A Chosen War by Carly Eldridge

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: REUTS Publications
Publication Date: April 25th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Maia is struggling, her father is terminally ill and she can’t go to the university she wants. When she realizes she has a weird effect on plants and explodes electronics her problems become a lot bigger. Maia is a replacement for an elemental guardian – but the current guardian won’t go quietly.

This is a vast world, and Eldridge has clearly put a lot of thought into building it. Elemental guardians, mates, the core – there’s a lot to build. Most of it is pretty well covered, but there are still things left a little unexplained. Certain things just happen with very little explanation of how/what it means and the story just plows on. Other times the world-building just comes in a sudden dump that doesn’t have much to do with the plot, usually just the characters talking and explaining. We are told instead of shown how things work all at once and even then I still feel the info was a bit confusing.

The plot was pretty standard. A chosen one, a big bad villain, all the well-meaning friends. It didn’t move as quickly as I would like largely because Eldridge often seems to get distracted from her story with descriptions. Of course, readers want to know what characters look like and what sort of environment they’re in. However, not every outfit for the protagonist needs to be described in detail.

The characters themselves were interesting, even if they lacked much depth. Their mates are their world essentially so we don’t have to see any romance build because it has always been there. Maia herself is bland. She’s good, kind and slightly snarky. Prime chosen one fodder. She almost never struggles with tasks and is the most powerful of all the characters.

The intro felt really intriguing, but after that, it sort of spiralled into a run of the mill fantasy story that I didn’t really feel was special. There was too much information being thrown at readers without much happening. While the plot is a little intriguing it doesn’t move fast enough and the characters are slightly charming but not complex.

The most interesting character was introduced as the novel ended, clearly positioning it for a sequel, but I don’t think this series is quite for me.

For Fans Of: Snow like Ashes

Those Apart by Padraig O’C

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT+
Publisher: DasWyrd Press
Publication Date: November 16th 2016

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Shaman command the elements, and three have been chosen. A princess wearing the mask of a prince, a lazy dreamer and a brave shark killer are forced to take on new power and begin a new age. The torn wings must be repaired.

This is a book I struggled to finish. It was like work to read, I would find other things to do just to avoid reading it.

The characters feel largely like people the story is happening to. I could not give you a single personality trait outside their genders or sexualities to describe even the protagonists, nevermind the minor characters. The author also uses “wolfspeak” lightly and phrases like “her average-heighted figure shrugged” to try and get appearance across. It’s strange.

That said the book does have excellent diversity. One protagonist is non-gender conforming and another is transgendered. There are several gay or bisexual characters littered throughout. It’s clear the author is conscious of different orientations and wants to include people. This is good. Unfortunately, I’ve sung this song a thousand times and I’ll sing it a thousand more. Lack of diversity can make a good book bad, but diversity doesn’t make a bad book good.

As far as a published book goes there are far too many mistakes. Several are typesetting errors, ignoring some just genuinely odd typesetting choices (who uses tildes like that?). The author misgenders their transgendered character as he but that might be intentional. More obviously they misgender their non-binary character as she and they several times. Sometimes they use eir where ey should have gone. There’s also more than a few typos. This is a fully completed book, the errors should not be this numerous.

The plot is very minimal. People chase and people flee. The world building is very vague and I’m still confused about quite how everything works. If your book needs a Q&A about how certain elements of your world function at the end then you haven’t written it right.

There were some very nice illustrations in the book, and the verses from their scripture were rather interesting. That wasn’t enough to make it a good read. If all you want is diverse genders and sexualities look no further, but in all other aspects this book could have done much better.

For Fans Of: The Untold Tale

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Tor
Publication Date: January 5th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“If you wanted to, Safiya, you could bend and shape the world.”

Safiya and Iseult always stick together, but when a heist goes all wrong they end up with a Bloodwitch on their trail. To make matters worse Safiya is a pawn in her Uncle’s plans while Iseult has to deal with being a failure at her witchery. Safiya being a Truthwitch means that everyone is out to get her. The girls struggle to stick together as the tides of war try to tear them apart.

Dennard has created an incredibly complex world for her story, but it’s perhaps a little too confusing. A listing off all the different witch specializations is never provided and readers are just tossed into a complicated political situation in a world with confusing rules. Over-explaining is a huge issue in fantasy, but under-explaining can be just as deadly to a novel. The world exists, but the world-building is lackluster. Dennard tosses around names like readers should already know them and it’s hard to get involved in a novel when you’re struggling to understand what anything means.

