The Bird & the Sword

I stumbled upon a few gorgeous pieces by PhantomRin on Tumblr (tagged below) and I was so drawn to them that I had to search for the book they came from. The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon is a story about a young mute girl named Lark who becomes part of a terrible prophecy. Before the king murders her mother, the Lady Meshara proclaims, “…you will lose your soul and your sun to the sky.” Following these last words, she sets the curse in place and takes away her daughter’s voice— for they are both witches who practice in “telling”; a type of magic honed by words only. Lark then lives alone with her corrupt father who is constantly vying for the king’s throne, leading a lonely life until she is noticed by the newly crowned prince, Tirus, who had been present upon her mother’s beheading.

bird sword coverThe world-building in this book was interesting. There are four main embodiments to being a witch: spinner, teller, changer, and healer. The spinners can weave gold out of anything, the changers can shape shift, the tellers (who are naturally the most gifted) can hex anyone/thing with their words or thoughts, and the healers are…well, healers.

The political dynamic is intriguing as well, because we start the book with the king slaughtering the protagonist’s mother in front of a whole assembly of royals and guards. So you’d assume that he would be more involved in the book, but only a mere chapter later it is reveled that he died and his son, Tirus, who is the love interest, became king. However, don’t let this discourage you. Without spoiling, I can say this slight confusion of the king’s sudden death gets resolved in the end during a bizarre plot-twist.

Lark is a very gentle character. I’d call her soft-spoken if she actually spoke in the novel, but you do get to see her communicating with other characters via her mind and telepathy powers. I think that when we read these types of novels we always expect the main character to be a sword wielding bad bitch with a lust for vengeance (which isn’t necessarily a bad trope in my honest opinion), but in this scenario Lark’s power comes from her ability to cause things to happen with her words alone. The irony isn’t missed.

Titus, on the other hand, is also a soft character, if you could call a warrior king soft. He is cursed with transforming into a bird every night, and over time these transformations become more and more potent until one night he barely changes back into a man. His brother, Kjell, forces Lark to help him in whatever way she can even though she swears that she isn’t a healer.

Kjell, like many others, fear the witches and is an adamant believer in killing their kind for being “more” than the rest of the world for having such abilities. (Seriously, the amount of irony in this book is comical.) There were plenty of moments I wanted to tell the characters that “they’re not doing it right” but I feel that way about most books so I’ll let this one slide.

The writing had a nice flow to it, and was a bit lyrical and dreamy. I liked how fast-paced it made the story. So much so that I started it around Monday evening and finished it early Tuesday morning. This one is definitely a short read, and a great one to help get you out of a reading slump.

I didn’t enjoy the ending as much because I felt like it was rushed and there were many elements that could have been further explained or explored. It tied everything up nicely and there isn’t a cliffhanger, but moments that you would have waited for since the prologue were covered in little over a few pages. Also, there were very few characters and, thus, very few perspectives to view this story from. Usually this wouldn’t bother me but because both main characters were like-minded it seemed as though the whole story was dimmed in comparison to what it could have really been.

This was 3.5/5 stars for me.

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Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

It has been three years since I’ve read The Secret History by Donna Tartt and I realized today that I’d never sat down and actually wrote a decent review for the book that I’ve proclaimed to love so ardently. Perhaps this means that my review will be more organized— since I’ve had such a long period to mull over any final thoughts and feelings. Alas, that probably won’t happen either. My emotions will always cloud my judgment when it comes to Tartt.

So finally, I’d like to introduce you to the book that altered every other reading experience henceforth.

Its 559 pages of madness.

We start off following college student Richard Papen as he procrastinates over transferring to another school— departing his hometown in California all the way to the sleepy east coast. Upon arriving at the elite Hampden College in Vermont, Richard encounters five students who immediately draw his attention through their peculiarity and illusive behaviors. Little does he know, the haughty cult of classics scholars will flip his world entirely until he no longer recognizes himself or the people around him. This is a story of paranoia and betrayal—and how our minds can slowly draw out our worst selves when faced with enough trauma.

And believe me, this book will cause you as much stress as it does with the characters.

