February 27, 2015

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

In the fairy tales, the poor girl smiles when she becomes a princess. Right now, I don't know if I'll ever smile again.

The Book Rest - Book Review of Red Queen by Victoria AveyardTitle: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Genre:YA Fantasy/Dystopian
Rating: B
Recommended For: Fans of The Young Elites, Shadow and Bone
Source: Own a copy

One-sentence review: Victoria Aveyard's debut is fast-paced, exciting and will keep you at the edge of your seat even if the romantic elements fall flat and the story-telling is decisively nothing extraordinary for its teen audience.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

Victoria Aveyard's debut novel, Red Queen, follows the story of Mare Barrow, a red-blooded Red commoner living in the shadow of the Silvers, silver-blooded people with super powers who live luxurious lives at the expense of the oppressed Reds. Mare finds herself working in the palace and eventually discovers that despite her red blood, she has a power of her own. When the king and queen discover that she's an anomaly, they work to control Mare in the castle while battling a rebel Red group. Can Mare use her position in the castle to help the rebels rid themselves of oppression? Or will the politics within the castle destroy her first?

I think this book was somewhat over-hyped, but in a way I'm glad it was because I probably wouldn't have read it otherwise and I did enjoy it. The storyline is fairly common: a plain, poor girl finds out she has a super power and it becomes a very dramatic, often politically potent, rags-to-riches story that more often than not involves a love triangle and is spread out over three books. So what sets Red Queen apart and makes it worth the read?

For one, the super powers are pretty interesting, mostly abilities to manipulate things like fire, water, metal, and minds. Mare's ability to manipulate electricity is something unlike many have ever seen. The world-building was very well-crafted and I enjoyed the characters, especially Mare's dynamic with her family. She is always the hot-headed troublemaker, stealing when she can't work and living in the shadow of her talented younger sister. Similarly, the complexities of the princes were equally fascinating to follow, especially in relation to and in comparison to Mare's experiences as a Red.

The caste system based on blood color was also outside the norm and probably the most notable part of this story. I couldn't help but equate it with labeling people based on the color of their skin. While reading I considered a lot of the racially focused news stories and compared it to the message of the story. I think this book could be a good talking point about race and/or segregation and/or oppression whether in present day or past histories.

What I didn't like is how the characters always found their way out of sticky situations fairly easily. This aspect made it feel very YA/teen to me. While I know it is YA/teen, my favorite books are those that are written for that genre but can be enjoyed thoroughly by any level of reader (think Harry Potter). This book had so many predictable twists and obvious foreshadowing that I was really disappointed when I predicted correctly.

Similarly immature-feeling was the (necessary-YA-evil) love triangle. There wasn't enough interaction or background for me to care about who Mare picked, I felt indifferent to both candidates. While I liked them, I didn't "fall in reader love" with them and that is definitely something the author needs to accomplish if a love triangle is going to be effective.

Overall I really did enjoy Red Queen, but if I were the author or editor I might have put it through another round of edits or re-writes to work out the kinks. I do look forward to the next book and have definitely become a fan of Victoria Aveyard! In fact, I was able to attend a book discussion about Red Queen the week it came out. Victoria was wonderful to meet and speak with. I was satisfied to learn that she was first a screenwriter before a book writer which made me come to realize Red Queen would probably translate even better to screen and I look forward to the hope that it will someday!

The Book Rest - Victoria Aveyard Book Signing
For a video from the event visit my Instagram @TheBookRest

February 20, 2015

Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas

She was the heir of ash and fire, and she would bow to no one.

 photo 20613470_zpshd4hmt3y.jpgTitle: Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3)
Author: Sarah J.Maas
Genre:YA Fantasy
Rating: B
Recommended For: Fans of the rest of the series!
Source: Library e-book (but I'll be buying)

One-sentence review: This continuation of Celaena's story brings new characters and more of an epic feel but unfortunately not without sacrificing some of the things I loved most about the series and character relationships in the previous books.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

 This review contains spoilers for Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight

Heir of Fire is the third book in Sarah J. Maas' Throne of Glass series and follows our heroine Celaena, the greatest assassin of Adarlan, as she travels to the foreign and magical land of Wendlyn. The tyrant king of Adarlan has sent her to assassinate the king of Wendlyn, but Celaena has other ideas that involve ridding the world of Adarlan's tyrant king himself. Meanwhile in Adarlan, Chaol deals with his feelings and new knowledge about Celeana and has to decide which side he's fighting for: the side he's worked his whole life to protect and uphold or the side of the woman he loves. Prince Dorian is also working through his new found abilities and we're introduced to an unrelated new character, Manon the witch.

