5 star, YA

Review: Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa

Series: Shadow of the Fox #1

shadow of the fox -julie kagawaOnce Every Thousand Years…

Every millennium, one age ends and another age dawns…and whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers holds the power to call the great Kami Dragon from the sea and ask for any one wish. The time is near…and the missing pieces of the scroll will be sought throughout the land of Iwagoto. The holder of the first piece is a humble, unknown peasant girl with a dangerous secret.

Demons have burned the temple Yumeko was raised in to the ground, killing everyone within, including the master who trained her to both use and hide her kitsune shapeshifting powers. Yumeko escapes with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll. Fate thrusts her into the path of a mysterious samurai, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan. Yumeko knows he seeks what she has…and is under orders to kill anything and anyone who stands between him and the scroll.

A wish will be granted and a new age will dawn.


5 Drink Me Potions


**Shadow of the Fox comes out October 2, 2018**

Thank you to Indigo Books & Music and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review

Finally, another masterpiece by Julie Kagawa. I haven’t felt such admiration for her work since the first book of The Iron Fey series came out a decade ago.

A piece of art steeped in Japanese folklore and legends, Shadow of the Fox was a delicious, sometimes even creepy, romp into a Japanese-centric world of samurai, honour, and a refreshing heroine who doesn’t have the answers to everything right off the bat.

Initially, I will admit, the Japanese words and terms can get a little bit confusing, but eventually they become a part of your vocab like you naturally use them. Fans of Japanese animes and mangas may be a little more accustomed to how individuals refer to each other, or the words for demons, ghosts, and other supernatural beings that are a part of Japanese legends. Our protagonist, Yumeko, is a kitsune. A type of fox demon. Regardless of the negative connotation that the word demon normally brings out, this girl was raised in a temple by monks. Yes. Monks. You would think that those wouldn’t go together, right?

If you thought she made for an unlikely heroine, meet our other protagonist. Kage Tatsumi, an infamous member of the Shadow Clan with a dark burden he carries in the form of a sword, is otherwise known as the demonslayer.

Half fox demon and a demonslayer. Unlikely allies. My book senses are already tingling.

But wait! That’s not it at all.

These individuals meet due to strange circumstances. A time is drawing near where the possibility of great evil may emerge. And the only one to stop it from destroying everything they know of this world? A half-kitsune fulfilling a vow she made. Yumeko embarks on an adventure she never asked for, bringing along Tatsumi as they search for a piece of a scroll that could NOT fall into the hands of evil.

For a book this length, there were surprisingly few names that we meet. Yet it works well for this kind of story. A good portion of the book was just the alternating POVs of Yumeko and Tatsumi as they venture towards their next destination in their quest. Other individuals come along, both good and bad, and their company may even grow as they continue. But at the heart of it, this novel really spends a good amount of time developing our 2 protagonists and the main supporting characters. At the end of the day, I felt like I knew this company of unlikely allies and friends. They may each come from different backgrounds, and different secrets or motives may abound between them, yet there is loyalty and might I say, even friendship, that ties them so strongly together.

Romance wasn’t an important part of the book, although those of you who enjoy some elements of it should still be pleased with the little moments between Tatsumi and Yumeko. I personally enjoyed the individual growth each displayed. Yumeko was a naive girl who never knew what the world outside the temple was like. From fighting demons (oni) and ghosts (yurei) and other awful evils intent on preventing them from fulfilling their mission, she learned more of what she could do as part kitsune but never let any of this evil change the caring and trusting heart that she had. Tatsumi is your mysterious, emotionless guy that is quite typical in YA writings. But he’s not as simple as that statement sounds. Throughout the events that unfold, there’s this anticipation building as we watch him balance this fine line of controlling the inner demon inside of him (quite literally).

The depth of world building was by far my favourite. Japanese folklore brought to life, Kagawa really described this land and the magical, mystical creatures that are just a part of Japanese culture. It’s not just your simple samurai (whoop-dee-doo) either. One may be tempted to make comparisons with Renee Ahdieh’s Flame in the Mist series, but I personally think this book goes into it a lot more. The protagonists aren’t your honourable samurai warriors, but rather a ragtag group of people who are normally on the outskirts of this kind of Japanese society. Kitsune, shinobi, ronin.

While the plot was a mere adventure towards the first stop in fulfilling the mission and completing the Dragon scroll everyone is searching for, it sets the foundation for a lot more excitement. The climax of the story answered a few things, although many more questions were opened up. I wouldn’t say it was a cliffhanger but there are definitely teasers hooking me in for more of what’s to come in book 2.