One of the most glorious parts of The Secret History is the writing. Tartt is a superb author; her character are incredibly vivid, her prose are fluid, and her plot will have you turning page after page without realizing you’ve stayed up for several hours past midnight. I’ve never encountered another author with a smilier style, and that definitely made reading this book a unique experience, especially because (paired with the style) the plot was something I’ve only seen touched upon in other stories but never saw completely unfurled. All in all, it was a breath of fresh air…if you can call a story about murder that.

A favorite quote of mine was when Tartt described Camilla Macaulay— the only female leading character amongst a group of boys.

“Being the only female in what was basically a boys’ club must have been difficult for her. Miraculously, she didn’t compensate by becoming hard or quarrelsome. She was still a girl, a slight lovely girl who lay in bed and ate chocolates, a girl whose hair smelled like hyacinth and whose scarves fluttered jauntily in the breeze. But strange and marvelous as she was, a wisp of silk in a forest of black wool, she was not the fragile creature one would have her seem.”

I wish someone would describe me the way Tartt does her characters. You might think it seems overdone, as some of my friends who I’ve forced to read this book have mentioned, but I just believe it adds to the atmosphere. However, there were times when I had to find a dictionary just to understand what the hell was going on. I will warn you there.

N O T E : I also find it important to include trigger warnings before recommending this particular book, and I’ve yet to see anyone include one for TSH. So, please be aware of the following: mentions of incest, smoking, suicide, homophobia, and drug abuse.

Before I read this book I had strictly been reading fantasy only. Contemporary novels, or any novels that don’t include magic and folklore, don’t really fancy me. And while there is mention of Greek mythology receptively in this story, its entirely realistic. This is just another reason why I found it so enthralling: Tartt almost makes it seem like a fantasy, because surely these types of situations can’t happen in real life…but that’s definitely not the case, as you will find when reading a few chapters in.

Another way in which Tartt makes it seem like a fantasy is how she crafts her character. The narrator, Richard, has a few friends outside of the main group; and these friends are how one would imagine a college student from that era (arguably the early 70s… *no one is truly certain when this book takes place, at least I don’t think) would act. Whereas Henry, Bunny, Camilla, Charles, and Francis all seem too composed to be real young adults. They act as though they’re from ancient times— regal and mysterious and tragic. I’m probably not making much sense right now, but this is one of those things that you’ll have to understand through reading it.

If I had to choose a favorite character, of course it would be Francis Abernathy. Not only is he one of the most genuine characters of them all, but his melodrama makes him a comedic relief during the more gruesome scenes. Also, the way Tartt describes him makes me flustered; “Angular and elegant, he was precariously thin, with nervous hands and a shrewd albino face and a short, fiery mop of the reddest hair I had ever seen. I thought (erroneously) that he dressed like Alfred Douglas, or the Comte de Montesquiou: beautifully starchy shirts with French cuffs; magnificent neckties; a black greatcoat that billowed behind him as he walked and made him look like a cross between a student prince and Jack the Ripper.”

If you want to read a book that will pull you out of a slump: read this one.

If you want to read a book that will forever change your perception of storytelling: READ THIS ONE.

It might be tricky to dive into, because the author’s writing is nothing I’ve personally encountered before, but once you’re in…good luck putting it down.

SECRET HISTORY PLAYLIST: Soundcloud link. 

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

rate 5

This book is a spring banquet of ripe grapefruit wine, a summer morning beneath swaying willow trees, an autumnal bonfire deep in the woods, and a wintry dusk backset to the wind.

….At least it made me feel that way. Rogerson killed the imagery game.

I’ve been waiting for a very long time for a book like this to come out. I’ve always been obsessed with faeries and elvish folklore, and while I’ve read just about every book related to those mythologies nothing ever seemed quite right. Sure, all of the characters had pointy ears, magical powers, and lived somewhat near the forest, but that’s about where the similarities cut off. I wanted a story where the Fae were humanoid with tree roots for limbs and flowers for lips, where they worshipped nature instead of just lived in it— something closer to the rendition of Celtic folklore including the Wild Hunt, changelings, and caverns beneath the earth. And I’m so happy to say that An Enchantment of Ravens was that book for me.

