometimes the endgame is so obvious that it is pathetic, but I'm not sure what will happen with this one. My degree of caring about it will likely be determined by whether or not I develop an attachment to the characters. I just didn't really feel the romance in this one (again, this is probably an emotional connection thing).

I was a bit strange about plot and pacing of the book. I don't know. This is going to sound really strange, but despite the fairly consistent action, I sometimes felt like things were moving slowly. I think that it was a combination of the intervening romantic scenes and that somehow the action didn't quite pull me in completely, though it generally managed to hold my attention. 

The writing in this book was fine. There wasn't anything that stood out to me. The language was typically modern, but fairly consistently so. The world building was decent (I do so love a map, as we all know), though I could have done with more description. It was more fantasy-lite than I was hoping for, but that was more personal than a flaw with the writing, I think. This is to be a six book series, so not everything has been revealed about the world so far. While the plot of this book on it's own was fairly predictable, the arc of the series itself could go any direction.

In conclusion, I enjoyed  Throne of Glass despite it's having some elements that I didn't like, namely the lack of connection that I felt to the characters, which negatively impacted my reading experience a bit. While I am picking up the next book, I'm not sure at this point if I would be in for the rest of the series. I feel like it could have a lot going for it, depending on how the rest is carried out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: The Ring and The Crown

The Ring and The Crown
Title: The Ring and The Crown
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Series: The Ring and the Crown
Volume: 1
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Romance
Release Date: April 1, 2014

A Quick Introduction: Marie-Victoria is the heir to the Lily Throne. Aelwyn Myrddn is the bastard daughter of The Mage of England. One to rule and one to serve. Marie's mother Elanor the Second has, with the help of Aelwyn's father, maintained a stranglehold on the magic of the Franco-British empire. Marie will soon come into the throne, though she wants nothing of it. She doesn't want the throne, and she doesn't want the match that comes with it- she's in love with someone else. Aelwyn has recently finished her training, and now she wants more. The two girls stand at a crossroads and must now decide who will rule, and who will serve.

Out of Ten: 1/10

Review at a Glance: With it's aggravating and undeveloped characters and lack of plot, this historical fantasy really wasn't for me.

Review: This really didn't work for me, on so many levels. I actually considered DNFing it, but I pushed through so I could write a review (I don't really like to review books that I haven't finished, in case something happens in the last hundred pages to change my mind). That and the fact that I really don't like not finishing a book. So, without further ado, a review.

My biggest problem was the characters. I really didn't like any of them. They all bothered me, and didn't really seem to have any redeeming features. They all had a propensity for bemoaning every aspect of their lives. Princess Marie-Victoria is constantly ill and doesn't want to be princess-or to be engaged for Leopold VII of Prussia. Aelwyn Myrddn is jealous of all the princess has. Isabelle of Orleans has just been rejected by Leopold, losing her engagement to someone that she thought she loved. Ronan must make an advantageous marriage to save her family's fortune and her future. Wolf has constantly lived in his brother Leopold's shadow. Leopold is viewed as the golden boy of the Prussian empire. He's actually horrible. Beyond this, there is very little to these characters. They came of as shallow, and didn't seem to grow or change. I didn't find myself wanting them to be happy. Wherever there was a hint that a character could be interesting, or even decent, it wasn't expanded on, or didn't come off as true. They all have tangled relationships with each other, and dash about dithering, moping and going to balls/parties. 

The aforementioned relationships range from making me exasperated to making me incredibly uncomfortable. There was absoloutely no development between the characters- it was literally skipped over in some cases, so we went straight from second meeting to mostly undressed snogging, complete with romantic feelings. I am well aware that love and lust don't always got hand in hand, but it apparently did in this case. I say "apparently" due to the fact that despite the fact we are informed that some couples are in love, but they don't really act it. They all fall in "love" at the drop of the hat, and the resulting relationships range from simply annoying to deeply unhealthy. I doubted that there was any actual respect, much less love in several of the relationships.

There was basically no plot. I suppose that you would say Marie's desire to abdicate could be the plot, but it wasn't a very engaging one, seeing as I didn't like any of the characters. I wasn't rooting for her. I was hoping that she would stop being so annoying. What I think was intended to be the plot wasn't introduced until the last few pages, there was no discernible build-up or foreshadowing. In a lot of ways things were resolved too neatly at the end.

