Friday, 3 July 2020

Review - The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

The Language of Thorns
Title: The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic
Series: Grishaverse (Goodreads)
Publisher: Orion 
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling's

Author: Leigh Bardugo   
Age Group: YA
Source: Amazon (purchased)

Review

If you are a fan of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy as well as her Six of Crows duology then this collection of short stories is a must read. The Language of Thorns contains six short stories that characters in the Grishaverse themselves would have grown up with. These are dark and twisted tales that leave the reader wanting more. Though there are some happy endings, not a single one is a ‘happily ever after’. Bardugo leaves readers unnerved and satisfied equally, with her version of a twisted ‘happy’ ending. Each of the short stories is also influenced by other classic fairy tales and books, some more familiar than others. Though there are elements of retelling's of these classic fairy tales The Language of Thorns remains exciting and refreshing. You need not have read Bardugo’s other books set in the Grishaverse world as these short stories can be read as a standalone too. What really bring all these stories to life is the artwork included on each page which changes and grows at the same pace as the written stories. The artwork brings the stories to life and makes the collection immersive and beautiful, alongside the talented words of Leigh Bardugo.

Sara Kipin, illustrations
Ayama and the thorn wood

I really enjoyed the first book in this collection. Part of the fun for this story, as well as for all the others too, was figuring out which classic fairy tales and books had influenced each retelling. I wont share all of the influences but the most obvious one was Beauty and the Beast. In Ayama and the thorn wood a young wolfish prince is born and as he grows older is hidden away only to escape and terrorise the kingdom. But a young courageous yet physically unattractive young woman is sent to negotiate with the beast. Will she be devoured or free the kingdom?

Coyotes surrounded the palace, howling and clawing at the walls, and tore the insides from a guard who had been sent to chase them away. Their frenzied baying hid the screams of the queen as she looked upon the creature that had slipped squalling from her womb. This little prince was shaped a bit like a boy but more like a wolf, his body covered in slick black fur from crown to clawed foot. His eyes were red as blood, and the nubs of two budding horns protruded from his head.’

There is one character other than Ayama that stood out for me in this story and that was the underestimated grandmother Ma Zil. I love this quote that at first might seem harsh and uncaring actually becomes the wisest and important by the end of the story:

‘Ayama’s brows still creased with worry, so her grandmother said, “Come now, Ayama. You know how the stories go. Interesting things only happen to pretty girls; you will be home by sunset.”

Do only interesting things happen to the prettiest girls, or the ones who get their feet a little muddy?

The too-clever fox

I also enjoyed this story too but did find the ending rather predictable. The obvious influence for this story was Little Red Riding Hood, the animals in The too-clever fox are hunted down and begin to disappear mysteriously one at a time. As with many of the stories in this collection do not underestimate a single woman! The too-clever fox in this story is named Koja and even though he is wily and cunning this is what leads to his downfall.

‘A lesser creature might have let his grief get the better of him. He might have taken to the hills and high places, thinking it wise to outrun death rather than try to outsmart it.’

Does being clever mean outsmarting a hunter, or falling prey to their smarter charms?

The witch of Duva

‘There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.’

I neither liked nor disliked this story in the collection but for me it just didn’t stand out from some of the stronger ones. The witch of Duva is influenced by Hansel and Gretel and unlike some of the others sticks quite closely to the fairy tale of which it is influenced by. However, don’t be deceived just as all the stories in this collection the character and endings are never what they seem.

She lifted her spoon, but still she hesitated. She knew from stories that you must not eat at a witch’s table. But in the end, she could not resist.’

Who can resist the call of sugar in the deep dark woods?

Little Knife

This was one of the weaker stories in the collection for me, it wasn’t terrible, it just didn’t give me the same enjoyment as some of the others did. It was also the trickiest one to figure out the retelling influence for and had me confused for quite some time. I eventually had to look it up on the Grishaverse website because I could not figure it out with a little help.

Like many stories in this collection there is a beautiful girl and in Little Knife there are hundreds of desperate suitors to win her hand in marriage. There are three tasks given to all of the suitors when the girls father deems one man unsuitable for her daughters hand in marriage but who keeps passing the tests.

‘…remember that to use a thing is not to own it. And should you ever take a bride, listen closely to her questions.

Would you rather a prince or a pauper, or the freedom from any man?

The soldier prince

I wasn’t too sure what to make of this story, I can’t say that I really enjoyed it but I certainly didn’t dislike it. I was definitely conflicted about my feelings after reading this short story. The soldier prince is most obviously influenced by The Nutcracker with the main character of this short story being the actual nutcracker himself. There is plenty of magic in this story and I certainly enjoyed reading from the perspective of the nutcracker and as a standalone short story I think I would have enjoyed it more. However, as a story in this twisted collection it just didn’t stand out and was one of the weaker ones for me.

“...Wanting is why people get up in the morning. It gives them something to dream of at night. The more I wanted, the more I became like them, the more real I became.” “I am perfectly real,” protested the nutcracker. The Rat King looked at him sadly.

Do you show kindness to your toys by the magical chance they just might be watching and waiting to whisk you away? 

When water sang fire

This is by far the longest story in the whole collection and the one that hides an incredible easter egg for the readers of Shadow and Bone. This story is influenced by The Little Mermaid and for me the most connected to the Grishaverse world. I enjoyed this story and the friendship between Ulla and Signy showing that with the power they possessed they became their own individual and joint threat. The youngest prince of the sildroher, the term used instead of mermaid, thinks to use the power of the girls for his own selfish gain, which leads to the beginning of a dangerous and alluring visit to the human world.

Would the power to sing free you or curse you?

‘In those days, the sildroher did not cower beneath the waves, afraid of sailors who might spy their smooth limbs and silver tails. […] Now their laws are different. They know the land is a place of danger. Yet they still long for the taste of mortal life. That is the problem with making a thing forbidden. It does nothing but build an ache in the heart.’

