The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

And so my latest TRC re-read has come to an end. What an outstanding series. Truly. I cannot even begin to articulate how much this series means to me and how much I love it.

In this finale, the stakes are higher than ever and a lot of things Stiefvater has hinted at in the previous instalments come to the fore. The Raven King makes for a bittersweet read. While Stiefvater’s delightful humor is still present, there are several scenes that are just brimming with sadness & melancholy. In a way, this mirrors the shift in tone and reflects how far the characters have come since their early days in TRC. That is not to say that they still don’t make mistakes or say the wrong things, but they have at least learnt how to communicate more with one another. Their experiences have made them more mature, and witnessing this ‘growth’ makes for such a rewarding experience.

With the exception of The Dream Thieves, which is pure gasoline, the other volumes in this series are characterised by a calmer pace. In The Raven King this too changes as the narrative is very much action-driven. Stuff just keeps happening and at times I missed the more tranquil pacing of TRC or BLLB. Still, I was very much hooked on the story. We get some great reveals and character development. Stiefvater’s storytelling is always on point, from the atmosphere she creates through the use of repetition to the vividly rendered setting of Henrietta (and Cabeswater, Monmouth Manufacturing, 300 Fox Way, the Barns)
As per usual, I adore the Gangsey. Gansey is going through a lot. While he’s certainly good at pretending that he’s control, there are various things that happen here that threaten his ‘everything is going swell act’. Adam is still learning more about his abilities but without Persephone there to guide him, he has to learn to trust his friends and himself. Blue’s reunion with her long-absent father is not particularly ideal as he refuses to talk to anyone. Ronan…my poor boy.
These characters truly are the heart of this series. I did find myself wanting more scenes of them together, and part of me resented that we get less of them in favour of introducing Henry. I like him, I do. I can tell Stiefvater cares for him and wants us to feel the same. The thing is, I would have preferred it if he’d been introduced earlier on in the series or if he’d played a more minor role. His presence in the narrative makes it so that we get less of Noah and less of Adam&Gansey or Ronan&Gansey…I also found myself missing the OG quest. In the previous books, Glendower is very much the goal and Gansey often talks about history and myths…here instead Glendower seemed an afterthought almost that only comes into play towards the end. But these things were fairly minor things.

A lot happens in The Raven King, so much so that we don’t really have the time to process some of the more heart-wrenching scenes (if you’ve read this you know). As I was reluctant to say goodbye to these characters part of me wishes that we could have had a longer epilogue…still, I’m extremely grateful to Stiefvater for what she has accomplished with TRC.
While TRK isn’t my favourite book in this series I still found it to be a fantastic read. I am in awe of this series.
I’m so happy that Stiefvater went on to write Call Down the Hawk and Mister Impossible. While the tonal shift may not appeal to all, personally, I think it really works in its favour.

my rating: ★★★★★

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Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

Although I am no longer an avid YA reader, I do like to now and again pick up a YA title, especially if, like in the case of Girl, Serpent, Thorn, it promises to be sapphic. While Melissa Bashardoust’s prose is readable enough, even if it does occasionally veer into purple territories, her story and characters left a bit to be desired. The novel invests far too much time in a character that is not all that interesting and our protagonist spends most of her time in self-pity or playing the blame game.
Girl, Serpent, Thorn follows Soraya a princess who was cursed with a deathly touch (which reminded me of Rogue aka Anna Marie aka my all-time favourite Marvel character). Soraya’s curse is kept a secret from her family’s kingdom, and she has spent most of her days secluded from others. Around the time her brother’s wedding is announced two strangers arrive at the palace. One is a handsome young man who seems unperturbed by Soraya’s curse, and the other is a prisoner, a demon by the name of Pavenah.
I obviously approached this under the wrong impression as the first half of the story is centred upon the relationship between Soraya and this young man. The world is barely sketched out, the palace too remains largely undescribed, and the characters’ motivations weren’t always rendered in a convincing way. The romance(s) felt rushed and I would have much preferred the narrative to have a slow-burn romance between Soraya and Pavenah…but things don’t exactly pan out that way. Soraya spends the latter half of the story being plonked here and there, all the while going on about how she can’t trust the ones around her or having basic thoughts about who the real monster is…and I just…urgh. I did not like it. I found it repetitive and predictable. I am also so over the villain who tells the protagonist to “join them” because “together” they would be “unstoppable” and all. N-O.
The story took itself and its characters too seriously at times. The villain is cartoonish, Soraya is no antiheroine, merely an impulsive air-head, and
Pavenah…well, she could have been interesting but her presence is relegated to the latter half of the novel and by then I was sort of done with it all. And there are all these “betrayals” that had no real weight and the sheer abundance of them reminded me a bit of House of Flying Daggers.
All in all, this book was not for me. I doubt I would have finished it if it hadn’t been for the narrator of the audiobook version (she was great). But, I also recognise that maybe this is because I am no longer part of this book’s target demographic.

my rating: ★★½

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Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare

“So many secrets between them. So many lies.”