The core of the story is a strong friendship between Iseult and Safiya, and I wish we had seen more of it. The book keeps a constant moving pace (despite not much happening) and their development suffers for it. I know more about Iseult’s relationship with her mother and tribe than about her and Safiya.

The romance was entirely unnecessary and took up pages that could have been used to better explain the world or better develop the characters. A book with a plot so bland (here it is: protagonists run away for 500 pages) didn’t need romance taking up extra space and certainly not one as strange and forced as the one between Safi and Merik.

There’s a lot of action in this book, intense fight scenes and big battles but nothing really happens. A lot of the battles are essentially pointless and serve no purpose to the plot or characters. There are countless of these scenes and while they may be exciting to some it felt like a waste of page for me.

There is so much potential in Dennard’s world that it hurts. There are so many variations of witches (most of which we know nothing about) and a rich background and culture that is never explored. There should have been a heavier focus on world building instead of fights and flights of fancy. We didn’t need Merik’s doe-eyes. We didn’t need a battle with seafoxes.

Such a beautiful world, but we’re too busy in the boring bits to REALLY explore it.

For Fans Of: And I Darken

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: May 3rd 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“No one was my master— but I might be master of everything, if I wished. If I dared.”

Amarantha is dead and Feyre survived. But she is broken beyond repair. Tamlin keeps her cooped up and her life is nothing but planning her wedding. She should be happy, but there’s nothing but emptiness inside. Her bargain with Rhysand still stands and she could be snatched away at any moment. There is something darker brewing, something worse. Feyre will have to decide her fate, and prepare for a war.

There are parts of this book which are almost unbearably slow. Focusing on Feyre just doing everyday things and thinking thoughts that could have been left implied without several paragraphs of description – but the exciting parts of the book are like wildfire.

We get to see more of the Faerie realm, and more of the fae who inhabit it. There’s a strong and interesting cast of characters and several layers of devious planning. While the characters are all a little edgy backstory wise their personalities are mostly very fun to read.

The plot of this book focused heavily on Feyre finding herself again but there’s a healthy dose of danger and action. Feyre has brand new powers and we get to learn about the powers faes other than Tamlin posses. There’s also a spot on depiction of abuse as something that might seem like it had loving intentions but still being horrible.

I can’t exactly put my finger on why I liked this book so much (probably Rhysand), because I can see a lot that should be undesirable about it. Maas’s characters feel so familiar to her Throne of Glass characters, and though the world is new there are so many parallels that it would be easy to imagine them as one in the same. The writing can make things slow and the pairing all the straight couples up because no one is single is a little tiring – but I loved it. I enjoyed every second of reading it.

With a little more focus on action or character and a little less focus on long descriptions and meandering thoughts this book could have been five stars. I can easily see why it would be rated lower but love is blind and all that.

For Fans Of: Six of Crows

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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Genres: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Group DAW Hardcover
Publication Date: March 27th 2007

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way.”

Told from two different perspectives, Kote a down on his luck innkeeper tells the story of his childhood when he was Kvothe. When he was beginning to become a hero.

Rothfuss has set up a story more masterfully than I have ever seen done, or can hope to see again. The tale begins with an old, rather boring, innkeeper but quickly switches to a story of his youth told in-universe in his own voice. He weaves a thrilling tale of magic, dragons, death and romance covering a span of several years.

The world of The Kingkiller Chronicles is complex, but Rothfuss manages to set it up throughout the story. Never drowning the reader with information but giving them just enough to keep thirst at bay. The series itself is split into three books, each representing a day on which Kvothe shares his story. The set-up for the narrative is beyond brilliant.

The story itself is not fast, but the steady pace is supremely satisfying. Despite being only the first of three days Kvothe experiences many mishaps and adventures. He is not altogether a noble hero, but he’s a good person and it’s easy to connect with him. His pain and joys will become the reader’s as soon as they delve into his story.

The cast is wide, so many characters are left without development but Rothfuss has made sure that every character is exactly developed enough to serve their purpose. Kvothe and several others are deliciously complex while side character’s feel alive without being overly complicated.

This is the work of a master. Unlike much high fantasy it does not waste a single page of some seven hundred. There is no padding here, Kvothe is telling his story in exactly the way that it must be told. It mixes brilliantly adventure, fantasy and memoir. Rothfuss makes even the mundane enjoyable.

Not a dull page. A breathtaking world with a relatable protagonist. And, though I hate to use these words, a must-read for all fantasy fans. A true epic.

