3 star, YA

Review: Spindle by E. K. Johnston

Image result for spindle e k johnstonIt has been generations since the Storyteller Queen drove the demon out of her husband and saved her country from fire and blood. Her family has prospered beyond the borders of their village, and two new kingdoms have sprouted on either side of the mountains. There the demons are kept prisoner by bright iron, and by the creatures the Storyteller Queen made to keep them contained.

But the prison is crumbling. Through years of careful manipulation, a demon has regained her power. She has made one kingdom strong and brought the other to its knees, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. When a princess is born, the demon is ready with the final blow: a curse that will cost the princess her very soul, or force her to destroy her own people to save her life.

The threads of magic are tightly spun, binding princess and exiled spinners into a desperate plot to break the curse before the demon can become a queen of men. But the web of power is dangerously tangled – and they may not see the true pattern until it is unspooled.


3 Drink Me Potions


The world is made safe by a woman, yes, but it is a very big world.

Spindle is a dramatic retelling of one of the oldest classics: Sleeping Beauty. However, it is not merely the same characters given different names and guises; a whole new world is created to bring a much different life to the story. Despite its fairytale origins, this book actually has many more mature themes compared to the Disney version, but nevertheless it had all the nostalgic value of the original story.

At first, the story was a little bit hard to follow. The theme is completely different: a cursed baby princess forced spinners in her country to leave due to a plague that attacks spinners specifically. The demons feed off of skill and the making of things, and spinning was chosen as the cursed skill that will ultimately let the demon take over the princess. If you are already confused at what I mean, that is exactly how I felt.

Since the people were cursed to not spin, the King and Queen banned spinning in their whole kingdom, and this led to the massive bonfire of spindles in the city – sound familiar? This is where I finally started to realize that this was the fairytale that I knew and loved (perhaps I should have realized from the title). The final straw was of course this “birthday party” of the Little Rose (the princess – another clue I missed), where magical guardians came bearing gifts, and before the last gift was given, the demon came and cursed the child. The last, and of course the weakest, guardian was left with the task of giving her the princess a small reprieve from the curse. The demon cursed the child to be taken over when she learned to spin, and the guardian gave her the “gift” of sleep if she reached for the spindle. Ding ding ding! Princess Aurora, is that you? Why yes, yes it is.

However, this is not your typical useless princess waiting for her prince to come. As one of the main characters, the Little Rose is a fierce and courageous young lady who embarks on a dangerous journey to break the curse with four new friends – ex-spinners looking to break the curse on their family and country. While Princess Aurora was given the gift of beauty and song, the Little Rose was given much more interesting and dare I say, useful gifts such as the discernment of truth.

The Little Rose was only five years old when her parents ruined my mother and brought ruination to my own life.

Spindle initially follows the journey of a young boy named Yashaa who is the son of an ex-court spinner. With his mother’s position being close to the princess, Yashaa once lived in the castle before the demon came and drove all spinners out of the land. This leads Yashaa to have an inborn hatred for the princess for being the cause of their damnation. Due to the King and Queen banning spinning and exiling all those who practiced to protect their daughter, this left many homeless and bitter. Those who spin in the land are cursed to have a worsening cough until their last breath, such is the demon’s curse.

Yashaa and his friends embark on a journey to save all the spinners and to break the curse on the land. Eventually they meet the princess, who is not at all as they expect. Together they run away and wander through the desert to look for a way to break the curse. All seems hopeless: the Little Rose has the choice of being taken over by a demon or eternal sleep. Romance develops as the journey continues and all the tensions start building as the demon begins to hunt for the lost princess. Will they be able to find a way to break the curse in time, or will eternal sleep be the fate for the Little Rose?

Overall Recommendation:
Sleeping Beauty is one of my favourite fairytales. The elements of magic and a powerful evil villain in Maleficent really enraptured me as a child. As a much older child now, I appreciated the more mature elements of this retelling, especially where the princess is not just some damsel in distress. The whole premise is completely new, and therefore may be hard to catch on. But for me, who loves any fairytale retelling, there was at least that element that I loved. I would say I enjoyed the nostalgia that came with the realization of what the story meant, but it was definitely a little bit more difficult to follow sometimes. Give it a try though, if you enjoyed Sleeping Beauty as much as I did.

