The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

*This review is spoiler free*

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This is another I came across at library (a recent “random find”). Of course the cover is what grabbed my interest at first (they are all gorgeous!). Though if I’m being honest I almost put them back since the synopsis hinted at a ton of romance, which I’m not all that into at the moment. But of course as usual the covers eventually won out.

Synopsis: This book takes place in an alternate universe where everything mirrors life as we know it, except for the addition of magic, mages, and an entire magical kingdom (known as the Domain). Split between two POV’s are main characters Iolanthe and Tintus. Iolanthe is a talented female mage living a peaceful life in the Domain on Little Grind-on-Woe…if you can call her guardian, Master Haywood’s, fall from grace and addiction peaceful. 

Tintus, on the other hand, lives miles away in the privileged life of royalty…except for the heavy weight of ruling the entire kingdom, engaging in a political battle with Atlantis (almost like the Catholic church in the Medieval Period, but with magic), and eagerly awaiting the beginning of his late mother’s prophecy. A lighting summoning, unveiling of dark secrets, and magic battle later, these two meets, sparking the start of an adventure filled prophecy.

Rating: 7/10 Unicorn Horns!

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I have mixed feelings about this one. The beginning didn’t do much to catch my attention, or give me reasons to expect much. Iolanthe wasn’t an appealing character, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck was happening since it was difficult to piece together where it was happening. I believe this is Sherry’s first YA (she’s primarily an adult romance writer), and it shows. Even after passing the initial confusion of the first few chapters, there were still more than a few awkwardly pieced together scenes. Ironically the romance itself, generally a plus in this book, at times felt strangely…off, and disappointingly cliched.

But of course, I kept reading for a reason. While the world building could use some more description, the magic system is nothing short of fascinating. Most notably the use of elemental (controlling natural forces) and subtle magic (using a wand to bend natural laws- Harry Potter style). Sherry explains all this in a pretty unique way; by including footnotes at the back of the book (set up as footnotes from a few magical texts available in the Domain). Though there were times flipping to the back would have been too much of an interruption, I found that around the mid-point you could usually leave the extra reading till later without becoming confused.

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Then there are th characters and story line. Admittedly, the story becomes awkward here and there (especially the pacing), and I can’t say it’s original, but for the most part it’s a pretty good one. I was invested in finding out how things would turn out, and even when I could see events coming from a mile away the execution would often be surprising.

For the characters, things really start to pick up once, Iolanthe Seabourne, with the help of Titus, begins attending an all boys school as a guy: Archer Fairfax. Is it wrong that I enjoyed her more as Archer than Iolanthe? She played her part beautifully, and getting to know more about her through this experience is another part of what made this book for me. Diving further into the past and motives of Prince Titus, a pleasantly complex character, was another major plus. Actually, both ended up being somewhat complex characters in their own right. There were even a couple side/supporting characters that stood out. Lastly, well…unfortunately I can’t say the antagonists were the best out there, but they did their part.  

Even with the negative points, I’m actually curious to the point of being exited to see where this goes after the way things ended. It’s a complete trilogy so at least I don’t have a wait ahead. If the synopsis interests you, I highly recommend you check this one out for yourselves despite my mixed feelings.

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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!

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

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*I’m very sorry for all the late replies. I will be getting back to everyone soon.

Also, I  don‘t know if any of you are having a similar issue, but I have been having a lot of problems with the new WordPress. A lot of schedules posts (including a handful of drafts) have been posting early and/or without me knowledge (e.g. The Versatile Blogger Award). I apologize for this, especially to the bloggers of meltingpotsandcalamities and blameitonchocolate.*

This is a series I have literally been waiting years to read. As many of you know I despise cliffhangers almost as much as I do spoilers, so often put off series I want to read until they are complete or near to completion (something I also do because of one too many series I loved, and had to wait 4+ years for due to publication issues). So when I heard this series was finally near completion I didn’t hesitate to dive right in.

