New Release: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

This Review is Spoiler Free

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

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I struggled for some time trying to think of the best way to form my thoughts on this book into something coherent, and not just a paragraph of gushing. Then I came across this gif:

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And this one:

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Both of which chronologically summarize my feelings about this book perfectly! But of course, I can’t actually leave my review at that…no matter how tempted I am. I will say that most of my love of this book comes from the fact that I honestly missed hearing about it. I’ve seen the cover pop up here and there, but otherwise have heard almost nothing, so was expecting nothing. I’ve been feeling a bit sick of teen fiction (not including manga) for awhile now, so it was only the title and coverlust that drew me into hesitantly picking this up.

Synopsis: Using second person narration with multiple POV’s, Maxwell begins this story with a small group of mageus, lead by Prof. Lachlan, working together against their ancient nemesis, the Order, in modern day New York. Things sound pretty rudimentary at first, a group of supernaturally gifted people fighting against a group of religious fanatics trying to wipe them out, but there are a few catches. The major one being the terror of a deadly trap called the Brink, and Esta, raised and trained by Prof. Lachlan to take down the Order. She is also an amazingly talented pick-pocketing, lock picking, time-travelling thief. And it is these skills that get her sent back to 1902 in New York on a lone mission to steal a book- the Ars Arcana- that may finally lead to their freedom.

Rating: 9.5/10 Unicorn Horns!

This rich story-line, set primarily in 1902, was nothing to sneeze at. In addition to the gripping scenes of the magic welding mageus hiding, outwitting, and fighting the Order (who are at the beginning of forming a curious mix of alchemy and emerging technology), there was also the terror of the Brink to contend with. Many mageus travelled to New York due to rumours of a better life only to find that once they enter the city they cannot leave. Well, at least not without being stripped of their powers and dying in agony, or facing a lifetime of severe mental/emotional instability if they survived the mysterious force field surrounding the city. The effects the terror of this trap and the raids by the Order had on the mageus living in New York was amazingly well written, and just one of the many things that made me devour this book. 

It is this terror that the group main character Esta grew up in, and the street gang leader Dolph are fighting to destroy. Esta’s mission is to meet up with Dolph, the well-known leader of one of the bigger mageus gangs in New York’s 1902 underbelly, infiltrate his crew and prevent someone called The Magician from making the Ars Arcana disappear from history. It was the characters in 1902 that I fell in love with. Esta is a very strong young woman who’s resilient character I admired. Dolph, his crew, and The Magician himself are all complex characters with beautifully conflicting values and resulting contradictory actions. I loved that the gritty reality of the situation the mageus were faced with was actually reflected in the hard choices many of the characters struggled with. 

Though this book did still have some of the elements I’ve grown tired of in teen fiction, a few overly common troupes, those things weren’t so overbearing that they felt like they robbed the story of worth. I didn’t give this book a full 10/10 because in addition to that, part-way through the book things started feeling a bit dragged out. This wasn’t done enough to take off a full point, especially considering all those twists, turns, and bomb dropping towards the end.

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Maxwell took some of my most loved themes, a historical setting rife with realistic social problems and strong characterization, then wove it into a beautifully entertaining story. I definitely recommend this one to all!

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Arata: The Legend Vol. 1, by Yuu Watase 

This Review is Spoiler Free

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Completely disinterested. That’s how I felt about this series at first. I came across  this series a few years ago, took one look at the cover, and decided it wasn’t for me. I figured that was the end, but a few months ago I was forced into a game of Jack in the Box. No matter where I went- online forums, the library, Goodreads recommendations, random book comments- this series would make an appearance. To be honest it started to creep me out, and so (of course) I became interested enough to give it a try! I have never been so happy to be stalked by an inanimate object before 😃

Synopsis: On one side you have Arata. This young adult is the next in line to lead the Hime Clan- long line of females who, every 30 years, have proudly produced a new ruling princess for the kingdom. Only thing is…Arata is a boy.

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On the the other side we have the leading protagonist, Arata Hinohara, a regular high school student with great athletic skills and the grades to go with it, seems to just be starting over from a complicated past. That is, until said past seems to follow him to his new school.

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These two very different worlds clash when Arata (the Hime Clan leader), is falsely charged with the murdering the ruling Princess during a sacred succession ceremony and chased into the human devouring forest.