I also found the the writing didn't work for me. There was a lack of flow in how the story was conveyed, and it didn't seem to be properly fixed in a time period. It seems a little like, because the monarchy remained in power, nothing else changed- they still acted like it was the sixteenth century, or sometimes the nineteenth (it depended on the character and part of book). While the language didn't necessarily not belong in the time period where it was said to be set (early twentieth century), given that it was often treated in the manner of an earlier century it clashed. And, even a hundred years ago, diction was quite different, and it felt too modern in this novel. If the world had been structured in a way that suited the difference between speech having evolved, while the rest of culture remained stagnant, I might have been able to work with it, but the world didn't really mesh, and wasn't very engaging overall. There was a bit of mature subject matter that I don't feel was handled very well.

Overall this book truly wasn't for me. I didn't like the characters, who seemed flat and were generally very annoying, and if there was a plot it wasn't at all engaging. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review: Alienated

Alienated (Alienated, #1)Title: Alienated
Author: Melissa Landers
Series: Alienated
Volume: 1
Genre: Romance, Science Fiction
Release Date: February 4, 2014

A Quick Introduction: It has been two years since aliens made contact. Now, Cara Sweeney is about to be one of the first humans to know one personally. She's been chosen to host one of three exchange students, and later to visit his home planet. Now she'll have the money for her dream school, not to mention exclusive information about the L'eihrs for her blog. Living with Aelyx is complicated, not only because of him, but also because of the anti-L'eihr paranoia. As tension on Earth builds, and the xenophobia gets increasingly violent, Cara finds herself turning more and more to Aelyx. She finds herself falling for him, but he has dangerous secrets, ones that put not only both of them at risk, but the entire planet.

Out of Ten: 3/10

Review at a Glance: This story's poorly thought out science and flat characters didn't win me over.

Review: This story wasn't really for me. I found the premise hard to swallow- I can only suspend disbelief so much in science fiction (or anything). I just couldn't buy it from a biology perspective.

*Miniature science lesson/rant coming your way starting now.*

You see, it is incredibly unlikely to find an intelligent sentient species structured similarly to human, physically. Very, very unlikely. Like "the odds, for the sake of calculation can be considered zero because they are so small" unlikely. Even with the an untold number of planets, we're pretty strangely structured creatures.
First you have to find a planet capable of sustaining life (in the book this planet is very similar to Earth's atmosphere, and has a similar hydrosphere, so Earth-like,which is even more unlikely). There are several criteria for that. Now, only a very small fraction of those planets could, hypothetically, actually have life would- the complicated accident that is life is incredibly unlikely to happen on many of them. Of these organisms, life with DNA as the carrier of genetic information is unlikely. Now, of these planets that support life, and have life, life that uses DNA, most would probably have only single-celled organisms, just due to a difference in circumstances (selective pressures, mutations etc.). Of the life that made the jump to being multicellular, and in that incredibly uncommon multicellular life, the planet would have to have undergone a similar pattern of events (catastrophic and otherwise), that selected for every creature along the evolutionary line that lead to humans, as well as for social societies.Which, is highly, highly highly improbable.

There's a saying, that if you locked a bunch of monkeys in a room with typewriters, eventually, by sheer chance, one of them would write Macbeth-it is less than a 1 a hundred trillion. This is a lot less than that. This is less likely than the chance of a monkey typing Macbeth. Probably about as likely as a sea cucumber typing Macbeth. Do you see my problem here?

*End miniature rant.*

Summarized for those who skipped the block paragraph up there (I don't blame you...): I didn't buy the science behind the aliens, and how closely they resembled humans, it just didn't work for me as a person who has taken high school biology, which a lot of people have done, so I don't think I'm unreasonable to take issue with this. Research is key. Moving on.

