Tag: Young Adult Fantasy

Mister Impossible (Dreamer Trilogy #2) by Maggie Stiefvater

I’ve been mulling over how to approach a review for this amazing piece of fiction. Ms. Steifvater’s work is often very transcendent, but Mister Impossible just takes the cake.

The Dreamer Trilogy, follow up series to the wildly popular Raven Cycle, is focused on seminal “bad boy” Ronan Lynch and a wider exploration into his dreaming powers.

Where Call Down the Hawk set up the situations surrounding the current storyline — introducing the Hennessys, Bryde, the Moderators, etc. — Mister Impossible is more an etheric epic poem. Very quickly the deep dive into the ley lines, the quest for understanding around sweetmetals, and the indomitable personality that is Bryde, folds this novel into a dreamy story state that often doesn’t seem at home in the waking nor the dreaming world.

Per usual, the writing and character development are absolutely top notch. Ms. Steifvater always has a unique perspective on how to present scenes and situations, and Mister Impossible is a perfect example of this. There is suspense, humor and drama all present with a undertone of surrealism that just builds and builds and builds.

As the larger direction starts to unfold, there are still plenty of twists and turns that Ms. Stiefvater takes us down in a masterful execution of really looking at what the definition of humanity really is.

There is an unveiling towards the end of the book that I would absolutely love to make a parallel connection to a popular culture stalwart, but I’m just not the type of guy to spoil a storyline with one phrase. I will say that I am totally shocked and cannot wait to see how everything plays out in book three. That being said, I can’t believe I now have to wait for freakin’ book three!

I wanted to recognize special kudos to the amazing Will Patton for the audiobook of this manuscript. Mr. Patton is a remarkable performer who has breathed life into all of these two series of books. His tone and inflection definitely bring something to the table that enhances the experience.

Among the Beasts & Briars by Ashley Poston

I feel like I was well into my adult years before truly appreciating the warmth and familiarity of fables, fairy tales and folklore. I find this funny because in my life and studies as a young man, I was very much entrenched in several very rich cultural traditions of story telling and lore.

Regardless, the genres now hold a very dear place in my heart and Ms. Poston really scratches that itch with Among the Beasts & Briars.

This is the tale of the Kingdom of Aloriya: a place of perfect wonder with no drought or disease, and a happy population looked over by a magical royal bloodline to prevent the horrors of the woods from overtaking them.

Our protagonist, Cerys, is the daughter of the Royal Gardener and best friends with the soon to be queen: Princess Arwen. Cerys also hides a very special gift that should only be able to be wielded by the royal family: she can do magic.

As Arwen stands ready to be coronated Queen, things get really interesting as the monsters and magicks of the woods attack. Escaping with barely her wits and the magical crown of Aloriya, Cerys runs into the woods to attempt to find the hidden city of Voryn and possible help from the magical Lady of the Wilds.

This story has some incredibly tense moments. There are some major themes of trust and bravery, along with what I read into a xenophobia. With a storyline that relies heavily on the impending doom of Cerys — and her traveling companions — being overtaken by the horrors in the woods, the story gets a little stress-y, but in that “I’m just going to keep flipping pages” way.

The thing that makes Among the Beasts & Briars so great to me is the consistency with which the story and settings develop and unfold. I love a good book with a map in the front because that tells me that the author has thought about the bigger aspects of their created world, and possibly considered what the ramifications of their storytelling might wreak on the bigger picture.

Most importantly, and it really takes a good portion of the novel to get there, Among the Beasts & Briars is a story about redemption and trust. Yes, there is some predictability in how the story unfolds, but that, for me, is a comforting aspect in a fairy tale. The dawn after the harrowing night is the reward.

I really do hope Ms. Poston has some more stories hidden in the depths of Vaiyl. I feel there is so much more potential.

Rule of Wolves (King of Scars #2) by Leigh Bardugo

I guess the best way to describe this book is “attack of the Grishaverse all-stars!” Ms. Bardugo really went all out with this effort and really delivered on the setup she prepared with King of Scars two years ago (how has it been two years?!?!?!).

