Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Queen of the Tearling Book Review

Rawr Reader,

I've been on a role and I am in no mood to pull up the brakes anytime. Great news, right! I felt I needed some strong females for my next read and had to turn to one of the titles that was a gift by my best friend. She'd never read it but books by best friends are always the best. Even if they're not...
It makes sense! The synopsis is provided by Goodreads: 

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

    I've seen this book when walking down the aisles at the bookstore, however I never picked it up. It wasn't until my best friend gave it to me as a gift for my most recent birthday. 

(safe for those who haven't read this book yet)
    One of the reasons why my best friends chose this book was because it had a strong female heroine at the storefront. Can't get enough of those in YA lately and the quest really began when I imagined me finishing this book, wondering if I was going to like this one. And my answer is, unfortunately, not so much. 
    This year has been kind of tough on me. I've read 5 books so far this year and all of them are on the same par. Some have great worlds but the characters are a drag, or the characters are great but there's something wrong about the plot and the world-building. For me, the latter is the case. 
   Something missing for me in A Darker Shade of Magic was that there were like 5 real characters in the story. In The Queen of the Tearling, I'm constantly and consistently meeting someone new. I won't lie at times I had to pause and trace who was who because some of these names sort of blend together, but then after a couple of pages I'd figure it out and everything would be okay. For example, we have the Mace, aka Lazarus. I loved how Kelsea shifted how she addressed him depending on the situation. Also just the fact he had two names. Reminded me of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. This is stuff we see so often in real life but rarely in fiction, and for the author to use it comfortably and often made me find him not only intriguing, but incredibly three-dimensional. Aside from him being the Mace: independent, headstrong, but incredibly loyal. Loved him. We're actually bombarded with a ton of characters in the first chapter and overwhelming, yes, however if I have to choose, I'd rather be overwhelmed. Large cast of character with a range of personalities gets a plus from me.
    The chapters, however, get a thumbs down. Large chapters slow down the pacing of the story on it's own, but then the story itself lacks real action from start to finish. One chapter was like 50 pages while another was barely 10. Consistency. I need it. And smaller chapters... Yes we're thrown into a "pursuit" at the story's commencement however, even then the journey is rather slow-taking. Adventures need more then just traveling across the countryside. Well--- action-packed ones do and by the blurbs behind the front cover make me anticipate a lot of it (which was entirely misleading).
    While I won't elaborate in this section of the review, another aspect of the novel which bothered me was the character inconsistencies. For me, tragically, by our female protagonist. I liked her at first. She had this spunk and craving for the wide world, all with the hopes of finding it to be all she imagined it to be and with a family she'd dreamed of all her life. Although separated from society, she had a firm grasp about how life should be. Which has to be given credit by all the books she's read. May I say it--- a warrior Belle. Who does what she believes is right with a compassionate, selfless heart. That is, until her oscillating feelings makes me cringe at every thought the author reveals. One reason was for how she believed the world should be after a day of leaving the secluded cottage she'd spent all her life in, away from the only two people she'd every truly spoken to. How could you possibly know? Then, *deep sigh* there comes her immediate and shallow judgments of the Queen's Guard coming to collect her and take her safely to her new home. Nine men she'd never seen before and all she could do was rave (well, in her head at least) about how attractive they were and they must've been chosen by her mother because of their beauty. But then, a couple pages later, they're not attractive anymore. Only to be attractive a couple of pages later. This was at the beginning of the first chapter so I won't put page numbers. Then she meets an interesting, questionably moral character a couple of pages later and on the surface, she shouldn't like him based off of all the morals she so proudly asserts. But *another deep sigh* he has to be attractive and, ergo, she can't stop thinking about him for all of the book. There's no romance in this story, so if you're looking for that in this story you won't find it. And I may be a little cynical since I'm beyond the good girl crushing on the "bad boy" clich√© (thanks to all the kdramas I've watched where that clich√© is a dime a dozen), and since she's supposed to be "strong," this just enraged me all the more. She's the Tearling's Daenerys. (I'd like to note I love the A Song of Ice and Fire series and I loved Daenerys in the first book, however in all the ones following she was just an annoying little girl. Check out my reviews~)