This is when Hinohara (the regular school student) takes centre stage. As the mysterious forest forces a body swap between these two characters, Hinohara finds himself in a magical kingdom being hunted down by the 12 Sho (12 chosen rulers welding the most powerful Kamui– gods in the form of weapons).    

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Rating: 9/10 Unicorn Horns!

Needless to say this was an unexpectedly non-stop, action packed read. The action and adventure the series begins with only continues to increase as Hinohara finds his place in the new fantasy world, and discovers a power of his own. The characters, setting, dialogue (the humours banter was a real bonus), and touch of romance, are all things that came together to make this one of my favourite series.

A big part of what makes this series great for me is the main character Hinohara. The way he faces and overcomes his own weaknesses, quickly becoming a stronger person who does his best to actively grow and stick to his moral convictions is something that I find was approached/written beautifully (. I recommend this one to any action, adventure, and fantasy lover! 

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There is also a 12-episode anime version if you want to check it out. Though it covers only a very small portion of the manga, it does adapt most of the important parts (with a few changes of course) up until the last few episodes where events start showing up out of chronological order.

Half a King (A Shattered Sea novel) by Joe Abercrombie

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I’d be surprised if any of you actually remember (I certainly didn’t until recently lol), but some time ago I had made a resolution, which only lasted a couple weeks, to actually read some of my most neglected possessions. This is one of the many series I’ve had on my shelf for more than a year that I finally got around to reading. I’ve been hearing the hype about Abercrombie for a long time so, as I’ve yet to reading something by him, I decided this would be a good way to get back in to my forgotten resolution. Glad to say I’ve found myself another favoured author!

Half a King is an Abercrombie Y.A. fantasy series (a complete trilogy), and revolves around the young crippled prince of Gettland named Yarvi. The story begins as Yari studies to become part of an order of scholars, history keepers, linguists and anthropologists, geographers, and philosophers who’s craft is knowledge of all kinds.  These Ministers, who often act as advisers to high ranking officials and royals, live the kind of knowledge driven lifestyle that is everything Yarvi could hope for. Unfortunately, of course, things don’t go as planned as the night before Yarvi is to become an official Minister, his uncle brings the unwelcome news that both his father and older brother were murdered. This leaves the only remaining heir, constantly taunted and called “half a man“, to sit on the throne.

Rating: 9/10 Unicorns Horns!

This is a series I would recommend to most fantasy readers, as it has many of the elements that makes this genre so appealing: mystery, political power plays, betrayal, adventure, and a touch of darkness. This fast paced novel was honestly one of he best fantasy reads I’ve come across. Each and every character is this book was amazing. They stood out to me as unique in there own right. Yarvi, the underdog of this wonderfully crafted story, is an amazingly sharp and quick witted character that plays well to his own strengths and limitations. He felt quite human to me and even his weak moments were relatable rather than grating. His companions and other supporting characters, of which I cannot give too much away, were all…well except for one…people who I’d love to get to know more about and made me want to keep reading, sometimes even more than the actual story itself did.

I have more questions than ever after finishing Half a War than most other series I have read lately. It’s a pleasant surprise how much this book got me thinking, and how much I found myself excitedly trying to read into the smallest of comments, actions, and events thinking it might to a clue to the many mysteries this book held. I cannot wait to get on the the next one!

 

 

 

 

Seiho Boys High School, Vol. 1 by Kaneyoshi Izumi

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I still question my decision to do a review on this 8 volume manga series, and not because I didn’t wholly enjoy it. In fact, my hesitation comes from the fact that I not only enjoyed it, but from time to time found myself suffering from convulsions of laughter. Normally that’s simply a good thing, but I must admit that some of the often vulgar and at best inappropriate humour may have crossed lines here and there.

Synopsis: Seiho Boys High School is more or less exactly what the name implies. Despite being a shojo manga (Japanese comic targeted for young adult girls), the story centers a group of young males at an all male boarding high school in the middle of nowhere. The POV starts with a young 16yr old named Maki, but often switches between the small group of friends as the lament and curse their fate of being stranded without any female in sight. Worrying about forgetting how to talk to girls, past issues, grades, and getting caught with their secret stashes during inspections are just some of the typical things these boys get themselves caught up in as they search for love…or simply to get laid.

