White Cat by Holly Black

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: May 4th 2010

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“The easiest lies to tell are the ones you want to be true.”

Cassel has always felt like an outcast in his own home. For one, he’s the only member who isn’t a curse worker, he doesn’t have any powers at all. Also, he killed his best friend Lila a few years back. When a white cat starts to plague his dreams the memories of Lila begin to resurface and Cassel begins to question everything he knows about himself and his shady brothers.

As with any of Black’s books the real strong point in White Cat is worldbuilding. The novel takes place in a world where certain people are born “workers” – people with abilities to perform different kinds of magic. Black weaves society around the premise, politics, crime and even fashion all twist around the power of curse workers.

The mystery was a bit clumsy. Despite having a semi-unreliable narrator the book somehow always gave away enough that it was easy to know the outcomes before they happened. There was very little suspense and, in fact, it was on occasion frustrating to watch Cassel fail to string together the obvious conclusion. The story started with a strong premise and an interesting world but it felt almost wasted on the cast of characters and the eventual mystery that unravels.

The protagonist is sort of bland made more frustrating by the fact that Holly Black can and has written rich and interesting characters. The girl from his past is described as sort of a bully but so beautiful with different coloured eyes. She is just as boring. The rest of the characters are either bland or bland and unlikeable.

The concept is strong enough to save this book from being a total flop. The mystery is interesting, at times, despite its predictability. Aside from the characters and some terrible pacing problems – the chapters felt years long – it wasn’t terrible.

White Cat comes out solidly in the average pile for young adult fantasy while being on the lower end of Holly Black’s work.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Iron Cast

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The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Genres: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: April 26th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“He was a king. This was the year he was going to die.”

This is the year that Gansey is going to die, this is the last chance he has to find Glendower. In the finale to a breathtaking series the quest finally comes to a close.

The Raven King is a good ending, but it falls short of the ending the series deserved. It feels like a book without focus. It darts from character to character and tries to do more than its predecessors with less. The plot and pacing are confusing at best, and while the ending was good it felt less satisfying than it should have.

Of course, the weakest book in a brilliant series is still a brilliant book. The Raven King just failed to live up to the expectations that the rest of the series laid out for it. There was too much left open, too many characters left dangling in uncertain fates. Too many new characters and plot threads are introduced when the book couldn’t close everything it already had to deal with.

The elements that made the previous books special are still strong. The characters (even the new ones added for inexplicable reasons) are real and strong and lovable. It’s difficult not to fall in love with Gansey and his gang again and just as hard to resist falling for Henry, but few of these characters get a real ending. Most importantly the endings we were promised from the beginning of the series only sort of happen. It feels less like a clever twist and more like a cop-out. This was a series that needed a bittersweet ending not an ending full of sunshine and cotton candy.

I hate to say this about a series I love and about a book I enjoyed but the ending was most certainly rushed. The book should have spent less time introducing new things and focused on ending what it had started. This book pushed so many elements aside to focus on new things that it failed to feel like an ending at all. That said it was a brilliant book for the characters, many of them getting development even if their plots are never tied up.

It was a good book. The characters were good, Stiefvater’s writing style continues to be poetic and interesting, the magic is still alive…but as an ending it was a bit of a disappointment.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Graces by Laure Eve

Genres: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: September 6th 2016

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

When River moves to a new town she is immediately snared by The Graces. Thalia, Fenrin and Summer are the subject of the entire town’s interest. They’re loved and feared. Not only do they have wealth and connections – they have magic. River is determined to be part of the Grace family, but neither she or The Graces know quite what they’re getting into.

Eve is a good author. The plot is intriguing and I couldn’t help but wonder where the plot was going. There were so many mysteries to unravel, about both The Graces and River, that I could hardly put the book down. It’s a fantastic sort of twisty mystery for the most part. There’s plenty readers don’t know about even the protagonist until later in the novel.

