Category Archives: 4 Stars

Death Sworn: Ashley’s Review

DeathSwornTitle: Death Sworn

Author: Leah Cypress

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Genre: YA Fantasy

Release Date: March 4, 2014

Pages: 352

Synopsis: Ileni is losing her magic. And that means she’s losing everything: her position as the rising star of her people, her purpose in life, and even the young man she loves. Sent to the assassins’ cave hidden deep within the mountains, she expects no one will ever hear from her again. The last two sorcerers sent died within weeks of each other. Accidents? Or something more sinister? As Ileni navigates the dangers—both natural and human—of the caves, she’ll discover secrets that have been kept for decades. And she’ll find an ally in Sorin, the deadly young man who could be the assassins’ next leader. With Sorin determined to protect her, sparks—magical and romantic—will fly. But will even he understand the choice she must make in the end?

Review:

I have to say that I loved Death Sworn by Leah Cypress. IIeni and Sorin had me smiling throughout this whole book.

IIeni is a sorceress who is losing her magic and she doesn’t know why. She’s sent to the assassins’ cave to teach the assassins magic, but told by the Elders that she’s being sent there to figure out what happened to the last two sorcerers (they were both male). She’s really good at faking her power, because, while she’s losing magic, she still has skill. I really liked this about IIeni, and felt that this made her a stronger character.

IIeni is under the protection of an assassin named Sorin who, while listens to the Master’s orders, has a bit of rebellion in him–for instance, he’s explored most of the surrounding caves, has parties when assassins return home from missions (which means they succeeded and made their kill), and he falls in love with IIeni. But it’s not that typical love at first sight thing, and I felt like it was really realistic for the situation IIeni and Sorin were placed. Sorin isn’t one for flattery, either, and tells IIeni that his affection for her was bound to happen because she’s the only female in the caves.

The plot is focused on IIeni, Sorin, and the clues they unearth in an effort to figure out who murdered the other two sorcerers. I liked that, because IIeni was losing her magic, it wasn’t easy to figure out who the murderer was. Throughout the book, there’s this general idea that the Master never makes a mistake and everything happens for a reason, so you as the reader get to try and put the pieces together with IIeni and Sorin.

As far as cons to this novel, I felt like IIeni mentioned how Sorin could kill her way to much. I already knew this because Sorin is an assassin, and her internal dialogue at the beginning of the book. I didn’t need it to be repeated over and over again. Also, I couldn’t quite figure out how old Bazil. He seemed like a child at times, and at other times, an adult.

As far as the world-building is concerned, I felt like Cypress did well considering this novel was isolated to the caves. I’m hoping to get an greater idea of the Empire in DEATH MARKED (which I have started). 4 stars.

4star

AMAZON

Advertisements

Nicole’s Review: MAGONIA

MagoniaTitle: MAGONIA

Author: Maria Dahvana Headley

Publisher: HarperCollins

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pages: 320

Synopsis: Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Review:

I was a little surprised by how much I liked this book. A race of birds? Songbirds that fly in and out of people’s lungs? Sky vessels and squallwhales? There’s plenty of quirkiness to go around, and while it might catch some readers off guard, I found it utterly charming and entrancing!

The worldbuilding was fresh and delightful. I mean, sky vessels?! Maybe it’s a holdover from Disney’s Peter Pan or my love for Goonies and, more recently, Stardust, but I’ve always been captivated by the idea of tall ships sailing the skies. And squallwhales?! I love the idea of giant cloud-wreathed leviathans breathing our weather into being with their songs. MAGONIA fueled my imagination in that rare way that calls to mind childhood wonder and daydreaming just for the joy of it.

Speaking of songs, music lovers will enjoy how Dahvana Headley positions the magic of her music in MAGONIA. It literally has the power to create and destroy. Though this isn’t a new concept in fantasy, her approach feels unique and strangely subtle, given its importance in the book’s climax.

Yet, as much as I loved the worldbuilding, my favorite aspect of MAGONIA was its characters—especially Aza and Jason. They are quirkily perfect for each other and, unlike the insta-love of many YA books these days, readers get to see their deep friendship and love grow throughout the book without being hit over the head with it. Their commitment to each other feels real and extremely strong.

That’s thanks in large part to the fact that they’re both individually strong characters and hilariously funny at times in a dead-pan, inside-joke way that made their voices distinctive and fun to read. They’re each smart, sarcastic and clever. I laughed out loud more than once!
One caveat though: You’ll know by the end of the first chapter if Aza’s voice works for you or not. She can come close to being overpowering or too stream of consciousness-y. I enjoyed it, but it won’t work for everyone.

The first third of the book is almost entirely about battling Aza’s illness on Earth and has an almost “Bridge to Terabithia” feel to it, which I found endearing. The second third introduces readers more deeply to Magonia, the world in the sky, and its inhabitants, and the third wraps up a nice break-in / sky-singing battle climax.