    Whew, that was a big point I had to get out. Now, let's get to the world. First off, I really enjoyed how it developed. We start off in this classic fairy tale cottage, leaving the safe borders of the known and familiar to stumble upon a world running at a different pace. Suddenly it's a new fantasy world. Until it's not. We soon discover this Tearling land is actually some sort of dystopian land. I've never read a book where the two were combined and found it really interesting, until magic came into the picture and I couldn't quite find how the two could work. Yes there's magic in urban fantasy, but in this case it just didn't work for me.
    I don't usually bring this up since I don't mind it in literature, but the profanity in fantasy, especially in YA fantasy is a little jarring. I'd only wished they used it more in the beginning so that I wasn't taken back when they finally used it a couple of chapters in. It came out of nowhere and it not only breaks the trust of the reader, but it brings into mind the dangerous question of consistent characterization. Yes, like a baby Kelsea slowly came to use it the more she was surrounded by it, however at the time, it just felt off.
   A character I found myself loving was the Mace. He was the strong foundation the new queen needed on her journey and in the beginning of her reign. His relationship with Kelsea was the one I admired the most. Obviously because we see it more than the relationship between anyone else, but something I think I'll always admire about this novel. 
    I mentioned before the character inconsistencies regarding Kelsea but I forget to mention how her strength seemed questionable at times. At first I loved how sure of herself she could be, and then suddenly she wasn't as strong as I thought. Which brings me to the question: what makes a strong female protagonist? Everyone will have their own answer to this, and while I won't give my definition, ultimately I'd have to say she wasn't. For me. Something just didn't click for me. It has to do with the Daenerys connection, you need to be more than just someone giving commands. Now, Kelsea does some remarkable things for women in the novel. Great strides were made to make women strong overall in this story. However, by the end something just didn't click with me. With no real reason, I felt the strength was rather fabricated. Maybe it has to do how vain she was the entire story, intentional or as unintentional as she meant to be.
   Let me end with the finale. The story was slow and I thought it would rise to this huge climatic moment, only it just plateaued to this moment that felt unsatisfying. It's called deus ex machina and for a first novel, plot wise everything was resolved while there still remained some big questions regarding characters and world-building holes. As a first in a trilogy (they're always trilogies, I'm just assuming this is just another one), I know they can't answer anything in the first novel, but if you drag the story on at parts, I want to be given some explanation by the time I finish reading the last page. Short story: On one of my trips to college after break I got stuck in traffic on one of the major highways. It happens, I bore through it. Roughly forty-five minutes later the traffic starts moving again and I drive for a little before suddenly the highway clears up and I resume the posted speed. Now I don't know if they cleaned up the reason we were at a stand-still for, but I felt unsatisfied that I had to endure a forty-five minute wait and there was nothing to show for it. That feeling was as close as I could get to this ending. Not nearly as irritating as waiting in traffic, but I think you get where I'm going with this. 
   I hear a lot of reviews say that a lot of answers are given in the next book, but my interest is so low at the moment that that just isn't going to happen. My curiosity will never be quenched.
   I don't want it to be like I hated this story because honestly, while reading, I enjoyed everything. The writing was lovely and captivating. But that's the problem, because everything's pretty in the moment. It's after, in retrospect when my darned literary mind plugs in and I start to look at everything in a package. No matter how hard I try to look at stories at its surface, all my English classes and all they've taught me start to nitpick and look at everything.
   A good start, but I don't see myself finishing the series.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