Shadow of the Fox is the book I’ve been waiting for from Julie Kagawa since I read her debut novel. This is the piece of work that I feel describes Julie maybe even more than The Iron Fey books did. And I cannot wait for whatever is to come from what was set in motion here.

Overall Recommendation:
Shadow of the Fox is a remarkable adventure through Japanese legends of spirits, gods, demons and other supernatural entities. Julie Kagawa has drawn us into this Japanese-centric world with unique characters on a mission for pieces of a scroll that hold the key to great wonders or evil. Following unlikely allies Yumeko and Tatsumi on their quest, secrets abound, dangers unfold and more questions open up about who to trust in this world of samurai and oni. I would recommend this book to anyone in search of a book that piques a sense of adventure and amazing world building.

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4 star, YA

Review: Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

Series: Heart of Thorns #1

heart of thorns -bree bartonIn the ancient river kingdom, touch is a battlefield, bodies the instruments of war. Seventeen-year-old Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood.

Not women. Demons. The same demons who killed her mother without a single scratch.

But when Mia’s father suddenly announces her marriage to the prince, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Only after the wedding goes disastrously wrong does she discover she has dark, forbidden magic—the very magic she has sworn to destroy.


4 Drink Me Potions


**Heart of Thorns comes out July 31, 2018**

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

Hatred will only lead you astray. Sometimes love is the stronger choice.

Heart of Thorns took me by surprise. While it was predictable in some sense of where the plot was going, the overall story just worked for me.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Mia, our lovely protagonist, thinks of herself as a rational, logical scientist. She experiments and studies anatomy, a collector of knowledge, priding herself on not just knowing the subjects she chooses to understand but also mastering them. Have you read of protagonists such as these before? I mean, I sure have. Some worked (see Long May She Reign) whereas others feel like talking boxes of facts with no emotional depth.

I was very conflicted as to which side Mia landed for me initially. Especially when there are passages such as the following littered throughout the book.

Eight carpal bones in the wrist: the hamate, capitate, scaphoid, pisiform, lunate, triquetral, trapezoid, and trapezium.

OR

He brushed a curl from her cheek and her zygomatic bones thrummed in their sockets.


Like, what?? I’m the kinda girl who appreciates anatomical terms better than the average person, but even I couldn’t help but laugh a little reading these sentences. Especially the latter.

Then how could I possibly connect with a protagonist like Mia? And that was something I struggled with in the first say 30% of the book. But there was something that kept drawing me in and kept me entertained.

The plot wasn’t the fastest you’ve ever seen, but an adventure following a map to some unknown destination has always been a formula that I can’t help but continue down. After a disastrous wedding ceremony, Mia and her betrothed/fiance/technically husband Quin escape the kingdom with a map that unravels towards their destination as they move along.

The world building in this sense was better formed than other fantasies I’ve read recently. It felt more organic than just a load of information dumping upon our shoulders at the beginning of the book. As they travelled and the 4 kingdoms of this world came closer to Mia, things were explained in a relevant manner.

One thing that some people may not love is the little “screen time” (page time?) that most secondary characters have in this book. For the most part, this story centres around Mia and Quin as they run away from whatever danger they were exposed to. Other people do appear but I never felt like I really knew them very well just because they weren’t present all that often.

HOWEVER, this still in a way worked for me. With so much time given to these 2 characters, we really get to see how Quin and Mia struggled, changed and grew from their circumstances. Especially Mia. I mean, in a matter of a day, her whole life changed. Her whole perspective on who she was changed permanently.

This is why I found her an amenable protagonist. From this logically-driven girl who thought with her brain, she had to learn – and very much struggled through it at times – to think with her heart as well. Let the emotions and feelings guide her. Even when I didn’t connect with her initially, I understood her in the end. That human nature to subdue the overwhelming emotions we feel at times and just distance ourselves with our brains. But life is rarely ever lived fully without the heart.

So yes, there were things that I thought would totally ruin this book for me. But somehow, all together, it worked for this story. The plot wasn’t all that extensive or had too many developed characters, yet that wasn’t the point. These things were enough to drive home the themes of love, family, heart and mind.

And boy, Bree Barton could sometimes write in such a profound way. Like what was love.

FROM

What was love if not a rippling bunch of nerves and valves misfiring? An equation with no known variables? An incalculable contraction of the heart?