Our narrator is a young portrait artist named Isobel who lives in a village called Whimsy where it is eternally summer. Her Craft— a form of human creativity that cannot be done by Fair Folk without risk of harm—is legendary for someone her age, and various Fair Ones come to visit her parlor to be painted, if only for a small price. All masters of Craft receive enchantments as a form of payment, but if worded wrong these wishes can go awry. Isobel always wishes for practical things and words them right, much to the delight of her regular client and wish-granter Gadfly. But upon one of his usual visits, Gadfly tells Isobel that she should expect the Autumn Prince soon. And while she gets to know Rook more intimately than any of her other clients, she accidentally paints mortal sorrow into his eyes. For this, the price is grave, and now Rook must take Isobel to his home, the Autumnlands, to stand trial for what she has done. However, they might never make it there with what lurks between her world and his kingdom.

The writing, the plot, the characters, the romance….everything in this book is a treat. At first I thought that it might be a bit fast-paced because it’s just a tad smaller in length to some of my more recent reads, but that’s definitely not the case. It was well thought out from the start to the finish with no “filler” scenes or rushed pivotal moments. I took my time reading this book and it really helped me delve into the setting so much so that I felt a deep connection with the main characters by the commencement of the final page.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the deal-breaking moments for me was the rendition of the Fae. The Fair Folk in this book cannot lie, are harmed by iron, have humanoid skins they wear as a disguise to hide their more monstrous forms underneath, live in places made of all things natural, and (my favorite) don’t have emotions. Supposedly.

One thing that always stood out to me amongst these other faerie novels was that the authors were quick to include emotion of some sort amongst their kind, wherein the original tales depicted the Fae as cruel, often vindictive and evil characters that didn’t feel human emotion and rather loved to toil with it for their own reprieve. That being said, the only romance featured in this book is saved for the main characters—which I thought was a wonderful decision as opposed to the usual minor “ships” that are often sidelined and then forced to fulfill plot devices. Also, it made the story seem more like a fairytale which was entirely the vibe I got from it (a morbid, eerily beautiful fairytale at that).

“He was no more able to understand the sorrow of a human’s death than a fox might mourn the killing of a mouse.”

Not to be dramatic, but I think I’ve found my favorite YA male protagonist as well. I had gone into this book believing that the Autumn Prince would be brooding with a side of dark humor (you know the type, I’m sure) but you can imagine my utter surprise when I find that Rook is, in fact, quite the opposite. He is good-natured, apologizes whenever he thinks he’s upset someone even when he hasn’t, doesn’t understand human emotion and finds it terrifying, and has a deep love for autumn. There were many hysterical moments between Rook and Isobel but I won’t mention them here because they’re something you should experience on your own. However, I will say that when someone bows or curtsies to a Fair One, that Fae must return the gesture immediately.

His character development is prominent throughout the story, as is Isobel’s, but I won’t mention more for fear of spoiling you. Rest assured, there were many things I picked up on that had changed from the beginning to the end, and they changed for the better. I also adore the way in which his physical descriptor was written: “…against his golden-brown complexion, which put me in mind of late-afternoon sunlight dappling fallen leaves.” And I think it’s important to note that he has ADHD, something my brother suffers from, and I found it refreshing to see this trait with a main character for a change. Did I mention that he can also transform into a dark horse and a raven?

I’ve already re-read this story three times and each time brings about stronger emotions for me. This is one of those books that you’ll want to revisit frequently because it plays with your heart in ways no other stories have (at least that’s the case for me)! The ending was wild, and while everything was answered and little to no ties were left untangled, I still want more. As of now I believe this is a stand-alone, but if there were ever a sequel in it’s future there would be plenty of things to write further more from where this book ended. If not that, then you can expect I’ll be dabbling in my fair share of Fanfiction. Enough said: READ THIS BOOK.

My Rating: 5/5
Goodreads Link: X

And because I’m so enraptured with this tale, I did a little makeup look inspired by the Autumnlands! It’s nothing overly magnificent because I just recently discovered my love for makeup, but it’s certainly something else. Who knows, I’d still wear this to class.

Eyeshadow: Modern Renaissance by Anastasia Beverly Hills
Liquid Eyeliner: Kat Von D
Elf Ears: Geekling Creations on Etsy

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Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

“They said that love was terrifying and tender, wild and sweet, and none of it made any sense. 

