Fantasy

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

Growing up in, then communist Czechoslovakia, my childhood memories are full of Russian and Slav folk stories and re-discovering some of them recently has been tremendous fun.

Side note: for Russian inspired fantasy novels, some of my favourites are:

How dare they to write such beautiful stories that caused me so many sleepless nights!! How dare they… 😊!!

Now without further ado, let’s have a look at Uprooted:

Uprooted is inspired by Polish fairy tales and it reminded me a bit of The Beauty and the Beast story.

The main character, Agnieszka (Nieszka), lives in a quiet village near the mysterious and highly corrupted Wood.

“There is something worse than monsters in that place. Something that makes monsters.”

The Wood is being kept in check by the Dragon, who is a wizard that demands a price for his service – a company of a village girl for ten years of her life since the age of 17.

The book begins with Dragon’s choosing ceremony held every 10 years. He happens to choose Agnieszka instead of her best friend, Kasia, rumoured to be taken instead. Agnieszka is then ‘trapped’ in the Dragon’s tower serving him and slowly learning magic.

I honestly loved most parts of this book. I thought the pace was wonderful, I loved that slow build up of dread and how wonderfully dark, borderline creepy, the atmosphere was. Battles were not romanticised and were described in a horrible, yet believable manner and Agnieszka’s character thoroughly suffered through them in a very realistic way.

“Yesterday, six thousand men had marched over this road; today, they were all gone.”

Agnieszka is this clumsy but clearly ‘special’ peasant girl that has intuitive magic inside of her that clashes with her teacher’s magic, which is based on studies and is backed up by science. I know this may annoy some, but I personally liked it. I rely on my Intuition (despite calling myself a scientist 😉) and I believe we all have a certain inner wisdom and letting it speak to us is not necessarily a bad thing….

Now let’s explore a few ‘problematic’ things:

•  Early on in this book, Agnieszka narrowly avoids being raped. This is when I started disliking the Dragon’s character. The way he suggested it could have been ‘her fault’ made me see red. I don’t mind twisted and torn characters, but I thought the Dragon was a real a$$hole and I just could not see anything likable about him…

.. which makes me move to my second point:

•  The romance part didn’t work for me. The teacher (moody, irritable, controlling) vs. his student (defiant, more talented and rebellious) dynamic was just… no thanks. Those two didn’t care for each other that much and the ending was just a bit weird.

What stood out for me was the Agnieszka and Kasia friendship. Those two were clearly in love with each other. Maybe, it was a platonic, fiercely strong friendship kind of love. But regardless of what kind of love it was, I really rooted for them. There was something special about them and I thought they complemented each other well and cared very deeply for each other.

Overall, I enjoyed this book despite those few points above.

It brought me back to my childhood and Novik’s skilful spread of dread was just phenomenal.

Verdict:  Hot Beverage on Apple   Hot Beverage on Apple   Hot Beverage on Apple   Hot Beverage on Apple    (3.5/5)

Fantasy

Everless by Sara Holland

everless

Everless was surprisingly much better than expected. I have been growing away from YA but Everless reminded me that I can still enjoy this genre.

I was intrigued by its concept. Imagine living in a world where time is your currency. It is a world, where you can bleed your time in order to pay your rent or buy groceries or when you can drink / eat it to live longer. Sounds interesting, right?

Side note: I know that this is not a novel concept per se as some of you may have seen it in a movie In Time. But then again, what is original these days? I don’t mind when authors use already known concepts and work with them. To me, it’s the world building, developed and interesting characters as well as the story and its message that really matters.

The beginning starts with a lot of information and a girl hunting in the woods. Me? Eye roll 🙄and thinking: not again?!? 😉However once I got over the beginning, I got hooked very quickly and literally could not put this book down.

We get introduced to the world where time really matters. We meet Jules, a poor girl who just turned 17 – an age when she can start legally ‘bleeding her time’ and her ill dad, who is slowly running out of his time. The concept of parents bleeding their time to provide for their children really gave me chills as I thought it utterly believable.

Long story short: Jules is trying to save her dad and takes a job at Everless – an estate owned by one of the richest families. It also happens to be a dark place where bad things are about to happen.

My short summary of this book could be written as:

“Dad: ‘Stay away from Everless, stay away from the Queen. Bad things will happen to you’.
Jules start running towards Everless and the Queen and bad things are happening to her…”

Teenage rebellion perhaps? 😄I always have to chuckle when main characters get told literally by everybody not to do something which they promptly ignore and decide to do the exact thing that are told not to do.