TO

Love was a feeling. Love was an action. Love was a partnership, a fiery union of body, mind, and soul.


And love wasn’t just purely romantic love with Quin. It covered familial love and other really strong emotions. Hate. Fear. Rage/anger.

So what if the other things weren’t amazing on its own? Knit together, Heart of Thorns was a beautiful story of learning to listen to the heart, and to choose love no matter how hard that choice may be at times. I believe that’s something everyone can connect with.

Overall Recommendation:
Heart of Thorns started off on a bit of a rocky note, but it landed in a dear spot in my heart. Following a scientific and logically-driven main character, Mia goes on an unintended adventure with Prince Quin as they escape danger and dive into the unknown world, with uncontrolled magic thrown in the mix. Dealing with themes of what it means to love, the ties of family, and listening to the heart, this novel may SEEM predictable but it packed a more lasting impact after the last pages were turned.

Note: all quotes are subject to change

3 star, YA

Review: The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth

Series: Carve the Mark #2

the fates divide -veronica rothFate brought them together. Now it will divide them.

The lives of Cyra Noavek and Akos Kereseth are ruled by their fates, spoken by the oracles at their births. The fates, once determined, are inescapable.

Akos is in love with Cyra, in spite of his fate: He will die in service to Cyra’s family. And when Cyra’s father, Lazmet Noavek—a soulless tyrant, thought to be dead—reclaims the Shotet throne, Akos believes his end is closer than ever.

As Lazmet ignites a barbaric war, Cyra and Akos are desperate to stop him at any cost. For Cyra, that could mean taking the life of the man who may—or may not—be her father. For Akos, it could mean giving his own. In a stunning twist, the two will discover how fate defines their lives in ways most unexpected.

With the addition of two powerful new voices, Veronica Roth’s sequel to Carve the Mark is a chorus of hope, humor, faith, and resilience.


3 Drink Me Potions


Fate versus choice. Which is greater than the other? Or is there a better question to be asked? Can our choices determine our fate or no matter what we choose, we may always hurtle towards our predestined path?

These are the questions that plague our protagonists as we find them right where we left off in book 1. Cyra and Akos may have momentarily “won” over their numerous adversaries but their troubles are far from over. Including their individual fates that still hang over their heads.

Brimming with questions about the path they each have to walk while wishing they could choose to be free of the destiny they were born with, the battle between their peoples continue, dragging in the Assembly that governs all these planets within the current that protects these lands. Additional POVs from the other Kereseth children were very insightful, especially from Akos’ oracle brother Eijeh who wasn’t really all quite there in the mind.

Equally balanced with romance and action, The Fates Divide was a good conclusion to the duology. At times, it did feel slow. The switching POVs didn’t always add to the story, and the world building wasn’t very strong in this sequel. It seemed after introducing us to how this world worked, including its current and the currentgifts some individuals possessed, not a whole lot was expanded about this world here. Roth did a good job in reminding us what had happened in book 1 and how everything worked in this world, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve read it, but I was a bit disappointed in only learning more about the planet Olga in this book since there’s so much more out there. With duologies picking up more in popularity, I suppose this just wasn’t enough space for further characterization of this society on top of the story.

What I will say this novel had going for it was a certain unexpected twist or two I hadn’t seen coming. And of course, back to the Fates . Always that question on how Cyra and Akos would each fulfill their destinies. I think just guessing at how it could all turn out to be okay really kept the underlying tone of the novel more urgent while events really took its time to unfold.

As endings go, this one was satisfactory. I loved the POV it was written in and that not everything was made “better” for our protagonists completely. Things aren’t 100% resolved, especially concerning the state of the overall society’s changing attitudes, but I like to think that it leaves room for more stories to be possibly born from here, set in this world. Meanwhile, we get to leave our protagonists with future possibilities that are both hopeful and content.

Overall Recommendation:
The Fates Divide concludes Veronica Roth’s interesting duology set in a world filled with currents and destinies that define the core of our protagonists. While the pacing was slow at times and there was a disappointing lack of further world building, the central theme of our destinies versus the choices we make that define our fates eclipsed everything else. Yes, there was action, romance, and the ties of family they couldn’t choose, but the question of fulfilling their fates was ultimately hanging overhead the whole time. Excellently weaved into this fantasy story, this showcases Roth’s ability to put depth in even a YA novel that could’ve remained superficial. A worthy ending that opens up the possibilities of more in this world (or so I hope).