Synopsis: This four person POV takes place in the three separate kingdoms of Mytica. The youngest daughter, Princess Cleo, of Auranos- the prosperous kingdom in both land and wealth- the young Prince and Princess of Limeros- a frozen land lead by a tyrannous king- and a young wine sellers son from Paelsia- a destitute country that hangs on by a thread; all four cross paths as their lands, one by one, slowly descend into darkness. 

Rating: 7.5/10 Unicorn Horns!

I gave it this rating because, while I enjoyed it and the story line was good, it fell a little short of my expectations, particularly in the character department. On the one hand this is the first of six books, so it’s understandable that character development isn’t a focus yet. Instead the focuses in more on introducing readers to the world Morgan is creating, and only some insight into the characters we view this world’s events through. Even so, I have to admit the POV of one character in particular was a bit too painful for me to get past. This character (that shall remain unnamed), through a series of naive choices and a lot of spoiled behaviour, took some joy out of the story for me. Given the circumstances it may have been strange if they were any different, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that her character is grating. A funny thing, considering she becomes one of my favourite characters by the end of the second instalment.

The story, overall, is something I enjoyed quite a bit. While there wasn’t too much that stood out to me other than the mysterious group of mystical beings known as Watchers, I found the pacing appealing and the nations decent into widespread chance promises a lot more actions to come. That appeal has quickly gotten me to the 3rd book, and I can honestly say: “It gets better”. This of course goes for the characters as well, most of which grown and progress in leaps. The romance is present from the very start, and though it does take a back step here and there to various events, it is a running theme throughout the story. 

I would recommend this series to Y.A. fans that enjoy their stories with a romantic theme included. 

Talon by Julie Kagawa

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I’ve been waiting to read this series since the first time I heard the premise. A book about dragons in a modern day setting? Count me in! So of course I dived in the moment I saw the last book in this 5 book series set to publish next year. Overall I enjoyed the read, but unfortunately I have to day I may have over-hyped the series a bit.

Synopsis: Talon is set in modern day California and follows main character Ember Hill as she and her twin brother, Dante, are finally set free to complete the final part of their training to successfully infiltrate human society for a few months in incognito. Ember and Dante must learn about the outside world of dangerous humans, how to act and be one of them, all in order to continue to provide and keep safe their secret society of ancient dragons masquerading as humans (known as Talon). And of course, there is the evil society of dragon hunters of watch out for. But things aren’t what they seem. After Ember comes across a dangerous rogue dragon named Cobalt begins to question everything she’s been taught and been training for her whole life.

Rating: 6.5-out-of-10 Unicorn Horns.

Overall I enjoyed this story and the magical otherworldly aspects. The way the dragons have evolved and adapted over time in order to assimilate into human society is something that has kept me interested enough to keep picking up the next in the series. Normally this is the kind of story I love to pieces; ancient dragons, secretive societies, mysterious-not-what-they-appear characters, and a defiant, strong heroine, but the characters seemed to fall a bit flat. I kept recognizing them in the many other similar Y.A characters I’ve come across, and so found them all a bit too predictable for my liking. The only characters that really stood out to me were a couple antagonists.

Even though the story is interesting, I felt that the characters brought things down for me, that and everything seemed to be heading down an all too predictable road. I’d still recommend this book to teen urban fantasy lovers as the story begins to grow more complex in later installments, but would warn away those looking for stories with unique characters/character driven stories. 

A Dance of Cloaks by David Dalglish

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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I’ve been hearing about this series for awhile now and finally…after a few years of it sitting on my bookshelf *cough, cough* decided to check it out. I have to say I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this series on a whole yet. It is very promising in a lot of ways, but also, unfortunately, fell short of my expectations. Don’t get me wrong here I don’t regret my purchase, especially now that I’ve read the much improved 2nd installment Dance of Blades, but can’t honestly give the first book any higher than 6/10 unicorn horns

The beginning of this story starts off promisingly with a young boy and main protagonist Aaron Felhorn, son of the well known and greatly feared leader of the underground Spider thief guild Thren Felhorn, as the thief guilds begin a war with The Trifect- three very powerful Lords that have banded together in an attempt to protect their vast wealth. We bounce back and forth in a third person narrative following the lives of various characters on both sides of the war- mostly major characters but a few minor ones as well- and learn how the bloody power struggle between these two groups, The Trifect and newly banded together thief guilds (under Aaron Felhorn’s unforgiving cold dictatorial rule), has effected the lives of those within the city of Veldaren. 