Basically stated, Ravka is in a pickle and Fjerda is getting ready to drop the hammer on young Nikolai Lantsov and his merry armies.

At the same time, deep in the heart of Fjerda, Nina Zenik remains very deep undercover in the home of her greatest enemy: Jarl Brum. Nina spends a lot of this tale battling between enacting revenge, providing valuable information for the salvation of Ravka, and tending to Jarl’s daughter, and Grisha in hiding, Hanne Brum.

Absolutely everyone from the Grishaverse makes an appearance, and Rule of Wolves was just a pure delight and awesome mix of amazing storylines and fan service.

This book really hits on the themes of obligation, responsibilities, and accepting or denying one’s personal emotions in the face of great adversity. There are so many twists and shock moments that really compels the reader to just hold on and motor through as quickly as possible.

The one thing I really love about this novel is the way it really pulls together the previous six efforts in the greater Grishaverse saga, yet also leaves the door open for an incredible expansion with future efforts. Ms. Bardugo really is a master of her craft, and, with the Grishaverse gaining greater exposure thanks to the Shadow and Bone television series, there are almost endless possibilities on where to go next.

In the Ravenous Dark by A.M. Strickland

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

It’s no secret that I have a severe love for YA Fantasy novels. I was already excited about taking on In the Ravenous Dark just from the synopsis, and, let me tell you, it is pure gold. Hell, this book brought me to actual tears a couple of times; I was that dialed into it.

The story opens up introducing young Rovan. Rovan and her father hold a very deep secret that could destroy their family if the knowledge slipped out: they can wield blood magic.

In a slip-up, Rovan’s father ends up dying to protect her from the ruling class of Thanopolis and that is really where the story takes off.

Twelve-ish years later a very mischievous Rovan ends up slipping and using her magic in public to save a friend/lover, and she is dragged into the royal court to adhere to their rule of being paired with a spirit guardian. This is where it gets really wacky. It turns out her father did not perish, and was forced to marry into the royal family to protect and propagate his bloodline: the source of his magical history and power.

Because of her proclivity to the power, Rovan is plopped right into a society she doesn’t understand, and really doesn’t like. She does, however, pair up with a couple of the other royal bloodmages: Lydea and Japha. Rovan takes on the full power of her bloodline which results in her father’s death, and she stays at odds with her mysterious guardian: Ivrilos.

At this point, there is a massive plot twist that I would feel disingenuous sharing, so I’m just going to say pick up this book.

Ms. Strickland powerfully built a complex world with all manners of details that really warrant more exploration. Rovan is the perfect little pain in the ass hero, and her interactions with Ivrilos, Lydea and Japha are downright legendary. This book was an extremely fun read, and the attention to picturesque detail is downright stunning. I really really really hope this is a first book in a series, because I can’t stand the thought that the motley band of bloodmages is at the end of their tale.

The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

There are books that I read that absolutely hit all of the right buttons for me. The Dead and the Dark is definitely that kind of book.

Logan Ortiz-Woodley is a recent high school graduate living with her dads; waiting patiently to turn eighteen so she can set out into the world to discover herself and where she belongs. At the start of the story, Logan, along with her dad Alejo Ortiz are packing up for a short-term move to Snakebite, Oregon — where her dads grew up — to meet up with Logan’s other dad, Brandon Woodley. Adding a little twist to the mix, Alejo and Brandon are TV’s ParaSpectors, ghost hunters with a pretty opinionated following.

Things in Snakebite are weird. While Alejo and Brandon grew up there, and eventually left (under semi-weird circumstances that is poked at through the entire novel), not much else has changed over the years. Of note, though, is a malevolent shadowy evil called the Dark that seems to be involved in the disappearance of at least one local teen. There is definitely something going on in Snakebite that involves the history of Alejo and Brandon, and Logan is going to get to the bottom of it.

