Our Dark Duet by V.E Schwab – Book Review.

Title: Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity Book 2)

Author: V.E. Schwab

Rating: 3/5

Fantasy: Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult, Fiction, Adventure, Teen Fiction


Last year, I got the chance to review the wonderful kick off of the Monsters of Verity series, This Savage Song on my blog, and I loved it!

So when Titan Books sent me the sequel and conclusion to this series (without even requesting it, so a huge thank you to Titan Books for keeping me in mind), I was thrilled. Obviously, I had to do a reread of the first book, and I fell back in love with the world that Schwab created, along with the badass characters that she wrote about.

Without giving too much away, Our Dark Duet is set six months after the big climatic end of This Savage Song, and the world of Verity is thrown into chaos. With the monster issue really becoming a problem, and war between human and creature becoming an inevitable reality, we follow as our protagonists battle to save their cities along with themselves. August has become the leader he never really wanted to be, and Kate has become the hunter she always knew she could become. But when a new monster comes into a fold – a monster that seems unstoppable, uncatchable but reaping devasting power, Kate and August are thrown together again in a battle that will determine the real winners. Lives will be lost, blood will be spilled and sacrifices will be made9781785652769.

Our Dark Duet shows real character growth, as both August and Kate have to deal with relationship issues from newcomers, along with having to confront demon’s from their past. Schwab has maintained this easy flow of writing that I commented upon in the first book, and she has once again made the story very readable and addictive from the first page.

With a new monster coming into the fold, this gave the novel a much-needed kick that I was hoping it would have. This Savage Song did leave the story
off with a good cliffhanger, but I didn’t think it would be enough for the entire book to be based around, as I felt it would’ve weakened the storytelling. So to have a brand new nemesis mixing with the older ones became very effective.

However, I do have some criticisms about this novel. I felt the solution to the new monster’s death was a bit rushed and didn’t feel as strong as it could’ve been, along with the speed of the final battle. There were also character’s who seemed relatively important at first, and then really disappear without a trace. Having them come back into the narrative would’ve been a cool little reminder for me.

But this was a good conclusion for the Monsters of Verity series. I’m definitely going to be looking out for more from this author.

Our Dark Duet is out on the 13th June – preorder now.

The Way of Kings: Part One (The Stormlight Archives) by Brandon Sanderson – Book Review.

Title: The Way of Kings: Part One (The Stormlight Archives)

Author: Brendon Sanderson

Rating: 4.5/5

Genre: High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, World-Building, Action, Adventure, Mythical, Alternate World


 

“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

In recent years, the genres of High and Epic Fantasy has gone through a resurgence in popularity and interest, and attracted more of a public and mainstream status and audience. Through film sagas like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, and into television shows such as Game of Thrones, Beowulf and even the children’s favourite, Merlin, the sub-genre of High Fantasy has moved into public consciousness and shown off its talents of world-building, alternative realities, epic battles and mythical creatures.

I’ve always been a fan of fantasy novels, but apart from reading 513o1fxkp8l-_sx324_bo1204203200_the obvious Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire series, I’ve never actually ventured into reading really high fantasy. But when I was sent Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance books (the third and the fourth books in The Stormlight Archives), and was intrigued by the back covers, I knew I had a new winter read on my hand. So I bought the first volume, The Way of Kings, and when I got this tome of a book of nearly 1,000 pages, I knew I was in for some serious world-building and character exploring.

(Quick sidenote: In the UK, The Way of Kings has been split into two halves, due to the absolutely massive size of the book. But without realizing it, I bought it in one complete volume of over 1,000 pages. This review will be on The Way of Kings in its entirety, rather than limiting it to having two reviews for both halves).

Roshar is a land of harsh climates, fierce battles and raging conflicts. The country is frequently decimated by fierce tempests, which have not only shaped the geography of the land, but also its people, and there are wars fought and won over the capture of territories, spoils, and pieces of weaponry known as Shardblades and Shardplates – which make the wearer near-invincible and impossibly strong. The narrative primarily follows three plotlines – Kaladin (the ex-soldier turned slave), Brightlord Dalinar (ex-war hero who is feared to be going insane) and Shallan (ex-noblelady who turns to crime and nefarious deeds to get her family back to a higher rank), and how they all navigate Roshar’s tempestuous landscape, torn warzones,  fragmented cultures and spiritual beliefs. The novel also deals with the typical high-fantasy tropes of drawn-out battles with swords and weapons, mythical beasts, battles between good and evil and quests of high significance.