Some points I struggled with:

• There is an ancient story about how time became bound to blood. The relationship between the Sorceress and the Alchemist is still unclear to me and I am confused about how they got captured and by whom. Maybe there is an opportunity for an explanation in the sequel as I really want to know please! 😄

• I also have a few issues with Jules. I thought there was a little bit of a missed growth opportunity and was a bit surprised with her crush over Roan. I suppose she could have romanticised him as he could have been her childhood crush (she was 7 though!) but still, it didn’t sit that well with me. I did like how she developed certain female friendships throughout the book and how curious, feisty and strong-willed she was.

Anyhow, I thought Holland’s language was very captivating, the pace and the steady build up really worked for me. I really liked the element of mystery and how craftfully it was span.

I also really, really appreciated that the primary focus was on the actual plot rather than the romance part. That may disappoint some but I am honestly fed up with books where nothing is happening apart from a girl obsessing over a guy and vice versa.
There were also some enjoyable twists; a few surprising villain revelations and the ending left me desperately wanting to read its sequel already.

“What if the person to be feared is me?” 

Overall, I thought it was a terrific debut and I honestly can not wait to read next chapter in Jules’ story.

Verdict: Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple   (4/5)

Fantasy

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless

I adore Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland. As a kid I was desperately searching for ‘the’ rabbit hole to find Wonderland (and still am sometimes!).

“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland 

I’m not going to lie, I was a bit sceptical about Heartless as I did not want another butchered retold version of an original book. But then Valentines’ Day came along, and I thought: what a fantastic opportunity to give it a go. 😊

I was wrong, I loved this book. I am a firm believer in the magical nonsensical world of Wonderland and Meyer did a fabulous job transporting me there again.

“Perhaps we know each other in the future and you’re only remembering backward.” 

Heartless is not a true re-telling story per se. It is set in Wonderland and it does use characters we all know from Lewis Carol’s book but that’s it. It has a unique story of how Catherine Pinkerton became the Queen of Hearts. And for those, who do not know who the Queen of Hearts is, it is not a happy ending story. But it is a welcome addition to the enchanting world of Wonderland.

“It is a dangerous thing to unbelieve something only because it frightens you.” 

It all starts with Catherine’s big dream of opening her own bakery which she would co-run with her best friend, who happens to be her maid. There’s a lot cake / macaroon talking, and I believe it may be entirely the book’s fault should I have put on some weight whilst reading it. 😉

It’s not just a story about cakes though, it’s also a story of forbidden love and friendship. It is a sad and sometimes brutal story and it’s not a fast-paced story. Yet somehow, it really worked for me. I got to go back to Wonderland to meet my lovely friend Cheshire Cat, got to have some tea with the Hatter and was surrounded by all those strangely wonderful characters whom I missed dearly for years.

“Are you here for a reason, Cheshire?
Why, yes, I would enjoy a cup of tea. I take mine with lots of cream, and no tea. Thank you.” 

I did not like Catherine but thinking about it, maybe that was the point. Catherine is a self-centred character who primarily cares about baking and Jest. There is goodness in her too though and we get to see it when she tries to help several characters. I really didn’t like her that much, but I did feel empathy towards her. Anyone who feels trapped and that there is no way out of a situation would get frustrated and would be ready to do whatever is necessary to change that.

I’ll end of up with the riddle – why is a raven like a writing desk?

You’ll get the answer in the book. I also really love the ending note where Meyer talks about this particular riddle in greater detail. Enjoy!

Verdict: Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple   (5/5)

Fantasy

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

smoke thieves

*** ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank both The Penguin Random House as well as the author, Sally Green, for this opportunity ***

Wow, The Smoke Thieves was clearly meant for me. It had everything I look for in a book. A powerful message, intelligent but also torn characters, diversity and lots and lots of action.

The story is told from five perspectives.

Tash, a street smart fiery girl, who also happens to be a successful demon hunter or rather a tempting demon bait.

Edyon, a compulsive thief, an aspiring law student and an extremely skilled liar.

March, a torn character that happened to get radicalized and whose mission is to seek revenge.

Ambrose, a loyal soldier torn between his sense of duty towards those whom he serves vs. his country. Full of honour but also full of forbidden love.

Catherine, an intelligent princess raised up to be a pawn and an ornament. Who happens to want more from life than that.

All characters’ paths intertwine over a bottle of illegal demon smoke.

The Smoke Thieves has a medieval fantasy feel to it that reminded me a tiny bit of Game of Thrones. The pace is relatively fast and is building up quite nicely throughout the book. We slowly start getting glimpses of the main plot and start working things out. Our characters don’t have all the information and it is fun guessing which one will work it out first.