Supernatural YA mysteries are my absolute bread and butter, and The Dead and The Dark does not disappoint. Yes, there are a couple of plot points that are a touch clichéd, but, for me, that is what locks it right into the genre. You have to have these signposts in order to say “Welcome to this familiar ride. Just wait until you reach the twists.” And boy howdy, there are some twists.

Ms. Gould really nailed this one in regards to little town attitude, teen angst and a whole lot of institutional hate and mistrust. Most of the way through the book I found myself questioning why the Ortiz-Woodleys would ever put up with what they are going through, and why they wouldn’t, rather, just find another location to scout. It is painfully obvious that Snakebite is not a place anyone should be. It seems to be an absolutely awful place, but it sure makes for some compelling reading.

Bottom line: if you like spooky queer YA, then do not sleep on this one. The Dead and the Dark is Ms. Gould’s debut, and I could not be more excited about what she puts out next.

The Court of Miracles (A Court of Miracles #1) by Kester Grant

Imagine a story of the inner workings of Parisian criminal guilds wrapped up in a loose homage to Les Misérables and Jungle Book. That is exactly what Ms. Grant has pulled off with The Court of Miracles.

Our main character, Eponine (Nina for short), is a super-talented member of the Thieves Guild and is on a mission to both save her adopted sister Cosette (Ettie) from and destroy the Flesh Guild. Ettie has caught the eye of the Tiger (not a Survivor reference) who leads the Flesh Guild, and Nina is already chapped at him because he took her actual sister into service several years back.

What follows is some serious criminal high jinks, and a broad swath of literary liberty with the characters of Hugo’s Les Mis.

This YA gem was truly a joy to read. The absolute spark between Nina and Ettie’s personalities, coupled with Nina’s preternatural ability to get in and out of the most heinous of situations, seriously drives this novel in an entertaining rollick.

There is some time-hopping that occurs, but, in a tale such as this, that is absolutely to be expected. As the years progress, we see Nina becoming more mature and far more driven to her goals. One thing I greatly respected is that Nina is not always successful in her wild gambits: something I see less and less of these days from other authors dealing with their protagonist(s). In my mind, these trip-ups help painfully carve even more facets onto Nina’s vivacious personality.

While Ms. Kester took the liberty of setting up shop in a preexisting world, she does not shy from leaving her own mark on it. All the visuals, sounds, tastes, and smells of Louis XVII’s Paris — and a lot of the seedy underbelly — are laid out like a buffet for the senses, and, truthfully, a lot of it is quite unsavory.

This is a book worth picking up. Better yet, snag the audiobook which is masterfully executed by Ajjaz Awad and John Lee.

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

Imagine Harry Potter meets Battle Royale. Throw in a dash of The Cabin in the Woods and that is pretty much the core plot for A Deadly Education.

This novel follows the story of Galadriel, or El for short, and her experience at The Scholomance as an outcast and loner. The long and the short of it is that all the other students in the school — a place with no teachers and just slightly attached to the mortal dimension — think that El is an evil magician preying on the other students (as is the norm).

What follows is El being followed/befriended by the class do-gooder, Orion Lake. Orion has the penchant for being in the right place to save El, and a mess of other students, from the monsters that seem to always be randomly roaming the halls and grounds of The Scholomance.

The story in A Deadly Education is really one of trust, friendship, learning, and self-sufficience. El is a fantastically snarky character who really feels — up into this story which happens in the third year of her schooling — that she is pretty much totally alone going into the ordeal known as “graduation” at the end of the fourth year. Let’s just say a whole lot happens.

I rather enjoyed this book because it came from the perspective of an underdog who really had no aspirations of being anything else. El’s one focus is on methodical survival and that is her singular goal.

Kudos to Ms. Novik for writing a novel that builds a tiny world full of mysteries and horror along with some pretty strong bond-building and, gasp, friendship. I cannot wait for book two.

Ruthless Gods (Something Dark and Holy #2) by Emily A. Duncan

Lore is something that keeps me totally invested in a book. Give me a well thought out world where there is far much more going on than is in just the setting of the primary story, and we’ve got something. I’m not talking about the insane heights of world building like J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin does, but I find myself more sucked into a story where you get little hints and mentions of other lands, or random factoids that just traipse across the page because they can, and not because the are 100% germane to the story.