Now, like I’ve said before, the only high fantasy novels I’ve read have been Tolkien and George R.R Martin’s creations, so I really didn’t know how I was going to get on with these extreme levels of fantasy. But I was pleasantly surprised over how readable and enjoyable I found this book. Yes, it is very high fantasy, and at some points it can be fairly muddled and confusing – personally, I found the descriptions of the religious beliefs to be somewhat convoluted and appear to be too thought out and confusing – but for the majority of the time, I adored the world-building and the attention Sanderson put into his characters, and bringing the world to life.

The characters were readable and enjoyable, and I found as we moved through the pages, their backstories were unraveled slowly, so we could fully appreciate and see how they react to events and circumstances. I particularly liked Brightlord Dalinar, whose apparent insanity is an interesting read, as we see it from Dalinar himself, but also his comrades and family members. Shallan was also very interesting, as she had a lot of choices between good and evil to deal with, and her relationship with her tutor, the King’s heretic sister, Jasnah was one of intrigue and tension. The characters are also never put forward as being perfect, but flawed and entirely human in that respect. What I did find interesting was how social hierarchies were dictated by the colour of a persons eyes, and how ‘light-eyes’ were always higher up, no matter how good or bad this person was. I’m really looking forward to seeing how that particular story arc progresses during the rest of the books.

the_way_of_kings___cover_by_michael_whelan_by_arcanghell-d4ky8hlAs in most fantasy series, there are a great deal of warzones and fight scenes. And Sanderson doesn’t disappoint with his descriptions of the battles. Yes, they are bloody, but not explicit. And with the addition of the Shardplates and Blades, the battles reach new heights of intensity and skill. Sanderson has also included layers of technology, magic, science and Other-ness throughout the story, so there isn’t really any point when anything seems too out there or farfetched.

So, did I enjoy this book? The answer is a definite yes. I have read another story by Sanderson called Steelheard, which I did find good, but I found this book to really surpass that. This has been an excellent attempt at high-fantasy, as he not only excels at world-building, but also at just giving characters a voice and storytelling. At some points it is a bit confusing, and the first third of the book isn’t the fastest moving, or most dynamic part, but all in all, I did enjoy it. Fans of Tolkien and George R.R. Martin should definitely read this. At the moment, I am reading the second book in The Stormlight Archives, and I’ve heard that this is going to be a ten-book series. And truthfully, I cannot wait.

But, let me know what you think! I’d love to hear feedback.

Links:

To buy Part 1 of The Way of Kings: Click Here (Waterstones/Amazon)

To buy Part 2: (Waterstones/Amazon)

Sanderson’s website – Click Here.

 

 

 

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – Book Review.

Title: Shadow and Bone

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 3/5

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Adventure, Teenage Fiction


“This was his soul-made flesh, the truth of him laid bare in the blazing sun, shorn of mystery and shadow. This was the truth behind the handsome face and the miraculous powers, the truth that was the dead and empty space between the stars, a wasteland peopled by frightened monsters.”

As an avid reader, I picked up Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, and thought it just to be another teenage fantasy novel that has drawn me in with the beautiful front cover and promising blurb, yet could not deliver on the promises it made. However, little did I know, that it would also appeal to my historian side. Because, not only is this a well-written, addictive and well-thought out novel, but it is based on my favourite period on history, which is late Tsarist Russia. So, instantly I had to devour it. And I am so pleased that I did.

Set primarily in the once-great nation of Ravka, the reader gets drawn into the turmoil and horror that is plaguing the country. Despite its size, mountainous regions, legends, and historical cities, the country has been ravaged and divided in two by a virtually impenetrable wall of darkness, known as ‘The Fold’. And hiding within this division, there are flesh-eating creatures feast on whomever is desperate enough to attempt to cross. The Fold has brought untold damage to the world outside of it, as it completely isolates either side of the country, and keeps the Ravkans from different and crucial regions. However, there are still forces who want to discover the secret of the Fold, control it and make crossings easier. And this is primarily made up of the Grisha, who are Masters of the Small Sciences – a form of magic –  and an elite of soldiers who have talents to control the elements, and guard the country and monarchy. And within this world, the novels follows the stories of two orphans, Alina and Mal, and how even the most unextraordinary people can turn out to be extraordinary, save a country defeat and conquer evil.