I found that I didn't really feel much for the characters themselves. This story is told in third person limited, alternating between Cara and Aelyx. Cara was fine, just kind of cliche and a little bit mean sometimes. Aelyx was, quite frankly, kind of a jerk. I didn't really connect with either of them on an emotional level. Both of them felt a little inconsistent, for one thing, there was no gradual development of the characters. Another problem for me was one that I often have: we are informed that these characters are really smart- really smart, overachieving smart- but I didn't feel like that carried through in the way that they acted a lot of the time. I mean, let's sabotage our species's only shot at survival! What could possibly go wrong? And talk about impulsive decisions. Besides that, I really just didn't care that much about either of them. The supporting cast- I don't know. They didn't really ring true for me, I suppose. They were cliche, and also felt a little like the faceless masses, rather than actual people. Cara's friends were terrible.

It bothers me in romances when one of the people involved literally becomes so isolated that the only person they have to turn to is the other, and the relationship starts there. It just seems like an incredibly unhealthy way to start an intimate relationship, without really knowing each other at all, so for me the romance got off on the wrong foot. I don't know I would say that it felt like insta-love (insta-attraction, maybe?), but the romantic relationship just developed really fast once it started, and probably felt even faster because of the time skips- sometimes a week would pass, and be acknowledged in a sentence before moving on. So I didn't feel like there was emotional closeness, which is kind of important in a romantic relationship.

As for the plot. Well, there was one. It mainly centred around the amount of prejudice humans had toward the L'eihr, and vice versa. And also a certain character making certain stupid decisions for no clear reason besides that he dislikes humans.  I kind of wish that there had been better development of the plot, though it is going to overreach three books, so this was likely mainly set-up. The plot in this book seemed mainly intended to lay the base for the next book, and the final one.

The writing didn't carry the weaker aspects of the book. There wasn't really a flow- the time skips felt like time skips, like they had been cut out, which gave both an impression of things happening faster than they probably did, and the impression that maybe something important had been missed. That said, I was pulled in enough to be compelled to finish the book, and I finished it pretty quickly.

Also (not that this should figure in but it total does because I am a pretentious cover-judge of the highest order). Really not a fan of the cover.

Overall, I didn't really like this one. I finished it, and finished it pretty quick, so points for that, but I didn't really like it. I loved biology in high school, so I just couldn't get past the "the aliens are practically human" shtick, and I didn't connect at all to the characters themselves. I actually wonder if my issue with the science part made me more critical of the rest of the book. I got through it, but my interest declined as the book went on, and I'm on the fence about reading the second one, but I don't think that I will.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy, #1)Title: The Winner's Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner's Trilogy
Volume: 1
Genre: High Fantasy, Romance
Release Date: March 4, 2014

A Quick Introduction: Lady Kestrel has two options as the daughter of a general in a empire that lives for war; she can either join the military or get married, despite the fact that either option would be likely to deprive her of the music she holds dear. Things get more complicated- and more dangerous- when she impulsively buys a defiant young slave at auction. As she grows closer to him she realises that the price she is paying is greater than anything she could have imagined.

Out of Ten: 9/10

Review at a Glance: A wonderful fantasy novel with a historical feel and political elements.

Review:  This was wonderful. I adore fantasy, and this one was so interesting. There isn't any magic in the world, which lends the tale a very historical feel. The world was wonderfully structured. Kestrel is the daughter of the general of the emperor's military, so she is constantly exposed to the idea of joining the military. The empire has spread, conquering other lands and enslaving those who lived there before. Both women and men are encouraged to join the army, or marry, and the culture is very much focused around the military. From a young age, all members of the society are trained in endurance, and everyone carries a weapon (however ceremonial they may be). Duels are used to settle disputes, though actually killing someone in a duel has consequences.

Kestrel has been trained to fight, though she has no talent for combat. Her skills lie in strategy, planning and manipulation. She is also a musician, something that is frowned upon in her culture- such things are present in people they conquer, not in members of the warrior empire. Nonetheless, she puts a great deal of effort into her music, honing her talent on the piano rather than with a weapon. Her music is what drives her to make the mother of all impulse buys, buying a slave at auction when the auctioneer says he can sing. Which, of course, he refuses to do. Arin is defiant- he was forced into slavery by Kestrel's empire when he was nine, losing his family in the process. Naturally, he despise his oppressors, including the girl who buys him. It is told in third person point of view, alternating between Kestrel and Arin.

Their relationship gets off to a very tense start- he hates her people- with reason, and she regrets making the purchase at all. It takes them a long time to begin to look at one another with anything besides enmity or extreme guardedness. It is something that would be called a slow-growing relationship. There is a lot going on besides their romance, and there is steps forward and back in their relationship as a result of those.