Sara Kipin, illustrations

Synopsis (From Goodreads)

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid's voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy's bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

Key Quotes

‘…she came to the banks of a stream, its surface so bright with starlight it was as if someone had peeled the rind from the moon like a piece of fruit and laid it in a gleaming ribbon upon the forest floor.’

‘Ayama did not want to take the knife, but she did. It was light as a dry seedpod. It seemed wrong that death should feel like nothing in her hands.’

“I can bear ugliness…I find the one thing I cannot live with is death.”

“…The trap is loneliness, and none of us escapes it. Not even me.”

‘She knew the idea of fire. She’d been taught about it, sung the word. But seeing it – so close and so alive… It was like having a little sun to keep all for herself.’

Similar reads

Serpent & Dove, A Court of Thorns and Roses, To Kill a Kingdom

Afterthoughts

What was your favourite story in this collection?

What other books would you recommend that are influenced by retelling's?

What do you value most in other people? In this collection the idea of beauty is challenged constantly and asks us as readers to question whether we value this more highly than anything else. More importantly, it suggests that beauty if abused can lead to corruption and the oppression of women.

If you've read the others books in the Grishaverse world, did you enjoy this collection, experiencing the stories that the characters themselves would have grown up with?

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Review - Crooked Kingdom


Crooked Kingdom

Title: Crooked Kingdom
Series: Grishaverse (Goodreads)
Publisher: Orion
Genre: Fantasy 
Author: Leigh Bardugo   
Age Group: YA
Source: Amazon (purchased)

Review

I instantly grabbed Crooked Kingdom off my bookshelf straight after I finished Six of Crows because I had to desperately know what would happen to the characters in this incredible series. I was hooked and invested already by the first book in this duology and was left wanting even more by the end of it too! I have already said in my Six of Crows review that Bardugo has become a much stronger author but I honestly cannot overstate how much I mean this, and if you read Crooked Kingdom you will hopefully feel the same as me. Crooked kingdom begins straight away from the cliff-hanger of the previous book and it is definitely one that leaves you needing to know the answer to. A great cliff-hanger always ensures that a reader will return and showcases an authors ability to leave their readers devastated but enthralled (which reader doesn’t want to be left reeling and desperate for more?). If you’ve read both the original trilogy and Six of Crows then you might agree with me when I say that this duology gives us much stronger and complex friendships and relationships then seen in the trilogy and for me that made the duology more exciting and intense.

I still very much love Kaz and Nina but in Crooked Kingdom there were some different stand out individuals and relationships for me. All the relationships, friendships and individuals are given continued equal development but some themes and issues stood out more for others than in Six of Crows. The stand out individuals that had the most recognisable developments in Crooked Kingdom for me were Jesper, Matthias and Wylan. Matthias in particular faced the difficulties of challenging and untangling his prejudices as a druskelle, a group of people who fear and hunt down Grisha, which is a process that began in the previous book when he met and developed a relationship with Nina (a Grisha he’d previously helped capture). Do all romances begin with a Kidnapping and potential threat of trial and succeed? Well, this is certainly the case for Nina and Matthias who both equally challenge and hold each other to account for their individual prejudices. In Matthias’ case the druskelle has taught him to fear a group of people who possess a power they cannot understand (importantly the druskelle are not the only groups of people who fear Grisha, other cultures in Crooked Kingdom also express fear and prejudices too). However, in the previous book and continued in Crooked Kingdom is Matthias’ struggle to challenge internalised prejudices, this is never an easy task and does not happen overnight, in fact for many people, just as it is for Matthias, it can be a lifelong struggle. As a druskelle Matthias had lived with a purpose and had security in his life but is now willing to see and challenge the negative aspects of his past, with the right people to help, and Nina is the most vocal in this task but also the most loving in allowing Matthias the time he needs without expecting an overnight change. This is one of the few interactions between Matthias and Nina which I think showcases their joint journey to challenging their individual, as well as cultural prejudices, giving hope that change can happen. But both are aware that this cannot happen if someone is forcibly pressured into changing instead accepting that there are difficulties to overcome from both individuals prejudices and it is not a one sided struggle:

“Do you remember what you said to me, Nina? You wished King Nikolai would march north and raze everything in his path.” “I was angry—” “You had a right to your anger. We all do. That’s the problem. Brum won’t stop. The drüskelle won’t stop. They consider it their holy mission to destroy your kind.” It had been his mission too, and he could still feel the distrust, the pull toward hatred. He cursed himself for it. “Then we’ll find a way to change their minds. All of them.”

I couldn’t stop reading this book and I honestly found myself reduced to fits of laughter at some points along the way and couldn’t contain my excitement at some of the romantic relationships that evolved throughout. If you are looking for a new book or series with positive LGBTQ+ representation than this duology and Crooked Kingdom in particular is perfect for that very reason. During a scene Wylan is having his features adjusted by a Grisha, I wont say who but readers of Shadow and Bone will be thrilled! During this scene Jesper comments on and makes suggestions to help the Grisha restore Wylan’s features, which is one of the cute and beautiful moments between Jesper and Wylan:

“His brow should be narrower,” Jesper said, peering over [...] “Just a little bit. And his lashes were longer.” “I didn’t know you were paying attention,” murmured Wylan. Jesper grinned. “I was paying attention.”

I think this is one of the magical abilities of fantasy, especially ya fantasy, which is the genres ability to help and safely explore the themes and issues of acceptance. I have already indicated those of challenging prejudices and sexualities but there is also the exploration of learning difficulties, in particular dyslexia, and the struggles and difficulties faced by those individuals too and finding a path towards support and acceptance too. So for me Crooked Kingdom is not only fantastic because it’s a fantasy and develops Bardugo’s Grishaverse world but because she engages with and explores important themes and issues relevant to real life.