That’s it. That’s the book.

(i am only half joking)

Actual review:

Although Chain of Iron is one of Cassandra Clare’s least action/mystery driven books the drama between the various characters is sure to keep you turning pages. Chain of Iron picks up 4 months after its predecessor, and we mainly follow Cordelia, James, and Lucie, with the occasional scenes from the povs of Grace, Ariadne, Anna, Thomas, and even, lo and behold, Alastair. Everyone, with the exception of Alastair and Christopher, is hiding or angsting over something. Cordelia loves James, James believes he is in love with Grace, Matthew is drinking more than ever, Lucie has teamed up with Grace to bring Jessie back to life. Lot’s of drama. Much angst. The historical setting makes the romance all the more engrossing, as we get a lot of repressed feelings and heaps of longing. The mystery aspect involving a Shadowhunter murderer and Cortana burning Cordelia’s hands kicks in nearly half-way the novel. But, as I said, miscommunication is what drives this novel. And, usually, I hate narratives that rely so much on characters not communicating with one another, or misunderstanding a certain situation, but when it is Clare who does it, I don’t know, I just eat that shit up. The characters are young and going through a lot so most of the time it did make sense for them to keep so many secrets.
I loved Clare’s sumptuous descriptions, her humour, the banter between the characters, the setting (Edwardian London), the chemistry and tension between the characters.

Onto the characters:
→Cordelia is definitely a favourite of mine. I really appreciate that she is not restricted to the role of love interest and that much of her arc has to do with her wanting to be a hero in her own right.
→James, this poor boy. Although he is still under Grace’s influence we really get to see how much he cares for Cordelia.
→Matthew…well, he wasn’t my favourite in the 1st book and I have mixed feelings towards him. I do find him amusing, and I do feel bad for him, but, I am tired of him blaming his own actions on Alastair (I get that it is a coping mechanism but he is so petty every time Alastair gets a mention or makes an appearance). By the end of the novel he definitely grew on him, and I am curious to see where Clare takes his character next.
→Lucy really surprised me. I was not excepting her to do the things she did but once again, I have faith in Clare. I did like the fact that we are presented with a central character whose actions begin to blur the lines between good and bad.
→Grace, whom I hated in COG, definitely appealed to me more this time around. We get flashbacks into her rather miserable childhood under Tatiana and her scenes with Christopher revealed a new side to her character.
→similarly, I became quite fond of Ariadne and, to my surprise, ended feeling rather miffed at Anna (the opposite of what I felt in COG).
→the Italian Shadowhunter was the kind of Italian character only a non-Italian author would create. She was a cliché to the point that I found her genuinely amusing.
→Thomas is such a pure and kind-hearted character (even if he at times sees these things as a weakness). We don’t get a lot from him in this novel but what we do get just strengthen my feelings towards him.
→and of course, last but not least, Alastair, my absolute fave. Look, I have a weakness for prickly characters. It was so sad to see him trying so hard to be better. Yet, for all of his efforts, most of the characters treat him like the plague. His arc in this instalment truly hit me in the so called ‘feels’. The boy deserves a moment of respite.

What I would like from Chain of Thorns:
→more of Cordelia & Lucie. Their friendship was very much on the sidelines throughout COI.
→for characters to actually TALK with one another.
→more of Alastair.
→I would also love to read more about Christopher.

my rating: ★★★★★


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The Neil Gaiman Reader: Selected Fiction by Neil Gaiman

 