I really enjoyed the plot as well. I know that some people found it slow, especially at the beginning, but I really enjoyed the buildup, but I enjoyed the detail it offered. It has shades of political drama, or court drama, and it gave a lot of insight into the world, without making the world building overbearing. Once the action itself gets going, it certainly gets going. It does read more as a chess game, or move-and-counter-move. Both of the leads are not untalented strategists, especially Kestrel. It isn't non-stop fighting, the action is more subtle, and very engaging. I enjoyed the cerebral part of the story a great deal.

Overall I really enjoyed this one, and I definitely flew through it. It is a little different from other fantasies in that there wasn't any magic in the world, and it was certainly a lot more political than other young adult fantasies that I have read. Simply put, I found it glorious, and I'm really looking forward to the next one.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Sea of Shadows

Sea of Shadows (Age of Legends, #1)Title: Sea of Shadows
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Age of Legends
Volume: 1
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: April 8, 2014

Received an eARC through NetGalley.

A Quick Introduction: Twin sisters Moria and Ashyn have a dangerous task. They are the Keeper and the Seeker, charged with putting the spirits of the dead in the Forest of the Dead, where the empire's worst criminals are exile to their deaths. However, on the day of the Seeking, when Ashyn, the Seeker, must venture into the forest and find the dead, something is wrong. An ancient evil, known only through old stories, attacks the village and separates the girls. Accompanied by their bond-beasts- a dog and a wildcat whom they have been bound to since a week after their birth- a condemned thief and a warrior, the girls must journey across a land populated with monsters that they thought only legends, and they rapidly become entangled in a brewing conflict that threatens the entire empire.

Out of Ten: 7/10

Review at a Glance: A trilogy opening in a dangerous, fascinating fantasy world.

Review: I enjoyed this one a lot. I read Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers trilogy quite a while ago, which I found alright, but the genre and story weren't really up my alley- I'm not usually into paranormal. This is a high fantasy, which has bits of a couple different cultures sprinkled in. There was definitely references to Japanese mythology as well as hints of Native American mythology, and possibly a few others. This I really enjoyed. It was an interesting world to explore, and I'm hoping to learn more about it, and perhaps see it more vividly in the next two books.

For the most part, this is a pretty action-heavy read, interspersed with world-building. The girls have never really been outside of their village before, so the reader is learning about their world along with them once the journey starts. There is also the matter of the monsters, which nobody believed existed outside of old stories, becoming all too real. One complaint I have is the frequency with which characters a) wandered off and got attacked, b) got kidnapped/taken prisoner/hostage, or c) both. That was a little frustrating.

This story is told in third person limited with alternating sections between Moria and Ashyn. Each section is perhaps five to eight chapters long. For me, the dual point of view was effective in getting me to keep reading, since often each section ended on a bit of a cliffhanger and I was curious about what was going to happen in the other story line, though my attention would generally be pretty quick to shift to the plight of whomever the focus was on at the time. However, it did feel as if Moria's story line was a little more developed.

As characters, Moria and Ashyn were foils to each other in a lot of ways. Moria is the tempermantal, impulsive fighter, and Ashyn is more introspective, quieter and more the diplomat. This is something that they both acknowledge. I'm hoping that Ashyn's confidence in herself will develop throughout the trilogy, and that Moria might grow to be able to temper herself more. I'm not really sure what to think about the two male leads that we've encountered so far (I'm thinking there might be another one, and fearing a love triangle, but I might be being paranoid). I have a long history of not being attracted to the love interest(s), but I'm hoping that we get to see them develop more as characters in the next two books, especially given the revelation at the end. They don't really feel like people to me at this point, if that makes sense. I also feel as if the cast is kind of small right now, and I'm hoping for some new faces in the next book.

As for the end, there's a bit of a cliffhanger there, and I definitely feel like there's more to the story (it is part of a series, so this makes sense). While there were some things in the book that I wasn't thrilled with, I still enjoyed it and I think the next book has the potential to be an enjoyable read, just keep the kidnappings to a minimum. I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next, and exploring more of what I find a promising fantasy world.