“Even a book can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when that happens, you blame the hands, but you also read the book.” 
Erika Johansen, The Queen of the Tearling

Next To Read:
Armada by Ernest Cline

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
   The Fetch. The Fetch. I wish there were more scenes with him so I could understand this obsession Kelsea had for him. Sure he had a charming face and act, but they shared maybe two real scenes together. I didn't understand why she asked for him at the end. It felt so odd, and forced. Do any of you guys feel that way? That you're forced to like this guy because the female protagonist just thinks he's the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. (Though to be fair Kelsea hadn't seen many other people her age.) I think we had more time with Kelsea's uncle the Regent. A main person shouldn't be so stuck on someone who had maybe 20 pages of speaking dialogue in 400+ page novel. I'm just throwing that number out there, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was less.
    The necklaces of magic sort of irked me. Not at first, mostly in the last half of the story, but the explanation for where they're power came from and why there were two was never explained. Something else not explained--- how can a man and woman (Regent and Red Queen) sit still for 18 years and then worry about the Princess Apparent to come and take her throne back? They sent assassins after her months before she was to return and reclaim her power. And even the characters made that claim: the Tearling wasn't large but how could no one have found them? Was the cottage/forest they lived in under protection of the necklaces? It seems to easy for all the action to start when Kelsea leaves the cottage. Which, actually since we're on topic--- what happened to the cool hawks in the beginning of the story? They were in the first three chapters and then never appeared again. Killer hawks the size of dogs--- the author could have done more with this. Also could've done less of the tedious managing of Kelsea's early reign. Everything was just too easy. She just walked into the Keep and slept that first night. No one attempted to kill her until her coronation which seemed overly dramatic. She's stabbed by a knife, losing blood at an alarming pace, but takes her time asking for the Father to finish her coronation and then amiably asks her uncle to get out of the throne so she could sit on it. I mean--- what???
   And in my review I said I loved Mace. And I do. It was only every time Kelsea wanted to do something and voiced it, he said no, and she was like: darn maybe next time. I understand you can't just let a recently exposed nineteen year old to the throne for a kingdom she'd not even seen and let her do everything she wants--- but really how am I supposed to take her seriously and think her "strong" if she just behaves like a child. I wanted her to reach for power and fail and then learn. It isn't enough just to run your mouth (I'll unofficially call the Daenerys problem).
   Also in the beginning, I didn't realize it until I read another review, but the fact that the party was being pursued by assassins and yet the party lit fires at night, got inebriated, and sang songs while claiming that they needed to be on their guard seemed ironic. They were the best of warriors, yet they were old and seemed to show poor judgment and influence to a girl who'd been raised in isolation.
   Now let's get to the Red Queen. I've never met such an inactive villain. She's mentioned in brief episodes maybe three times in the entire novel. Three scenes in a 400+ novel. And none of which really show her ambition and drive. All we know is she rapes her slaves and is subservient to an evil that doesn't want to enact evil onto her enemy--- though this evil master has no qualm of devouring innocent children. There's no drive in the heroine when there's no drive by the villain. That was where the story really seems to rise to a plateau and stay there. And the incline isn't very steep. 
    Beautiful writing, but sometimes drive really is everything. Especially, especially in fantasy adventures.
   And while Kelsea's drive to be a great queen is admirable, I feel I need something for her to want and for it to be a real challenge for her, if not outright met with failure. She just wants stuff and gets it. Externally, not as vain as her mother but in a way, ironically, becomes just like her. And it doesn't help she has to comment on the attractiveness of pretty much everyone she meets. And she thinks her mother was vain. Pl-eeease!
    I want to end on my favorite scene: when Mace surprised Kelsea with the collection of books from her cottage now safely transported to her bed chamber. Never had I ever felt like Belle. I think it's every bookworm's dream to have their own library like the one the Beast gives Belle and the fact that this world is deprived of books and yet here her closest confidant and head guard (someone who showed ill-favor to retrieving the books in the first place) goes out of his way to bring all (a good two thousand) books across the country for her. Dare I say? Awww. Just, awww.

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Darker Shade of Magic Book Review

Rawr Reader,

I think there should be an award given to readers that lose interest in a novel and pick them up again in hopes of reigniting your interest. I started this last summer and set it aside for eight months, picking it up primarily because the chapters were short and the stack of titles on my shelf for unfinished books kept rapidly growing. In the end, I think I chose a good book to give another chance to. The synopsis is provided by Goodreads:

Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

While I follow Victoria Schwab on various social media sites and am aware of how often she releases new titles, I'd have to say that I heard this from other booktubers who continued to rave about this action-packed adventure.