While the plot was intriguing; the characters weren’t. River (our protagonist) is an unreliable narrator and entirely unlikable. Unreliable narrators can be used extremely well, but River just feels pretentious. It’s obvious that she’s not trustworthy or particularly good from the opening of the novel. The Graces, on the other hand, are too distant to feel any connection with. They’re certainly whimsical feeling but they all fall pretty flat as characters.

The relationships between the characters were just as hollow. There is not a single decent relationship in the entire book. Every relationship feels fake, it doesn’t feel like there is a single shred of affection between any two characters in this novel, even ones who supposedly love each other. This is likely another byproduct of the characters being intriguing but flat overall.

The twist was, by the time it happened, already to obvious. Instead of feelings of shock and surprise it evoked more feelings of “finally they said it outright”. The twist should have been revealed clearly sooner before readers could work it out and it lost it’s value. Having it happen so late is a waste when the entire book relies on this twist being a surprise.

The ending is perfectly adequate for a stand alone, but leaves room for a sequel to pick up which seems to be the intention. Despite the characters being rather disappointing, it’s hard to not want to know what happens next. What other secrets will be revealed?

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Read this if you’re a fan of:  The Merciless

 

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: October 21st 2014

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Humans were so circular; they lived the same slow cycles of joy and misery over and over, never learning.”

Blue has new friends but the certainties of her life are starting to unravel. Her mother is missing and things at the house are starting to fall apart. The search for Glendower is coming to an end; but Blue is starting to wonder if they’ll all survive the quest.

Although it can be said that this book is slightly less poetic than the first two it doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything. Like the books before it the characters and their relationships are more important than the story (though it is fascinating) or the writing style. This book in particular gives each character more depth. In a way this is Adam’s book, as Dream Thieves was Ronan’s. So Adam in particular gets to develop and grow through the pages.

My one critique is that the romance between Blue and Gansey was a little tedious. It was certainly well done but their determination to avoid and then hide their blossoming feelings it slightly frustrating. It’s definitely understandable why the characters feel that way but it’s a little grating for a reader to watch them dance around the inevitable.

The plot is a little slower than the other two books but it introduces new villains and reintroduces some old faces. It definitely left the fourth one with a lot of questions to answer. The world is still left open-ended and mysterious; and more than a little confusing. Nevertheless it has, thus far, been a brilliant series. Definitely not for all readers but a good majority will easily fall in love with Stiefvater’s lovable characters and fanciful world.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Six of Crows

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 17th 2013

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them. Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness. Her raven boys.”

Ronan Lynch has been keeping secrets all his life, but when his dreams start getting out of hand he has to start getting everyone else involved. While people hunt for Ronan’s power he, Blue and the other Raven Boys hunt for Glendower, an ancient king who will grant whomever finds him a wish.

Sequels often struggle to be quite as impressive as the original work, but The Dream Thieves is just as good if not better than The Raven Boys. Stiefvater expands upon the brilliant world and characters she created in her first novel and the result is breathtaking.

This book does feel a bit wider than The Raven Boys in scope, it allows not only the main characters to grow but also Blue’s family. It’s wonderful seeing more of Calla, Perseophone and Orla. Perhaps the most interesting is the plot that arises with Maura. Young adult literature too often leaves adult characters on the side and doesn’t give them the depth and attention they deserve. Stiefvater paints every character as complex and interesting, even the ones who don’t get to stay around long.

Kavinsky and The Grey Man are relatively new in this book and it doesn’t take long for them to feel just as familiar as Blue’s family or the boys. Kavinsky is a particularly interesting and well-created character. He isn’t nice or particularly good, but he has moments where he’s likeable or maybe even sympathetic.

It was particularly nice how the book respected it’s readers. Although there are plenty of unsual things happening it didn’t constantly reexplain itself as many books do. It assumed it’s readers were intelligent enough to follow the story without it having to remind them who Glendower was every five pages, which seems like a small thing but many series are starting to fall on the wrong end of this sort of thing.