The Neil Gaiman Reader showcases Gaiman’s range as an author. Gaiman moves between genres and tones like no other. From funny fairy-talesque stories to more ambiguous narratives with dystopian or horror elements. While I have read most of his novels and a few of his novellas I hadn’t really ‘sunk’ my teeth in his short stories. The ones that appear in this collection have been selected by his own fans, and are presented in chronological order. While it was interesting to see the way his writing developed I did not prefer his newer stuff to his older one. In fact, some of my favorite of his stories are the ones from the 80s and 90s. Even then his writing demonstrates both humor and creativity. Some of the stories collected here read like morality tales while others offer more perplexing messages. Many of his stories revolve around the act of storytelling or have a story-within-story structure. At times he retells old classics, such as Sleeping Beauty, while other times he offers his own take on Cthulhu, Sherlock Holmes, and even Doctor Who. A few favorites of mine were: ‘Chivalry’, ‘Murder Mysteries’, ‘The Goldfish and Other Stories’, ‘The Wedding Present’, and ‘October in the Chair’. If you are a Gaiman fan and, like me, have not read many of his short stories you should definitely consider picking this collection up.


my rating:
★★★★☆

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The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman

 

 

To say that I am incredibly disappointed by this final instalment would be pretty accurate.
I enjoyed The Dark Days Club and I thought The Dark Days Pact was the perfect sequel. Goodman’s writing painstakingly depicted the Georgian era, its customs and language. Lady Helen, our main character, was both sensible and diplomatic, and she could also kick some serious ass. The slowest burn of them all, her infatuation with Lord Carlston was thrilling. Throw in some demons, action, and a lot of letters, and you get the perfect ‘Fantasy of Manners‘.
Or so I thought…
After reading The Dark Days Deceit I no longer feel fond of this world. This last novel left me with a bitter taste: nearly everything that I loved in previous instalments…I now sort of hate.

Positives:
Goodman’s writing is still par excellence. She makes the setting come life. Each scene that takes place is described with extreme detail, and the elegant prose resonates with the historical period itself. While there are plenty of dramatic and serious occasion, the style often comes across as satirical, poking fun at traditions and beliefs of that era.

Negatives
Where do I start?
It might be because the previous instalment came out nearly two years ago but it took me quite some time to readjust to this world. There are plenty of characters or things that have happened that I could not remember. The terms used to refer to the ‘supernatural’ elements were easier to remember but I was not a fan of the whole ‘Grand Reclaimer’ bond between Helen and Carlston. All of a sudden they seem able to share telepathic conversions?! And other people sort of notice?! Are they just obviously staring at one another? Subtle. Why even bother with the silent conversations.
Helen acted in such an irritating manner. The whole marriage plot was pointless and a real drag. Why save the world when you need to prepare your wedding? The world can wait. Worst still is that she was such a horrible friend. Carlston ‘s jealousy and short-temper made him just as likeable as Helen. Helen’s friends and the other members of the Dark Days Club seem to fade in the background, only to be (view spoiler)[ killed off (hide spoiler)] to make Helen feel as if ‘she had failed them all’.
The worst thing however is the ‘twist’ which made the whole plot ridiculous.


MY RATING: 2.5 of 5 stars


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The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare & Wesley Chu — book review

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“Romance was a lot of work.”

The Red Scrolls of Magic is a fun throwback to Cassandra Clare’s TMI in which Magnus and Alec finally get the stage for themselves. After the Mortal War the couple takes a well-earned romantic getaway in Europe. Once in Paris however an ‘old friend’ of Magnus breaks some bad news to him: a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand, which Magnus himself may have founded as a ‘joke’, is killing downworlders. From then on Magnus and Alec go from France to Italy, trying to find and stop the cult and leaving mayhem in their wake. Getting to know each other isn’t easy, getting to know each other when demons are trying to kill you…well that complicates things.
There is plenty of action and wit in The Red Scrolls of Magic. Even in the most deadly of situations Magnus remains a joker. By contrast Alec finds himself mingling with Magnus’ downworlder acquaintances, most of whom are suspicion or hostile towards Shadowhunters.
This was a very entertaining read. It has plenty of amusing dialogues, it gives some insight into the early stages of Magnus and Alec’s relationship (bonus: we read of Aline and Helen’s first meeting), and it has plenty of romance.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4.25 stars

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Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare — book review

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“We don’t always love people who deserve it.”

To be honest, I thought I was over Cassandra Clare….and it turns out I was very wrong. There is something about the Shadowhunter world that I find interesting. And over the past ten years or so I have grown fond of it and the characters that inhabit it.
Chain of Gold sees Clare at the top of her game. The Infernal Devices series is my favourite by Clare…and Chain of Gold has the same atmosphere. Clare is great at rendering historical settings and I just loved the way she depicts the beginning of the 20th century.
There is angst, quite a few battles, drama, secrets, a few complicated love hexagons, and a lot of longing.

“Would you like to be a muse?”
“No,” said Cordelia. “I would like to be a hero.”

