Science Fantasy

Review: Nimona

Cover of "Nimona," featuring three characters on a green background - a male knight with long blond hair, a male knight with black hair, a goatee, and one robotic arm, and in front of them a girl with mostly-shaved red hair and dragon wings
Image from Noelle Stevenson

Title: Nimona

Author: Noelle Stevenson

Genre: Science Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, death

Back Cover:

Lord Ballister Blackheart has a point to make, and his point is that the good guys aren’t as good as they seem. He makes a comfortable living as a supervillain, but never really seems to accomplish much – until he takes on a new sidekick, Nimona, a shapeshifter with her own ideas of how things should be done. Unfortunately, most of those ideas involve blowing things up. Now Ballister must teach his young protégé some restraint and try to keep her from destroying everything, while simultaneously attempting to expose the dark dealings of those who claim to be the protectors of the kingdom – including his former best friend turned nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin.

Review:

I first heard of Nimona as a webcomic on Tumblr and I devoured the first three chapters. It was creative, unique, and hilarious. But by the time I got to it, only the first three chapters were available online – it had been published as a book, so Noelle had taken the rest of it down. So I put the book of my list of things to read.

This was a year ago. Now that I’ve finally started the task of working through my list of books I want to read (as opposed to my former method of just grabbing whatever looked interesting off the library shelf), I got around to reserving this at the library.

This is actually more like a graphic novel than a book, but I’m going to review it like I would a book.

Nimona is the title character – she’s the one in the middle on the cover. She’s a shapeshifter who just shows up at the secret lair of Ballister Blackheart, asking to be his sidekick in villainy. She’s overenthusiastic about violence and mayhem and making a mess of proper society. But she also has some trauma from her past that explains a lot about who she is once you find out about it. Overall, she’s just a super fun character to read about – especially with Ballister Blackheart to bounce off of.

Ballister, the “actual villain,” is not nearly as destruction-minded as Nimona. In fact, when the story starts, he’s trying to reveal the evil plot of the Institution, which proclaims to be protecting the citizens but Ballister discovers they’re really conducting experiments that will endanger everyone. He’s very much a rule-follower and tries to minimize Nimona’s death toll. He’s a nuanced character with a fascinating backstory and an interesting motive for being a villain (including a friendship with the antagonist Ambrosius Goldenloin), and I liked him a lot.

The apparent plot is Ballister and Nimona (reluctantly in the case of the latter) trying to stop the Institution from hurting people and the Institution trying to stop them. But really it’s more character-oriented. A lot of the beginning focuses on Ballister and Nimona’s relationship, with Ballister trying to rein her in. Then as it goes on, it focuses a lot on Ballister’s character, Goldenloin’s character, and their relationship in the past and Ballister’s story of becoming a villain. Nimona’s backstory also gets worked in and it culminates in a fiery, action-packed, dramatic climax.

Nimona has a lot of science fiction and fantasy tropes – there’s magic and shapeshifters and knights and kings, but there’s also mad science and mechanical limbs and an Institute conducting experiments involving electricity and stuff. It’s an awesome and creative blend of the two.

Also, the art is really cool. It’s very stylistic, and not exactly what I’d call beautiful, but it’s interesting and engaging and perfectly melds the science fiction and fantasy elements of the story. And it somehow fits the tone – dark topics, but still lighthearted. It’s creative and just overall fun to look at.

This is one of the more unique stories I’ve read in a while. It’s a fantastic blend of science fiction and fantasy, manages to be lighthearted and fun for most of it (and extremely emotional at the end), and develop fascinating, multi-layered characters that play around with tropes. It was great, and I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

And the best part:

You can read the first three chapters online for free here!

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Did Not Finish, Fairy Tale

Review: A World Without Princes

Cover of "A World Without Princes," featuring a blond girl and a black-haired girl on either side of a blond boy whose face is in profile. Below them is a crest with two swans, one black and one white, on either side and the title of the book on a scroll across the crest.
Image from The School for Good and Evil

Title: A World Without Princes

Series: The School for Good and Evil #2

Author: Soman Chainani

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Kidnapping, attempted violence

Spoiler Warning: This book is a sequel, so if you haven’t read The School for Good and Evil, this review will probably have spoilers.