“It’s easier when you’re younger, but so is everything. Children learn languages more easily. They learn mathematics more easily.” “And they’re unafraid,” said Wylan quietly. “It’s other people who teach them their limits.”
Crooked Kingdom 

Synopsis (From Goodreads

Welcome to the world of the Grisha.

Kaz Brekker and his crew of deadly outcasts have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives.

Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties.

A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets - a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Key Quotes

'Kuwei cleared his throat. “I would prefer to go to Ravka.” “I’d prefer a pair of sable-lined swimming trunks,” said Jesper. “But we can’t always get what we want.” […] “I would prefer to go to Ravka,” he repeated more firmly. Kaz’s flat black gaze fastened on Kuwei and held. Kuwei squirmed nervously. “Why is he looking at me this way?” “Kaz is wondering if he should keep you alive,” said Jesper. “Terrible for the nerves. I recommend deep breathing. Maybe a tonic.” “Jesper, stop,” said Wylan. “Both of you need to relax.” Jesper patted Kuwei’s hand. “We’re not going to let him put you in the ground.” Kaz raised a brow. “Let’s not make any promises just yet.” 

'I may not have Kaz’s devious mind, but I am a dangerous girl.’ - Inej Ghafa

All Saints,” he shouted as pain tore through his shoulder. He really hated being shot. […] Just a scratch, but it hurt like hell, and he was bleeding all over his new tweed jacket. “This is why it doesn’t pay to try to look respectable,” he muttered.'

“Young man—” Jesper pointed his gun at the scholar’s chest. “Move.” “Jesper!” his father said. “Don’t worry, Da. People point guns at each other all the time in Ketterdam. It’s basically a handshake.” “Is that true?” his father asked as the scholar grudgingly moved aside…’

“A lock is like a woman,” he’d said blearily. “You have to seduce it into giving up its secrets.” [...] Sure, a lock was like a woman. It was also like a man and anyone or anything else—if you wanted to understand it, you had to take it apart and see how it worked. If you wanted to master it, you had to learn it so well you could put it back together.’ 

“Matthias—” “I don’t have it.” She yanked herself free, shame crawling over her skin like fire over a forest floor. “Then who does?” she hissed. “Kaz.” She stilled. “Are you going to creep into his bed?” Nina released a huff of disbelief. “He’d slit my throat.” She wanted to scream her helplessness. There would be no bargaining with Kaz.

Similar reads

Shadow and Bone, The Raven Boys,  A Darker Shade of Magic

Afterthoughts

Are you excited for the tv show?

Have you read Crooked Kingdom? Let me know your thoughts!

How do you try to challenge some of your own prejudices? We all have them, it's what we do with them that matters.

Leigh Bardugo has said that she might write a third book in the very distant future for what is currently a duology, would you be interested in reading it (if it happens, of course)?

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Review - Six of Crows

Six of Crows
Title: Six of Crows
Series: Grishaverse (Goodreads)
Publisher: Orion
Genre: Fantasy 

Author: Leigh Bardugo   
Age Group: YA
Source: Amazon (purchased)

Review 

If you have read Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy first than the Six of Crows duology is fantastic and a must read for those fans because it delves even further into the Grishaverse world. We get to meet some exciting new characters who allow Bardugo to cleverly develop the world further. The first book or series is always the hardest to write for an author and even though I loved the Shadow and Bone trilogy I definitely think that Six of Crows is a much stronger book and showcases how Bardugo has become a stronger writer. For me, Six of Crows is Bardugo’s strongest work so far because the characters as individuals are for more complex and complicated as well as their relationships too. Even though I personally read this book after the original trilogy readers can still read the Six of Crows duology without having read it. This is because the world of Grishaverse is still explained and explored in depth to those new readers too. However, I personally found reading Six of Crows a richer experience because although the characters are new the themes and issues surrounding the Grisha themselves is developed further for those that are already familiar with the issues from the previous trilogy. Also, I loved seeing how Bardugo as an author has developed, which for me was only possible through reading her work in the order of when the books were written and published.

Six of Crows is much darker in terms of its violence and in some cases its themes too. In particular there is a scene of torture that for some readers could be quite explicit and uncomfortable. But importantly in the context of the book it makes sense why it is included and necessary to the development of the individuals involved and the relationships it impacts. This is a book written between six different perspectives and each chapter dedicated to one of these characters is spectacularly incredible because each one maintains their own individual voice and personality, not once do you feel like you are reading from the same continual voice throughout. To be able to create and maintain six individual voices is an incredibly difficult task for any author but Bardugo does this splendidly and for that reason allows readers to learn and interact with each individual without the fear that all the voices will jumble into one.

Although each individual in Six of Crows is complex and faces their own individual struggles for me the stand out character had to be Kaz Brekker. His background is no more torturous than some of the other characters but his personality is what drew me to him more than some of the others. If you love a deflective sarcastic young man then look no further than Kaz. As already mentioned there is a particular scene involving a rather detailed description of torture and Kaz is that very torturer (but don’t feel too sorry for the victim because he is no better and some readers may argue he had his punishment coming). Kaz is a young seventeen year old thief and crook and the fact that he can go from being capable of violent torture to nonchalant disinterest in a heartbeat is terrifying for one so young but also so compelling for the readers. After the torture I love this little scene between Kaz, Jesper and Wylan because it shows just how easily Kaz is capable of switching between one seeking vengeance to having a slightly sarcastic and light interaction with a couple of friends:

‘Kaz turned to Jesper. “Fit Helvar with some shackles to keep him honest,” he said as he headed below. “And get me clean clothes and fresh water.” “Since when am I your valet?” “Man with a knife, remember?” he said over his shoulder. “Man with a gun!” Jesper called after him.’