For Fans Of: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy
Publisher: by Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: November 8th 2016

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“One to be a murderer. One to be a Martyr. One to be a Monarch. One to go Mad”

Catherine Pinkerton dreams of becoming a baker, but as a noblewoman in the kingdom of Hearts much more is expected of her. In fact, it seems like the King wants to ask for her hand in marriage! Catherine has no desire to be royalty, even less when she starts falling for the handsome court joker. Cath is determined to follow her dreams and find happiness, no matter what society or her parents want.

Some of the best stories are the ones where we already know the ending. I knew Meyer had set out to write an origin story for the Queen of Hearts and yet I was still so twisted up in the book that I began to believe in impossible endings just as much as every character did.

Unlike some retellings or in this case a pretelling, Heartless perfectly captures the whimsical world Caroll originally wrote. There is such care put into developing all the characters who would chronologically later be involved in Alice’s story from the mock turtle to the duchess. Meyer also manages to incorporate another famous rhyme fitting it in nearly seamlessly.

The world and characters are so masterfully crafted that it is easy to forget the inevitable end. Although there were a few loose strings, none of them were enough to really affect the pleasant reading experience. It’s also true that the romance is a little fast and the plot a little meandering at points. No book is truly perfect but I have fallen in love faster than the main characters.

Meyer’s choice to make a standalone bittersweet tragedy is wonderful. This could have definitely been a successful series should she have chosen to pursue it – but it’s more poignant when it comes to the end we are all waiting for. Meyer is unmatched when it comes to retelling fairytales, and though she chose to stay closer to the original source material with this particular book it was still incredibly successful.

A perfect prequel to a well-loved classic. This is not a book that will win every reader’s heart, but it’s quite possible you’ll be absolutely mad for it.

For Fans Of: The Looking Glass Wars

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray
Publication Date: May 19th 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Magic was singing in me, through me; I felt the murmur of his power singing back that same song.”

Every ten years The Dragon takes a girl from the valley. Everyone knows that he will take Kasia. Agnieszka doesn’t want to lose her best friend, she prepares for years knowing that the loss will happen. The people have to give up a girl so that The Dragon will protect them from the evil wood. But when The Dragon comes it turns out he doesn’t want Kasia after all…

It’s very rare that standalone fantasies exist, and perhaps there is a reason for that. It’s very limiting to build a world and characters in such a short span of time but that is something the book succeeds at. The fault here is the plot, the characters and perhaps the writing style itself.

Novik manages to craft a complex world, with a magic system and politics in a little over four-hundred pages. Something it takes many writers several books to do. There’s a wide variety of characters but they all sort of feel the same. People in the villages are all interchangeable. Agnieszka’s main trait is being impressively powerful and dirty. The Dragon is a jerk. Kasia is wooden and one-note. Characters all have a single motivation and build their bland personalities around that.

There are some faults of course. I went in expecting to wholly love every inch of this book, so maybe I set myself up for disappointment. I didn’t like the romance. It felt out of place, underdeveloped and unnecessary. Not every book needs a romantic thread and this one certainly didn’t. The age gap is weird, their relationship is weird – it just feels like the book would have been better off without it.

The plot does feel a little dragged out but, for the most part, it’s fast paced and interesting. There’s very little focus on the political side of Novik’s world which I feel was a misstep but the main points still get across. The ending was…strange and left some questions unanswered but it was satisfying in a way. It was never properly foreshadowed so it felt pulled from thin air. It also robbed the Wood of being a unique villain to a pretty standard fairy tale one.

It is difficult for me to put my finger on exactly where this book went wrong, why exactly it isn’t the five-star dreamboat I’d hoped it would be. It felt sort of bland. The main character is stronger than anyone ever in history and learns special secrets and it just feels unfair. Deaths are common in this book, but not a single character we care for dies. It’s a safe, standard fantasy in the end. Novik built a wonderful world – but it’s not that different from many others.

I wanted to love this book, but it felt tedious to read and aside from the “shocking” ending it was all standard fair.

For Fans Of: The Bone Witch

Lumberjanes Vol. 3 by Noelle Stevenson

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Genres: Graphic Novel, Fantasy, LGBT+
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Publication Date: April 5th 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Fighting monsters is the easy part. Back home is where the really scary stuff is.”

It’s free day at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types. Mal and Molly try to go on a peaceful picnic which turns into a terrifying adventure. Meanwhile, April, Jo and Ripley try to earn some of the more mundane badges that the camp has to offer.