Back Cover:

In the New York Times bestselling sequel to Soman Chainani’s debut, The School for Good and Evil, Sophie and Agatha are back in Gavaldon, living out their Happily Ever After, but life isn’t quite the fairy tale they expected.

Witches and princesses reside at the School for Girls, where they’ve been inspired to live a life without princes, while Tedros and the boys are camping in Evil’s old towers. A war is brewing between the schools, but can Agatha and Sophie restore the peace? Can Sophie stay good with Tedros on the hunt? And whose heart does Agatha’s belong to—her best friend or her prince?

Read to: Page 76

Review:

Immediately after finishing The School for Good and Evil, I reserved this book at the library. The School for Good and Evil was fantastic, and I wanted to read more and find out how the story turned out.

I’m not really sure how to put into words how I feel about this book. In many ways, it was a letdown. (Obviously, since I didn’t finish it.) But it could have been great and I’m really disappointed in some of the choices made for this book.

Warning: long review ahead – I have a lot of Feelings about this one. Scroll to the bottom for the tl;dr version.

Agatha and Sophie bothered me a tiny bit – not in the sense that I didn’t like them, because I still loved them, but in the sense that they weren’t the same people they were at the end of book one and it felt like a little of the character development from the first book had been undone (although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why). Overall, it was a minor problem that I probably could look past, especially if they developed in this book as much as they did in the first one.

I loved the world. I loved it in the first book and I loved it here. There were some changes to the school (which I didn’t get fully introduced to before I stopped reading), but I think I would have enjoyed those, too. The entire concept of the world is amazing and I love it.

My main problem is the entire concept of this book – at the end of book one, Agatha chose Sophie over everything else, and now she’s regretting her choice and wishing she had chosen Prince Tedros instead. I hated that. It didn’t fit with Agatha’s character and it was a horrible, forced straight romance angle when if there had to be a romance, a romance between Agatha and Sophie would fit so much better.

And it’s not just because I like gay romances better than straight ones (although I will admit I do). There really is a lot more potential for a romance between Agatha and Sophie than between Agatha and Tedros. Agatha obviously cares for Sophie a lot (protecting/helping Sophie was 99% of her motivation in the first book), and Sophie seems to also care, if not as deeply.  Book one ends with a very emotional, touching moment where Agatha chooses Sophie above everyone else. Even at the beginning of this book, they still care a lot about each other and stick together through everything.

On the other hand, Agatha barely interacted with Tedros at all in the previous book (except for trying to help Sophie catch is interest). She recognized him as handsome, like everyone, but instantly flagged him as unattainable and, to the best of my memory, never even considered liking him romantically. He’s hardly even a major character – he barely got any page time in book one, as the focus was more on Agatha and Sophie. Any feelings Agatha has for him can only be motivated by his status (son of King Arthur) or his dashing good looks, which is incredibly shallow and not something I think Agatha would do.

As my fiance pointed out, the concept of a character making an important choice and then regretting it later on is an interesting one, and I will admit that. It’s unique and interesting. But there’s no reason for Agatha to regret her choice except for Soman trying to force a romance where one won’t work. All through the first book, Agatha chose Sophie. She always chose Sophie over everything, even her own Happily Ever After. A romance growing out of their deep friendship would make perfect sense. Even a plot without a romance at all would be fine. But whatever attraction exists between Agatha and Tedros is based on looks or status, which is shallow and sad. (And honestly I love Agatha and want better than that for her.)

Okay, I’m going to stop now because this review is getting long. But I have a lot of feelings about this book. It could have been great with an Agatha+Sophie romance (or even no romance at all). But what’s actually going on in A World Without Princes … it’s disappointing and out of character.

And who knows, maybe it would have gotten better if I’d continued the book. But it seemed like the entire premise would be Agatha trying to redo her choice between Sophie and Tedros, and I honestly didn’t want to read about that, no matter how much I loved the characters in book one.

tl;dr

Any feelings Agatha had for Tedros were based on his looks and/or his status and (in my opinion) forced by the author. In book one, Agatha always chose Sophie over everything else, and there’s no reason for her to stop that now. If the concept was different and we returned to the School for Good and Evil for different reasons, with Agatha staying in character and continuing to choose Sophie – or at least getting to know Tedros enough that having to choose made sense – I would have loved this book. (And I would have loved it even more if Agatha and Sophie fell in love.) But as it is, I was disappointed and upset that this book wasn’t the sequel I wanted.