But now I knew that every mad word was true.”

After the release of the live action Beauty and the Beast film staring Emma Watson about a month ago, I’ve been searching for other retellings to satisfy my renewed interest in the classic. I’ve seen this book various times on social media— often being compared to one of those “if you liked this popular YA book, then you might enjoy this one” types of commentaries. So a year later, I decided to give Rosamund Hodge a try.

Cruel Beauty is set against a Greco-Roman background but instead of deriving from the eighth century BC, it is geared more towards the eighteenth century. Nyx, our narrator, has forever been engaged to marry the demon lord who rules over her village. A bargain had been struck from before she was even conceived, allotting that one daughter of the bargainer’s offspring must be given to the demon to be his betrothed when she is of age. And even though Nyx is a twin to a beautiful and charismatic sister, it had always been her that was chained to this dark destiny. We follow our heroine throughout this story as she navigates into her husband’s palace, searching for clues to unbind him from his curse and free her people from demonic enslavement.

I’ve heard many people rave about this book and even compare it to one of my favorite tales, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, but unfortunately I didn’t experience the same thrill. I’m actually a bit disappointed, because while I enjoyed certain aspects there was plenty that I felt could have been further explained or revisited to make the plot seem stronger and the characters less vague.

For starters, we have our main protagonist Nyx. I love her name and thought it was fitting because Nyx in Greek mythology is the daughter of Chaos and the personification of night. She was interesting to read during the first section of the story before going to the palace. In that part, I found her inner conflict very relatable: is it right to hate someone for something they have no control over? Especially a family member? Nyx seemed like a character with grey morals and appropriate inquires for someone her age/ in her position… which is amazing considering I’ve read books on the contrary that drove me mad! But once she is finally placed in a different setting outside of her village, her character seemed to…deflate? (I can think of no better word, honestly.) Sure, she is more sarcastic and witty. But then again, so was Ignifex— her main love interest and the adaption of the “Beast.” I felt as though half of what I wound up reading was mindless banter between the two of them with no real plot or revelations. And not for nothing, but when I say that the characters started to blur with one another, I quite literally mean that. There is a character who may or may not be another character just wearing different flesh. So overall, the narrative was making me aggravated after a while.

The writing was nice, however it did lag on a bit during certain scenes. I realize that inner monologue is wonderful to have when faced with a complex character, but if I feel as though the questions being brought up by the protagonist were becoming overly frequent or obvious. Most of the acton throughout the book was spent searching for four elemental “keys” of a sort, but naturally we don’t get anywhere until the very last pages of the book. And even then I still had so many questions that were left completely unanswered. The magic system confused me, the love interests felt forced, and the plot twists didn’t entirely seem to make sense? I wondered if it was just me being too obtuse, but after going back to re-read some chapters I still find these problems unattended to.

While supposedly being a Beauty and the Beast retelling, we honestly could have gone without the romance and the book might have even been more pleasant to read. Yes, there is a love triangle of sorts. I won’t spoil much, but this particular triangle is later explained to be something else, but for three-fourths of the story you are led to believe that two men are in love with the same women who doesn’t know who to meld her soul with. I also didn’t find either relationship compatible, but that’s likely because I didn’t necessarily enjoy any of these characters enough to want to see them together.
The more I write this review, the more issues I seem to realize I had with the book. So I will just leave it at this. I did enjoy the Greek mythology portions, and I found the sibling relationship to be relatable, but other than that I’m too confused about so much that I can’t say else about the pros of the story. Hopefully if you decide to give this one a shot you’ll have a better time with it than I did.

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars.

Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”

There hasn’t been a book in a long while that has enraptured me as strongly as Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh. I’ve been in a bit of slump for some time now, only reading sections of a book and then losing all interest in it. When I first heard about this particular story, I knew I would at least enjoy it because it encompassed plenty of elements from my favorite movies and folklore. That I wound up loving it makes me incredibly happy because I can safely say that this book is my current favorite read of 2017! It was pitched as a mix between 47 Ronin and Mulan, so of course I was interested before the title and cover were even revealed. (However, unlike Mulan, this story takes place in feudal Japan and focuses on samurai and the seven tenets of Bushidō .)