Cordelia Carstairs is perhaps one of my favourite heroines by Clare. Kind, just, not afraid of calling out her loved ones for their rude behaviour. There are so many other characters and relationships that I really loved. I was particularly fond of the bond between Cordelia and Lucie. The somewhat fraught relationship between Cordelia and Alastair was surprisingly poignant. The romantic relationships, often restrained, were engrossing.
The merry thieves (James and his friends) brought to mind Maggie Stiefvater’s the raven boys. James and Grace’s story had quite a few parallels with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
This book made me laugh out loud, squee in delight, and stay up all night.
If I had to pick a favourite character it would probably be Alastair who is far from perfect but has a wonderful character arc.

I loved the setting (London), Clare’s writing, the atmosphere, the characters, the action, and the various mysteries that pop up in the narrative. I can’t wait to read the next instalment.

My rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars

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The Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden

A very underwhelming follow up to the both magical and interesting The Bear and the Nightingale. The Girl in the Tower shares little with its predecessor. Yes, Arden’s writing style in undoubtedly gorgeous, made up by pretty phrases and vibrant descriptions. But, it didn’t make up for a slow story, one that involves a silly and overused plot-line as well as offering one-dimensional characters. What happened to the complex themes of the first novel? The tension between different believes? And Vasya’s own inner struggle? This sequel just abandons those elements which made the original story so intriguing. The plot revolves around the ‘gender-bender’ trope: Vasya dresses as a boy, many pages are wasted on her fearing to be discovered, as well as ‘near-discoveries’, and the final ‘reveal’. And Vasya…well. She was a rebel for the sake of being a rebel. There was nothing deep to her and or her behaviour. She becomes an exaggerated version of herself: certain aspects of her character take over completely and rendering her somewhat ridiculous. She was irksome and forgetful. Her ‘sort of romance’ with Morozko felt forced and ended up seeming like any other YA romance. Their scenes were eye-roll worthy. Vasya’s siblings act in such a predictable way that made most of their interactions forgetful.
The magic from The Bear and the Nightingale. The Girl in the Tower might be written in an enchanting style but it only offers an array of clichés. The uniqueness is gone. We are left with a dull novel that is set in an oversimplified Russia. Vasya’s ‘specialness’ is the limelight of the story and I did not care for it.
I was hoping that Arden had written something as compelling as The Bear and the Nightingale but…not in this case.

My rating: 3 stars

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Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

This novel has quite a lot of potential. The summary is made to intrigue, and I soon found myself buying a copy of it. Overall, I did ‘sort of’ like it, however, there were quite a lot of things that kept me from really enjoying the story. My main ‘issue’ is that Creatures of Will and Temper is very superficial. The characters are flimsy, the story is shallow and the execution is far too tentative.
First of all, I believe this is a pastiche of certain Victorian novels.I knew that the tone of the novel would be rather light so I was hoping for an amusing parody. The ‘connection’ that this novel claims to have to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray isn’t really apparent. Mentioning one beautiful painting isn’t the same as reinterpreting Wilde’s story.
Onto the novel itself…There is too much focus on small petty arguments between the two sisters; a good 70% of the story is the two fighting with each other and feeling ‘angsty’ about their lives. I know that the author is making fun of their dramatics, but, the length spent on these stupid quarrels makes them harder to laugh at.
A lot of the dialogues and the characters’ inner monologues came across as frivolous. Trivial talk that didn’t really bring the plot forward slowed the storyline’s pace. The story itself isn’t really fleshed out: I was expecting so much more from the supernatural element, which to my mind, played a very minor role in this novel.
There were moments in which I was amused by the over the top characters but they just didn’t last long. The story is rather inclusive and the finale is just laughable.
I think this would have worked much better if Tanzer had kept to a light-hearted tone without stressing the conflict between the sisters, and by better incorporating the supernatural element into her story.

My rating: 3.25 stars

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The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

 

“Would you say you are a person who follows her head or her heart?”
She stared at him, momentarily diverted. Such an odd thing to ask. “I am rational person, sir. I believe I follow my head.”
“I see.” The Comte boed. “Then I wish you good luck.”