I can’t talk about too much without giving things away, but the story-line was definitely interesting. My main issue lay with the characters. Many of them, to be honest, I couldn’t find a reason to really care about. The main character, Aaron, was interesting enough, as was his power hungry father Thren and a couple others like the mysterious Faceless assassins, an old and wise tutor, and the new Spider Guild recruit. Which wasn’t the best thing considering the story also covered quite a bit of one of The Trifect Lord’s daughter and heir. My feelings about some of the characters do change over time, but this isn’t until well over half the series. Though all this is really a personal preference and with so many POV’s it’s a give in not all of them will be liked by readers, having to go through chapter after chapter of a bunch of unliked characters I couldn’t find a reason to like or, more often than not, really couldn’t understand their significance in the story, is of course something that greatly lowered my enjoyment. There was also the fact that some of the the transitions and scenes came off a bit choppy, or simply didn’t flow as well as others. Some of the characters actions also, at times, didn’t quite make sense to me given what I’d already been shown of their character/personality. My really high expectations probably didn’t help things lol, but considering the fact that the other novels are set 5yrs after the events of the first book, the whole story ended up coming off a bit like a drawn out prologue. 

Okay, to be fair many of my issues are taken care of in the 2nd installment and I found myself liking almost all the character, both minor and major, that were re/introduced. And there is also the fact that many of the characters in this first installment were new and like with most fantasy novels, especially those that are part of a series, things are a bit slow in the beginning while the settling, characters, and necessary background information are all being put into place for readers. Clearly despite my various concerns and complaints I liked the story and some of the characters well enough to keep going and eventually pick up the next book, so things really aren’t as bad as I’ve probably made it sound lol. There are quite a few elements in this series to keep me interested enough to read the rest in this completed 6 book series, and it does look like things will continue to get better. I’d like to give this book a 7/10, but…that’s pretty much the rating I’d give to the 2nd installment. I’d still recommend this series to fantasy lovers, though can’t say it’s one of the better stories out there. Regardless, I’ll definitely be giving this book a chance and would like to hear from some of you what you thought of it if you’ve read it, or plan to. Thanks for reading!

 

 

The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw Vol. 1 by Kurt Busiek (author) & Benjamin Dewey (illustrator)

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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I’m officially hooked. A futuristic world filled with magic where humans have, I assume, as it hasn’t been explained yet, become extinct? Compelling characters, and a classic story-line?  This volume had it all, to say nothing of all the beautifully designed scenes and landscapes-ughh, those COLOURS though!! Autumnlands was a gift from a friend back when it first got released and I went into it, like I do with most stories nowadays, not knowing what the heck I was getting myself into, but the beautiful cover has been staring me down for weeks now so I finally decided to jump in- is my bias towards colourful art showing yet?

The Autumlands is a fantasy story written by Kurt Busiek set in the very, very distant future where not a single human being is in site (let alone heard of), and animals roam the world in the comfort of luxurious floating cities…or at least the wealthy higher class beasts do. The mass of “lower beasts” get to spend their days on the ground slaving for the higher class under threat of being punished by the gods should they step too far beyond their station (sound metaphorically familiar anyone?). This world of rampant exploitation and absolute dominance of the lower social class races is something our main character, Dunstan, son of a privileged magician, is just beginning to be introduced to. Though our main character has some doubts about things after seeing how his father deals with them, this all takes a backseat to a more pressing matter. The magic the beasts of this world rely on like we rely on fuel is quickly running out. After master magicians, sorcerers, and politicians world-wide came together in an effort to discuss possible solutions, one bold sorceress came forth to propose the impossible: reach through time to bring forth “The Champion”. A legendary and mysteriously human shaped (unbeknownst to them) hero in history said to be capable of unimaginable feats.  