Definitely read The School for Good and Evil, it’s totally worth it. And give this one a shot. I admit I can be really picky about certain things, and maybe if you keep going it gets better. It wasn’t necessarily a bad book – it just wasn’t the one that I wanted. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did.

The School for Good and Evil series:

  1. The School for Good and Evil
  2. A World Without Princes
  3. The Last Ever After
  4. Quests for Glory
Fairy Tale

Review: The School for Good and Evil

Cover of "The School for Good and Evil," featuring the title on a banner in front of a crest with a black swan on one side and a white swan on the other, above it are two girls, one with short dark hair and one with long blond hair, standing back-to-back
Image from The School for Good and Evil

Title: The School for Good and Evil

Series: The School for Good and Evil #1

Author: Soman Chainani

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, death, fatphobia

Back Cover:

At the School for Good and Evil, failing your fairy tale is not an option.

With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good, while Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good. But what if the mistake is the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

The School for Good and Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.

Review:

I picked this up because the cover was pretty cool and the concept – a school that trained fairy tale heroes and villains – was pretty darn awesome.

To start with, this book was a lot thicker than I expected. I was expecting a thin little paperback, not a nearly-500-page epic. And I definitely wasn’t expecting all of the twists, turns, betrayals, character growth, and, well, everything.

The book starts by immediately throwing you into a world where every year, the mysterious School Master kidnaps two village kids and every kid is afraid of being taken except Sophie, who is super excited to be taken from the boring village and sent to the School for Good, where she can focus on her beauty and win a handsome prince.

Except it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that Sophie isn’t as good as she thinks she is. Her “good works” are donating face wash to the orphanage, hanging mirrors in public restrooms, and spending time with Agatha, the frumpy, ugly, unfriendly girl who lives in the house in the graveyard (who she doesn’t particularly like, mind you, but sees as a good charity case).

The story is told in alternating perspectives between Sophie and Agatha, so you get to see what Agatha is thinking, too. Agatha actually cares about Sophie – she doesn’t necessarily consider them friends (she’s aware she’s just a charity case), but she cares anyway. A lot of her motivation during the first part of the book is to rescue Sophie from the School of Evil and get her home.

I really want to say more about these girls, but it’s hard because they change and grow so much throughout the book. Part of it is learning why they got put in the schools they did, part of it is leveraging their own unique strengths. (Sophie’s skills and interest in fashion and beauty are never played as a bad thing and are actually shown as a strength.) I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but they change a lot and it’s amazing.

It’s hard to say much about the plot. It starts off with Agatha wanting to keep Sophie from getting kidnapped, but that goes out the window pretty quick and then it’s Sophie wanting to get to the School for Good and Agatha wanting to get them both out of there and back to their village. And that’s the gist of it – but there’s so much more. Class rankings. Surviving things. Extra special magic powers. And I can’t say too much because spoilers.

The school itself is absolutely amazing. You get both Sophie and Agatha’s perspectives, so you get to see both schools, and it’s fantastic. They’re exactly what you would expect from schools for fairy-tale Good and fairy-tale Evil, but it’s all the little details (like the existence of beauty spas in the Good school and a classroom made of ice with a torture chamber beneath it in the Evil school) that makes it absolutely amazing.

I almost said the school was the best part of the book for me, but it’s hard to really say that. All of it was fantastic. Each element blended with the rest of them to create a fascinating world, an enthralling plot, and masterfully-written characters that made me devour the book in one day. (Yes, I read all 500 pages in one day. It was that good.)

There were only two downsides to this book. One was fatphobia, which was mild and mostly stemming from Sophie’s vain perspective. The other was the ending – not that it was bad, but it had the opportunity to be gay and wasn’t.

I don’t have enough positive adjectives to say about this book. I was expecting a fairy tale and I got so much more. So much more. I didn’t know this was a series when I picked this up, but I’m so glad it is because I want more. I want more of these characters and I want more of this world.

I’m trying not to ramble, so just … read the book.

(And if you’re a fan, the School for Good and Evil website is really awesome.)

The School for Good and Evil series:

  1. The School for Good and Evil
  2. A World Without Princes
  3. The Last Ever After
  4. Quests for Glory
Urban Fantasy

Review: Labyrinth Lost

Cover of "Labyrinth Lost," featuring gold text on a dark background above the head (from the nose up) of a brown-haired girl in sugar skull makeup
Image from Zoraida Córdova

Title: Labyrinth Lost

Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Blood

Back Cover:

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone. 

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Review:

I put this on my to-read list because there was magic and I’d heard it was gay. That’s about it. I picked it randomly when reserving books at the library, and when my fiance saw it sitting on the dresser I couldn’t even tell him what it was about. That’s how little expectations I had for this book.

The good news is, this is a great book.

It really was. The magic was amazing, Alex was a strong character with good development and growth, the plot seems straightforward but throws some twists in at the end, Los Lagos is an amazing setting (just as dark and twice as strange as you’d expect, but with a definite Wonderland vibe), and the layers of magic are revealed slowly and wonderfully.

It’s just … a beautiful book, really. It’s the kind of story that if you saw it visually, it would be elegant and graceful and eerie, rendered in dark purples and blacks and silvers. The writing and the mood is gorgeous, and it made me want to go out and practice magic and cast some powerful spells.

I only really had two problems:

  1. It’s never really explained why Alex is afraid of her magic. All you get is something about the family cat being possessed, and her magic kills it? And somehow that made her father leave? It’s not clear.
  2. It wasn’t gay. I was told it was, and I kept expecting a romance between Alex and her friend Rishi. (Maybe there will be in the next book, but there wasn’t here.) But on the bright side, there also wasn’t any romance with Angsty Brooding Hero Nova, either.

I feel like breaking it down and analyzing the components of it will ruin the magic. It was just … fascinating and absolutely gorgeous. And it ended on a twist. I’m totally looking forward to the next book (next year …).

The Brooklyn Brujas series:

  1. Labyrinth Lost
  2. Circle Unbroken (April 2018)
High Fantasy

Review: Of Fire and Stars

Cover of "Of Fire and Stars," featuring silhouettes of two princesses on a blue background with gold calligraphy text
Image from Audrey Coulthurst

Title: Of Fire and Stars

Author: Audrey Coulthurst

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Death, burning alive, torture mention

Back Cover:

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile nations. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire–a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses–and her teacher is the person who intimidates her the most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine–called Mare–the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms–and each other.

Review:

I never used to be into books about court drama, but Of Fire and Stars completely changed my opinion.

Honestly, I wasn’t super excited about this book–yeah, it was queer and it looked good, but it wasn’t at the top of my list. I ended up picking it up because I needed another book and this one was easy to locate at the library. And it totally blew me away.

First, there was Denna. She was brilliant. She’d done a lot of studying in her preparation to become queen of Mynaria, but she was still “I’ve looked at this map twice and now I have it memorized” brilliant. I can’t find the words for what else I want to say about her–besides brilliant, there weren’t a lot of characteristics that stood out–but she was an absolutely fantastic character and the kind of person I’d hope to be if I were a princess.

Mare was, as it says on the back cover, an unconventional princess. She would rather wear riding breeches than ball gowns and valued independence above all else … and she also did quite a bit of sneaking out of the castle to gather information from spies, which was awesome. In retrospect, she was the kind of stereotypical tomboyish don’t-want-to-be-a-princess princess, but she didn’t feel like that while reading.

The cool part is the story is told in alternating perspectives, so you get both sides and the inner thoughts and feelings of both girls. And the romance between them is built slowly but the chemistry is undeniable.

It’s been a long, long time since I read a court drama book–which is a lot of what this is. Yeah, there’s some sneaking out of the castle and some “who’s behind this assassination?” but there’s also a lot of social niceties (and trying to do non-princess-y stuff without betraying all of the social niceties) and arguing with the council and “you have to do your duty because you’re a princess” stuff. And it was honestly fantastic.

Also, you know the trope of “main character is so much more powerful than other magic users”? This book uses that trope. But differently. It kinda turns the trope on its head and I love it.

I don’t have enough good things to say about this book. The characters were great, the plot was awesome, and even the setting, though a pretty standard high fantasy setting, was cool. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And though the ending wrapped things up nicely and a sequel isn’t necessary, I would enjoy one.

Did Not Finish, Fantasy

Did Not Finish: The Young Elites

Cover of "The Young Elites," featuring the title on a background of storm clouds. The "T" in the word "Elites" is replaced with a sword.
Image from Marie Lu

Title: The Young Elites

Author: Marie Lu

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Parental abuse (physical and emotional)

Back cover: 

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

Read to: CD 6 of 8 (I “read” this as an audiobook)

Review:

I really enjoyed Marie Lu’s Legend, and The Young Elites has been on my reading list for a while. I finally picked it up because I was looking for audiobooks to listen to on my commute to work and it was part of my library’s small selection. And also because special abilities + vengeance = a dark fantasy that should be right up my alley.

As you might have guessed, I wasn’t the hugest fan. But there were really a lot of good things about this book, and what made me give up on it was actually relatively minor. So let’s start with what was good about it.

  • The world was fantastic. It felt like a fantasy southern Europe (like Spain or Italy) with Renaissance elements, and it was just plain beautiful.
  • The minor characters were pretty cool. Each was unique and had their own personalities and quirks, and there were those great characters you love to hate. (And there was even a bisexual male sex worker who was a major member of the Dagger Society and no one looked down on him for his sex work, which I thought was the coolest thing.)
  • The plot is barely touched on in the back cover, but it was not at all what I expected and it was great. (I’m not giving away any spoilers.)

All the main elements were solid and I enjoyed them. But like I said, it was minor details that I took issue with. Such as the fact that Teren is mentioned in the back cover like he’s going to be a major character and he’s really glossed over. I think he got three (very short) chapters in the entirety of what I read, and there were some interesting things going on with him, but the book doesn’t spend enough time with him to flesh it out and make it anything more than a confusing distraction from Adelina.

The romance was another minor detail that bothered me. It started off slow enough that I could look past it, but it was starting to pick up when I stopped. It was just so aggressively … trope-y? I’m not really sure how to describe it, but there was a bit of a love triangle even though it was obvious which guy was the “real” love interest and it had the whole we-both-like-each-other-but-we’re-not-going-to-say-anything-and-pretend-nothing-is-happening-even-though-it’s-obvious thing going on

The beginning is also very flashback-heavy with Adelina remembering life with her abusive father, and that was … it was hard. It was hard to read and hard to think about, and if you’ve experienced any sort of abuse it’s probably not going to be good for you.

There was one main issue that finally made me stop, though. Adelina is put in a position where she has to choose between the Dagger Society and her sister (it’s more complicated, but I’m trying to avoid spoilers). And there’s a huge running theme of her moral dilemma – should she tell the Daggers and ask for their help or just betray them? Several times she gets close to telling Enzo and chickens out. But then she’s presented with a perfect opportunity where they wouldn’t even suspect she’s been dealing with this for a while and she STILL DOESN’T TAKE IT. And that’s where I stopped. Being put in a bad position is one thing, actively making your situation worse because you don’t take the opportunities that smack you over the head is a completely different (and endlessly frustrating) thing.

I looked at the Goodreads reviews for this book, and there’s a lot of them that have nothing but good things to say about The Young Elites. And I can see why. There’s a lot of good things in here. It’s dark and poetic and has a solid world and a great plot. It just wasn’t the book for me.

The Young Elites series:

  1. The Young Elites
  2. The Rose Society
  3. The Midnight Star
High Fantasy

Review: Huntress

The cover of Huntress, featuring a black-haired girl wearing a black dress holding a long staff in front of her.
Image from Malinda Lo

Title: Huntress

Author: Malinda Lo

Genre: High Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Violence/blood/gore

Back Cover:

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Taninli, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

Review:

I picked this up mainly because fantasy gays. (Seriously, I had been complaining to my boyfriend earlier that afternoon about how there weren’t enough fantasy books with gay people and discovered this on my trip to the library.) I’ve also heard good things about Malinda Lo, so that was also a plus.

Even though there are some chapters from Taisin’s perspective, most of the book focuses on Kaede (but then again, so does most of the action). At the beginning, she’s at a school for sages, but she’s not very good at the magic stuff and prefers to be out in the garden or throw knives with the groundskeeper – kinda the stereotypical tomboy misfit. She has a bit of angst going on, but she’s still a fun character.

Taisin is Kaede’s complete opposite, a quiet, studious, and extremely gifted sage. You don’t get to know her as well as Kaede throughout the book, but I got enough to feel almost protective of her – yeah, she’s crazy powerful, but she’s also just a sweet little innocent girl who’s not really cut out for all the dangerous adventuring. Her and Kaede are a classic case of “opposites attract” and it’s adorable.

As far as plot goes, it was actually a pretty creative one. Most of the story focuses on Kaede and Taisin’s journey to the land of the Fairies, and the adventures and mishaps that happen along the way.  …Put that way it sounds pretty tame, but it definitely was not. (In case you couldn’t tell from the trigger warning.) People die. Sometimes very violently. Our main characters also have to kill some things. It’s a lot darker than I expected, but in a good way.

Some things I’ve seen about this book (online and also on the back cover) talked about its “Asian flair,” but though I was excited about that, it really didn’t come through at all for me. There was nothing in the setting that I recognized as Asian, the fairy part felt very Western … if you stretch a little bit I suppose you could describe some of the settings as Asian, but I didn’t see any of the Asian flair it promised, which was disappointing.

One thing that was refreshing, though, was there didn’t seem to be any homophobia in this society. It’s made clear in the beginning that some students at Kaede and Taisin’s all-girls school had clandestine relationships, and no one seems to bat an eye when they discover Kaede is only into girls (except her father, but that seems to be only because he wants to marry her off to a man for political reasons). It was kinda nice that Kaede and Taisin could be awkwardly and adorably gay without dealing with disapproving people.

Also, if you’re looking for a happy ending, this is not your book. (But it’s still a good read despite that.)

The main plot wraps up really nicely, even if the very end seems a little rushed. But as I thought about it after I finished it, there were a lot of plot threads that were just left dangling and questions that are never answered. And as far as I know, there’s no sequel – you’re just left with the unanswered questions and wondering what happened to those subplots.

Overall, it was a good book. Not great, certainly, but solidly good. I probably wouldn’t read it again, but I don’t regret this read.

High Fantasy

Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Cover of "The Well of Ascension," featuring a short-haired girl in a gray skirt attacking what appears to be white, fleshy monsters
Image from Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2)

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: High Fantasy

Warning: This book is second in a series, so this review probably has spoilers of book one. If you haven’t read Mistborn, proceed with caution.

Back cover:

Evil has been defeated. The war has just begun.

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege tightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Surviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.

Review:

After how awesome Mistborn was, even as a reread, I jumped at this book (minus a small break to read Waistcoats and Weaponry). I barely bothered to read the back cover, I was so excited to get started.

I will confess, though, it took me a little bit to get into it. Mistborn wrapped up so well that there really were no open ends to explore in a beginning, and it almost felt like starting a brand-new book, plot-wise – it was 95% set-up. But it wasn’t long until I got absorbed again.

Almost all of the characters in The Well of Ascension were the same as Mistborn, but had different roles. Kelsier’s team has much smaller roles; Elend was a main character (and got a freaking lot of development, which I loved). Zane, Straff Venture’s Mistborn, was an insane (literally) but interesting addition to the cast. And kandra OreSeur had a much more prominent role, which made things interesting.

This book was a lot more character-centric than I expected. Half of the plot was the characters’ emotional response to problems. And because the characters felt real and human and full of confusing and contradicting feelings, it was awesome. It would probably be less awesome if you don’t like the characters, but I loved them, so no issue there.

All these characters were freaking smart. That’s most of what made the plot so gripping. The obvious answer is never the answer because the characters are too smart for that. Everything was hidden under two or more layers of deception. They were smarter than me, actually – I could never guess the right answer.

There is a lot of politics in this book. Elend and company are trying to create a whole new government – a semblance of a constitutional monarchy after a thousand years of dictatorship. Normally I don’t like politics, but I was actually kind of interested in these. Part of that was there was so much other stuff intertwined with it that it didn’t feel much like politics, and part of that was I loved the characters.

The two main parts of this plot are politics and emotions. It was fascinating watching idealistic Elend try to put together his dream government with former slaves and position-less nobles, and deal with it when it didn’t work the way he hoped. And then there was Vin. She had a lot of stuff to deal with, from her and the man she loves being (she thinks irreconcilably) different to her main skill being killing things. It had the potential to get boring and overdone, but since there were so many things, it didn’t for me.

I don’t want to say too much because 1, I don’t want to spoil it, and 2, there’s no possible way I could cover all the brilliant little details. So I guess I’ll just say the plot (once it got started) was the kind of plot that makes you want to devour a 600+ page book in a day.

Again, the Mistborn world is AMAZING. And in this book, we get to learn a lot more about this world. And not just the “so this is how that works” stuff – it was mostly mind-blown, “holy crap I did not see that coming” stuff. Even the characters got surprised by a lot of the stuff. Brandon Sanderson is great at writing a lot of things, but world-building has to be his best.

It’s really hard to discuss the individual elements of this book because everything is intertwined. Characters influence plot, world influences politics, and everything has an effect on everything else. But even though that makes it hard for me to review, I love it – because those kinds of books are the best ones, the ones that feel real.

My final verdict in three words: NEED BOOK THREE! Not only was The Well of Ascension fabulous (I might even go as far as to say better than Mistborn), it ended on a cliffhanger. So I definitely need to get my hands on The Hero of Ages ASAP.

The Mistborn series:

  1. Mistborn (sometimes subtitled “The Final Empire”)
  2. The Well of Ascension
  3. The Hero of Ages

The Wax and Wayne Mistborn series:
(a companion series with Mistborn magic in the early 1900s)

  1. The Alloy of Law
  2. Shadows of Self (October 6, 2015)
  3. The Bands of Mourning (January 2016)
  4. The Lost Metal (tentative title)

High Fantasy

Review: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

MISTBORN by Brandon Sanderson, reviewed at JalynEly.com
Image from Delicious Reads

Title: Mistborn (Mistborn #1)

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: High Fantasy

Back cover:

For a thousand years, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal Lord Ruler.  Every revolt against his cruel reign has failed.  But hope survives – and he bears the scars of the inescapable Pits.  A new kind of uprising being planned, this one built abound the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind…and the determination of a street urchin who must learn to harness the power of a Mistborn.

Review:

I read Mistborn three years ago, and my final verdict was “it’s a really good book, but I’m not interested in sequels.” But Brandon Sanderson is my boyfriend’s favorite author and Mistborn is his favorite series, so he’s been “encouraging” me to finish the series for as long as we’ve been dating. And since I found myself with a lot of spare time to read during a family road trip, I figured I might as well reread the whole series.

Vin is skaa (basically peasant/slave), using her supernatural Luck to survive as part of a thief band in the brutal slums of Luthadel. She grew up with the promise that everyone would abandon her eventually, and spent her life perfecting the art of being unnoticeable. So when the story starts, she’s independent, smart, courageous, and very distrustful. Her character development is great, though, and as she slowly makes friends, she slowly becomes a better and better character to read about.

Kelsier, survivor of the Pits and orchestrater of rebellions, was awesome. Mainly because he was nuts. Sometimes he made me laugh from the sheer insanity of his audacious stunts. But his devil-may-care attitude contrasted with his intense devotion to the people he cared about, and his careless audacity hides a sad past. He is quite possibly my favorite fantasy character ever.

This review is going to be really long anyway, so I’m not going to mention any other characters. But all of them were great. Even the ones that seemed minor turned out to be important in some way. And they all have unique and different personalities.

As far as plot goes, it actually had a classic “hero’s journey” plot. To shamelessly paraphrase a fabulous Goodreads review:

[Kid with weird name] is only a [unimportant social standing], but suddenly discovers they [have weird and/or cool power or calling]. They are the only one who can [epic world-changing quest]. Luckily, even though they are totally new at this, they quickly become better than anyone else at [weird power or skill].

That’s not to say the plot wasn’t good, though. There’s a reason that plot is a classic – it works! Especially with Sanderson writing it. Watching Vin go from skaa thief to Mistborn and join Kelsier’s quest to overthrow the Lord Ruler was quite enjoyable (especially with Kelsier’s crazy antics), and I enjoyed watching Vin learn and grow. But quite honestly, the main reason this (I hate to say it, but somewhat uncreative) plot works is because of three things: Kelsier’s practically insane plans, the world, and the magic.

(Side note: The first time I read Mistborn, I complained that Vin spent too much time going to balls. I had no such complaints this time around – I thought it was a good balance. Although that could be because the balls were where the faint hint of romance happened, and I’ve become much more accepting of romance subplots as I’ve gotten older.)

