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.

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. 

The Beauty, Vol. 1 by Jason A. Hurley & Jeremy Haun

*This Review is Spoiler Free*

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To be completely honest I had actually completely forgotten I had this book in my collection. I was doing a major bookshelf dusting and was on the shelf holding my graphic novels when BAM! I got to this cover and was unnervingly surprised. I lovingly…and possibly a little creepily…consider all my books “my children”, so to come across one I barely remember receiving as a gift was quite the shock. So of course considering I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately (hence the recent overabundance of manga/comic reviews lol), but am almost always up for a bit of horror I decided to give this neglected volume some much needed love. 

Synopsis: I like to put things in my own words, but the opening first few pages honestly sum things up quite perfectly so I can’t help but just quote it (Pgs 1-2 of The Beauty):

Two years ago , a new sexually transmitted disease took the world by storm. This S.T.D. was unlike any other that had come before. This was a disease that people actually wanted. “Victims” of this epidemic were physically changed by the virus. Fat melted away, thinning hair returned, skin blemishes faded, and their facial features slimmed. It became known as the beauty. The beauty quickly became a fad. Suddenly, perfect skin, flawless features, and a gorgeous body were only one sexual encounter away.

The only downside appeared to be a slight fever, but that didn’t seem to slow many people down. Now, over half the population has the beauty, and the other half of the country hates them for it. Anti-beauty cells have popped up around the nation. The majority teach preservation, reminding everyone that the beauty is still a disease. A few, however, have taken a more aggressive approach to stopping the spread of the beauty…

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Rating: 9.5/10 Unicorn Horns!

A page after such an intriguing introduction to the modern world setting of The Beauty, we meet detectives Foster and Vaughn of the local city’s Beauty Task Force as they respond to the possible anti-beauty murder of a young woman. Only once they arrive at the scene it’s clear things aren’t as they appear as the young woman, by all appearances, looked instead to have spontaneously combust while traveling on the train. Things are quickly complicated even further when the case is quickly pulled from them by the Center for Disease Control by “Federal mandate”. This leads both detectives Foster and Vaughn (an unwilling carrier of ‘the beauty’) to look into the buried secrets behind the mysterious STD and those seeming to keep this horrific secret from the general public.  

Honestly…I don’t have much negative things to say about the first installment of what looks to be a very promising adult series. The story had a really good flow to it and was riddled with action, thriller, conspiracies, and a great diverse group of characters. One thing I loved was the bits of real life socially controversial thoughts and ideas about beauty woven in here and there. The art was visually appealing, and though I can’t say the main characters were personally among my favorites they were very well created and felt pretty genuine. The only reason it’s not a 10/10 is purely because of personal reasons. I would recommend this to just about every story loving adult, but warn about explicit violence, language, and a couple nude and censored sexually explicit scenes. This was an amazing start to a series with such a unique idea I couldn’t praise it enough!

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! 

Wayward: String Theory, Vol. 1 by Zub, Cummings, Rauch, Bonvillain, & Dillon

*This Review Is Spoiler Free*

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Hey mom…I’ve been seeing invisible glowing lines in the air that lead me to important places or terrifying supernatural shit

I picked this one up by random…okay, no, that’s a lie. I picked this up and decided to review it purely because it has a ton of kitties on the cover accompanied by a chick looking like she’s ready to kick-ass. Other than that I knew nothing about this series going into it. So never expected to find that this story is almost like a Japanese comic (manga) in American comic form. 6.5/10 Unicorn Horns.

Synopsis: This story, largely translated from Japanese, begins with main character Rori Lane moving from her father in Ireland to start over with her mother in Japan. On her way home from giving her new settings in Tokyo a quick tour she gets surrounded by a clan of cats, attacked by kappa (monsters/demons from Japanese Folklore), and saved by a strange cat-like girl. This of course, along with the strange red threads only she can see, leaves her beyond confused. As she obeys her urge to follow these threads before a dark threat descends over the city, she’s lead to dive further into her strange new power, and unveil the “patterns” to the puzzle of ‘what the heck is going on?’. These patterns often lead her to a variety of new people. All with strange powers of their own.

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Overall I enjoyed this story and liked all the characters- Rori, Shirai (Rori’s first friend who has strange powers of his own and must eat living spirits in order to survive), the strange-cat-girl named Ayane, and others we meet later on. Though I have to admit, the dialogue/character interactions felt off here and there. I also can’t say the story always flowed well, as there were some odd transitions and things that didn’t quite add up or felt choppy/rushed. Either way this urban fantasy is set in a different country from what I’m use to (outside of most manga/anime I’ve read/seen), and riddled with Japanese Folklore which makes it very unique in many ways, and stands out from the crowd (there are notes in the back of the book providing snippets of background information). 

The pictures on the other hand were beautiful and I LOVED all the pretty colours. According to the forward at the beginning of this volume the scenes of Tokyo, the high school Rori attends, the city’s people, and the overall feel of Japan were truthful depictions of the country as opposed to an Americanized and glorified view. I’ve never been to Japan so can’t really comment, but will say that it was pretty cool seeing a realistic depiction of Japan in comic format (again outside of some manga/anime). 

Though the execution of the story wasn’t the best the overall idea is very intriguing, and with the way the 1st volume ended I get the feeling things will get better. Much better. I can honestly say I am looking forward to more. This wasn’t a favorite, but I’d still recommend this to most urban fantasy, folklore (especially from Japan), and superpower fans.