Rating: I rate this hilarious contemporary 8/10 Unicorn Horns!

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This ‘crossing of lines’ is something to be expected when a genre challenging series such as this hits the shelves. This shojo challenges it’s typical predecessors in two ways; It’s entirely male centered cast of characters, and it’s incredibly ‘inappropriate for it’s genre’ type of humour. Personally, with the exception of one character’s actions when it came to women, I didn’t see much wrong with the blunt sexual humour, but can easily say that many could find the more…unapologetic and inappropriate scenes/comments offensive. So a big warning to those that would be put off by raunchy humour.

The only negative thing I have to say about this series, other than a couple personally line crossing comments, is that this hilarious contemporary read does loose momentum in later installments as things begin to feel a bit repetitive here and there, or seemed to lack direction (something I believe the author pointed out themselves). Otherwise I loved the characters and the humour even more than I did the overall episodic story of a group of boys struggling to find love and keep it (though that was pretty funny in and of itself). 

I recommend this to anyone looking for some good romantic comedy, with an emphasis on comedy of the inappropriate kind.

Romance Read: Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1 by Mizuho Kusanagi

*This Review is Spoiler Free* 

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This story, wow, I was genuinely surprised at the twists and turns within the first couple chapters. I did NOT at all expect for this story to turn out the way it did. This was intended to be a novel review but… I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and haven’t been able to finish/pick up most of the books I’ve set out to read. So have totally been coping out of doing intended book reviews with tons of manga and graphic novels! It still counts right? Yes? Well let’s pretend it does even if it doesn’t! Hahaha! Anywho, as someone who isn’t a big fan of shojo (manga for young/teen girls) in general I never really thought I would not only pick-up the manga Yona of the Dawn, but begin collecting it. Despite my continuing overall apprehension towards most romance this is now one of my very few shojo favorites. 

Synopsis: Yona of the Dawn is a fantasy set in a kingdom called Kohka. The story centers around main character princess Yona as she prepares for her 16th birthday. Yona, the only child of widow King IL, is a pampered young lady but things quickly change. Very quickly. As most know nothing good happens for royalty on their coming-of-age birthdays. 

Rating: 8.5/10 Unicorn Horns.

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To be honest, I was considering dropping this after the first couple pages as even though I was enjoying the comedy. The whole love struck pampered princess scene really wasn’t doing anything for me. But then came the plot twist and suddenly I’m 4 volumes deep and searching up the next release date. I loved this story and the unexpected action. The fight scenes were really well done and nothing I’ve ever come across in shojo (the art in general was really good). And the characters! I loved even the antagonist as a character, the character dynamics, and the often hilarious bantering and interactions. So far the major players are complex, and each had a side to him/her that was mysterious and at times unpredictable. For some what most caught my attention was the revelation of past or hidden thoughts/motives, for others it was major character development, and for the main protagonist Yona it was both in leaps and bounds.

As the 1st volume mainly dishes out the events that lead to her transformation so you won’t get to see the real results till the second volume. But I can promise watching this fiery spirited princess transition into a determined warrior with open eyes to the reality of her kingdom is every bit worth it. I can’t get too into it without spoiling something, but I loved the deeper fantasy aspect that arises once the mystery behind Yona’s red hair is revealed, as well as love how this questions the idea of right and wrong (Vol. 2-3). Safe to say I’ll be checking out the 24 episode anime adaptation available on both Crunchyroll and Funimation.

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As for the romance…well, there are some tantalizing scenes here and there, but overall I’d say this actually doesn’t have a strong enough overall romantic theme to actually be considered a straight up “Romance Read“. It plays an important role, but Yona’s adventures with new/existing comrades soon take center stage most of the time. Yet…once again- cop out. Since I’m technically only reviewing the first volume, which has a stronger focus on the romantic elements, I’m going to conveniently pretend it still counts! Yay me! 

Shaman King, Vol.1: A Shaman in Tokyo by Hiroyuki Takei

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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After finishing an epic manga reading binge I was in desperate need for another series to read. While I was at the library where I lived I was struggling to find a series where all the volumes were available to be borrowed and that I would not have to put on hold and have to wait to be able to read. The only series that fit the bill, that was NOT shojo, was the Shaman King series which is a shonen series. I had not really heard much about the manga series prior to borrowing it from the library, but I decided to take a leap of faith because why not…some of my greatest finds have been impulse purchases/borrowing. Also, the covers and spines for each volume are incredibly gorgeous and colorful…which doesn’t hurt the selection process lol!

