Archive | February 2016

Review: Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton

Series: Seeker #1

seeker -arwen elys daytonThe night Quin Kincaid takes her Oath, she will become what she has trained to be her entire life. She will become a Seeker. This is her legacy, and it is an honor.

As a Seeker, Quin will fight beside her two closest companions, Shinobu and John, to protect the weak and the wronged. Together they will stand for light in a shadowy world.

And she’ll be with the boy she loves–who’s also her best friend. But the night Quin takes her Oath, everything changes.

Being a Seeker is not what she thought. Her family is not what she thought. Even the boy she loves is not who she thought. And now it’s too late to walk away.


2 Drink Me Potions


Seeker was fantasy novel set in something akin to modern day Scotland and Hong Kong. It had huge potential to become something exciting and intriguing. Magical swords, secrets centuries old and a family heritage of honorable warriors. Sounds like a great synopsis doesn’t it?

Well, that’s where your hopes go south. Dayton turned a very interesting plot into a monotonous journey between 4 narratives. How did it go so very wrong? Why, let me list them out for you.

1) World building
It may be set in Scotland and then in Hong Kong, all very familiar land marks, but that’s no excuse for the vagueness in the Seeker’s history and uh, what exactly they are and do . All you get is that they’re “honourable” and “help to change the world” with their “life or death decisions”. Such power. Of course that would mean some would stray from the noble route to follow their selfish heart’s desires.

So what exactly are those “bad deeds” that Seekers now do instead? Such terrible things that it scarred Quin and Shinobu so much when they took their oath?

Uh, they became assassins? It doesn’t get graphic or anything, but the vagueness of it takes away from their GIGANTIC reaction after realizing they’ve become “monsters”. Quin is so mortified that she wishes to never remember any of it. Shinobu follows the path of self-destruction through drugs, booze and reckless actions like building jumping. These plot elements took up so much space and time in Seeker, you’d expect to be more understanding of their predicament.

And then there’s also the confusion regarding the Seeker’s abilities. It takes a while into the novel before things start becoming more clear. Just what the heck do they do? Why are they so special or powerful? But the long-winded way it took to reach those answers could’ve driven many people away from the book by then.

2) Plot pacing
It was so BORING in the middle. I was occasionally flipping ahead just to see whose narrative we’d get to follow next ’cause the one I was on just wasn’t cutting it for me. Nothing truly exciting happened. Bad men chase the “good guys”. They fight back or they’re too busy drowning in their own problems to even notice or want to get away from danger. More mysterious tidbits into the Seekers but nothing solid to lure your undivided attention in.

The last 10-15 chapters picked up a bit, and I kinda wished the novel was like this for the most of it. The sections in Scotland in the first part was the hardest to get through. I can totally understand why so many people just DNFed. It took way too long to get the action going.

3) Characters
In Seeker, everything is written in 3rd person but we switch between following 4 different people. Quin and Shinobu are your typical protagonist narratives. They weren’t so bad to follow, except when they both bugged me to no end.

Quin was torn after learning of her beloved John’s other side, the darker side he kept hidden from her. The side that sought revenge over anything else. I just wanted to shake her. Can’t she see he’s so broken that she can’t heal him? I know love makes people blind, but it took a while for her to stop letting his mere presence interfere with proper thinking.

Shinobu’s walk into reckless self-destruction was so selfish. He thought he was only hurting himself, but he hurt those around him by being the way he was. They were so broken after becoming full-fledged Seekers and doing their “evil deeds”, but I wanted to poke at him to throw off the self-pity party already. He could still be the honourable hero he had always wanted to be. Drowning his sorrows like this didn’t make him any better of a person. However, I’m glad that it doesn’t end with him in his poor state, and for that it helped redeem his character as it showed a true depth to his growth and ability to find redemption for himself.