I hate to say it, but this book fell remarkably flat for me considering how obsessed I've been with this series as a whole. Where the first book was light-fantasy and the second book was more complex and fascinating, this book felt like it made too great of a leap into trying to be something new. We finally get a real feel for how epic this story is: it's not just about Celaena's singular problems and I do love that. However, there was too little of the things that originally made me love this series to begin with for me to be happy.

My greatest issue is probably the split perspectives because they made me see how segregating our favorite trio of characters eliminates the real magic of this series (pun totally intended). Celaena's perspective in Wendlyn leads her to work with a painfully powerful magical warrior prince named Rowan who must train her if she wants her magical aunt Queen Maeve to give her answers on how to defeat Adarlan's king. When Rowan trains Celeana she is weak, unimpressive and stubborn; two out of three of those things we have never seen from Celeana. While she's always been stubborn, she's always been the most badass babe in literature I've ever read so it pained me to see her so weak, to see Rowan outmatch her on every level. I suppose Maas wanted us to see Celeana vulnerable in such a new way, but I couldn't handle her that out of her element AND without her friends. The dynamic between Celaena, Chaol and Dorian  is something that elevates this book from a good story to a personal one, so I found myself bored for the first half of Celeana's plot and only really excited toward the very end.

Furthering this point, the narratives of the other characters we know and love were zapped of energy without Celaena to infuse them with her usual excitement. Chaol's point of view bored me to death. While there is forward moving plot and he struggles with which side to which he should pledge his loyalty, his storyline felt like it was barely treading water. He didn't need as much page time as he received.

Similarly, Dorian's plight to learn magic gave little to no new information. What Dorian's story did include was a new love and I did not like that (and I think this sealed my Team Dorian status, FYI). Dorian and Chaol's dynamic together was the only redeeming quality of their narratives to me. I love their friendship as much as I love their chemistry with Celaena, which is a testament to the emotional webs Maas is capable of weaving.

All that said, my biggest complaint about the book is the damned witches. We meet a new character in this book, a witch from one of three tribes. Honestly, I wasn't even going to trouble myself to go back and remember her name just to cement how much I do not care about the witches. But of course, I did: she is Manon Blackbeak, heir to the Ironteeth witches (damn myself for being compelled to be a serious book review writer!). The king has asked the witches to train and fly the wild wyverns and we get perspective of Manon who struggles to assert her power amongst two other tribes and her own. I think in general Manon's story has merit (more probably happened to her than Chaol if we're being honest!), but I just couldn't get into it. I didn't like Manon, I'm already apprehensive about the high-fantasy aspect of this series, and I never cared if she (or her wyvern) lived or died! I'm generally anti-novella, but this should have been a novella!!

While I really didn't like Manon, I did love the other two main characters introduced in this story: Prince Rowan and Aedion. As I mentioned with Rowan earlier, he's a painfully powerful magical prince. He's gruff enough when we meet him to know he's going to blossom and that he did! Honestly, I was so sick of Dorian and Chaol putting me to sleep that I think I would prefer now if he became Celaena's new love interest because he's so complex.

By now you should have stopped reading this if you don't want spoilers from the previous books so I won't feel bad mentioning that we now know that Celaena is really Princess Aelin (not to sound braggy, but I totally figured that out in book 1....). Aedion is Celaena's cousin who has been working as a General in the king's military for the past decade. I won't say more, but trust me that Aedion is complicated and I love him for it. I am holding out for an interaction between him and Celaena more than anything!