Another character that stood out was Nina Zenik. This is because she is a young woman confident in her own body and enjoyment of food. In literature, including ya, I find that readers very rarely read about characters, especially female ones, that openly enjoy eating and share that enjoyment without guilt as well as being shame free for being a bigger woman. Early on Nina is described as ‘tall and built like the figurehead of a ship carved by a generous hand’, she is certainly not a stick thin or averagely built woman and she is much stronger and likeable because of this. There is nothing wrong with someone being thin or average but rather the problem is that most commonly these are the only kinds of female characters found in books. Although Nina is a refreshing character because of her ‘tall [and] generous’ body shape she remains a minority of the realistic women depicted in literature. Nina is a young woman who indulges on sweet treats unashamedly and I love her for that very reason. I can only think of one other character who equally indulges in food and remains unashamed and that is Celaena Sardothien in Throne of Glass. I leave you with the following quote and scene where Nina offers Matthais a toffee and he shares his admiration for her love of food:

“You don’t smell like roses anymore,” he said, then wanted to kick himself. He shouldn’t be noticing her scent. […] No, she smelled sweet, perfect like … “Toffee?” Her eyes slid away guiltily. “Kaz said to pack what we needed for the journey. A girl has to eat.” She reached into her pocket and drew out a bag of toffees. “Want one?” Yes. “No.” She shrugged and popped one in her mouth. Her eyes rolled back, and she sighed happily. “So good.” It was a humiliating epiphany, but he knew he could have watched her eat all day. This was one of the things he’d liked best about Nina—she savoured everything, whether it was a toffee or cold water from a stream or dried reindeer meat.’
Six of Crows

Synopsis (From Goodreads

This is a collector's edition with an exclusive letter from the author and six stunning full-colour character portraits.

Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker is offered a chance at a deadly heist: break into the Ice Court - a military stronghold that has never been breached - and retrieve a hostage whose knowledge could change Grisha magic forever. To succeed would mean rich beyond his wildest dreams - but he can't pull it off alone . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Together they might just be unstoppable - if they don't kill each other first.

Key Quotes

“I trade in information, Geels, the things men do when they think no one is looking. Shame holds more value than coin ever can.”

Kaz was dizzy, and his limbs felt creaky from being trapped in the chair, but everything seemed sunnier with a weapon in his hand.’

“Really, Jesper?” she’d said, pulling up her hood. “If I want to watch men dig holes to fall into, I’ll find myself a cemetery.”

A man doesn’t need a bed to get ideas, Nina.” Nina fluttered her lashes. “What would you know about it, Kaz? Take those gloves off, and we’ll see what ideas come to mind.”

What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?” “Knife to the throat?” asked Inej. “Gun to the back?” said Jesper. “Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina. “You’re all horrible,” said Matthias. Kaz rolled his eyes.'

Do you never doubt yourself?” “All the time,” she’d said as she slid into sleep. “I just don’t show it.”

Similar reads

Court of Miracles, The Raven Boys, Throne of Glass.

Afterthoughts

Although I enjoyed the heist plot what really kept me intrigued and compelled to read the book was the characters because of their complexities, struggles, relationships and interactions with each other.

Nina is also very comfortable with her sexuality as well as her enjoyment of food and self acceptance of her body, she's a fantastic role model.

Bardugo captures six individual protagonists that are all equally complex and developed, not a single individual is one-dimensional. 

The issues faced by the Grisha is explored and developed in further detail. Also if you've read the original trilogy there are some fantastic easter eggs hidden in Six of Crows.

Have you read Six of Crows, what did you think? What books would you recommend to readers that loved this book?

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Review - The Wickerlight

The Wickerlight
Title: The Wickerlight
Series: The Wren Hunt (Goodreads)
Publisher: Bloomsbury 
Genre: Fantasy, Mythology/Folklore, Crime fiction, Romance
Author: Mary Watson   
Age Group: YA
Source: Amazon (purchased)

Review 

‘Wickerlight is when time cracks, when magic gets in. It’s a rare star alignment, or maybe a blue or blood moon [...] Sometimes, for a few intense seconds, you know time feels different. Like you’ve stepped into pure magic.

The Wickerlight by Mary Watson is a fantastic book and one that can either be read as a standalone or as a sequel to the first book The Wren Hunt. I personally read it as the sequel having read the first book a few years back and was super excited to return to the world and characters that Watson had created. In The Wickerlight we learn more about David, who in the first book was the major antagonist, but in this sequel he has become the joint narrator and protagonist alongside a new character, Zara. I absolutely loved Watson’s development both of David, from the previous book, and the world’s mythology too. Without giving too much away there are two magical communities, known as the Augurs and Judges, who are equally connected to nature but clash on how it should be treated and used for their magic. Alongside the mythology of the two magic bearing communities is a murder mystery involving the new joint narrator Zara, who’s sister has recently died of unknown causes, and it is for this reason that The Wickerlight could be read as a standalone. Because even though we are given a development of David we are not given a development of the previous protagonist from the first book The Wren Hunt

What I loved majorly about this book was the further development of David. It’s been a while since I read The Wren Hunt but from what I remember David was not a very nice guy and the reasons for this were never that clearly stated. However, The Wickerlight certainly develops and explains why David is the young man that he is and gives a satisfying resolution to the readers of both books. Like many protagonists in YA fiction David has not had an easy start to life he has been raised with family pressures and expectations that have lead to becoming a rather cruel and unkind young man, ‘...it’s been drilled in me from birth that strength and ambition are more important than kindness. That feelings are something to be overcome.’ David has been raised as a Judge and the very world itself is unkind and unforgiving. The tone and themes of The Wickerlight are much darker than the first book. There are some short scenes involving torture and although for some these may not be too explicit for others it might well be too much (I would advise some caution for all readers). Though I will not give anything away about the ending we see David begin to question and doubt the ways in which he has been raised and challenges the worlds ideologies that he has been taught are absolute. And by the end I was hugely satisfied with David’s development and in finally being given an insight into understanding this young man, who for me I felt was actually a rather sad and lonely as well as misunderstood young person.