As for John, he’s like the book’s minor antagonist. There’s the big antagonist that is Quin’s awful Seeker father, but at least I could outright hate him. John? He was a different story. From his backstory that very slowly unfolded through his narrative, I couldn’t help but pity his descent into hatred and bitterness. It’s not simple to call him “evil” and be done with that. He cares for Quin (to my utmost chagrin, ’cause I don’t think he’s good enough for her), but he let his promise for retribution take over. His obsession for revenge drove everyone away. Maybe we’re supposed to feel bad for him, but all I can feel is tons of pity .

The last narrative is a girl named Maud. She’s something called a Dread, the youngest one in fact. Something else that belongs to Seeker history that we’re not so clearly explained for a long while. Actually, it’s still not fully explained by the end of it, but at least you learn a little bit more from her backstory. Her role is like to judge and monitor the actions of the Seekers, to prevent them from abusing such power. Ha! Where were they for the last few centuries? Although her narrative was the most confusing, she was the one person whom I didn’t want to strangle at some point through the novel. I’d say that’s a pretty good thing.

So that actually wasn’t all that short, but those were the things that annoyed me incessantly. Why the heck did I finish it? you may ask. Well, that’s a very good question. Sure, I was still a little bit curious about the Seekers. But mostly, it went down to the fact that a) I hate not finishing a book unless absolutely necessary, and b) I rushed through it to make sure Quin chose Shinobu. He was clearly the better candidate, and he understood her feelings perfectly. They were IN THE SAME BOAT. The sequel better have something nice going on for them, ’cause this book was NO ROMANCE. It would’ve spiced things up a little bit, especially when the plot action lacked so badly. It’s a shame it really didn’t go that way until the very end.

Oh, and you know what bothered me the most?

Wait for it.

The cheesy way Quin and Shinobu would always say “evildoers beware” over and over again. I think I just found a new pet peeve.

Overall Recommendation:
Seeker has many points against it, from slow pacing to annoying characters and very vague world building. This urban fantasy set in such beautiful settings like Scotland and Hong Kong could’ve made it truly adventurous and exciting, especially with a plot about secret powerful families. But it truly was missing the excitement factor, whether it be from learning more about Seekers or a forbidden romance. However, it literally read like a magical version of Revenge or something. All I can say is that there are not a lot of redeeming qualities to it, so here’s to hoping the sequel would be lots better from the low beginning.

Review: Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder

Series: Study #4

shadow study -maria v. snyderOnce, only her own life hung in the balance…

When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.


As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked.And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.


4 Drink Me Potions


Oh, Yelena, I didn’t think it was possible, but I had forgotten just how much I adore your adventures.

Shadow Study was the novel that fans like me have been waiting for since the conclusion of Fire Study several years ago. With the crazy antics Yelena and her friends just seem to be drawn into, this novel is both reminiscent of her old adventures as well as introduces some new ones.

First off, it’s not totally necessary to have read the previous Study books or Glass books by Maria. However, with the huge amount of characters from both those series showing up in all sorts of roles in this book, it’s definitely a bigger treat for you to read if you knew who they were. It still makes sense even without that context as Snyder worked hard to make it understandable for first time readers, so no worries if you don’t wanna read all of that in one go.

Written with 3 POVs (I know, what a treat, right?), the story quickly develops from all different angles. Yelena is just a magnet for trouble, which starts literally from the first page. Her adventures in Sitia are constantly threaded with suspense as some unknown danger is out stalking her (once again cause honestly, when is she NOT in danger?).

Her and Valek, oh dear Valek, are separated (that’s not a surprise there, either, huh?), but it doesn’t feel so bad as with Magic Study or Fire Study because we get to see what he’s up to in his own POV. Back in Ixia, something iffy is going on up there with the Commander. There are just subtle hints but you can totally tell something bad is brewing up in this country. Meanwhile, we finally get more than a glimpse into Valek’s backstory. Oh my, how he became an assassin and how’d he met Ambrose. Oh, and how’d he fulfilled his duty as the King Killer. Fangirling here.

With all this intensity from both those POVs, good ol’ Janco gets his own POV as well. I suppose out of the power twins, Janco is the funnier friend and so he makes for great comic relief. Snyder’s characteristic sarcastic humour was at its highest with him, although the others also had their own moments.

Favourite cameos and secondary characters pop up throughout. My personal favourites were Yelena’s brother Leif (he surprisingly has a very similar humour going for him as Janco) and the Sandseed Story Weavers. Those who loved the Glass series (unfortunately, not me) would appreciate the appearance of major characters like Opal and Devlen.

So with a fulfilling adventure in both Sitia and Ixia (back in Valek’s memories), as-expected crazy action scenes, loveable characters and a sense of nostalgia, Shadow Study provided a great start to a new line of danger Yelena the Soulfinder has to face. It’s no wonder I can’t help but use Maria V. Snyder’s works as my gold standard for fantasy adventures. They suck you in until you never quite want to leave it, and for good reason too. I’d say this made for a wonderful installment in the series, especially after so many years.

Overall Recommendation:
Shadow Study is the book that all you diehard Study fans are wishing for. It lives up to this claim, as even I, a long time fan, can’t help but relive the wonders of being in the land of Ixia and Sitia. Yelena’s adventures are just as crazy and dangerous, but good thing her good friends are always around to have her back. The characters still leap to life and the world building is familiar and well-developed. For first time fans, it’s not completely necessary to read other books before it, but it definitely amplifies the experience by a lot. I definitely recommend you read this, especially if you loved the first three Study books. It’s worth the wait after all these years.

Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Series: Fire and Thorns #3

the bitter kingdom -rae carsonThe champion must not waver.
The champion must not fear.
The gate of darkness closes.

Elisa is a fugitive.

Her enemies have stolen the man she loves, and they await her at the gate of darkness. Her country is on the brink of civil war, with her own soldiers ordered to kill her on sight.

Her Royal Majesty, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, bearer of the Godstone, will lead her three loyal companions deep into the enemy’s kingdom, a land of ice and snow and brutal magic, to rescue Hector and win back her throne. Her power grows with every step, and the shocking secrets she will uncover on this, her final journey, could change the course of history.

But that is not all. She has a larger destiny. She must become the champion the world has been waiting for.

Even of those who hate her most.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


The Bitter Kingdom marked the end of The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy. It was another intriguing adventure, this time through the lands of the Invierno. With a few surprises and a conclusion to Elisa’s duty as the bearer of the Godstone that wasn’t necessarily predictable, this novel was fun while it lasted.

The story picks up right where its predecessor left off. Chasing after Hector into the unknown territory, Elisa and her band of unique friends ran into the kind of problems you’ve come to expect from Rae Carson’s writing. While he was kidnapped, our loveable Lord Commander Hector had his own short, oh so short, POV chapters. They detailed his journey with his kidnappers through his eyes that really gave this book a special taste as it was always just Elisa’s voice.

The world building continues in this book. I thought there was a lull in this aspect after the first book, what with the uniqueness of Elisa’s role in this world as a living Godstone bearer. However, now that they’re walking right into enemy territory for the first time, Carson continues to detail how these people live.

In short, these are the few things that I absolutely enjoyed in this book.

1) The wrap-up conclusion with the “act of service” we – or at least I – have been wondering about since the beginning that Elisa had to complete as a Godstone bearer.
It was such a central aspect throughout this trilogy, her being blessed with this unknown task willed by God, that answering it almost seemed like a letdown. BUT, in a sense, I liked how it was written at the same time. It wasn’t what I expected, or even remotely guessed, but like all bearers before her, this act may not directly benefit Elisa and her friends. With that sense of mystery to it, I’d say there was no better way of putting it out there.

2) The continual growth in Elisa.
She is nothing like she was when leaving her home kingdom of Orovalle. No longer timid, she was a strong heroine that would stop at nothing from protecting her loved ones and ensuring peace for the kingdom that she now ruled. But most importantly of all, she learned to love herself for who she was. She may never be as skinny or elegant as her sister, but she had traits no one else could even live up to. That kind of message in her continuous growth made her relateable and a great narrative voice to being reading all the way to this end.

