2.5 star, YA

Review: Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh

Series: Flame in the Mist #2

smoke in the sun -renee ahdiehFor weeks, seventeen-year-old Mariko pretended to be a boy to infiltrate the notorious Black Clan and bring her would-be murderer to justice. She didn’t expect to find a place for herself among the group of fighters—a life of usefulness—and she certainly didn’t expect to fall in love. Now she heads to the imperial castle to resume a life she never wanted to save the boy she loves.

Ōkami has been captured, and his execution is a certainty. Mariko will do what she must to ensure his survival—even marry the sovereign’s brother, saying goodbye to a life with Ōkami forever.

As Mariko settles into her days at court—making both friends and enemies—and attempting Ōkami’s rescue at night, the secrets of the royal court begin to unravel as competing agendas collide. One arrow sets into motion a series of deadly events even the most powerful magic cannot contain. Mariko and Ōkami risk everything to right past wrongs and restore the honor of a kingdom thrown into chaos by a sudden war, hoping against hope that when the dust settles, they will find a way to be together.

Set against the backdrop of feudal Japan, Smoke in the Sun is the breathless, romantic, not-to-be-missed fiery conclusion to a spell-binding adventure.

2.5 Drink Me Potions

Set in feudal Japan with samurais and codes of honour, Smoke in the Sun continues the story of a girl trying to save the life of a boy she loves at any cost to her own life.

The novel picks up pretty closely to where book 1 ended. With the newly unveiled identity of Okami and his capture by Mariko’s brother and her betrothed’s soldiers. Jumping straight back into this Japanese inspired realm, the world and sense of magic and mystery enveloped me again like an old friend.

Most of the book was spent trying to figure out how to release Okami from capture. Through the eyes of Mariko, the wonders of the palatial life – on the surface – and the hidden secrets and gossip among its upper class were revealed in manner. I liked the lush setting and descriptions, yet at times, this really slowed down the pace of the book. A lot.

Meanwhile, other elements of intrigue unfolded as people in the land started falling into some deep sickness that inhibited the control of their own body and mind. Was this linked to Mariko’s attempted murder? Maybe something exciting was finally happening.

But as some things are, it was kind of a letdown. It was in no way a mystery (we literally see from the POV of the bad guy why this was happening – and mind you, the why wasn’t very exciting either), and how it was revealed to our main characters was neither clever nor surprising. The climax that was being set up took a swift turn for a happy ending that left me wondering if any of it was that bad before at all.

I wanted to desperately love the only element of intrigue this book seemed to have. While I fell in love with the Black Clan initially in book 1 out in the wilds, the relationship between Mariko and Okami felt more real there than it did now. Here, it’s just the aftermath of strong love but I didn’t really feel it. Maybe I forgot a lot of what it was like in the time since I read Flame in the Mist but I couldn’t care as much as I wanted.

Not all of it was a downer though. Secondary characters like Raiden made things more interesting. He wasn’t the typical person you’d necessarily cheer for (at first) or a wounded soul to save, but there’s something redeemable in some way about him that intrigued me. I don’t know about you, but I could totally wish for a book about him. Maybe with a certain someone’s sister guiding him away from less noble influences? You with me?

While I still enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of a time of old in Japan, I can’t help but overlay and compare it with the recent book by Julie Kagawa, Shadow of the Fox. In my heart I know they’re different in their own way, but I can’t help but see this series in a new light – and where it could do better.

Some action, dramatic romantic overtures, and a land falling to chaos, Smoke in the Sun was lovely on its cover but digging deep into its story left me somewhat disappointed at the potential it could’ve been. I love Renee Ahdieh but maybe I came at this book with my expectations a little too high.

Overall Recommendation:

Smoke in the Sun delightfully drops us back into the world of Japanese samurais and magic. On a grand scale, it’s about a rescue mission for the love of Mariko’s life, with other elements swept to the side in the plot. While it set itself up for potentially exciting action scenes and an explosive conclusion with a battle for the empire, it all gets wrapped up too quickly in a nice bow to ever really feel tense about the situation at all. A decent wrap up if you enjoyed Flame in the Mist, but I suggest you read this before any other similar story set in feudal Japan.

2.5 star, YA

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Series: The Folk of the Air #1

the cruel prince -holly blackOf course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

2.5 Drink Me Potions

Faerie might be beautiful, but its beauty is like a golden stag’s carcass, crawling with maggots beneath his hide, ready to burst.

Back into the land of the fae. While I’m acquainted with faeries from various authors (see Julie Kagawa, Lesley Livingston, recent Cassandra Clare), this is my first real romp with Holly Black’s version of these mythical creatures.

And it’s definitely the crueler side highlighted.

Twins Jude and Taryn have lived with the faeries since they were young after being kidnapped by their parents’ killer. But they’ve been treated fairly well, to the status of Gentry, which explains the extreme Stockholm syndrome present in these girls.

Yet this land is no place for mortals. Or at least, not if they want to be treated well and with respect.

I struggled with Jude as the main character for most of the book. While the high class faeries mocked them and tormented them, I get wanting to hurt them back and to feel less powerless. But Jude pushed back sometimes too hard and it led to consequences that I don’t think she really thought through. And consequences that fell on other people, namely Taryn.

At the same time, it’s this deep anger and willingness to do anything to gain power and control over her own situation that made Jude real. And over time, she became someone stronger – with maybe less scrupulous morals (in some ways).

And yet none of [land, knighthood, love] seems all that valuable anymore. None of those are true power. True power isn’t granted. True power can’t be taken away.

The romance, likewise, got better with time. Prince Cardan is not nice. In fact, that’s a pure understatement.

I couldn’t get a good read on him and I’m not really sure what his attraction to Jude is based on. It’s definitely a slow burn kinda romance so I appreciate that more than insta-love. But I withhold judgment on how it’ll go from there.

The pacing was excruciatingly slow in the beginning. Nothing really got exciting until maybe two-thirds or more into the book. The beginning is basically Jude being angry (instead of having to deal with just being scared) all the time while everyone is cruel to her. I can see why everyone loves this novel overall, yet you really gotta pat yourself on the back for getting to the point where it gets exciting.

With that twisted ending that almost felt like it was left mid-sentence, I do look forward to seeing what’s next in store in this faerie court. The intrigue is afoot!

Overall Recommendation:

The Cruel Prince fell a little flat after all the hype that surrounded it upon release. Slow in its execution and featuring a romance where I couldn’t exactly say I was rooting for the guy for most of the book, the only highlight was the imaginative land of faeries crafted by Holly Black and the twisted ending that I didn’t see coming. Having an irritating but realistic protagonist such as Jude made the journey more interesting, that’s for sure. With book 1 setting the stage in the last 1/3 of the story, I find myself extremely intrigued as to what will come next!

2.5 star, YA

Review: Ally by Anna Banks

Series: Nemesis #2

ally -anna banksPrincess Sepora of Serubel and King Tarik of Theoria have formed an uneasy truce between their kingdoms since the deadly plague began to rip through Theoria.

Since their feelings for each other are entangled in politics and power, they must use their own trusted resources to find common ground.

But when traitors with powerful allies arise from unexpected places, Tarik and Sepora face challenges that will change both of their kingdoms forever.

Will they learn whom to trust—including each other—in time to save their kingdoms, their relationship and even their lives?

2.5 Drink Me Potions

I was looking forward to reading Ally after the first book’s set up, but the storyline felt haphazardly slapped together. Slow at times, but rushed and hurried in other areas, there was little room for new character development yet plenty of space, apparently, for misunderstandings between our two protagonists, Tarik and Sepora.

Where do I even start?

There were certain highlights to Ally that I admit to enjoying.

1) The continual romantic tensions between Tarik and Sepora. I did find this kept me somewhat interested in finishing the book as I wanted to know if they ever could resolve the deep-seated trust issues they had with each other stemming from book 1. However, it got a bit unnecessary later on (more below).

2) Exploration of a bit more of the world they lived in. There were little moments of expansion about other kingdoms and how they lived, for example her mother’s home kingdom of Pelusia.

3) The mystery behind the Quiet Plague that has devastated Tarik’s home of Theoria since the very beginning of the series. I always love a good solution to the main ailments of a book, especially if it’s conducted well.

But as you may imagine, these very things I liked were also flipped on its head and were the things I thought weren’t good enough.

1) The misunderstandings between Sepora and Tarik take a turn for the worst (if that’s even possible). I honestly sided with Tarik half the time and was extremely annoyed reading from Sepora’s POV. She felt lied to and used for her ability to Forge yet Tarik had never truly made her feel trapped about using her abilities for his kingdom. In fact, he gave her room to make these decisions on her own without truly forcing it on her as he could have.

Yet the stupidity of their situation couldn’t all be her fault. Tarik just couldn’t admit to Sepora about his darn feelings half the time, expecting her to know about what he felt as any Lingot could, but she would have to solely rely on his actions to relay what he truly meant as words can so easily be used for deception.

Just…arghhh. The endless misunderstandings between them got old real fast. Was this really all necessary to keep the story momentum going? Plus, the way thing were resolved super-duper fast in the span of a few TINY chapters in Part 5 just wasn’t satisfactory. No matter how much I enjoyed the ending.

2) World building is only as strong as the time spent lovingly crafting it and stoking it into the main storyline. I felt this was poorly done, with little random facts such as the Pelusians love for DISGUISING thrown into the book for fun like an afterthought to make the book more interesting besides problems in Tarik-Sepora land.

3) And what of the mysterious plague? It wasn’t so mysterious after all, falling prey to my initial prediction for its cause. And the cure? Also such a throwaway. “Oh hey, here’s the *thing* that can heal your people, says the Master Healer.”

I don’t know if it’s just me not rubbing well with Anna Banks but this is the 2nd series I really wanted to like by her and it just falls short. With so many stories out there in this genre, there’s really no time to waste on a book that doesn’t stand out from others. I did enjoy the romance component to an extent, but there were too many things that I found at fault with the book. If you enjoy a story mostly centred on its romantic tensions between the girl and her lover interest, with all else INCLUDING the action of impending war – which totally fell flat in its execution and lasted mere pages – acting as a secondary component of the book, then you’re in luck. This is YOUR book! Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d suggest you try.

Overall Recommendation:
Ally was a promising sequel and conclusion to this series, but it really fell flat with my expectations. While the book had many advantageous parts to it – mysterious plague, impending war with other kingdoms, world building, tensions between lovers – none of these things were really explored extensively. Aside from spending way too much time on the misunderstandings between the protagonists, the other things were not given the appropriate amount of time to flourish into a genuinely amazing novel. If these things would bother you, I recommend you don’t read it. Otherwise, fans of Nemesis may enjoy it well enough.