 

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3 star, YA

Review: Evermore by Sara Holland

Series: Everless #2

evermore -sara hollandThe highly anticipated sequel to New York Times bestseller, Everless!

Jules Ember was raised hearing legends of the ancient magic of the wicked Alchemist and the good Sorceress. But she has just learned the truth: not only are the stories true, but she herself is the Alchemist, and Caro—a woman who single-handedly murdered the Queen and Jules’s first love, Roan, in cold blood—is the Sorceress.

The whole kingdom believes that Jules is responsible for the murders, and a hefty bounty has been placed on her head. And Caro is intent on destroying Jules, who stole her heart twelve lifetimes ago. Jules must delve into the stories that she now recognizes are accounts of her own past. For it is only by piecing together the mysteries of her lives that Jules will be able to save the person who has captured her own heart in this one.


3 Drink Me Potions


**Evermore comes out December 31, 2018**

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

Evermore was a quick journey back into a world where blood is bound by time and into a centuries old battle between the Alchemist and Sorceress. While I read through this book in almost one sitting, I’m left with some mixed feelings.

Jules Ember, aka the long-lost Alchemist in her 12th life, is on the run for murder. And what a semi-cliffhanger that was, wasn’t it? The queen and Roan are dead but unfortunately, Jules has been framed.

Her only ally and friend? Liam Gerling, brother of Roan and for the longest time, sworn enemy of Jules.

I feel that every single element of Evermore has both made me happy and slightly dissatisfied at the same time. I will try to break it down.

World building
PRO: I still thoroughly enjoy this kingdom of Sempera who thrives on blood irons as currency. As a quick recap, people’s blood can contain time of varying lengths depending on the volume taken, such as hour coins to year coins. Ingesting blood irons allows others to ‘gain’ the time that was bound to that amount of blood. I still find this element unique among the overly congested world of YA fantasy.
CON: Yet, there’s almost nothing largely new about this world found in Evermore. We hardly even get to spend much time at Everless, the setting that much of Everless took place. New lands are mentioned and some new histories into this kingdom come to light, but if you took away the use of blood irons here, it’s like Sempera could be like ANY other place. There’s nothing special at the end of the day.

Age old battle trope
PRO: Jules gets fragments of her previous lives at a time, kind of like a mystery slowly unfolding piece by piece. We have no idea exactly what happened between her and the Sorceress and just how she may end this battle once and for all. It adds to the mysterious air of the book, driving some urgency towards the conclusion of this duology.
CON: But this is ALL it seems Evermore focuses on. Jules: how to kill Caro. Jules: keep on running from Caro. Jules: keep all loved ones at arm’s length because Caro may try to will kill them. Jules: WHO am I as the Alchemist?
After a while, it just got tiring, you know? Maybe I just needed a little something else to focus on sometimes.

Romance
PRO: I never had any huge love for Roan in book 1 so I was desperately excited at the hints of Liam becoming more in book 2. Yes, he’s your stereotypical brooding male who may not always be so great at showing his feelings. Okay. Maybe that suggest he’s emotionally unavailable but somehow, he did almost a 180 change in Evermore so *shrugs*. I’m good with that.
CON: However….
Somehow in between book 1 and 2, I lost the connection I felt for Liam and Jules together. Although Liam was very much present here (yay!), it just took a long time for me to really be happy about it. To really feel their love and connection. Come on, you’re trying to sell me on the fact that Jules’ heart may break if Caro kills Liam. I NEED to feel it to believe that without just being told so. And sadly, it didn’t really work most of the time.

I think this duology overall was a great debut and the ideas were definitely intriguing. It’s hard to deliver a stunning ending to such a good start to a series, so here I am feeling like I’m left holding the bag waiting for something.

That’s not to say the ending wasn’t great. It was a really good couple of last chapters with many answered questions. The middle just needs some working on, in my opinion.

Overall Recommendation:
Evermore had big shoes to fill after its predecessor and it may not have fully reached its potential. While the action amps with the centuries old war between the Alchemist and Sorceress taking front stage again, everything else seemed to have been pushed aside as less important. The romance with Liam was hard to believe sometimes (and oh, I wanted to believe) while the world building felt lacking after what was already learned in book 1. With a heartfelt ending, I do believe Evermore still has something to offer but just may not have met my high expectations.

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.