While I did love that this story felt so much more epic and in-depth than the previous installments, I just wish it wasn't so void of what I loved most. Maas seems to have previously handled readers with kiddie gloves in terms of fantasy, magic and sheer volume of this story, so in comparison this felt like she threw us off a cliff into the ocean. I suppose if she had given this much information earlier I might have been too intimidated and overwhelmed to pursue this story as a (semi) non-high-fantasy reader. But overall I'm glad I learned early to trust Sarah J. Maas because I'm sure I'll return to loving this story soon and understand the pieces stacked here were meant for a bigger picture. Celaena is going home to Adarlan, guys! I can't wait to see what happens there!!

February 13, 2015

Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas

But death was her curse and her gift, and death had been her good friend these long, long years.

The Book Rest: Review of Crown of Midnight by Sarah J MaasTitle: Crown of Midnight
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Rating: A+
Recommended For: fans of The Young Elites, Graceling, (lightly) Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter
Source: Library hard copy (but I will be purchasing!)
One-sentence review: Even more exciting and compelling than the book before it, King's Champion, Celaena Sardothien, uncovers magic and a rebellion against the King all while she's trying to discover what evil lives within the castle.
TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

This review contains spoilers for Throne of Glass. If you haven't read Throne of Glass, stop what you're doing and go read it!

When I finished reading Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, I was so ecstatic that I joined the party late enough that I could dive right into the next book. For once being a straggler is a good thing. I actually read the prequels after Throne of Glass but before Crown of Midnight and highly recommend doing so, even though Crown of Midnight is so dang exciting. It's not imperative to read the prequels, but there are a lot of references to them in Crown of Midnight that you will appreciate along with Celaena's background.

Crown of Midnight finds our favorite heroine, Celaena Sardothien, as the evil king of Adarlan's Champion, his private assassin. She has settled into her role relatively easily, ended her romantic relationship with Prince Dorian and spends most of her free time hanging out with Chaol, the Captain of the Guard. When Celaena is instructed to assassinate one of her old friends from the city for being part of a conspiracy to overthrow the king, she finds herself wrapped up in finding more about this group of rebels. She also finds a strange creature creeping through the castle and begins to discover more and more about the evil Elena has asked her to find in the castle. With so much to try to understand and solve and pressures from the king, her friend Nehemia, and the ghost Elena, Celaena has her work cut out for her. And let's not even get into the love triangle...

I'm not sure if it's because I read the prequels, or maybe because Maas wrote them and had a clearer vision of Celaena herself, but the character development of Cealena felt much more visceral in this book. The reader can really see her internal struggle between being the ruthless assassin she was raised to be and the goodness she has within for justice. Similarly, we get so much more of Chaol in this book, including more of his perspective which allows him to take deeper root as a character and fleshes out the love triangle that you only thought was substantial in Throne of Glass.

People are always asking "Team Dorian or Team Chaol?!" I think the books write it for you; Throne of Glass is a Team Dorian book while Crown of Midight is Team Chaol all the way (although I still hold Dorian close to my heart. Celaena's sass can only be matched by him!). The romance is almost too easy until Celaena snaps and all bets are off! Celaena shows every side of herself in this book and both Dorian and Chaol's reconciling of who and what she really is may be the best part of this series overall. There's something monstrous about a girl who is an assassin and it's not until Celaena shows her darkest side to them that they can truly process that.

There is so much that happens in this book: magic and monsters, witches and wyrdmarks, rebels and mysteries and everything in between! For me, as an amateur fantasy reader, this book really pushed me past my comfort zone. I didn't think I was one for high fantasy, especially not monsters and witches. I still don't know if I am, but I do know that with the right author, anything is comfortable. Sarah J. Maas writes at a level where you can trust her, even if she opens the gates of hell and lets everything unexpected into her story. She's just that strong and solid of a writer that you know she uses things for a reason and it only makes the story all the more stronger.

While I figured out a few things before they were revealed, the bombshells that happen in this book were still monumental to me. My greatest recommendation to you is to be sure you have the next book, Heir of Fire, nearby when you finish this because I promise you won't want to stop reading when it's over.

February 6, 2015

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

"My name is Celaena Sardothien. But it makes no difference if my name's Celaena or Lillian or Bitch, because I'd still beat you, no matter what you call me."