‘Dad’s always been a weird mirror of the future for me. In him, I see the man I’m meant to become. I’ve been taught to idolise his strength, his way with weapons. To be gruff, blunt, abrupt. Relentless. Without mercy or remorse.’

If you enjoy a bit of romance and murder mystery then The Wickerlight certainly provides both of these. Unlike The Wren Hunt the main propelling story arc is the new girl's attempts to solve the mystery of her sisters death. And in trying to solve this mystery she is of course drawn into the world of the Augurs and Judges and finds herself falling in love too. Zara herself undergoes her own personal development as the joint protagonist, but unlike David, her development is linked to the processing of her grief and loss of a dead sister. Grief is expressed in many different ways by all sorts of people and Zara is no different. However, Zara is not only grieving she is infuriated by the lack of knowing what really happened and therefore she expresses her grief through frustration during the earlier part of the book. For example, during a scene between herself and her mum she accuses her of abandoning herself and her remaining brother whilst their mum struggles through her own grief saying cruel and unkind words that leave Zara feeling guilty and frustrated, ‘I stand in the drive, filled with this hollow, guilty pain. I am an empty girl, with gaping cavities inside.’ As the book progresses and Zara begins to process and find resolution her grief turns away from frustration towards acceptance and understanding. Importantly, though her grief never disappears it does evolve through stages. In some ways death and grief determine the person that Zara becomes and the actions that she takes. In some ways its unavoidable because what happens to a person will always determine who they will become and what actions they will take in response. Although, grief and trying to resolve her sisters murder is a huge driving force of her part in the story but alongside this is also a developing romance. For me, I did enjoy the romance and especially the way that it allowed the characters to develop as individuals in relation to their own struggles, I could very easily have read this book without the romance in it too though. Where in other way  YA books the intrigue comes from the romance, for me, it came from the murder mystery in The Wickerlight.      

“I’ll be here, among the ghosts of the living, with the dust of the dead.”

Synopsis (From Goodreads

It's been two months since Laila was found lifeless on Kilshamble village green, not a mark on her. Rumour says she died of an overdose. Or maybe it was suicide? The autopsy found nothing, but somebody must know what happened.

Now Laila's sister Zara is ready to pick up the trail. But retracing her sister's footsteps takes her to David, a Judge at the dangerous heart of an ancient magical feud. All too unwittingly, she begins to tread the same path that led her sister to the village green .

Mary Watson's sequel to The Wren Hunt is an eerie, magical thriller about a dead girl, her sister and the boy who can unlock the truth of what happened the night she died.

Key Quotes 

‘There are monsters in these woods. Dangerous creatures wait and watch. The villagers warn of fearsome tree people, with bark-covered skin and thick roping muscle. Beautiful and deadly, they lure boys and girls into the deepest parts of the forest. The victims fall in love with these exquisite monsters, and this is what destroys them. Every kiss is a feed, every touch a drain, until they are nothing more than shells. Or dead [...] Here’s the thing about the monsters in my world: they’re normal people living at a knife’s edge, poised between decent and depraved.’
'I’ve spent my whole life wanting nothing more than to be the Shackle. I am a therapist's dream.’
'But words are power, and any judge's worth is determined by how many words they’ve turned to law.’
‘The Badb Catha is a harbinger of death. She is a battle goddess, who would mess with the minds of the enemy on the battlefield, sending awful visions to distract and destroy. So, I’m guessing she’s most pleased by death and destruction.’
'Mom wants to fix things. It’s why she’s a doctor. And she can’t fix this. Worse, she doesn’t even know how it all broke.'
‘I trust charming boys least of all.’

Similar reads


Havenfall, Perfectly Preventable Deaths

Afterthoughts

If you were raised believing that pain and torture were the only way of life and the expression of power than could you be expected to be anything other than unfeeling and uncaring, to be anything other than a horrible immoral person?

How far would you go to find out the answers to a mystery surrounding the death of a loved one?

Grief can have different effects on everyone, and it does not always make people very nice to those still surrounding them. 

Family struggles and expectations, we all have them. Some are more manageable than others, but there are those burdens that are inescapable and destructive.

Have you read The Wickerlight or The Wren Hunt, what did you think? If not will you give it a try?

Review - The Assassin's Blade

The Assassin's Blade

Title: The Assassin's Blade
Series: Throne of Glass (Goodreads)
Publisher: Bloomsbury 
Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Author: Sarah J. Maas   
Age Group: YA
Source: Amazon (purchased)

Review 


If you have read the main Throne of Glass books then this novella collection will not only give you more time with Celaena, to further understand her personal development, but to break your hearts. And if you have yet to read the main series, what are you waiting for? In fairness if you haven’t read the main series yet don’t worry. This novella collection will also help you to learn more about Celaena’s personal development but may spoil some key plots in the main series (so do read with caution). There are some different times when you can read this novella. You can either read it before the main series, which is absolutely fine if that’s your preference, but I personally would advise against this because you will not yet have the connection to the characters and the need to find out about who they have become because of past circumstances. The other times you can read this is either after Heir of Fire or Queen of Shadows, but definitely before Empire of Storms. I personally chose to read The Assassin’s Blade after Heir of Fire and am so glad I did, because I was securely invested in Celaena’s life and wanting to understand her development more. The last option is of course to read the novella after you have finished the main series.

There will be spoilers in this review!