This story is told through a third person narration, with perspectives shifting between our main character Mariko and occasionally her twin brother Kenshin. It begins as Hattori Mariko is carted within a norimono on her way to her betrothed— the emperor’s second son. Along the path she and her legion are forced to wander through the dark forest or risk being a day late for their arrival at the palace. But then they are attacked in the middle of the night, and Mariko scarcely escapes with her life after setting a farce display for her murderer’s to make certain they believe she is dead. Knowing that to wander the woods nearly naked and alone—and as a woman—Mariko harks on every ounce of self preservation to stay alive, but is sought out by a vagabond whom had been stalking her. In the end, she leaves the forest after chopping off lengths of her hair and donning the guise of a boy who’d run away from home.

She sets off to find her attackers with the hope of discovering their secrets and finding out why she was targeted in the first place. Yet things don’t go as planned, and soon she finds herself admits the ranks of the Black Clan, her supposed killers and a group of renegade warriors, and she must keep up her disguise if she wants to see the light of day while also gaining their trust and learning their ways. But as the story goes on, Mariko comes to the revelation that perhaps she was miscalculating everything from before she was even sent to the emperor’s home. And with this knowledge comes darker questions with answers she will have to face and suffer the consequences of.

The heroine has quite an aversion to men because she believes them to be only what she has seen— dominant in her society: conquerors, masters, and slavers. She has been so thoroughly shielded from the true world that her political union doesn’t phase her in the beginning of the book as much as it does at the end. Mariko is often being called “odd” and “curious” throughout the novel, both of which she initially describes as being frowned upon but comes to realize only makes her who she is. She begins to own those titles. Especially considering her knack for creativity, which is her passion for inventing things such as weapons and makeshift lanterns. Mariko is an inventor and a warrior, but her femininity is never washed away, even as she pretends to be a boy, because she is always mulling through an inner struggle with her identity in that she ponders the strength of being a woman. This invokes the very focal point of her character development— which is handled carefully and crafted with beautiful scenes. A particular section of this book that exemplifies this character arc is when Mariko and her group of warriors visit a Teahouse. It is during their visit where Mariko first sees a Geiko, and this is what transpires:

Geiko were referred to as living, floating works of art. The very idea had ruffled her sensibilities. That a beautiful woman could be nothing more than a form of entertainment, left to the vices and pleasures of men.

But as Mariko watched—transfixed—while a geiko clad in layers of tatsumura silk drifted across the spotless tatami mats, she realized her first mistake. This young woman did not stand or move from a place of subservience. Nor did she convey any sense that her existence was based solely on the whim of men. Not once did the geiko’s gaze register the newest arrivals. Her head was high, her gait proud. The poise with which she moved—the grace with which she took each of her steps—was a clear testament to years of training and tradition.

The young woman was not a plaything. Not at all.

And although Mariko is without a doubt my favorite character, the members of the Black Clan slowly stole my heart as well. They were equals parts Robin Hood and the Lost Boys, not at all what I had been expecting and definitely a good surprise. Without giving away too much, because to talk about these characters would mean I have to spoil something inevitably, I can tell you that Ōkami is the love of my life and I really hope to read more about his past in the second book (because yes, there WILL be a second novel)!

Which in turn brings me to another thing I adored— the romance. It’s not heavily packed into the tale, which I very much appreciated considering the pillars behind Flame in the Mist are based upon a woman discovering the strength of being herself and following her hearts desires. However, when it is mentioned… let’s just say I wasn’t prepared for how deeply I’d invest myself in the pairing that came about. It was the type of slow burning, enemies-to-lovers trope that I fall for every time, and yet it was unlike any of the others I have read. Partially due to the characters, and partially because of the pretty writing in this novel.

Ahdieh has such wonderful prose and whimsical imagery. You could sell me a story about two rocks sitting atop a bigger rock and I would give it a five-star rating if the setting and imagery deserved it. And with the setting being feudal Japan, it was something rare and breathtaking for me to journey through. I can’t speak for everyone when I say that I believe this story was well researched in terms of the historical accuracy, because I’m not Japanese and did find myself struggling with some terms, (there is a glossary in the back) but to someone who rarely encounters this type of setting, it felt thoroughly edited and authentic. Here’s a little piece of what to expect:

The outskirts of Inako now pressed beyond the fields and forests that had ringed its borders in the past. Snaking through the city’s center was a gentle flowing river littered with dying blossoms. Its petal pink waters were a painted stroke separating the tiled roofs on either shoreline—a swell of blue-grey clay, rising like the sea, bandied about by a storm.