In Shadow and Bone, the reader is introduced to Alina and Mal as orphan friends who grew up together, and have both enlisted into the army. And, unsurprisingly, one of their first missions is to cross The Fold. But when this mission goes horribly wrong, Alina is revealed to not just be the ordinary girl she thinks she is, but a Grisha of extraordinary power and legendary talent. She is a Sun Summoner, and may just be the key to destroy the darkness of the Fold, and rescue Ravka from ruin. So, Alina is moved from the hard graft of the army and into the royal court to be trained as a Grisha, and she is under the control of the mysterious Darkling – a Grisha of equal power and ambition. During her training, Alina learns all about amplifiers – magical emblems that boost the Grisha powers – and she falls more under the thrall of the Darkling, and away from her old life as the orphan.But not all is as it appears in the court, and Alina has to decision to make that could either save the country she lives in, or save the people she loves.

Now, I have read the whole trilogy, and I loved them all, but it is very difficult to write a review on all of them without giving away too many spoilers. But Shadow and Bone was definitely one of my favourites. I believe that this could really be a stand-alone book, as it does end with a satisfying enough conclusion to make you think that it didn’t necessarily need to continue, but I’m very glad it did. The plot of Shadow and Bone was intriguing and had enough twists and turns to make it a good YA novel, and the world-building of Ravka was more than enough to keep me interested. As a Tsarist Russia historian, I have enough knowledge to know where some of the places were based on, and what characters were clearly based on which historical figures, which was a massive point-score in my book. But even if you didn’t know anything, it would diminish the story at all.

The world of the Grisha was a good take on the ‘guild of magicians’ that is sometimes used as overkill in YA novels nowadays. As a fighting force, they did seem fairly competent, and I did like how they were their own entity in a way. They didn’t necessarily follow the monarchy despite being under their control, and in the story it was shown that in different countries, Grisha weren’t respected as they are in Ravka, and even killed for being a commodity, rather than a person, which I found to be highly interesting. Also, with the use of the Fold, and the creatures that lurked within, Bardugo did have a good use of tension, and made you as the reader really get a sense of the terror that was felt, and how desperate the whole situation was.

But one thing I didn’t like was Alina. Which isn’t good considering she is the protagonist. Alina, to me, seemed to be too much of a drip, too indecisive, weak, a bit too whiny, and just not able to wield the power that she is born with. Now, I know that she is an orphan, and completely thrown into the deep end as she discovers her powers, but she just wasn’t the female role-model that should have been used. Let’s just say that she was not up to the same levels of Katniss and Hermione. Also what irked me was the love triangle. Love triangles can sometimes really work in YA, but it has to be done as a sideplot to the main story, and not take over the whole story, and make the conclusion depend on it. But, on a sidenote, within the love triangle, Bardugo did write passion quite well, especially with the Darkling. But apart from with the Darkling, the characters just felt a bit flat. The Darkling was an interesting figure as he had quite a lot of sides, and you weren’t really sure which one was his real side, and whether everything else was false. But, unfortunately with Mal and Alina, I just didn’t get on with them. In a writing sense, this was fairly well-written, and definitely showed promise for Bardugo to develop as a writer. There were some sloppy parts, but for a debut novel I thought it was gripping and moreish.

For a YA novel, it was well-done in world-building, in the plot line, and in the whole good-versus-evil thing. I’d recommend it and as an owner of the rest of the trilogy, I can say that when newer characters get introduced, everything gets a bit more interesting.

The rest of the trilogy is out to buy now!

Links:

To buy this book – Waterstones/Amazon

Author’s Website – Click Here

The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan – Book Series Review.

Title: The Memoirs of Lady Trent (A Natural History of Dragons/The Tropic of Serpents/Voyage of the Basilisk)

Author: Marie Brennan

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Young Adult Literature, Fantasy, Mythical Fantasy


‘You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten..’