The Assassin and the Pirate Lord

This story not only begins the protagonists story that we will later see developed throughout this novella itself but importantly continued into and throughout the main Throne of Glass series. This short story was fantastic because it began to show us the major relationship between Celaena and Sam. If you are a fan of hate to love romances than you will absolutely love Celaena and Sam’s relationship.

‘If Sam took one step toward her, drew his sword a fraction of an inch, that concealed dagger in her robe would find itself a new home in his neck.’

Some might say that is it really possible for an assassin to have a moral conscience. Well, if you read this short story than yes, it is. Celaena has been raised an assassin but remains opposed to the injustices of slavery. The main driving plot is how Celaena and Sam are desperate to free the slaves that Arobynn has sent them to collect from the pirate lord. Alongside their joint mission to save the slaves Celaena and Sam begin to develop a friendship and respect for one another not just as assassins but importantly as people.

‘Being hired to kill corrupt government officials was one thing, but taking prisoners of war, brutalizing them until they stopped fighting back, and sentencing them to a lifetime of slavery …’

 The Assassin and the Healer

This was the shortest story in the collection and for me was perhaps the one I was least keen on. We are introduced to Yrene a practising and hopeful healer and importantly another victim of the Adarlan King’s cruelty and corruption. Though we only spend a short while with Yrene she is a an interesting and compelling new character that maybe hopefully we will see again in the main series. There is a major but subtle spoiler that is key to Yrene and this is why I hope we get to see her developed and brought into the main series.

‘But she’d wanted to be a healer—like her mother and grandmother. She’d started shadowing her mother as soon as she could talk, learning slowly, as all the traditional healers did.’

As for Celaena she has been sent away as punishment by Arobynn, the master assassin and owner of Celaena and Sam (he has insured that they are indebted to him with unpayable prices). We see her healing from a brutal beating, ‘She avoided looking in the sliver of mirror above her dresser, knowing what she’d see: mottled purple and blue and yellow along her cheekbones, a vicious black eye, and a still healing split lip. It was all a reminder of what Arobynn had done the day she returned from Skull’s Bay—proof of how she’d betrayed him by saving two hundred slaves from a terrible fate’. But she meets Yrene and so this leads to an interesting interaction between the two young woman.

The interaction shows how there have been many injustices and victims that have suffered the Adarlan King’s cruelty, that as a result people have become displaced and forced into lives they would not have wanted or wished for:

‘There were so many of them now—the children who had lost everything to Adarlan. Children who had now grown into assassins and barmaids, without a true place to call home, their native kingdoms left in ruin and ash.’

But both Yrene and Celaena as strong young woman show that there is hope that the King has yet to break every single individual.

 The Assassin and the Desert

This story was my second least favourite of the novella but that did not stop me from enjoying it. I just felt it moved too slowly towards the main action. However, this story was important in terms of offering Celaena an alternative look at a different assassin’s community as well as the chance for female friendship and most importantly gave her the much needed distance and time away from the oppressive, grooming, and cruel assassin master Arobynn. It also allowed Celaena a chance to begin to process and think through her evolving feelings for Sam.

One of the key differences between where Celaena has been raised and taught by Arobynn and the assassin’s guild is the encouragement of sharing and respecting other assassins and what they have to offer one another. That assassins do not have to be at each other’s throats and see one another as an enemy or competitor but as someone who can share their knowledge and skills to better educate each other, this for me was one of the key redeeming plots of this short story.

‘…it seemed that there was a good deal less … viciousness here. Arobynn encouraged cutthroat behavior. Even when they were children, he’d set her and Sam against each other, use their victories and failures against them. He’d made her see everyone but Arobynn and Ben as a potential enemy. As allies, yes, but also as foes to be closely watched. Weakness was never to be shown at any cost. Brutality was rewarded. And education and culture were equally important—words could be just as deadly as steel. But the Silent Assassins … Though they, too, might be killers, they looked to one another for learning. Embraced collective wisdom.’

 The Assassin and the Underworld

Celaena has finally returned home to Rifthold and the controlling hands of Arobynn. We see that Celaena has begun to challenge what she wants for herself and the recent injustices and punishment she has faced from Arobynn. We see her struggle through her thoughts and relationship to Arobynn. For me, reading this I could see that Arobynn has groomed her, and it is very tricky to not only escape the clutches of a controlling and charismatic man like Arobynn but find a justifiable and necessary reason to confront and accept for yourself that you have been victimised and need to break free from their physical self as well as their mental influences.

“Every day,” he went on. “Every day since you left, I’ve gone to the temple of Kiva to pray for forgiveness.” She might have snorted at the idea of the King of the Assassins kneeling before a statue of the God of Atonement, but his words were so raw. Was it possible that he actually regretted what he had done?’

As for Celaena and Sam it is the first time they have seen each other since she was sent away. And this evolving relationship does not come easily to Celaena, yes she has a newfound respect and appreciation for him, but that does not undo the long-term teachings to see him as her competitor and challenger to her position as Arobynn’s protégée and Adarlan’s greatest assassin.

‘Sam could have hurt or betrayed her a dozen times over, but he’d never jumped at the opportunity. A half smile tugged at a corner of her lips. She’d missed him. Seeing the expression on her face, he gave her a bewildered sort of grin. She swallowed, feeling the words bubbling up through her—I missed you—but the door to the drawing room opened. ’

In this short story we finally see Sam confess to his long hidden feelings for Celaena and it is the most beautiful and joyous moment not only for the readers but these characters too. Sam finally confesses to Celaena that he loves her and has for a long time, that following the beating and punishment for freeing the slaves he could no longer hide his feelings and that Arobynn having always known this manipulated him using his feelings against him:

“But my punishment was having to watch him beat you that night.”
“I’ve already told you everything—I’ve already told you that if I stay here, if I have to live with Arobynn, I’ll snap his damned neck.” “But why? Why can’t you let it go?” He grabbed her shoulders and shook her. “Because I love you!” Her mouth fell open. “I love you,” he repeated, shaking her again. “I have for years. And he hurt you and made me watch because he’s always known how I felt, too. But if I asked you to pick, you’d choose Arobynn, and I. Can’t. Take. It.”