This is the sort of detail that has made the current two Something Dark and Holy books so enjoyable to read.

Wicked Saints had a fun little romp with some toyed at romance and political intrigue. Ruthless Gods is all nitty gritty. To be honest, I’m not sure there are many scenes where someone isn’t bleeding.

Ultimately, this epic-ness of a middle book really blows the lightness of the first one out of the water. There are definitely small gems of joy that pop up throughout the story, but, by and large, it really lives up to the “dark and holy” moniker of the series.

Nadya is running away from all magic, Serefin is pretty much being torn apart, and there is never any telling if it’s going to be Malachiasz or the Black Vulture who shows up to a conversation… Sometimes both.

I absolutely love the way magic is presented in this series: as not just a singular thing from a singular source. We have divine magic, blood magic, relic magic, and probably several other versions that we just haven’t had the opportunity to unveil. Nothing is easy in these stories (not even dying), and nothing is sacred or safe. Beautiful scenes open onto eldritch horrors, and not even Divinity is as it seems.

I cannot wait for, but am totally terrified by, what lies between the covers of book number three. Also, there just aren’t enough tales set in a Slavic setting.

By the way, I just wanted to throw it out there that I would absolutely buy a set of the “reference books” Ms. Duncan quotes in the epigraphs of each chapter. I feel like I really need them in my life.

Down World by Rebecca Phelps

This book was provided to me by NetGalley in return for a fair review

Imagine Stranger Things crossed with Back to the Future all tied together with teen angst and the guilt of loss and secrecy. That’s pretty much the premise of Down World.

This is the story of Marina, a girl who lost her brother to a train accident four years previously. She is starting her sophomore year at public school; having gone to private school previously.

As the story unfolds, we discover that the high school, formerly a military base, has portals to different planes deep in its bowels that people have been using for years to visit alternate realities. That’s where things start to get very interesting, and Marina’s world changes drastically.

Ms. Phelps does a great job at world building and character development in this quick read. The foibles of high school life, and the navigation of potential romance make the “normal” portions of this book seem very believable.

Where I was disappointed, however, were the leaps in trying to rush certain portions of the story along to get to the next waypoint. Concepts and situations were introduced, not really ever resolved, and that stuck with me. For me, there is a wide swath of the “Down World” story that would have benefited from a better introduction, or even just an in-story summary of the bigger situation. There were opportunities to expound on this, but it was a path just not taken.

Book Review: War Storm (Red Queen #4)

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I went on a binge of this series and thought I would review the entire story arc here in the “final” book (though I should probably have done this in the first book).

With an incredibly envy-inducing talent for worldbuilding, Ms. Aveyard perfectly sets the scene for these novels (and novellas!). This series, and War Storm in particular, has an amazing foundation of landscapes, history, cultures and conflict that draw the reader in and masterfully set the stage for the tale that is about to unfurl.

At it’s core, the Red Queen series is a story of class conflict, control, and societal woes. One wonderful thing about these books, and Ms. Aveyard in particular, was that there was no pandering to the reader for the pitiable plight of any of the characters or situations. Each happenstance or situation seemed to be designed to help strengthen resolve or establish a disparity.

With War Storm we are dropped right into what we are told is the final wrap-up of this saga. Conflict still ravages the lands, and even more divides are starting to show. There is almost more behind the scenes conniving as there is open war and conflict. I often found myself checking how much of the book I had left when I would run into yet another new dire situation that seemed impossible to resolve by the end of this finale.

If you have made it through Red Queen, Glass Sword, and King’s Cage you will definitely not be disappointed by War Storm. Does it wrap everything up in a nice little bow? Absolutely not. Does it satisfy the reader enough to leave these Kingdoms behind? Again, no. You will, though, burn through this page-turner and feel satisfied that there is plenty of world left for Ms. Aveyard to approach again if she chooses.

I definitely hope she does.