For the longest while, I’ve been wanting to get into a good fantasy series. After reading The Song of Ice and Fire, The Kingkiller Chronicles and The Lord of the Rings, I’ve got standards about the sort of epic, adventure fantasy that I wanted, yet I did not want to rush straight into one that focusses around high fantasy, wars and bloody conflict. I mean, not yet anyway.

I wanted to go down the route of fantastical beasts, gentle adventures and a discovery of the protagonist’s strengths through their narrative. So, after being drawn in by the gorgeous covers, and the fact that it was a memoir by a female protagonist, Marie Brennan’s novel series From the Memoirs of Lady Trent. This series, despite not being finished yet, as so far not disappointed about easing me into the world of the fantasy novel.

Written as a memoir by the legendary dragon naturalist, Lady Trent, whose exploits in the field of dragon identification have made her one of the preeminent scholars in her field, Trent writes about her childhood, adolescence and first adventures surrounding dragons. Known as this point as Isabella, a fairly unknown daughter of a lord, and an intelligent and mischievous young girl who comes from a family where social graces an
d values are the preferred norms for young ladies, Isabelle risks her reputations, her prospects, and her even her life in the pursuit of turning her passions into a real vocation. And from marriage, kidnapping, dragon attacks and exciting journeys in different terrains, Isabella gets her first taste into the life that she would eventually turn into a lifelong career.


In the first book, The Natural History of Dragons, the reader first gets introduces to Isabella as a young girl who gets her first taste of an obsession with dragons from discovering a dead sparkling, a supposedly insect that resembles a dragon. And from this, her obsession grows. However, the society in which Isabella was raised in, shows great displeasure over women educating themselves about science and adventuring, and she is forced into adapting into becoming more ladylike. Yet after a period of this forced behaviour, Isabella meets her future husband Jacob, and together they get involved with Lord Hilford, who organises a trip to the mountainous region of Vystrana, and Isabella gets her first taste of working in a region that is not only swarming with dragons, but also different religions, customs and battles against keeping dragons alive, and not turning them into a profit. And whilst on this expedition, Isabella encounters smuggling, death, exploitation of bones and a dragon graveyard, which not only changes how the world sees the beasts, but how they are seen to treat each other.

Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk

In The Tropic of Serpents, Isabella enlists the help of a runaway heiress, the once standoffish scientist, Tom Wilker, and goes on another expedition to the place known as the ‘Green Hell’ – a tropical and deadly rainforest where she wants to discover the secrets of the elusive swampwyrms, and their breeding patterns. But like in all Isabella’s travels, there are political and religious strife that halt her progress, and whilst in the ‘Green Hell’ she becomes close to the people of the area, called the Moulish, and through them she learns the secrets of the area, the creatures and the war that is ranging between the locals and invaders. Isabella also grows in confidence over her ability in being a dragon naturalist, and she moves further away from her upbringing as a potential lady of social graces, and further into the realm of the scientific.

Image courtesy of Amazon.co.uk

And finally, in Voyage of the Basilisk, Isabella is once again on her adventures, but this time, she has enlisted the services of the Royal Survey Ship, ‘The Basilisk’ for an ambitious, two-year trip around the world to study all different sorts of dragons in their natural habitats. And this time, she’s not alone. Accompanied by her seven-year old son, his governess, Thomas Wilker and the hilariously motel crew, headed by the crazy Captain Aekinitos, Isabella once again has to deal with all sort of issues that delay her expedition, such as shipwrecks, sea battles and an attack by an angry sea-serpent, but that’s not all. Isabella has to also deal with issues without her personal life, with conflict with her young son, the attention of a chivalrous, foreign archaeologist, and the gossip that is spreading around her home country about her love life.

With the character of Isabella/Trent, Brennan’s novels are written in a first-persona narration style, and therefore she introduces herself as Lady Trent, and states that in her younger years, she was significantly different from what she is now. In fact, frequently through the texts, Trent reminds the reader that she was young, naive and inexperienced, and her actions may appear so foolhardy to readers, and even embarrassing towards herself. By Brennan giving two different versions of herself, she makes the reader interested in not only the past version, but the future version, therefore hints towards a slow character development in subsequent books.