After having recently read a few sequel that suffered from the dreaded ‘second-book-syndrome’ I am more than happy to say that The Dark Days Pact was perhaps even better than its predecessor.
I think I have read that this series is being called a ‘Fantasy of Manners‘, and I couldn’t agree more. Lady Helen is a must for any fans of authors such as Jane Austen. Not only does Goodman paint an incredibly vivid and detailed picture of Regency England but, she has also included a cast of complex and realistic characters.
It was hard to put down. Helen’s world is simply beguiling: the atmospheric setting is combined with dialogues that can be both full of wit or quite moving. It is the kind of book that makes you smile like an idiot, laugh-out-loud, and clutch your paperback copy very hard.
In short The Dark Days Pact is a gripping and delightful read.

‘Every moment of every day she was having to pick her way through lies and secrets to find a pathway over a deadly and muddied morality. And it was never going to end. This was her life now.’

I found this sequel to be a bit darker than the first one. It had a more mature vibe to it. Helen no longer is a naive girl, and the world she inhabits is far from pretty or safe. Her new position in the Dark Days Club asks a lot of her and to be Reclaimer means to abandon the ways in which she was raised: rules that restricted her life as a ‘lady’ are no longer valid. Still, Helen is far from free.

“Indeed I think that everyone is of the belief that a woman’s world is always lesser and smaller than a man’s. Perhaps they are right. It is what the Church teaches us, after all. But you, my lady, cannot abide by that belief. You must live the kind of woman’s life that has never been lived before.”

She is soon made to learn how to pass as a man: the way they talk, walk and act. Goodman makes many clever observations in this regard. The freedom of men at the time is somewhat exhilarating for Helen. She enjoys walking in their comfortable clothes and the privilege of saying more or less whatever she wants. In fact, Helen starts liking being in charge. She likes her powers and the strength and advantages they give her.

“I will not let you disappear,” she said, tightening her hold. “You kept me sane when my strength came upon me. I will do the same for you.”

Helen herself grows a lot in this book. Carlston isn’t always there for her and she faces quite a lot all on her own. She has the best intentions at heart, but she isn’t a softy. She pushes her fears away when needed. In brief, she is a tough yet sweet cookie. Both level headed and passionate.

“There have been many times when I have wanted to walk away,” Carlston said softly, as if he had read her mind. “But you and I have been brought up with the same immutable knowledge: without adherence to our word, we are worth nothing.”

Since Helen comes really ‘into her own’ in this story, her relationships also ‘grow’ alongside her. Her interactions with other characters could be in equal parts amusing, witty and sweet. Despite Helen’s lack of control over recent events, she is not one to back down. Her steadfast behaviour inspired and surprised others; Darcy, her maid, is her number one fan. Mr Hammond thinks of her as a comrade whom he admires deeply.

Mr Hammond bowed his head. “Of course he knows. How could he not? But there is a chasm between what is said and what is said.”

And Carlston…Well, I am glad to say that despite not dominating the story, we get to see a lot more of him. He was a bit of cypher in The Dark Days Pact, but here, we suddenly start to understand him. His relationship with Helen was a deliciously slow burn.

‘[…]she could feel his gaze upon her skin like a whisper touch. It seemed she could not please him whatever she did; either she was too much the warrior or too much the woman.’

Their feelings for one another are sadly not their priorities. Carlston isn’t doing so well while Helen is forced to obey Pike’s orders – despite despising having to. Still, Goodman offers us a few heartfelt moments between Carlston and Helen.

She cupped his jaw, his breath warm against her fingers. Slowly, he turned into the curve of her palm, cut lip pressed against her skin. She heard two whispered words, felt them kissed into her flesh: amore mio. My love. Two words: the shock of them held her still.

As far as the ‘baddies’ of this book, it is hard to say. There aren’t any, not really. Most of the characters fall somewhere onto a morally ‘gray-ish’ area. Deceivers are not always as evil as Helen was made to believe. Helen herself will be forced to discover a darker side to herself.

“Your sense…mon Dieu. You humans do not appreciate the glory of your senses. To taste food, to touch skin, to hear music.”

Goodman’s writing is detailed and evocative. She meticulously depicts the social behaviours and moral conventions of the time. Each scene was made incredibly vivid by her carefully thorough descriptions.
The theme and settings often reminded me of typical Gothic novels, however, Goodman never falls into any clichès of that genre. If anything she is mocking the most stereotypical tropes by having a strong – and powerful – female character such as Helen.

“Oh my,” Delia breathed. “Stolen bodies, energy whips, feeding upon human energy. It is all so,” her shoulders twitched, “Gothic.

Once again, I want to stress just how exciting The Dark Days Pact is. It has it all: humor, drama, action, mystery and romance. And, as the cherry-on-the-top, it also has an interesting and complex main character. Go read it!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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