The series is about a young Shaman named Yoh, who in the first volume is starting at a new school in Tokyo. The first volume mainly focuses on Manta, a fellow student at Shinra Private Junior High. While Manta is taking a shortcut through a local cemetery he happens across Yoh who is wearing his trademark headphones and just chilling in the graveyard. Through a series of events which involve ghosts, supernatural occurrences, and encounters with a “thug” named Ryu, Manta and Yoh become friends. In the series there are various types of Shamans, Yoh is one that is able to connect with ghosts and allow them to possess his body so that they can lend him their powers. In this volume we are introduced to Admidamaru, a 600-year-old samurai ghost and to a fellow Shaman named Ren who has a particularly sinister interest in Yoh and Admidamaru.

I have continued on with the series and can say that this volume is quite slow in comparison to the remainder of the series. So, if you ever do pick this series up don’t quit until you’ve read up to volume 3. That will give you a much better feel for the series as a whole. As I previously mentioned the first volume has a heavy focus on the character Manta, this only lasts for this volume. As you get to the conclusion of this volume the focus shifts to Yoh and continues that way for the rest of the series (…well for as far as I have read a.k.a Vol. 9). The story itself serves as a backdrop to the rest of the series and helps to slowly immerse you into the world of the series. You are able to get a pretty good understanding of how Yoh’s abilities work and  how they are able to be beneficial to both him and the ghosts that he encounters. The reader gets an introduction to the different types of “relationships” that can form between ghosts, shamans, and non-shaman humans (that sounds kinda pervy, but I swear it isn’t lol). The illustrations in the series are not the best I have ever seen, but it’s absolutely far from the worst. The art style is somewhat minimalistic yet is still detailed. The styling of the illustrations makes it incredibly easy to decipher what is happening in faster paced segments of the story, namely battle/fight scenes.

As a whole package (story and art) I enjoyed volume 1 of Shaman King. It serves as a good set-up to the series and gives the reader enough detail to not feel left behind and unprepared for the following volumes. Overall the story was not amazingly entertaining, but that did not bother me at all because the story quickly picks up towards the end and you can easily identify the main focus/purpose of this initial volume in the series. I give Shaman King, Vol. 1: A Shaman in Tokyo a rating of 7 out of 10 Unicorn Horns. Happy Reading! 

NEW RELEASE: Anonymous Noise, Vol. 1 by Ryoko Fukuyama

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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Two words: The. Cover. Once again in my complete predictability I picked up a book, without even reading the premise, for no other reason than that I liked the cover. In my defense before buying it and taking it home using one of my now many gift cards, I did notice that there was a guitar on the front. I like guitars. See! I call that progress. Ahem, now to talk about this new shojo-shoujo?- (see, even more progress, now I’ve reviewed two of them. Ha!).

Thankfully my not-so-random manga pick worked out, as this story is was better than I expected considering my usual aversion to shojo. I can’t get too into things, but this is primarily about a high school girl named Nino, two male childhood friends named Momo and Yuzu, lost connections, romance, and the music they share. MUSIC THEME!! Happiness all around! After seeing the anime for NANAYour Lie in April and recently starting up Nodame Cantabile I can say I now have a realllyy strong interest in music themed things. The story begins with 5-year-old best friends Nino and Momo singing through the noise of his parents arguing. The manga shows a few humorous scenes of the inseparable pair together when one day, without a word, Momo moves leaving Nino confused and alone with the pain of the sudden separation. It’s this that leads her to meeting another young boy named Yuzu.

The scenes of how they meet as kids deeply ties into their relationship with music, and I was impressed with how Fukuyama conveyed their thoughts and feelings. I have a few early concerns with Nino’s character, but there is something about the way Fukuyama tells this story that has drawn me in. I liked the premise, the characters, and the art- namely the way panels were arranged for some scenes. I can’t say I got to know the main characters too well yet, but will say I genuinely like them so far, especially Yuzu and the humour he shares with Nino. There is quite a lot left unanswered by the end of the volume so I’m looking out for the next release!

Overall 6.5/10 Unicorn horns!