There were many plot-twists and action scenes in this book, some of which I had suspected since the beginning but wound up second guessing the more I read. It was well thought-out and leaves plenty of room for a sequel… considering the ending wasn’t really an ending, more or less one path on a bridge overlooking the far side (aka Book II). I was dreading how much was left to be answered by the time I reached the final chapters, but upon realizing that there will be more books to come I felt much better and happier with the placement of where this tale left off. However, I can tell you there are many cliffhanger and Ahdieh really must love to keep her readers on their toes.

The only compliant I had, if any, was the magic system. We don’t really hear much of it until the commencing parts of the story, which probably means we will see a great deal of it in the second book. But there were a few things I still don’t understand, even though I’ve reread them twice to check if I missed something. I’ll probably reread the whole book another hundred times before 2018.

I hope you all enjoy this one as much as I did! Book two is too long away. I’m not sure how I can cope for another year!

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

hak 3“And Yarvi realized that Death does not bow to each person who passes her, does not sweep out her arm respectfully to show the way, speaks no profound words, unlocks no bolts. The key upon her chest is never needed, for the Last Door stands always open. She herds the dead through impatiently, needles of rank or fame or quality. She has an ever-lengthening queue to get through. A blind procession, inexhaustible.”

Prince Yarvi of the Gettlands is thrust into the role of King upon his father’s sudden death, but even after a lifetime of preparations the young boy is still not ready to take on his throne. He doesn’t believe himself capable of such power, and neither do the other royals and soldiers around him. It is due to this distrust that Yarvi finds himself awash on a new shore in a strange new land that he’d only heard of through stories of his kingdom’s enemies. So who finds him first as he crawls from the cold waves? His enemy king, of course. Pretending to be a mere baker’s son, Yarvi is then brought into slavery to be sold in one of the high markets of Grom-gil-Gorm’s territory. As he ventures from a throne, to a cell, to a ship where he is charged with the job of an oarsmen, Yarvi begins to plot his vengeance for those who betrayed him and cast him out of his home, and he’ll have to rely upon his enemies if he wants to survive first in order to get back his crown.

Processed with VSCO with p5 presetOur hero of the story is roughly around the age of sixteen if I recall correctly, and he definitely acts like it. Although I’m infatuated with tales of warriors and knights and vikigns etcetera, I was always a bit skeptical about how quick to take on a challenge some of those figures were. In Yarvi’s case, he truly wants to be king but he knows he’s not ready yet— spiritually or physically. For starters, Yarvi was born with half a hand, hence the title. This setback is only a setback if he allows it, and unsurprisingly he does. He was always frowned upon for being a cripple, and he is self-conscious of the fact. Even when he was being displayed in a line up of slaves to be bought, he hid his hand so that his buyer wouldn’t think twice.

To make matters worse, he had to help row a ship with only seven fingers, and he was described as being scrawny and lanky in the prior chapters. There were times when I became frustrated with his inner monologue and the depressing thoughts that accompanied it, but then I remembered that unlike other stereotypical hero’s, Yarvi acts just how I imagine anyone else in his position in real life would. He is hesitant about everything, passionate about the things he desires, and switches moods constantly.

Along his journey as a slave, Yarvi befriends his fellow oarsmen and the other captives aboard the ship. I was pleased to read that there are many mentions of women captains and warrior queens, but I felt that all the secondary characters lacked any true depth. Taking into consideration that this is meant to be a story about one boys development into a man, I found it troubling how little was spent on the progression of characteristics and rather most of the plot centered around battle tactics and the main protagonists constantly on the run.

Processed with VSCO with p5 presetYet even the battles felt short, as did most of the book, which I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t take me so long to force myself to read. Abercrombie has a fluid style of writing, and I really enjoyed his prose and context of language, but it was still a challenge to finish this story if only for the lack of connection I felt towards any of the characters, including the main one.