Unlike volume 2, volume three actually seems to fit together. It keeps the same scrapbook style but focuses heavily on one plotline (aside from the first comic which seems to be filler). We get a full story about Mal and Molly in an alternate dimension intercut with the other girls’ hijinks back at camp. It’s a much more satisfying collection with a clear plot arc. Plot is often an issue for volumes as they’re just a collection of comics but this one flows quite nicely.

Unfortunately the art has continued to go downhill. Keep in mind art is very subjective so many may enjoy the new style but I personally found it offputting. While it is much cleaner than some of the previous issues the girls all have pretty similar faces and bodies now and it just wasn’t an attractive style for me. It’s enough to make me consider not picking up the next volume.

Ripley is another downhill slope. She’s gotten incredibly tiresome. Many cartoons and kids media have the wacky fifth wheel character who’s random and loves eating – it’s a whole archetype. it’s never been an interesting or good archetype though. There is good character development and plot going on around Ripley and she just feels like an annoying joke character added for some “wacky” humour.

On the bright side Mal and Molly really have some great relationship development here. We’ve seen plenty of chaste kisses (though not one on the lips yet) and it’s so CUTE. It’s wonderful to see a lesbian relationship being portrayed in media for children with the same innocence that heterosexual relationships are portrayed with. The highlight of this whole volume.

Overall Lumberjanes is still an excellent read for children. It’s wholesome, informative, has great role models, good humour and fun adventures. But it’s losing my interest as an adult reader – and although it obviously was not intended for me the best entertainment can be enjoyed by all ages. It’s definitely something I would get for any young girl but I might hesitate when recommending to older friends.

For Fans Of: Gravity Falls

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

Genres: Screenplay, Fantasy
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: November 18th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“See, they’re currently in alien terrain, surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet. Humans.”

Newt Scamander doesn’t intend to stay in New York for long but when a series of events leads to his case being opened and the magical creatures inside escaping an adventure ensues. Newt must avoid being captured by MACUSA (the American ministry) while trying to rescue his creatures from the dangerous New York City streets in 1926.

Why bother reading a screenplay when you can see the movie? An often asked question, but I submit that the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay is absolutely worth reading.

While the movie is definitely more exciting, I felt a deeper connection with the characters through the screenplay. The occasional thought or emotional direction included makes the characters feel real. There is also the benefit of being able to reimagine characters whose actors you didn’t particularly like while keeping those you adored.

Furthermore, the book’s design is stunning. The art from the cover is present inside the book as well. Whimsical drawings of magical beasts and delicate designs cover to cover. It isn’t often you see a book this beautiful put together when the images serve no purpose to the story but it is absolutely stunning. Even if reading the screenplay is superfluous to you this book is a necessary to own beauty.

It’s funny, fresh and a sort of grown-up version of the magic we all feel from the Harry Potter series if very much present. Of course this isn’t the story’s best form, it was always intended for the big screen. There are a few discrepancies about magic and the way it’s used that don’t seem to line up with the original canon but overall it’s a whimsical story with a charming and lovable new protagonist for the audience to root for.

At least for Potter fans this book is a must-have to complete your collection. Others might be better off seeing it in theatres and deciding just how much they love the story before deciding to invest in the screenplay.

For Fans Of: Iron Cast

 

Magekiller by Greg Rucka

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Genres: Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2016

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The problem with magic is that it cheats.” 

Marius and Tessa make their living by killing mages. For Tessa it’s a job, for Marius it’s purpose. When they’re hired by a very unexpected and unwelcome client they end up in a world of trouble – luckily they’re saved by something worse. The end of the world.

I desperately want to love anything written in the world of Thedas as much as I love the games that take place there but Magekiller falls incredibly short of being anything remarkable. The six comics are brought into a volume but there has been no effort made to really bring them together. There’s no break between comics so you got from a dramatic moment to the characters explaining the basics of who they are with no indication that a comic ended. The six comics really don’t tie well together at all.

For so few comics there’s a surprising amount of plotlines – and almost none of them find a neat ending. It’s not satisfying to end up with your arms full of loose ends and a sappy rushed conclusion. Neither Tessa or Marius really experience any character development. It just feels like a mess. It’s a bunch of action sequences with minimal plot and character – which isn’t what Dragon Age should be.

The art style is alright, there are points when it’s a little sloppy. Tessa’s skin colour seems up for debate she ranges from very lightly tanned to deep browns with little care for lighting. The cover art for all the comics is impressive but the inside is just passable.

There’s a cameo for a few well-loved characters from the games, and that’s pretty interesting. The actual story and bulk of the comic, however, fail to be even close to satisfying.

For Fans Of: Asunder