(safe for those who haven't read this yet)
   One thing I find myself never getting tired of is Schwab's gift for offering an original story. And if not entirely original, the world-building is on its own level. I thought this when I first read The Archived. And then Vicious. And now. It's for this reason I'll keep reading her future works because I know without a doubt I'll be on an adventure in a world I'd never thought of before with pretty kick-ass characters to kick it up a notch. 
   And so it is for A Darker Shade of Magic. Four Londons. Only two Antari to travel between them. That is, until Kell (our star on the front cover--- may I digress, what a cover!) meets a don't-take-no-for-an-answer, spirited girl with dreams of captaining her own ship and seeing the world (or in this case--- worlds). It hurts to say that while I didn't care for Lila (at all), I did cackle at her sass and fire to keep the scenes interesting. I cared more for what she was going to say as a comeback than for the ambivalent feelings she had being a thief and then being a slightly more normal human with morals. Together, the more cool-headed Kell and the firecracker Lila could only run into adventure... Thought I was going to say trouble huh? Well don't worry they run into plenty of that too! We really find each world has a garment of their own, and I really appreciated that each London actually embodied the color-ID they were given. 
    One thing that made this novel a quick read was the short chapters. There's a dozen larger sections but for the most part, each chapter was three to four pages long. Very convenient if you're reading on the bus to school or on the train to work or during lunch. Even if it's a couple of pages, if you finished a chapter it makes you feel as if you've accomplished something big.
    Something I always take into consideration is pacing, especially in my fantasy adventure novels. For me the beginning was a little slow because the main two characters don't meet until many chapters after the book begins. So while I would say the book picked up a little after the first quarter of the book (way too late for me to think very highly of it by the end), it didn't last very long and soon I sort of wished to be done with it. I'd have to say this was because the characters (Lila) more annoyed me than made me chuckle at her sass, and Kell seemed to always be brooding over a certain item he carries with him and it just reminded me of Frodo with the Ring from The Lord of the Rings. Actually, since I'm mentioning it, for a good portion of the book I felt scenes would closely emulate a theme or idea from Tolkien's series. It hurts me to admit it, but I didn't like it when I read Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (one of my favorite series) and there were names or scenes or small moments that just reminded me of The Lord of the Rings more than the original masterpiece I had in my hands, and I definitely still don't like it now. It's hard because not everything will be completely original, but for me to be taken out of such an interesting world and story and to be distracted into another world and story on multiple occasions is problematic.
    Another reason I felt this book didn't resonate with me as much as others was due to a small cast of characters. There are maybe only five characters that regularly show up, everyone else is rather fleeting. While this is expected for an adventure novel, usually we meet someone once and then move on, I still wished for more. Maybe not A Song of Ice and Fire large cast of characters, but I need more than just two sides of a coin to contrast each other. 
   While I didn't take as much a fancy to this series, I'm definitely going to continue to follow Schwab's works and pick up her upcoming novel The Savage Song.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

“I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself."
"I apologize for shooting you in the leg. I was myself entirely.” 
V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:
The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
   Every time Kell struggled to resist the evil stone from Black London, all I kept thinking about was Frodo and the Ring. I'm repeating myself because I really wonder if anyone else got that vibe. And sure, Lila could resist it better but I was never given an explanation as to why. 
   I think the moment I knew I disliked Lila was when she and Kell were arguing over who had a worse life, Lila with no family but freedom or Kell with family (forced as it was) and no freedom. She, with nothing, thinks that life with everything, in lieu of friends or family to rely on, is better than a life with friends and family but nothing to your name. In my mind, she made it sound like being a servant, or in Kell's unfortunate case a slave, was better than being a rat on the streets. Yes having money and stability and a home is nice but how can someone who has had no one to care for cast him aside so easily. She doesn't know what it means to have people in your life who actually mean something to you, or only use you for some talent you possess.
  Astrid gave the stone to Kell to transport to different worlds and her angle just makes no sense to me. And how can two pathological sadists not somehow turn on each other for all the power of the throne? And how can they go from such powerful masters of magic and then they're defeated so easily by a weakened Kell? I guess if there were more characters the fight would have been a little more epic in my eyes.     Let's talk romance. I felt that most of the exchanged between Lila and Kell (mostly in Lila's part) was foreplay and she was egging him on. Because whenever the author revealed their private and intimate thoughts, I kept wondering did it really have to be there? I thought their friendship weighed more than a romance that Schwab had built for them. 

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel