3 star, buddy review, YA

Buddy Review: Set Fire to the Gods by Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons

Ash is descended from a long line of gladiators, and she knows the brutal nature of war firsthand. But after her mother dies in an arena, she vows to avenge her by overthrowing her fire god, whose temper has stripped her country of its resources.

Madoc grew up fighting on the streets to pay his family’s taxes. But he hides a dangerous secret: he doesn’t have the earth god’s powers like his opponents. His elemental gift is something else—something that hasn’t been seen in centuries.

When an attempted revenge plot goes dangerously wrong, Ash inadvertently throws the fire and earth gods into a conflict that can only be settled by deadly, lavish gladiator games. The fights put Madoc in Ash’s path, and she realizes that his powers are the weapon her rebellion needs—but Madoc won’t jeopardize his family, regardless of how intrigued he is by the beautiful warrior.

But when the gods force Madoc’s hand, he and Ash uncover an ancient war that will threaten more than one immortal—it will unravel the world.



Welcome back to another installment of buddy reads between Fives and Andge at Down the Rabbit Hole!

This time, we ventured into a YA fantasy together, the first book in its duology. While this is nothing out of the ordinary to myself, Andge, my partner and friend, Fives, brings a pair of new eyes to YA fantasies with different expectations and insights than I may have.

Without further ado, here are our thoughts and discussions about this book!

Plot elements

Andge: I always think a good book is made up of a good foundation which can be found in its plot. Particularly important for fantasies in my opinion is its word building. Here, I found myself rather intrigued. There are 6 gods, children of the Mother Goddess who has been dead for centuries, and each god’s children may potentially inherit the ability associated with their elemental nature, known as energeia. I loved this uniqueness, especially because the elements aren’t relegated to just simple fire, water, air and earth. There is also animal and plant energeia which I’ve never seen elsewhere.

I only had two problems with how Raasch and Simmons crafted this world. First, it was an info dump in the beginning which may leave you scrambling to understand all the names of the places, gods and what their energeia can do. Second, even worse than the first, is that this story wastes so much of the world building. We only follow Deimans (the Earth people) and Kulans (the Fire people) with only brief mentions of the other people and places. I wish the authors could’ve done more here with its potential because I think relegating everyone and everything else to book 2 will probably not allow much time or exploration.

Fives: I definitely have to agree with Andge here. Even as only an occasional reader of YA fantasies, I did recognize that elements beyond the base four was something special. This made me immediately look forwards to seeing the plant and animal gods, and how their powers might manifest beyond the “normal” manipulation of the elements. To my surprise and great disappointment, neither of these clans really show up! The main characters are from earth and fire, so we get plenty of world building from these two peoples (two POVs as well). But we are left almost completely in the dark when it came to the other four gods.

I personally enjoy world building, and don’t mind too much if it can be complicated and rather laborious to be explained. However, the way it was written here really set me up to expect so much more. The little tidbits of the earth and fire people really got my excited to meet the rest of the clans. It is unfortunate that there is a beautiful trajectory of the world and how it could be built and explained, but then for me it just falls short when it doesn’t come up to my expectation. I do really like what I see and admire the uniqueness of the concept, but do wish I could have seen more of this wonderfully intriguing world.

Pacing

Andge: With the info dump at the beginning I mentioned came a sluggish start. It may discourage some people from continuing because the real gladiator arena fighting between the Deimans and Kulans take a while to come. I understand the need for setting up the story but it always makes me antsy when we know so much of what WILL happen from the synopsis but it doesn’t occur until way later in the book. The pace definitely picks up by the halfway mark, with an element of intrigue entering into the midst as we wonder about a potential conspiracy among the gods and a surprising gift one of the protagonists has.

Fives: Again, I have to agree with Andge on the pacing – definitely slow. While understandable for world-building (and even though I don’t personally mind too much), the high number of names and terms to get acquainted with is a bit daunting for sure. I loved the whole concept and really wanted to see where it could lead, but the beginning wasn’t able to hook me much. I felt that the middle was quite exciting and driving, but the ending fell a bit short for me. Overall I did not have a hard time reading this book, and I enjoyed it, but there were definitely clear sections where I felt excited to read more, and parts where I was wondering when the next thing would happen.

Characters

Andge: Last but not least, this story ultimately follows Madoc (a Deiman) and Ash (a Kulan) in alternating POVs as they find themselves on the path towards becoming gladiators and fighting for their respective gods in the arena. I liked them, which is always a plus (it is terrible to have to stick with a protagonist you can’t stand), but I didn’t feel anything too special about any of them. Ash is hurt and brimming with vengeance for her mother’s death, a trait that I can sympathize. Madoc, on the other hand, yearns to find his place and be recognized, with the additional protective streak for his found family. But beyond this, I didn’t see anything special in either one of them.

Any secondary characters were not completely two-dimensional, but I found myself wanting to see more of them. For example, Ash’s entourage of Kulan fighters seem brave and equally tired of fighting their god’s wars, but we don’t spend enough time with them. Or Madoc’s adoptive brother and sister who seem to just be more plot elements than real people I care about. I’m not sure if it’s just me being jaded.

Fives: The story follows Madoc and Ash who each have something to fight for as they risk their lives for their goal. Beyond being relatable, and having a complex background to earn sympathy, there isn’t really that much making them more special of a character – although not necessarily a bad thing. Beyond their tragic pasts or their unfortunate circumstances, the authors do not really make it a point to milk these connections and really draw me in. They mention many times, or allude to many things that are quite sad or haunting, but don’t really use it to evoke emotions more than the surface level expected ones.

I definitely agree with Andge that the secondary characters were much more foil in nature – I am not entirely sure if we were supposed to feel sorry for them or be invested in their story, but they definitely felt like a means to an end for the main characters, and it really felt like no one else in the story mattered but them (main character syndrome?). But if you like books all about the main characters, then this is for you!


Have you read this one before or have it on your TBR? We are always delighted to hear your thoughts!

Until next time, friends.

3 star, YA

Review: Fable by Adrienne Young

Series: Fable #1

For seventeen-year-old Fable, the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home she has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one, and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father, and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him, and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men. Fable takes you on a spectacular journey filled with romance, intrigue, and adventure.


Rating: 3/5 Drink Me Potions

There were five rules. Only five.

1. Keep your knife where you can reach it.

2. Never, ever owe anyone anything.

3. Nothing is free.

4. Always construct a lie from a truth.

5. Never, under any circumstances, reveal what or who matters to you.

Fable was a decent story on the complications of love, family and survival. This is definitely a title that joins other recent YA tales on the high seas full of rambunctious seafaring crews. As a Reese Witherspoon YA book club pick, I came in with obviously rather high expectations. Unfortunately, that became a part of its downfall.

Our titular protagonist, Fable, did a lot to survive on her own for four years on the island her father left her on. At first it was kind of hard to understand who was bad (apparently everyone, don’t trust them!) or what exactly she was doing to get herself off to this hunk of rock. The answer is looking for treasure (duh!). And a good thing she was such an expert on foraging for quality minerals. This point was a little confusing at first but eventually Young explains some of that down the road.

Thankfully most of the story does not take place on this lawless island, and the crew she escapes with is quickly introduced. I’m all for a good on-the-high-seas kind of story, but I have noticed that the makings of a really good one is not so much in its plot alone, but in the made-family the protagonist finds in the crew she finds herself in. A great example is Seafire by Natalie C. Parker or even Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller.

Young makes it easier on herself by aptly following this route and giving us a few secondary characters to know. West as the captain/helmsman of the crew needs no introduction as you just know from the synopsis that he’s a character we will get to know and maybe even salivate for. But the rest of the crew? Willa, Hamish, Auster and Paj all have a few words I can use to describe each but otherwise, I don’t really know them. And I think that’s a bit of a shame because it would’ve definitely elevated this book for me.

Much of this book also lies on Fable’s relationship with her father whom she is trying to reach after escaping the island. Instead of harbouring only resentment for his actions, she yearns to prove herself as fit for this world he is so hugely a part of. I liked how it never went down the road of simply hating him or only trying to gain approval. It was a mix of both which felt real for someone in Fable’s shoes. I hope this is something that can be further explored in the future.

This book kept it relatively short. It was a decent introduction to the Narrows where they live and how crews operate on the day-to-day. There is a little mystery behind Fable’s mother’s death that was laid here but will keep us speculating until next time. I will definitely check the rest of the series out, but I wished the story flourished a little beyond these things.

The romance was altogether sudden in my mind. I’m always a sucker for a good romance within a larger, action-heavy plot, but this really came out of left field. Don’t get me wrong, I like West and I’m glad there’s something going on between them. But when he declares that he’s wanted to be with her since he first laid eyes on her since she was stuck on the lawless island, I mean, he barely interacted with her at all during those years. I just want to feel how they came to care for each other so much instead of be TOLD that they do, you know?

But hey, overall I can’t complain. Strong female lead, daddy issues and adventure on the high seas, this was still a fun read to take me away to a wonderful far off land.

Overall Recommendations:

Fable follows its titular protagonist as she navigates a way to escape the lawless island her father abandoned her on. She encounters a small crew of people with their own secrets, meanwhile holding hers close to her chest. As Fable pushes to earn her right to step into this world alongside her father, mysteries surrounding her mother’s death arises as well as complications in relationships with this new crew family she’s starting to fall for. While a little light in plot elements, it sets a decent foundation for the world of the Narrows and the relationships of this family tied by more than blood. Book 2 should hopefully take us to even greater heights!

3 star, YA

Review: Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye

Series: Circle of Shadows #1

circle of shadows -evelyn skySora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied behind his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.

As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging to the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark. So when Sora and Daemon encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group.Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.


3 Drink Me Potions


A little different from what I’ve come to enjoy from Evelyn Skye, this first book in her latest series is an interesting tale of magic, family and hidden surprises.

Sora and Daemon are taigas, which to me is like a version of warriors/spies dressed in uniform all-black with the single task of protecting the kingdom. Chosen at a young age by the goddess, they hold elemental magical abilities to enhance their senses, like being to climb and stick to walls or enhancing their hearing.

The world building wasn’t anything too too special – which basically says it’s nothing out of the ordinary for YA fantasy. Kichona, a country endearingly (or is it?) shaped as a tiger, has known peace for so long, especially after a huge bloody uprising years earlier when brother and sister fought for the same throne. But of course, can peace last? Well, not in a YA fantasy novel. Danger in the form of powerful revenge and a twisted ambition for greatness has finally come knocking, and the question stands, will Kichona be the same after it all comes to an end?

Sora and Daemon graduate from their studies into this treacherous world where their training is put to full use. Having witnessed something out of the ordinary while none of the leaders believed them, off the two go to prove there’s something amiss in their land.

The plot was predictable – I mean, I just summarized a chunk of it and don’t you feel like it’s been done before? – but the enemy was greatly formidable against our heroes, so I suppose those balance each other out a bit to make the story go by faster.

I don’t get surprised easily but there were two instances that caught me slightly off guard in this book which definitely warmed my cold heart up a notch or two. And having a mystery to unravel always keeps me turning the pages rapidly. Daemon sucked at magic for a taiga, and his history was an unknown. He was found in the woods as a child but there’s just something about him that seems more than meets the eye.

Okay so we have a bit of a mystery, definitely action (we’re in the middle of an incoming war), but let’s not forget the last part to the perfect trifecta!

You guessed it. A forbidden romance.

Ah it just makes my heart melt a little inside. Being partners and bound to each other as taigas since they were young, Sora and Daemon weren’t allowed to have a romantic relationship. ‘Cause what if it doesn’t turn out but you’re stuck with them for the rest of your life? Sora seemed fine with it all but Daemon’s poor heart was hers if she even wanted it in the slightest way.

I loved how their partnership worked but I loved the added tension (on Daemon’s part) to their relationship that may suggest something more one day. But all I will say without giving too much away is that I hate love triangles and I do hope they’re endgame.

I’ll conclude that the magic system was a bit ordinary but that the world of taigas and intriguing storytelling by Evelyn kept it entertaining. While I can’t say I flipped through its pages rapidly or anything, I can say that it was a fun ride that I look forward to hopping back on in the next book.

Overall Recommendation:

Circle of Shadows was an intriguing book of magic, forbidden love and surprising enemies. While the magic system and world building were well described, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before so don’t hope for the extraordinary. What makes this book fun is the excellent crafting of the ordinary story elements into a full picture that leaves you hungering for a bit more. With a little (and I mean little) forbidden romance thrown into the mix between our heroes, the fun and excitement is only just beginning!