Brennan also writes the style of a memoir extremely well. By not including anything that Trent would consider to be rambling or insignificant, she sticks with facts and opinions that she wishes to divulge, and doesn’t want to give any details about the expeditions that she thinks the reader would know about, or wouldn’t care. Now, I realise that this is a fictional account, and Trent isn’t a well-known dragon specialist, but in the way that Brennan writes is incredibly realistic, and sticks to the idea of a memoir being something that she has written and edited. I particularly liked when Trent was addressing her editor whilst writing. This is a subtle hint that Brennan has added in, and it shows that Trent, as an older woman, has developed something of a backbone.

As a younger woman, Isabella had to deal with growing up as the only daughter of a titled family, and therefore had to go through all the stigmas that come with it. Brennan really highlights the idea of a society that still have the social norms as chaperons, young women being used as bartering chips for a good marriage, and the idea of young girls being educated not to be adventurous. One of the parts that I found intriguing in the book is when a young Isabella tries to force herself to be more ladylike. She calls this her ‘Grey Years’, and it really shows how much she was forced into adapting a way of life that wasn’t natural to her. And when she couldn’t adapt, this also highlighted the fact that Brennan has made her into a flawed person, and not too unrealistic.

The rest of the characters could have done with a bit more exploring. Some of them felt flat, and despite being relatively important to the entire story arc, they didn’t live up to what they could have been. Jacob, for instance, is the love interest in the book, and despite this romance being nothing that is clichéd and the relationship between him and Isabella seems well-suited, he just doesn’t get enough of a background, or towards the end of the first book, him and the others just seem to peter out. But, later on, Brennan writes some characters that really flourish. Natalie – the runaway heiress, is a young woman who could easily be Trent’s protegé, and I enjoyed how Brennan wrote her to be like a high-class woman who, like Isabella, didn’t want to follow society’s expectations of her. She is courageous, and what I found very interesting, was the fact that she deals with her sexuality in a frank and honest way.

Another character who I enjoyed was Tom Wilker. He first of all started as a standoffish and aloof character who butted heads with Isabella, but as the novels progress, he gets fonder of her, and there is an underlying, romantic tension there that has not been resolved by the latest book. Wilker and Isabella are very similar personalities, so it is possible that Brennan wrote him to be her eventually romantic conquest, but also as an equal to her.

I love a good bit of world-building in with my fantasy, and this is something that Brennan hasn’t disappointed with. With the customs of Scirland, and Lady Trent, Brennan has clearly drawn on Victorian England, yet she’s written fantastical elements in with it. Dragons are just another type of wild animal that need to be scientifically explored, and not beasts from a fantasy novel, she’s imagined different countries with their own religions and customs, that get ignored by the foreigners. Brennan also got the Victorian idea of foreign travel being a new and interesting concept to the world of Scirland – (their version of England). There’s also a lot of Russian influences with the names and the religious structures which I enjoyed discovering.

Now, in my opinion, the first 2/3 of the first book follows an interesting and page-turning set of events, as we get Isabella growing up, going through her Grey Years and then going on her first adventure. However, the last third ultimately disappoints as the storyline became blurred, dry to the point that I had to go back to previous chapters to remind myself of past events, and with a clumsy use of red herrings, the novel just didn’t finish in a particularly neat way. And unfortunately, this pattern is similar in the rest of the novels. The first few sections are interesting, but when it gets into the politics and the worlds, I do find myself drifting slightly. But it may not just be Brennan’s writing, but my own attention span.

But, overall, I enjoyed these novels. They were light, a good introduction to an easy, and particularly not violent fantasy novel, but did have a slight dip in interest towards the end. I will be reading any following books, as the characterisation and growth of Lady Trent interests me, and I want to see exactly when she becomes Lady Trent, and when she becomes the brave, dragon expert that the world is familiar with.

So, if you as a reader enjoyed:

  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  • The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
  • The Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik

Then you’ll enjoy this!

Links:

To buy the first book – Waterstones/Amazon

Author’s website – Click Here.

Image courtesy of BookWormDreams.com