The Book Rest: Book Review for Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas
Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genre:Young Adult Fantasy
Rating: A+
Recommended For: Fans of The Young Elites, Graceling and The Winner's Curse
Source: Library hardback (although I'll definitely buy!)
One-sentence review: This story of infamous assassin Celaena Sardothien's quest for freedom by working for an evil king is non-stop rollercoaster ride of action, adventure, romance and magic that will immediately have you in its grip and won't let go, not even when the book ends.
TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

Where do I even begin when it comes to my new favorite series of all time? Throne of Glass is the story of Celaena Sardothien, the most notorious assassin of Adarlin, and her journey toward freedom. When we meet Celaena, she is working in the salt mines at a death camp called Endovier. But when the Crown Prince of Adarlan plucks Celaena out of her hell and gives her an opportunity for freedom, she must decide if her freedom is worth working with the tyrant king who destroyed her life and everyone she loves. The opportunity is to be the King's Champion, or personal assassin, for a few years in return for her freedom. However, there's also a catch: Celaena must win a competition against twenty-three other ruthless assassins and criminals for the position. We follow Celaena on her journey through the contest where she struggles to come to terms with her past, her present, and her would-be future.

I admit I didn't read this book initially because of the cartoonish covers (not the one I have pictured). Please forgive me as I'm a somewhat new fantasy reader (other than commercial dystopian), but the books looked rather anime-high-fantasy to me. I don't even know what that means, but sufficed to say, I judged a book by its cover- and I regret it! Thank goodness I caught the buzz for Heir of Fire (book 3 in the series) on Instagram thanks to all of you zealous book lovers!

What sets this book on fire is that it's instantly entertaining, no matter what you're looking for when you open it. If you like adventure, your need is instantly satiated as Celaena is plucked from captivity and meets with Prince Dorian. If you love dystopian or Game-of-Thrones style government corruption, you get an instant taste of a world ensnared by evil and a sense for a heroine with the capacity to save the day. If you like strong, sassy female figures, Celaena Sardothien shows right off the bat that she will crush any other strong lady protagonist with her hilarious banter and quick wit. And if it's romance you came to see, the first chapters already allude to one of the most heart aching love triangles in YA history. This book has got it all; and that's just the first two chapters.

Not only does Throne of Glass bring so much to the table, but it does it well. Sarah J. Maas delivers an excellent story, but just as importantly, she is an excellent story teller. When I began this series I had no idea the depth it would go and how many layers would be added to this foundation. Looking back at this first book I really appreciate how Maas lays the groundwork for so much more to come. From the excellent vocabulary to the vivid world building to the laugh-out-loud banter that makes the characters so multi-dimensional, Maas is a talented and smart writer.

The characters, as is the case in most stories, are what really bring this book to life. While we may have seen the bold heroine, the surprisingly sweet Prince and the evil King in other stories, there's some magic recipe Maas uses to set her characters apart. Celaena is one of the most complex, entertaining and fierce female protagonists I've ever come across in YA. Honestly, if I could convince my husband to name one of our future kids Celaena, I would! Being the most notorious assassin in her land, she is obviously dark. But she also has a strong conscience and struggles with her sense of self. She's an exaggerated version of any 16-year old girl and I enjoy seeing her work through things with her brazen attitude and sharp tongue.

Similarly multi-dimensional are Prince Dorian and Chaol, the Captain of the Guard. Without giving away too much, both of these characters also have layers upon layers that the reader peels away as they read. Consequently, this makes for an excellent love-triangle that really peaks in the following book. I usually roll my eyes at love triangles and a lot of this book is spent on the development of these relationships, but overall I think it's done well and, as mentioned before, really lays the foundation for the action in the following books.

One thing I didn't think I liked is the element of magic in this book because it's so light until the end that it kind of surprised me. Toward the end the magical component really takes over but, after reading the sequel, I think it was appropriate and sets the reader up for the strong magical story lines in the future books of this series. I don't care for magical stories mostly because it's difficult to develop expectations and a realistic framework; essentially anything can happen. But ultimately I trust Maas and the increasing level of magic did not affect my enjoyment. If anything it helped me to be more open-minded about high fantasy, magic and my expectations in general.

I could talk about this novel for much longer! I don't even feel like I've scratched the surface with this review! With elements of all my favorite stories yet maintaining its own identity, it's no wonder Throne of Glass is one of my new favorite stories. It's dark, it's complex, it's highly entertaining and it will keep you wanting more.