Each of these sections carried a slightly different tone and pacing, and it’s Aza’s and Jason’s voices that anchor the reader and keep drawing us in. The plot does veer a little thin about half-way through the book, or at least I kept expecting more from it, given various hints along the way. The climax itself is very satisfactory, though without the personal stakes of Aza and Jason, I think the external stakes (stealing plants – albeit really rare and cool plants!) would have fallen short for me.

For all the time Aza spends in Magonia, I wish we could know a few of the characters better—especially Dai, Aza’s crewmate and singing partner with a tragic background and mysterious allegiances, and Zal and Ley, captains who played a big role in Aza’s time on Earth and who still have major scores to settle. But, part of my reason for wanting more is that Dahvana Headley paints beautiful descriptions and mysteries that make you want to dive in and learn ALL the reasons.

I did really love Caru, the heartbird. He is everything majestic, free and loyal that you could possibly imagine about a bird of prey. I also had a soft spot for the batsail, who is at once noble and sad. These are great examples of how MAGONIA moves beyond a typical YA to touch deeper heartstrings, deeper lessons of life. I love, love, love books that do this well!

Another element that made me tear up was Dahvana Headley’s lovely and loving portrayal of family. The simple yet ever-strong ties between Aza and her Earth-bound family are frankly breathtaking in several places, and Jason’s family too is close-knit and wonderful.

So, MAGONIA, a bit of quirk, a dash of wonder, and a whole lot of fun!

Four stars.

4star

Find this book on Amazon.

Ashley’s Review: Illusions of Fate

IllusionsFate_cvrTitle: ILLUSIONS OF FATE

Author: Kiersten White

Publisher: Harper Teen

Genre: YA FANTASY

Pages: 288

Synopsis: Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets the gorgeous, enigmatic Finn, who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility. It’s a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status . . . and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, and the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess them. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits, can stop him.

Review:

Illusions of Fate is enchanting. I loved it. I loved the magic (though it wasn’t intense), I loved the characters, I loved the love. I loved Sir Bird (I’ll explain).

Illusions of Fate centers around a girl, Jessamin, who is trying to get an education in the face of a lot of discrimination (a very admirable trait). She is from the island of Melei and has dark skin and hair. She doesn’t look anything at all like her Albion counterparts. Jassamin doesn’t have enough  money to pay for school, either, and works in the kitchen at a hotel nearby. She’s very smart and at the head of her classes, though no one pays much attention to her and everyone makes terrible comments.

From what I gather, Albion colonized Melei and all the Albions make terribly assumptions about Melenese people, culture and languages and all of the Melenese people are displaced, killed, stripped of their culture. Jessamin is actually the daughter of a Melenese woman and an Albion man, who happens to also be a professor at the school she attends.

One day, Jessamin meets Finn after she wonders down the wrong street. He saves her and the rest is history. Sort of.

I admired Jessamin because she found it really hard to fit in and yet tried really hard everyday. In the face of adversity, she persevered. She had goals. She wanted to learn as much as she could, then go back to her home and teach. She wasn’t really interested in getting married. I could relate to all of these things. I couldn’t relate to the math analogies though. Nope.

Finn is mysterious in many ways–almost to the point where he’s not completely grounded for me in this book. He’s also a magician and a political figurehead who really wants peace while others push for war. When he meets Jessamin, he’s almost instantly in love with her. Normally, this bugs me, but with Jessamin and Finn, it didn’t as much. I think it’s because the whole idea of this novel was FATE, and also because I liked the dialogue between Jessamin and Finn.

I also liked that while Jessamin didn’t have many friends, she could come to rely on Finn and Eleanor (someone she meets at a party). At first I was afraid that Eleanor wouldn’t be good–that she would betray Jessamin in some way, but that wasn’t Eleanor’s intent. I do wish I would have gotten to see more of how Eleanor schemed. It was hinted at a lot, and shown on a small scale, but we never really got to see how powerful Eleanor could be–and we won’t, apparently, because this is a standalone.

In White’s world, only the elite of society can do magic, which I found disheartening. I’m also not sure how the magic works all that well. I know that Finn stores magic in his cane to use for spells. There’s some physical stuff like powder that makes you speak the truth and some cards that Jessamin pulls from (always the same cards, LOVERS and FATE). Despite not knowing much about where magic is drawn from, everything felt so MAGICAL and I loved that. Like the way Finn and Jessamine escape from Lord Downpike. I just loved it. I also liked that healing magic wasn’t an instant fix. It took time.

Lastly, my favorite character was Sir Bird. He didn’t even speak, but I loved him! He was Jessamin’s savior more than once and comic relief.

Now, I will say, one thing that made me sad was that *spoiler* as things get more dangers, Jessamin leaves school.

I’m a huge advocate for education.

I know things are dangerous, but did she really have to leave? I know at the end she’s considering where she’ll go to school next, but this irritated me.

Overall, LOVED.  4 stars

 

4star

 

RADIANT: Nicole’s Review

RadiantTitle: RADIANT

Author: Karina Sumner-Smith

Publisher: Talos

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pages: 400

Synopsis: Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body—any body—so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless—until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

Review:

Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut novel is an edgy tale of friendship and the dark economies of magic. She twists traditional fantasy elements in utterly unique ways and creates an overall enjoyable read.

Xhea lives on the rough streets of the Lower City, below the floating towers of the City where those with innate magic trade and horde power in a cutthroat game of houses. Without her own magic (aka currency), Xhea’s left alone to face night-wandering zombies and the ever-present threat of starvation. Her single source of income is her strange ability to interact with ghosts.

When a city man approaches her, desperate to hand her the tether (think spiritual anchor) for Shai—the ghost girl he’s carrying—Xhea’s all too happy to accept his magical payment. But the payoff leads to more than a temporary high, and as she unravels Shai’s story, Xhea finds herself drawn into a friendship and adventure fraught with city politics, magical intrigue and danger.

RADIANT’s worldbuilding incorporates a lot of potentially dynamic elements. It’s no doubt a dystopian society, but it begins in far enough beyond the era of destruction that it doesn’t feel like your typical dystopian. The Lower City mirrors a fallen New York or London, while the City hovers above it in an impressive collection of floating spires. A great example of worldbuilding elegance is Sumner-Smith’s “elevators,” discs opened and powered by magic that carry individual users from the Lower City to the towers. Simple, yet sophisticated!

She also has an interesting interpretation of the “dark underside” of magic. It’s one of the things that caught my attention most while reading.

  • Magic as a class system: This has been done in a number of ways in previous books, but Sumner-Smith is adept at making it feel exclusive and privileged in RADIANT—partly because she ties magical ability so closely to her world’s economy and payment. Xhea, who doesn’t possess innate magic, isn’t looked on as simply poor (like she might be in other variations of magical class systems); in RADIANT’s society, she seems more like a leper, completely ostracized without any real ability to get ahead in the world.
  • Magic as payment and fuel: Again, while other books might house magic in certain coins or gems for payment, Sumner-Smith takes it a step further and internalizes it as a life-force, similar to the way time works in the movie IN TIME. Each person has a certain store of magic built up inside them, and they can pay or gain against that. This, rather than hard currency, is the fuel and power of RADIANT’s society. So, when Xhea gets a “payment,” it’s actually a physical transfusion of magic from her customer to her. Very cool!
  • Magical highs, overdoses and detox: Xhea is a fascinating character, in part, because she’s a stereotypically “bad” street kid. She smokes, she’s addicted to magic almost like a drug, and she craves payment for the “high” it brings her. When she’s paid, the magic enables her to see in color instead of the gray spectrum she naturally sees, and it fills what she calls her “emptiness.” It’s unsettling and compelling all at once, and makes for a very powerful introduction to this character and what she’s faced in her young life. Later, we also see her come down off a scary magical high reminiscent of a detox. I like that Sumner-Smith grafted these grittier concepts together with our more traditional views of magic. It felt entirely fresh!
  • Magic as illness: We also see a dark, disturbing side of magic in Shai’s circumstances. She possesses such a font of magic, her home tower uses her to run not only its facilities, but its economy and trading power as well. No matter the physical toll to Shai herself. Almost like a human battery. As if that’s not enough, Sumner-Smith shows us twin consequences of that model: magic working as a machine to falsely sustain the body while draining away true life, and magic as something very close to euthanasia.

While the darkness of the subject matter didn’t make this a particularly happy read, I appreciated Sumner-Smith’s skill in flipping traditional concepts the way she did.

The book is broken into three parts, and the first and last have high-emotion endings.

One of the repeated talking points for RADIANT is its focus on the female friendship between Xhea and Shai. I’ll give it kudos for this, since it’s something I’d like to see more of in SFF, and the friendship definitely drives Xhea’s actions. However, I found it touching more so because it’s Xhea’s ONLY friendship, than because it’s particularly strong  or unique.

Xhea as a character left me torn. She opens strong and there are continual layers to her backstory, which keep her intriguing as an anti-hero (which I like in contrast to a lot of the perky heroes these days), but at times she skews a little too moody or gets stuck on something that doesn’t seem important to the plot. The girl is not the wisest decision-maker!

Overall, Sumner-Smith creates a nice mix. Her short story experience shines through in her turns of phrase and atmospheric descriptions, and she captures the mood quickly in a scene. I wanted to feel a deeper connection among each plot element. While it was all interesting, I didn’t get a good sense of history or why certain things happened the way they did. The same goes for character introductions. It’s the first in a series, though, so I’m guessing she’ll weave it together more strongly in future books.

RADIANT leaves a lot of unanswered questions that will pull readers into the rest of the series!

4 Stars

4star

-Nicole

Find it on Amazon.

Review initially posted on Fantasy Faction.

THIS SHATTERED WORLD: Nicole’s Review

This Shattered World CoverTitle: THIS SHATTERED WORLD

Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Publisher(s): Disney/Hyperion

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 400

Genre(s): YA Fantasy – Space Opera

Release Date: Dec. 23, 2014

Synopsis:
Last year, I unexpectedly fell in love with the YA space opera THESE BROKEN STARS, so I was excited to see where Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner took the story next in THIS SHATTERED WORLD.

The story introduces two new main characters, Jubilee “Lee” Chase—a stone-cold military captain at age 18—and Flynn Cormac—the peace-desiring leader of the local revolution. After Flynn kidnaps Lee from her base to gain information, the two discover not only an undeniable chemistry but the memory residue of a secret base on Flynn’s world of Avon.

Flynn believes it has something to do with why Avon has failed to fully terraform; Lee worries it could be a trigger for what the military calls “the Fury,” the sudden snapping of a soldier’s brain with disastrous consequences.

The truth ends up being even bigger than they suspect, with alien entities, corrupt galactic corporations, and the reappearance of Lilac and Tarver, the MCs of THESE BROKEN STARS.

Review:

While this book veered further into the predictable YA realm than the first one did, the tight pacing kept the action coming throughout. The pure sci-fi elements are, perhaps, also a little lighter in this one, though I think the main reason for that is the authors’ decision to go deeper in areas we’re already familiar with from book 1, rather than introducing entirely new aspects.

Part of what I liked in book 1 was the conflicted perspective and understanding of humans among the “whispers,” the series’ alien essences. The whispers aren’t fully good or evil, and THIS SHATTERED WORLD showed us that delicate interaction and surprising connection with humanity once again. I’m excited to see how Kaufman and Spooner weave the pieces together for the trilogy’s final installment.

In THESE BROKEN STARS, Kaufman and Spooner used a brilliant between-chapter scene ploy to foreshadow the outcomes for their main characters through the lens of a military interrogation. They apply a similar approach in THIS SHATTERED WORLD with Lee’s dream flashbacks/flashforwards. As with the first book, these between-chapter snippets have a world of meaning—throughout the story, we’re told Lee cannot and does not dream—and it was fun to see that revelation come full-circle by the novel’s end.

But the most delightful surprise in this book was the creativity of the worldbuilding premise. I say premise because I actually wish the authors had carried it a little further and delved a little deeper, but the mash-up they created for Avon was excellent. Environmentally, it’s a pioneer world, suspended in early terraform stages with seemingly endless swamps and a constant cloud cover that blocks stars and messes with radio signals. Culturally, it’s steeped in Irish myth and legend—from its language to its storytelling traditions. The rebels are known as the Fianna, soldiers are trodairi, and a handful of other references hearken back to the era of the Troubles in Ireland.

I loved the juxtaposition of Irish history with a space opera. It’s like my loves of history and reading collided! Throw in Chinese traditions via Jubilee and the base’s bartender, and it’s got a fun cultural flair that’s a bit reminiscent of Firefly.

Overall, THIS SHATTERED WORLD is a solid second book and I’m looking forward to the next.

4 Stars

-Nicole

(Originally posted on FantasyFaction.com)

Find this book on Amazon.

HEROES OF OLYMPUS: Nicole’s Series Mini Review

Heroes of Olympus

Title: THE LOST HERO, THE SON OF NEPTUNE, THE MARK OF ATHENA, THE HOUSE OF HADES, THE BLOOD OF OLYMPUS

Author: Rick Riordan

Publisher(s): Disney/Hyperion

Format: Various

Genre(s): MG Fantasy

Release Date: Various

Review:

So far, I’ve loved every Rick Riordan book I’ve read. THE LOST HERO was no exception! I came into it with high expectations because I loved the Percy Jackson series, and the book did an excellent job balancing familiar characters with a new team of fun, believable heroes. It didn’t take long to start cheering for Jason, Leo and Piper! Riordan’s ability to intertwine humor, heart and action shines through.

The expanded cast of characters is a lot of fun—Leo is my favorite (If he and Sadie Kane got together, I’d never stop laughing. Those two!)—and I always admire Riordan’s ability to fit so much action, info and humor on the page. He makes me ignore my “one more chapter” rule all the time.

I read MARK OF ATHENA and HOUSE OF HADES back-to-back, and I’m starting Blood of Olympus now. These last couple books have really brought the nail-biting stakes! This series is one of those where I don’t want to finish because I can’t bear to leave the characters behind.

4 Stars

-Nicole

Find the series on Amazon.