 The Assassin and the Empire

This final short story is by far the most heart-breaking and grievous. If you have read the main Throne of Glass series then you will know what tragic event occurs. But if you haven’t I will not share this event. All I will say is that it explains why Celaena starts off as a slave of Endovier in the main first book, and one of the reasons why I did not read The Assassin’s Blade first but rather after Heir of Fire.

Celaena and Sam have both payed off their debts to Arobynn and moved into an apartment owned by Celaena. However, having read through the series of short stories it is undeniable that it is impossible to truly escape the clutches and influences of someone like Arobynn, because he does not leave them alone. Arobynn has seen them both as his own property, he believes that he owns them and they are his to do with as a he pleases, so even though they have moved into their own apartment and exploring their evolving love, feelings and relationship with one another Arobynn will not let go of his control over their lives.

“I don’t like sharing my belongings.” – Arobynn

I absolutely loved seeing Celaena and Sam together and they are an absolutely adorable couple and it’s for this very reason that the tragedy that occurs is so heart-breaking. They are finally just enjoying being together and enjoying a bit of fun with one another not only because it’s a new relationship but because they are also young and exploring the boundaries of their own sexualities and the boundaries of their relationship.

'Sam kissed her ear, his teeth grazing her earlobe, and her heart stumbled a beat. “Don’t use kissing to swindle me into accepting your apology,” she got out, even as she tilted her head to the side to allow him better access. He chuckled, his breath caressing her neck. “It was worth a shot.”

This short story concludes by tying into the first book in the main series. Having read this novella I finally understood the reason as to why Celaena had become a slave and was glad to have found out after reading Throne of Glass rather than before it. For me, personally, though Celaena has become a shadow of her former self, more broken by the events and cruelties from the people in her life, I do believe we see a glimpse of some remaining strength. Celaena has yet to be truly broken and can be brought back from the edge and helped into recovery:

‘A breeze filled the wagon [...]She must stand up... She must stand, or be broken before she even entered Endovier.’
‘She would go into Endovier. Go into Hell. And she would not crumble. [...] She would survive this.’
“My name is Celaena Sardothien,” she whispered, “and I will not be afraid.” The wagon cleared the wall and stopped. Celaena raised her head. [...] I will not be afraid. Celaena Sardothien lifted her chin and walked into the Salt Mines of Endovier.’

Synopsis (From Goodreads


Celaena Sardothien owes her reputation to Arobynn Hamel. He gave her a home at the Assassins' Guild and taught her the skills she needed to survive.

Arobynn's enemies stretch far and wide - from Adarlan's rooftops and its filthy dens, to remote islands and hostile deserts. Celaena is duty-bound to hunt them down. But behind her assignments lies a dark truth that will seal her fate - and cut her heart in two forever...

Explore the dark underworld of this kick-ass heroine and find out how the legend begins in the five page-turning prequel novellas to the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series.

Key Quotes 

‘He loved her like family, yet he put her in the most dangerous positions. He nurtured and educated her, yet he’d obliterated her innocence the first time he’d made her end a life. He’d given her everything, but he’d also taken everything away. She could no sooner sort out her feelings toward the King of the Assassins than she could count the stars in the sky.’
'the billowing black cape, the exquisite clothing, and the mask transformed her into a whisper of darkness.'
"...If I’m going to kill you, Celaena, it’ll be when I can actually get away with it.” She scowled. “I appreciate that.”
‘One of the courtesans on the swings flew by so low that their fingers brushed. The touch sent sparks shooting through her. This was more than a party: it was a performance, an orgy, and a call to worship at the altar of excess. Celaena was a willing sacrifice.'
“My name is Wind,” she whispered. “And Rain. And Bone and Dust. My name is a snippet of a half-remembered song.” [...] “I have no name,” she purred. “I am whoever the keepers of my fate tell me to be.”

Similar reads


The Cruel Prince, Shadow and Bone, Serpent & Dove

Afterthoughts


I hope to see some of the characters introduced brought into the main Throne of Glass series. This includes Lysandra, Arobynn, Yrene and Ansel.


Have you read The Assassin's Blade, what did you think?


Have you read the main Throne of Glass series, how did you feel when reading this novella as an extension to the series?

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Review - Heir of Fire

Heir of Fire
Title: Heir of Fire
Series: Throne of Glass (Goodreads)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Author: Sarah J. Maas   
Age Group: YA
Source: Amazon (purchased)


Review


I am only three books into this series and I am already obsessed and in awe of Maas’ skills as a writer and the complex but intriguing characters she has created. This is definitely for me one of the hardest series to review without giving spoilers because there is so much in this ya fantasy that happens that depends on spoilers. However, I am definitely going to try and continue to review this series as best I can by avoiding spoilers whilst still sharing the excitement of this book and overall series as I continue to read it.