It was more heavily character driven than the previous book, but still just as stunning.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater

Genres: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: September 1st 2012

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.”

Blue lives in a family of psychics but has never seen anything particularly magical. Until she sees Gansey’s spirit on St Mark’s Eve. He’s terribly young to be dying within the year and the fact that she could see him troubles Blue even more. Her aunt believes that him appearing to her means one of two things; she’s his true love or she’s going to kill him. This is particularly problematic because Blue has always been told that when she kisses her true love, he’ll die. Despite her best efforts Blue is drawn to Gansey’s motley group and finds herself experiencing more magic in a season than she has in her entire life.

Stiefvater’s writing style is not for everyone, but I found something beautiful in it. The book leaves plenty of imagery and quotes clinging to the reader while managing to feel like it wasn’t trying desperately to be deep and quotable. So many sentences and words have stuck with me even after the book has been finished and put back on the shelf.

This story itself is packed full of mystery, magic and adventure but it all feels so plausible. Fantasy is meant, of course, to suspend disbelief, but rarely has any book done it so well. This is, in part, thanks to the fantastic character’s Stiefvater has created.

Books generally have relatable protagonists, but it’s rare that even minor characters are made to feel real. From each of Blue’s mother’s friends to teachers at Aglionby, even the characters with only one or two lines feel like they belong. The main cast feels real and fantastical at the same time, like more interesting versions of people you could know. Despite Blue clearly being the main protagonist it never feels like she overshadows the others too viciously.

The ending of this book is superb. It manages to feel like an ending, tying up a few plot lines, while leaving enough questions to make reading the next installment irresistible. It doesn’t sound like an amazing feat, but so many series seem to fail at having a satisfying ending to a novel, they either leave you feeling unsatisfied or like picking up the next book isn’t really a priority.

It was a book a read slowly, not because I wasn’t excited about what might happen next, but because the thought of it ending was unbearable.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Poison Eaters

Valiant by Holly Black

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy (Urban Fantasy), Romance
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: May 31st 2005

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I like all the things that make you monstrous.”

Val can’t stay at home. She feels like a fool after what happened and she can’t bear to live with her mother. Running away takes her to New York city, where she finds a colourful group of vagrants to run with. They seem a little more than colourful though. When Val finally meets the man they’re all running deliveries for she realizes she might have gotten into something more magical than she expected.

There is a slight drop in quality from the first of the trilogy, but Valiant still has that gentle magic that Black bestows upon all her novels. While the romance feels weakly developed, the world, as always, feels full to the brim with deep roots. The mythology and history behind Black’s fairy world is so intriguing that the book can be forgiven for it’s other faults. Still it has to be acknowledge that the plot was choppy, skipping so many sections that we don’t really get a good feel for any of the relationships.  While the drug addiction to the magical “Nevermore” is well written some more serious issues are almost brushed off. The profanity is sometimes awkwardly thrown into sentences as well, it just feels out of character on some occasions where it’s used.

The support from the first novel, Tithe really holds this book up. Other than it’s fantastic look into faeries the books individual plot and characters are really satisfactory all on their own.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black

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Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Short Stories, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Big Mouth House
Publication Date: February 9th 2010

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Books were something that happened to readers. Readers were the victims of books.”

From flowers that turn boys into wolves, wolves that turn into boys, books that come to life and girls whose touch can kill Holly Black writes twelve engaging modern fantasy stories easy for anyone to enjoy.

I have never read an author so adept at twisting fairies and unicorns into the world we live in, and on top of everything manages to write so many different and relatable characters from all walks of life with varying identity. Every story is written in a different style with vastly different characters. Happy and sad endings.

Anthologies tend to be tricky, there’s normally a few sour stories that make the bunch less appealing but all twelve of these short stories can hold their own. The way they connect with the worlds she creates in later books and even with each other is brilliant and it’s a worthwhile book for any Holly Black fan.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST