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.

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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)
High Fantasy

Review: Eon by Alison Goodman

Eon
Image from Alison Goodman

Title: Eon (or The Two Pearls of Wisdom) (Eon #1)

Author: Alison Goodman

Genre: High Fantasy

For years, Eon’s life has been focused on magical study and sword-work, with only one goal: to be chosen as a Dragoneye, an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. But Eon has a dangerous secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl masquerading as a twelve-year-old boy. Females are forbidden to use dragon magic – the penalty is death. When Eona’s secret threatens to come to light, she and her allies are plunged into grave danger and a struggle for the Imperial throne. Eona must find the strength and inner power to battle those who wish to take her magic…and her life.

Eon has been languishing on my to-read list for years. Chinese mythology is fun, and girls disguising themselves as boys usually makes for some fun plots. I bought this on a whim back in February, and I just now got around to reading it.

Eon/Eona…first off, I’m not sure which to call her. Eona had spent so long repressing her femininity and being Eon that most of the time she was more Eon than Eona. So anyway, for the most part, I liked her. Occasionally I got annoyed that she didn’t figure things out sooner, but it could just be me being a plot predictor. But overall, I enjoyed watching her navigate the story.

The plot started out so simple. Eon the cripple was trying to hide that he’s really a girl and be chosen as the Rat Dragon apprentice. That’s all. Then after the ceremony where the Rat Dragon chooses an apprentice, things get messy. A ruthless Dragoneye intent on taking all the power, secrets being kept and discovered, lies told, allies and enemies and dragons making a delightful mess. The plot more than made up for anything I didn’t like about Eon/Eona.

Through the whole book, the names annoyed me. This was obviously China, but nobody had Chinese names! Then I got to the end and found an author’s note that said while the world was based off China and Japan, it was actually completely made up. So I can’t really complain about it, but I wish the note had been in the beginning.

I was quite pleased with Eon. And it ended on a semi-cliffhanger – bad enough that I’m definitely going to have to read Eona, but not so bad that I have to run out and buy it immediately.

The Eon duology:

  1. Eon
  2. Eona

Report Card

For more on my grading system, please see my About page.

EON scored a 3.5 (A-)

High Fantasy

Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle
Image from Asia Pacific Arts

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle

Series: The Howl Series

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: High Fantasy

Back Cover:

After fifty years of quiet, it was rumored that the Witch of the Waste was going to terrorize Ingary again. So when a moving black castle appeared on the horizon, everyone thought it was the Witch. The castle, however, belonged to Wizard Howl, who, it was said, liked to suck the souls of young girls. The Hatter sister – Sophie, Lettie, and Martha – and all the other girls were warned not to venture into the streets alone. In this giant jigsaw puzzle of a fantasy, nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be. Destinies are intertwined, identities exchanged, lovers confused. The Witch has placed a spell on Howl. Does the clue to breaking it lie in a famous poem? What is the mysterious contract that binds the Wizard to his fire demon? When the final stormy duel between the Witch and the Wizard is fought and won, all the pieces fall magically into place.

Review:

I’d actually passed over this book multiple times in the library, partly because of the lame cover and partly because of the even lamer blurb. Then Angie at the Bibliophile Support Group reviewed it and loved it, so I decided to give it a chance. It was short, anyway.

Sophie was interesting. At first, she was a lot like me – organized, responsible, and didn’t get upset easily. Then, once she became an old lady … she was still Sophie, but an almost older-seeming Sophie. I got the impression that before she was more soft-spoken, but old Sophie wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. It wasn’t really a bad thing, and I did enjoy her, but it seemed like a big personality change after the spell.

Howl was completely fun. He was definitely eccentric – a lot like I’d expect from a wizard, actually. He had a bit of a temper, and wasn’t the best at communication. I’m sure I would have smacked him a couple times if I’d have been his housekeeper, but he was so much fun to read about.

Michael, Howl’s assistant/apprentice, was also enjoyable. If the book said how old he was, I don’t remember, but he struck me as mid to late teens. He was diligent and tried his hardest, and I liked him – he just didn’t stand out as much as Howl and Sophie.

There were a couple major plots woven though this story, and I’m not sure which one is the main one. There’s Sophie trying to break Howl’s hold on Calcifer the fire demon so Calcifer will de-spell her. Then there’s Sophie’s complicated and mostly antagonistic relationship with Howl. And the Witch of the Wastes causing trouble. And so many other little fascinating things. It was all fantastic and completely enjoyable.

The setting was one of my favorite parts of the story. It was like a traditional fantasy world, except they knew all the tropes. Sophie, being the oldest, would never amount to anything. Lettie, the middle child, might be able to marry well. And Martha, the youngest, would be the one to have the most success. Plus, there were places like Howl’s actual castle, which was utterly impossible and completely fun.

The best thing about Howl’s Moving Castle was its understated awesomeness. And apparently there’s two sequels (even more exciting, I remember looking at book three in the library at some point). So now I need to go find Castle in the Air.

The Howl series:

  1. Howl’s Moving Castle
  2. Castle in the Air
  3. House of Many Ways
High Fantasy

Review: The Wings of Dragons

Cover of "The Wings of Dragons," featuring the silhouette of a person with dragon wings holding a sword against a background of red smoke
Image from Josh VanBrakle

Title: The Wings of Dragons

Series: The Dragoon Saga #1

Author: Josh VanBrakle

Genre: High Fantasy

Back Cover:

Left-handed people are chaotic, dangerous, and devil-spawned. So declares Lodian history, but teenage prankster Iren Saitosan, the kingdom’s only known Left, thinks that’s an exaggeration. When he accidentally almost kills Lodia’s heir to the throne, however, Iren becomes an unexpected addition to an assassination squad. The appointment is suicidal, and Iren’s chances aren’t helped when he learns that his new sword imprisons a serpentine dragon. Adding to his problems, someone on the assassination team is plotting treason. Iren soon finds himself trapped between competing loyalties as a former ally launches a blood-soaked plan to avenge the Lefts, a vengeance one thousand years in the making. Against a backdrop of friendship, betrayal, and explosive magic, Iren will need to uncover the forgotten history of Lefts and dragons if he hopes to survive.

Review:

I picked this up because I like dragons, plus the Left thing sounded pretty unique. Then the author promised Japanese mythology (which is totally awesome), and I was hooked.

Iren was lacking in social skills and very naive, especially in the beginning. I enjoyed him, but I thought he seemed a lot younger than 17. But as the story went on and he actually got to do stuff, he matured and grew into his awesome skills. I liked him more and more as the story progressed.

There are other characters that I could mention, but I won’t. Half the fun is trying to figure out who’s on what side. Character A’s a good guy. No, they’re a traitor. Wait, they’re not a traitor. Yes, they’re a traitor, but they betrayed the bad guys. Character B is a good guy. Maybe they’re a traitor…? Nope, definitely not a traitor. What the holy heck they were a traitor the whole time?! And so on and so forth for just about every major character except Iren.

Okay, so the assassination team plot? Not all that important. The sword that’s given only a passing mention? Hugely important. The assassination team thing acts more like a catalyst to get things started, and then something Iren has to do that keeps him from discovering the important stuff. It’s secondary to the what-the-heck-is-going-on questions that Iren has. And trust me, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

The mythology seemed a little wonky at times. It was like a cross between Japanese and traditional high fantasy, and the two didn’t always mesh quite right. When they did, it was absolutely awesome. When they didn’t, it wasn’t overt, but I got this sneaky feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

After the ending of The Wings of Dragons, I have no idea what book two will be about. But I’d still be up for reading it. I have a feeling that whatever Josh VanBrakle comes up with, it’s going to be great (and I bet I’ll have no idea who the good guys are).

I recieved a free review copy of The Wings of Dragons from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Dragoon Saga:

  1. The Wings of Dragons
  2. The Hearts of Dragons
  3. The Flames of Dragons
High Fantasy

Review: The Crystal Ordeal

Cover of "the Crystal Ordeal," featuring three gemstones (blue, green, and red) on a dark background
Image from M.G. Dekle

Title: The Crystal Ordeal

Series: Legends of Leone #1

Author: M. G. Dekle

Genre: High Fantasy

Back Cover:

At a very young age, Leone Verrat learned that her ability to cast simple magical spells was limited by a very peculiar handicap. Even though she earned barely passable grades, an unknown benefactor still saw fit to recommend her for Morgan’s Ordeal, a test necessary for any respectable career. She is soon inextricably linked to her theatrical Ordeal partner, Falchion, as they must brave the dangers of the test together. They both quickly discover that the Ordeal is the least of their concerns as they find themselves in the middle of an ancient power struggle.

Review:

I don’t read much high fantasy, but mainly because I’m not a big fan of traditional high fantasy plots and it’s hard to find a good original twist. The cover wasn’t the greatest, but the Morgan’s Ordeal thing sounded pretty unique, so I figured I might as well try it.

Leone was enjoyable. She tended to be a follower more than a leader, but she could hold her own in an argument or (mostly) in a fight. Between her faint geekiness, her almost completely boring past, and her rather unique magic usage, she would have been a great character…if she wasn’t overshadowed by the awesomeness of Falchion.

Falchion was the reason I enjoyed this book so much. He was adventurous and outgoing and offbeat and quirky and crazy, but he was hilarious. Some people do trust falls – Falchion does trust leaps. Off two-story buildings. Into giant walls. He was downright insane, but in such an endearing way.

I couldn’t read The Crystal Ordeal after ten at night, because Falchion would make me laugh so hard I’d wake up the rest of my family.

As for the traditional high fantasy plot – I didn’t have to worry. Once the strange and fascinating Morgan’s Ordeal part is over (it doesn’t take up nearly as much of the book as I was suspecting), it moves in to more strange and super fun plots, like escaping walled cities and running from guards and trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Because something really weird is going on, and it leads to all sorts of fun and excitement and danger.

High fantasy magic systems are almost always complicated. This does such-and-such in this case, but that over here, and this there, and if the opponent does/says/has this…you get the picture. That’s not a bad thing. But the Legends of Leone magic system was refreshingly simple: objects can be used to cast spells, using the object’s properties (a spiderweb can make a sticky spell or a rope spell or a net spell or whatever else the magician can think of that has to do with spiderwebs). It took me about a chapter to get it, then I just enjoyed watching Leone do fun magic stuff.

When I first pulled up the book on my ereader, I hoped I wouldn’t end up wading through 200+ pages of substandard writing. By page 75, I didn’t want this book to end. I wanted more of the story, and especially more of Falchion.

Leone was fun. Falchion was epic. I enjoyed the original take on high fantasy. And I sure as heck can’t wait to get my hands on book two!

I received a free review copy of The Crystal Ordeal from the author. His generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Legends of Leone series:

  1. The Crystal Ordeal
  2. Currently untitled
High Fantasy

Review: King’s Mark

King's Mark book cover
Image from Stephanie Herman; used by permission

Title: King’s Mark

Author: Stephanie Heman

Genre: High Fantasy

Back Cover:

Nearly a century ago, the immortal King disappeared. Now, his Marked servants are hunted as demons and his land is falling into chaos. Three Marked have survived: a river princeling, an exiled mercenary, and a street urchin. Faced with overwhelming odds and blessed – or cursed – with a magic they cannot control, these three must fight to save the people and land they love.

Review:

The summary of King’s Mark was vague, but I picked it up on the interesting premise – Marked people with special powers. I wasn’t sure how good it’d be, but I figured what the heck, I’d try it.

Leti, the river princeling, was sheltered and naive. I’m not sure how old he was, but I’d guess eleven or twelve. He was innocent and trusting and…well, child-like. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t my favorite of King’s Mark‘s point of view characters.

Chay was my favorite. I loved her determined, never-give-up attitude and her loyalty to her group of orphans. Her situation as a “streetfly” also intrigued me. And I was extremely curious why she pretended to be blind. Her whole gritty, rough part of the story was awesome.

Del Nyla, the mercenary, was only okay. I kind of liked her kick-butt manner and skills, but she sometimes came across as too rough to be likeable. She had a softer side, though, but that’s practically ignored until the very end. I honestly think I would have liked her better if the author had focused more on her soft side – maybe pitted it against her assassin attitude.

I loved the plot. In the beginning, there’s three characters living totally different lives, and I had no idea how they were going to come together. But they did, into a conspiracy and rebellion. Betrayals, battle scenes, tangled plotlines up until the very end…I loved it. And I loved how Chay shone (have I mentioned she’s awesome?).

I also loved the idea of the King’s Marked – people born with dark, tattoo-like marks and special powers. That’s the gist of it, although there’s a whole lot more details that fall into place throughout King’s Mark. It was brilliantly imagined and explained.

This was a long book, but I think it could have been longer. Del Nyla and Maro especially could have benefited from some extra character development. I think Del Nyla should have worked more with Chay and Leti. And I wouldn’t object to reading more of Chay (have I mentioned how awesome she is?).

King’s Mark is one of those books that makes me glad I don’t use a rating system. It’s too hard to rate. I loved Chay; I could take or leave the rest of the characters. I loved the plot and the idea, but I think the author could have done more with the emotional angle. Overall, it’s a pretty equal mix of good and not-so-good. But I don’ t regret the read.

I received a free review copy of King’s Mark from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

High Fantasy

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns book cover
Image from Kaitlin Stainbrook

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Series: Fire and Thorns #1

Author: Rae Carson

Genre: High Fantasy

Back Cover:

Elisa is the Chosen One. But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable, and can’t see how she ever will. On her sixteenth birthday, she becomes the wife of the handsome king of a country in turmoil. A king who needs her to be the Chosen One, not a failure of a princess. And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies, seething with dark magic, are hunting her.  Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young. Most of the chosen do.

Review:

The Girl of Fire and Thorns was on my top five most-anticipated books to read this year since I read the first chapter online. But in the back of my head, there was this little lingering doubt that it wouldn’t be as good as I’d expected.

I didn’t have to worry.

I loved Elisa. She was fat, insecure, studious, and pretty darn sure she was a failure. And she always underestimated herself. I loved seeing her overcome her insecurities and surprise herself at what she was capable of.

Alejandro – the king Elisa marries – wasn’t a major character, and I didn’t mind that very much. He was a fine person, but he was a not-so-great king and a somewhat insensitive husband. While I didn’t hate him, I also didn’t like him very much.

I feel like I should mention some more characters, but the only other ones are either minor or would probably make me include some spoilers.

The plot was brilliant.  The synopsis was suitably vague, so I had no real idea of what to expect – and so I was totally surprised when what I thought would be a little detour turned out to be huge and basically launched the main plot. War, danger, secret missions, and everybody believes Elisa can solve their problems. I loved it!

The Girl of Fire and Thorns has some very religious themes – mainly because the Chosen One is chosen by God and has a Godstone jewel in their bellybutton (a little weird, sure, but you get used to it). It has a somewhat Catholic feel, but it also feels like a totally different religion.  That could be because of the magic, though. And I enjoyed learning the little details related to the Godstone and what it means to be a Chosen One.

There’s so much more I want to say about the brilliance of this book, but I’m afraid if I say too much more, I’ll spoil it for you.

I could go on and on, but you probably get the point – I loved The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I definitely can’t wait to get my hands on The Crown of Embers, the second book in the series – even though I’m not really sure what it’ll be about, since The Girl of Fire and Thorns wrapped up so neatly.

The Fire and Thorns series:

  1. The Girl of Fire and Thorns
  2. The Crown of Embers
  3. The Bitter Kingdom