3) Last, but definitely NOT least, Hector.
‘Cause, who can resist such a sweet and protective character like him? His love for her wasn’t because she was a queen now or that she successfully conquered their enemies once before. He loved her even before, and his love didn’t have to be returned for it to be there all the same. I had wished there were chapters with his POV, but what was there was still a pleasant surprise. Their sweet romance was absolutely my favourite thing to read.

These were definitely highlights, but of course, there were setbacks. For all the adventures, it still felt like it lacked something….epic. The big fight with all of Elisa’s enemies just seemed to happen too quickly. It barely took up many chapters. A lot of what goes on in those pages went into their treacherous travelling plans. I may just have high expectations when it comes to fantasy adventures, but overall, it didn’t have my heart pounding till the very last minute to find out what would happen to everyone I cared for. That is what separates the good from the great fantasy novels. And this just didn’t quite make the cut for greatness.

Overall Recommendation:
The Bitter Kingdom continued with the adventures of queen and sorcerer Elisa. As the last of the trilogy, it was able to tie up loose ends nicely, but epic it was not. The big and explosive action and adventure parts of the book didn’t take up much of it, whereas mundane things like travelling dangers seemed to have too much page space. With the occasional twist and surprise ending, Rae Carson’s finale was fun in the moment and true to her previous writings, albeit a bit lackluster and forgettable.

Author Spotlight: Maria V. Snyder

Hello, lovelies.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything beyond book reviews. Since I’m currently procrastinating from things that “actually matter”, I have decided to start a new series where I put some of my favourite authors in the spotlight. In celebration of the recent release of Night Study, I have chosen Maria V. Snyder for my first post.

Maria V. Snyder has been one of my favourite fantasy authors since I first read her debut novel, Poison Study, way back in 2010. Here’s the quick blurb from Goodreads about it.


poison study -maria v. snyderChoose: A quick death…Or slow poison…

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear…


Poison Study was a fast-paced, high-action novel that held me at the edge of my seat. It’s one of those novels that I go back to every once in a while because this is what I compare other books to in the fantasy genre. It has set the bar, threshold and goal for any book that wishes to get a 5 star rating in this category.

Besides the enthralling plot as a new life as the Commander’s food – er, poison – taster, there has never quite been someone like Yelena, in my opinion. Celaena Sardothien of Sarah Maas’ Throne of Glass series probably is the closest comparison, with their strong personalities and ability to take care of themselves. However, that’s where the comparison ends. Yelena comes from a crazy background of abuse and torture, almost dying for a crime that was really more self-defense than murder. Upon her deal with the Commander’s assassin to be the new taster, life gets crazy for her from there.

From action to the wittiest friends (in the form of two soldiers named Janco and Ari) to her sweet and unexpected romance with Valek, Maria V. Snyder set the world afire in 2005 as readers from all over the world found themselves enthralled by the militaristic world of Ixia.

As with all good series, the following novels Magic Study and Fire Study were amazing additions to Yelena’s adventures as she dives into her newfound abilities. Unfortunately, they weren’t as heavily steeped in romance as I would’ve liked it – my only criticism as Valek always shows up so late into each book – but Maria had created a world that no fan could quite forget.

And from the urgings of these said-fans, a new trilogy has sprung up continuing Yelena’s adventures with Valek and Ari and Janco, along with a new cast of amazing characters set in a world you didn’t quite wanna escape from.

Shadow Study came out last year in 2015, and now, its sequel Night Study has just come out in stores.



 

For those who haven’t read any of these books, I urge you from the deepest part of my heart to give them a try. You won’t look at fantasy in the same ever again. This is my golden standard for fantasy books.

Besides the Study series that propelled her to fame, Maria V. Snyder has also written a companion Glass series following a character from the original Study trilogy. (Personally, this was the one series that didn’t sit well with me from her, for which I’m sad to admit.) Along with that, her Healer series (Touch of Power, Scent of Magic, Taste of Darkness) has all your characteristic Snyder fantasy elements but set in a totally new world that captures you as much as Ixia and Sitia did.

To read more about Maria V. Snyder’s works and read about the latest things going on with her, below links you to her website and Goodreads account where she actively updates with blogs.

Website: http://www.mariavsnyder.com/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/445303.Maria_V_Snyder

I encourage you to explore the worlds in which Maria V. Snyder has created. Happy reading, my fellow bookworms!

Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Series: Fire and Thorns #2

the crown of embers -rae carsonShe does not know what awaits her at the enemy’s gate.

Elisa is a hero.

She led her people to victory over a terrifying, sorcerous army. Her place as the country’s ruler should be secure. But it isn’t.

Her enemies come at her like ghosts in a dream, from foreign realms and even from within her own court. And her destiny as the chosen one has not yet been fulfilled.

To conquer the power she bears, once and for all, Elisa must follow a trial of long-forgotten—and forbidden—clues, from the deep, hidden catacombs of her own city to the treacherous seas. With her go a one-eyed spy, a traitor, and the man whom—despite everything—she is falling in love with.

If she’s lucky, she will return from this journey. But there will be a cost.


4 Drink Me Potions


Following a few months after the previous novel, The Crown of Embers was even more exciting. This sequel was just as steeped in the religious practices that Elisa and her people follow, but now it’s taken another mysterious turn. Realizing that her destiny wasn’t quite fulfilled by the actions of the previous book, there’s crazier things in store for her as the only bearer of a living Godstone.

Right from the beginning, danger continually creeps against her. Whether from the crazy blue fire-wielding Inviernos or rumblings of people contesting her rule of the kingdom, Elisa is far from safe. I admired her in the first book, but in this one? I plain adore the change in her. She has gone from someone who didn’t really believe in her worth to trusting that God was right in choosing her.

Whispers of a deep source of magic underneath the ground that powers her Godstone sets her off on a new adventure. Along with her comes a cast of interesting characters. Some of these are familiar faces from her previous adventures, although not as many of my favourite people return. Some are new ones that are just as cool with back stories and realistic personalities that Carson has creatively crafted. One such person is a traitor Invierno who doesn’t understand sarcasm and perpetually seems to be either displeased or downcast.
Continue reading

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Series: Fire and Thorns #1

the girl of fire and thorns -rae carsonOnce a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs 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. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

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.


3 Drink Me Potions


The Girl of Fire and Thorns was an interesting fantasy adventure with a huge religious backstory weaved throughout it. The world building was intriguing, with our protagonist Elisa being married off to the King of another kingdom for who knows what purposes. That sounds familiar enough, right? Something you may see in another fantasy adventure book? But the world building wasn’t as special as the huge amount of work that went into describing their religion and quotes of the religious scriptures that they believed in. After all, Elisa was the bearer of a physical stone embedded into her navel, known as the Godstone. She was God’s chosen one, so therefore, this story was gonna be heavily influenced by what she perceived as her duty to fulfill God’s will.

The world and all the people in it felt like it was heavily influenced by a Spanish-speaking community. The religion felt oddly familiar, like it too was influenced by Catholicism in its traditional rituals and sacraments. I found this unique and strange all at the same time. Religion and magic interweaved into a story together in the YA genre is not very common. Coming from one who personally believes in God, Carson wrote something that wouldn’t necessarily offend people as Elisa’s religion wasn’t quite the same as what people in our world believe in, and it wasn’t urging people to believe in what she did. I found myself oddly enjoying this aspect. As this God had characteristics like my God, I could personally understand Elisa’s struggles in figuring out her path as His chosen one.

In this world, she is a very special person to be born with a Godstone. Throughout the story, Elisa was my favourite part of it. There was so much inner struggle in finding out where she belonged, in how she could possibly do something of great service for the world and complete her “destiny”. She had self-esteem problems. Continue reading