I would like to start with what I thought was perhaps the weakest part of Heir of Fire and for me that was the lack of development for Chaol and Dorian. Although I could see instances were there was the possibility and chance for development it just wasn’t reached and for me this was a real shame. Out of the two of these characters I definitely think that Dorian had the least personal development and his story arc felt like an unnecessary filler rather than something that was actually powerful enough to push him to challenge and develop as a character in the world that he is an individual of. Considering the fact that the previous book, Crown of Midnight, opened up a huge opportunity for Dorian to develop unfortunately this book did not take that chance up and instead found Dorian mostly unneeded in this book (that is until the cliff-hanger we are left with, another chance for development that I hope will be better because I do really love Dorian and what he brings to the series). Though, I will say that as earlier stated there were instances of development between Chaol and Dorian which were strong and hopefully allows development in the next books of this series. One of the instances is when Dorian challenges Chaol’s worldly prejudices, and I think was a great example not only of their potential for character development but Maas’s abilities as a writer too to make her readers think (yes, even in a ya fantasy):
“… And of course you wish she wasn’t who she is. Because you’re not really scared of those things, are you? No—it’s what they represent. The change. But let me tell you…things have already changed. And changed because of you…” […] “As for Celaena,” he said again, “you do not have the right to wish she were not what she is. The only thing you have a right to do is decide whether you are her enemy or her friend.” […] So he stared down his friend, even though he knew Chaol was hurting and adrift, and said, “I’ve already made my decision about her. And when the time comes, regardless of whether you are here or in Anielle, I hope your choice is the same as mine.”
In the previous book, Crown of Midnight, there was a huge cliff-hanger that left an open opportunity for the development of magic that has been slowly introduced and developed since the first book. You will not be disappointed by Heir of Fire and its continued ability to develop the magic system, which one would expect in a fantasy ya. Though I will not personally give away all that happens I will admit one key plot-line that has been hinted at since Throne of Glass and that is that we finally meet real life Fae (though not from Adarlan). Heir of Fire for me undoubtedly saw an incredible and strong character development for Celaena. From the previous book she is still processing and struggling with some difficult events, that I will not discuss because no one likes a spoiler, but this has left her struggling by herself with no one to talk to or more importantly because she is unwilling to forgive and seek help from others. However, through an unlikely relationship that develops throughout Heir of Fire Celaena does slowly begin to talk to another individual and begin to process her struggles and emotions. But this is not a quick process and one that leads to a hugely compelling relationship development between herself and the one she receives help from as well as I’ve already stated a chance for her to heal as an individual too.
There is this … rage,” she said hoarsely. “This despair and hatred and rage that lives and breathes inside me. There is no sanity to it, no gentleness. It is a monster dwelling under my skin. For the past ten years, I have worked every day, every hour, to keep that monster locked up. And the moment I talk about those two days, and what happened before and after, that monster is going to break loose, and there will be no accounting for what I do. […] “For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think you would destroy the world from spite.” His voice turned hard. “But I also think you like to suffer. You collect scars because you want proof that you are paying for whatever sins you’ve committed. And I know this because I’ve been doing the same damn thing for two hundred years.”
Heir of Fire also saw an introduction of some fantastic new characters that will become and have already shown their huge importance to the development and continuation of this series. The new characters include Manon, Rowan and Aedion. I hugely admire and respect Maas’s ability as a writer to create a host of distinct characters that she is able to maintain and give each their own personalities and voices to that do not read the same (this is a huge feat for any author and Maas is absolutely incredible for managing this so successfully). At the end I found that I’m in absolute adoration of Manon and Rowan in particular and cannot wait to see more of them in the rest of the series I leave you with the following quote about Manon:
‘She counted to ten, because she wanted to hunt, and had been that way since she tore through her mother’s womb and came roaring and bloody into this world.’

Synopsis (From Goodreads)


Consumed by guilt and rage, Celaena can't bring herself to spill blood for the King of Adarlan. She must fight back...

The Immortal Queen will help her destroy the king - for a price. But as Celaena battles with her darkest memories and her heart breaks for a love that could never last, can she fulfil the bargain and head the almighty court of Terrasen? And who will stand with her?

Key Quotes 

'Chaol closed his eyes for a moment. “A part of me will always love her. But I had to get her out of this castle. Because it was too dangerous, and she was … what she was becoming…” “She was not becoming anything different from what she always was and always had the capacity to be. You just finally saw everything. And once you saw that other part of her …,” Dorian said quietly. It had taken him until now, until Sorscha, to understand what that meant. “You cannot pick and choose what parts of her to love.” He pitied Chaol, he realized. His heart hurt for his friend, for all that Chaol had surely been realizing these past few months. “Just as you cannot pick which parts of me you accept.”
‘She had made a vow—a vow to free Eyllwe. […] Celaena had decided on one plan to follow when she reached these shores. One plan, however insane and unlikely, to free the enslaved kingdom: find and obliterate the Wyrdkeys the King of Adarlan had used to build his terrible empire. She’d gladly destroy herself to carry it out. Just her, just him. Just as it should be; no loss of life beyond their own, no soul stained but hers. It would take a monster to destroy a monster.’
‘She’d deserved that particular blow in the brawl she’d provoked in last night’s taberna—she’d kicked a man’s balls into his throat, and when he’d caught his breath, he’d been enraged, to say the least.’
“Does your lover know what you are?” A cold question. […] She heard, more than felt, something die from her voice as she said, “We’re not—together. Not anymore. I let him go before I came here.” He looked over his shoulder. “Why?” Flat, bored. But still, slightly curious. What did she care if he knew? She’d curled her hand into a fist in her lap, her knuckles white. […] “Because he’s safer if he’s as repulsed by me as you are.” “At least you’ve already learned one lesson.” When she cocked her head, he said, “The people you love are just weapons that will be used against you.”
“Why don’t I give you the lashing you deserve?” He looked so dead set on it that she blinked. “If you ever take a whip to me, I will skin you alive.” He let go of her and stalked around the clearing, a predator assessing its prey.’ 

Similar reads


The Cruel Prince, The Shadows Between Us, Red Queen, Serpent & Dove, Six of Crows, Shadow and Bone


Afterthoughts


Who would you cast for a Throne of Glass adaptation?

What are your thoughts on this series?

Did you enjoy Heir of Fire?

Which new characters did you love from Heir of Fire?