There’s a major event I’d love to talk about here, but everything that I’ve mentioned so far only happens within the first 25 or so pages, and I don’t want to reveal anything further, but trust me it only gets way more interesting from there. There wasn’t a single character (especially the key character revealed later in the story) I didn’t enjoy reading about, even the bad guys. Dunstan’s character doesn’t stand out too much for me just yet, but I can tell that will soon change-was changing as the story progressed. A lot of the story felt pretty authentic to how different human beings would react when faced with so much adversity in a situation so foreign from them. I couldn’t help but compare and contrast some of the elements in this story with current society. Also, as I’ve pretty much already gushed about, the illustrations by Benjamin Dewey were easy to follow, visually pleasing, and quite detailed. Deceit, battles, devastation, magic, tactics, power plays, a touch of humour and hint of sci-fi, tactics. This was a really great read that, I’ve got to say, ENDED IN A CLIFFHANGER. Why?! Why would you do that to a person?!?! 

Regardless of that cruel, cruel ending (Thank GOD I didn’t read it back when I first got it, now it’s only 3 months will the 2nd volume is released- Feb 28th), I really enjoyed this story and can’t wait to see where things go from here.

7/10 Unicorn Horns!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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This book is one I’ve considered taking off my favorite self many times, primarily after reading something I know I enjoyed way more, but I never actually manage it. I struggled for quite a while trying to puzzle this out, but after re-reading it I remembered: I love this book. It’s not the type of favorite that stands out, demanding constant attention, and actively battles it out with new arrivals for a top spot. It’s also not one that immediately pops into my mind when I consider a recommendation. This is one of very, very few that subtly and permanently settled into my mind and quietly made itself at home, yet has somehow rarely made itself known. I’m still not even entirely clear on what it is that’s made it a favorite of mine, but I will try my best to explain it.

The Scorpio Races weaves an enchanting story about a young recently orphaned 17 year girl named Puck who, along with old and younger brothers (Gabe and Finn respectively)-a generally private and close knit family- who live on the only island known to occasionally grant wishes, favour the brave, and every year during the Fall…it’s willful ocean parts with dozens of man killing, flesh eating horses. Yup, you read that right: flesh eating horses straight out of the sea. Despite this each November Thisby becomes a thriving tourist destination, not because these foreigners all have a death wish, but because this is the time the people of Thisby, who have lived alongside these carnivorous water creatures (known as capaill uisce) for generations, take these horses and race each other on their backs right next to the sea- the place where they will and have killed many men in a struggle to return to.

It was to these capaill uisce that Puck Connolly lost her parents. Yet due to an unexpected turn of events, Puck is forced to make an insane decision: to not only be the first woman to ever ride in the races, but to also do it on the back of what the capaill uisce often view as food, her normal island horse.

After much pacing and head scratching I finally came to understand what it was about this story that set it apart for me. While of course the original story was part of it. Yes magical flesh eating horses that occasionally lure people out to the sea to drown is actually a well know fairy tale, but I have never come across one that was done quite like this. Much like with Stiefvater’s other series Shiver, she has taken this common fantasy creature and made it her own. All this is a big part of what made me love and favorite the series, that and of course the horses themselves, but it was actually the characters that’s kept it a definitive favorite.

I’m very impressed with how Stiefvater has created the characters, namely Puck, Finn, and primarily Sean Kendrick (the quite 19 year old, 3 time winner of the Scorpio Races) with whom Puck switches POVs with. The amount of body language and carefully put together dialogue that went in to creating Kendrick, who’s silence manages to command power and authority instead of the opposite, has really made this story stand out in my mind. The beautifully realistic and natural way relationships between people and horses alike (Kendrick and his capaill uisce, Corr, among the top), are expressed was another. There was also the communication between all these human (and other) characters (both platonic and otherwise)-a thing Stiefvater accomplishes like nobodies business. Being able to get to the root of the characters, and the snippets of the islanders long standing  and complex relationship with these deadly horses in Scorpio Races is something I really loved.

8.5/10 Overall, with a recommendation to all animal lovers and Y.A. and fantasy lit fans.