I really liked how well developed all main as well as some supporting characters were. I genuinely cared about them and wanted to know more of them. I also thought the world was well built and the pace of the book was just right for me. There was lots of action but also lots of appropriate build up when necessary.

The message of brain over brawn is quite strong throughout the story. I think it’s so important to inspire readers to be inquisitive and to honour our curiosity.

There is also a story of radicalisation and privilege – something I see as very current and something we should be talking about.

Then there is gay representation as well as a message that family is not always the unit we are born into.

Overall, a very enjoyable story that left me wanting more!

You can tell that I cannot wait for its sequel already. 😊

Verdict: Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple   (5/5)

Fantasy

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

to kill a kingdom

*** ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review ***

I really, really wanted to like this book.

I was intrigued by its concept. I love both Sarah J Maas’ and Leigh Bardugo’s books, to whom this book was compared to, and I could not wait to read it.

Unfortunately I was not the target audience – going through many reviews, I can see many readers are loving this book and I am so happy for them. It was either not meant for me or I was not in the ‘right’ state to read it. 😊

To Kill a Kingdom questions if evil is born or rather made. One of the two main characters, a siren called Lira, shows signs of goodness despite being created to be evil.

I turn back to the sky, and quietly, I ask, “Do you really believe killers can stop being killers?” “I want to.”

That is something I liked about this book. I also enjoyed how the story developed and despite my comments below, I finished reading this book and I think it was a great debut novel that many will enjoy.

Following Lira’s childhood, we get a glimpse of how she was shaped into a creature she was meant to become to rule the underwater kingdom. I would have liked Lira’s inner torment to be further developed. Lira was torn but not quite as much as I would have liked her to be. There was also a hint of a story of her finding what a true belonging was when somebody (don’t want to give away spoilers) came back for her. Again, that had a potential for a powerful story but was not taken any further.

The copy I read was written from two first person narratives – Lira’s and Elian’s and there was no labelling of who was speaking when. Characters switched narrative after a chapter or two or three but I was never told who was talking when – I would personally found chapters being marked with characters’ names quite helpful as I sometimes did not know for a while who was talking. Note: I read the advanced reader’s copy, so this may not be relevant to the book’s final version!!!

There was a lot of descriptions I did not get, “I have eyelashes born from iceberg shavings and lips painted with the blood of sailor” as well as a lot of unnecessary dialog amongst the pirate crew. I’m up for jokes and humour but sometimes it was a bit repetitive and did not go anywhere.

Overall, I enjoyed the book’s message but not quite its entire story.

Verdict: Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple  Hot Beverage on Apple  (2.5/5)

Fantasy

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

cruel prince

Lately, I have had lots of misses rather than hits with YA books. Especially with those that created lots of enthusiasm and had five star reviews. I felt like I was either reading completely different books or I was just not in the right frame of mind for this genre.

Because of that, I was a bit sceptical when I started reading the Cruel Prince. After first few chapters, I was hooked and I could not put this book down. If I had one word to describe this book with, it would be ‘deliciousness’. I praise both the book’s message as well as its exquisite world building and complex characters. Holly Black is the Faerie Queen! 😊

“Nice things don’t happen in storybooks. Or when they do happen, something bad happens next. Because otherwise the story would be boring, and no one would read it.” 

I love flawed and torn characters and the Cruel Prince is full of those. None of them are completely likeable. They all make mistakes, have hidden motives and are unpredictable. The story is fast paced and will remind you of some of your own teenage memories of what it was like when you wanted to fit in.

I interpreted The Cruel Prince about a story of belonging. A story of trying to change yourself into someone you are not but are desperately trying to become to fit in as you feel you don’t belong anywhere. I also saw it as a story of winning when you finally admit that you belong nowhere but to yourself.

The main character is a teenage human girl called Jude. Jude is not an ordinary human being. She is smart, brave, vulnerable and, desperately eager to find her place amongst fae. She wants to be liked, feel safe and she also wants to belong.

Meet Tarin – Jude’s twin sister. Tarin is a mistress of fitting in. She mastered how to blend in, how to be invisible as well as how to please.

Jude desperately wants to belong somewhere, but her inner integrity prevents her from sacrificing who she is to fit in. And that’s the fundamental difference between those two. One is willing to sacrifice herself to fit in, the other is not.

“If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.” 

The Cruel Prince is a fast-paced story of belonging, love, betrayal and growth. There are many surprises including the book’s ending which left me wanting more. I cannot wait for the The Folk of the Air, #2 already! 😊

Verdict:  Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple Hot Beverage on Apple   (5/5)