Would I classify this as a story about vikings? I’m sure under certain dictions it would qualify as such because of the mention of Vasterland and the enemy kings, but personally I read this just as I would have read any other story set in medieval fantasy realms. It didn’t stand out at all, and it felt dull nearly every other chapter. Perhaps you’ll have a better time with this one than I did if you decide to read it, but I can’t say I loved this story without coming up with explanations as to why I also found issues with it. I’m told the second book in this series is even better, but I’m still uncertain whether or not I will be reading that one.

Overall, I found this book to be enjoyable. It was a fun read, but it dragged a bit at the end and I still don’t feel as connected to these characters as I would have preferred. There was so much potential, but the delivery was weak. Oh well. On to more books!

My Rating: 3/5 stars.

Read this review on GoodReads.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

“Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find yourself magic in this world.”

I was given an ARC of Caraval in return for an honest review. That doesn’t persuade my true opinion of the book. This is a spoiler free review which can also be viewed HERE.

Scarlett Dragna and her younger sister Donetella, often called Tella, live in a mock nineteenth century backdrop where a traveling circus goes from villages to cities, beckoning folk to engage in a live-performing fantasy bazaar. Their father, a man of wealth and stature, is abusive towards his daughters— and regularly goes after one sister for the actions of the other, figuring to physically harm one would be to drastically render the other tormented and obedient. After years of sending letters to the Master of Caraval, Scarlett hopes to one day be invited to partake in the show, if only the ring leader would correspond. But before she can give up her dreams of playing the game and settle down to marry her fiancé, she and her sister find themselves hostages… taken, ironically, straight to the entrance of Caraval. What occurs next cannot be understood rationally, for Scarlett must perform in this illusionary realm in order to win and save her sister, who’d been missing since their arrival.

If you loved The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, this book will more than likely please you. Personally, I felt that Night Circus was stronger in a few regards, but that doesn’t lessen the beauty of Caraval. This book shares a similar atmosphere with Morgenstern’s because, notably, it takes place in a traveling circus where reality is blurred and what once seemed exhilarating is actually horrific. Stephanie Garber did a wonderful show of exploring the depths of this whimsical story, creating a lush imagery of colors and ribbons of prose. Her writing style is easy to follow, which made the transition into the book smooth and the pace fast. I believe there were certain dialogue scenes that we could have gone without, but other than that this book can be devoured in less than a week if you put your mind to it.

I did have some issues with the story, nevertheless.

Our heroine, Scarlett, is thrown into the game after having to swim miles to shore to save her life with a complete stranger who’d been, not a few hours prior, kissing her sister in their father’s cellar…which, of course, they’d been caught and punished for. Scarlett didn’t feel much like a heroine, rather she was merely the main character and narrator of the book. I understand that wielding a sword and having magical powers doesn’t make a character strong, but even where cleverness and bravery are in mind, she lacks those traits as well. She definitely showed to have a semblance of cunning and courageousness, but it was often after someone had to help her or before she did something completely reckless and uncalled for. And thus, we have our main male figure— Julian.

Julian is a player in the game, and has a secretive history with Caraval that cannot be explained until the final pages of the story. He is sarcastic and witty, aiding Scarlett in her quest to win the game and save her sister. But I felt that his character wasn’t fully developed because most of the time he was spoken about through his supposed romance with the heroine. Even then, I felt that their relationship was rushed and a bit forced. There wasn’t much of a build-up because our main character was more concerned with surviving, as she should have been! And then suddenly these two are “in love” with one another. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both of their developments, but I still feel that they could have gone the whole time as friends and nothing would have been misplaced or changed in the grand scheme.

If love must be a focal point in this story, it’s not about the sisters and their flirtations with the other players of Caraval, it’s in regard to the sisters alone. The tale is spun through a cycle of sisterly love, starting with Scarlett’s need to see Tella safe and freed from the game. I love how their kinship was handled and I wish there had been more time devoted to the two of them together.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was a great elixir for a reading slump and certainly a unique story. I know that many of my friends fell in love with this book, but unfortunately I just didn’t experience the same story as they did. I feel that it has room for improvements, and I’m curious to see if those will be addressed in the sequel (and yes, there WILL be a second installment).

My rating: 3.5/5