The magic and world were FANTASTIC. Admittedly, I’ve only read five of Sanderson’s many works, but he is awesome at creating magic systems and building worlds. The whole world in this story, from the glittering balls of the nobility to the filthy slums to a landscape so bleak the idea of green plants seems strange, is brilliantly imagined and vividly described without including a lot of description. And the magic of Allomancy – metals-based and full of limitations, with powers ranging from amazing to almost useless-seeming – is amazingly original. If it sounds like I’m being vague, I am, because watching all the pieces fall into place for the first time is so much fun.

I actually liked this book more the second time around. The awesome magic and world were incredibly detailed, which I loved, but with something as unique as Mistborn, it’s easy to get lost. Even by the time I finished it the first time, I had a hard time keeping things straight. Rereading it three years later actually made it better, because I had forgotten enough that it was fun to discover again, but I remembered enough that I wasn’t totally lost and I could pick up on the nuances I missed the first time.

One thing I feel is important to mention – this is an adult book, but it’s not an adult book. It’s remarkably clean for adult high fantasy and even the word choices read more like young adult. (Plus Vin is only 16, so that certainly gives it a more YA feel.)

Mistborn was good the first time, but it was even better as a reread, mostly because I understood all the wonderful complexities better. This time, I actually am interested in reading the rest of the series – and not just because my boyfriend says I should. I would love to spend another book with these characters (but mostly that world…).

The Mistborn series:

  1. Mistborn (sometimes subtitled “The Final Empire”)
  2. The Well of Ascension
  3. The Hero of Ages

The Wax and Wayne Mistborn series:
(a companion series with Mistborn magic in the early 1900s)

  1. The Alloy of Law
  2. Shadows of Self (October 6, 2015)
  3. The Bands of Mourning (January 2016)
  4. The Lost Metal (tentative title)
Fantasy

Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

THE RITHMATIST by Brandon Sanderson, reviewed at JalynEly.com
Image from Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Rithmatist

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Back cover:

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings—merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery, one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

Review:

This is one of those books where I’d planned on reading it at some point when I had some free time, but wasn’t going out of my way for it. My boyfriend is a huge Brandon Sanderson fan, though, and watching him get really excited about finding this in the library made me excited to read it, too.

I really enjoyed Joel. He was talented, ambitious dedicated to the point of stubbornness sometimes, and freaking smart. He made bad decisions sometimes, but he always had a clear, well-planned reason for it. He could also be a little hesitant and overly cautious, so I think he and impulsive Melody made a good team.

Melody was a surprisingly minor character, and to me, she was somehow both irritating and endearing at the same time. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or do something crazy and stupid. Her personality stood out despite her being not a major character.

The plot is kind of a murder/kidnapping mystery – kids disappearing from their houses and leaving trails of blood. Plus there’s the plot where Joel desperately wants to be a Rithmatist but can’t. Those are the main focus of the story, but there’s so many little threads weaving through the plot that it’s hard to condense it to just a sentence or three. (Although for me, the plot was secondary to the amazing steampunk-esque world and fascinating magic system.)

Who exactly is the bad guy in this story? I couldn’t answer that question until it was revealed in the end. One of the bad guys I never suspected; another, I waffled back and forth on his allegiances. Due to my plot psychic-ness, I was delighted to find that yet again, Brandon Sanderson managed to keep me guessing.

Brandon Sanderson may be the most insanely creative author I’ve ever read. The magic system of The Rithmatist was unique and absolutely amazing. Rithmatics uses chalk lines with different properties to make things happen – lines to defend themselves, lines to shoot at other things, creatures to attack other creatures, battles and duels and everything two-dimensional since it’s drawing magic. It was absolutely fantastic.

And I just have to mention the final scene – no spoilers, but let me just say it was epic. I didn’t see it coming, but I had a moment where I just wanted to completely fangirl and squeal, “oh my gosh that’s so perfect!”

I really shouldn’t have been so hesitant to read this book – after all, Brandon Sanderson is an amazing writer and pretty much anything he writes is guaranteed to be epic. Now I just need to know when the next book is going to happen.

The Rithmatist series:

  1. The Rithmatist
  2. Currently untitled

Report Card

For more on my grading system, check out this page.

THE RITHMATIST scored a 3.8 (A)