Monsters of Verity Duology Review

Our Dark Duet

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Titles: This Savage Song, Our Dark Duet

Author: Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: 2016-2017

Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Synopsis: In Verity, people’s crimes manifest as monsters.

August is one of these monsters. He doesn’t want to be but didn’t have a choice in the matter. Besides, Verity doesn’t need another human. It needs a monster. It needs him.

Kate is the daughter of the man who controls these monsters. All she wants is his approval, but approval is hard to get from a man who deals with monsters.

Together, they make up two halves of a divided city. A city where both halves hang on the edge between order and chaos.

Bluejay Feather

Thoughts: Without a doubt, I liked and at times even loved this duology. That said, there are also some aspects I’m not sure how I feel about.

I’ve read the first book multiple times in both physical and audiobook formats. I only do that with books that I adore.

What I liked most about This Savage Song were our protagonists, especially August. I love reading about characters who long to be someone they can never become. I don’t know why this is because this is not the case for me personally, unless the person I want to become is a successful novelist, but that’s not unachievable, just unlikely.

In any case, I recognize that this is a personal bias towards a particular character archetype as opposed to something other readers will feel the same way about.

I flew through the second book in a single day and found it difficult to put down just like the first one. That said, I don’t think I enjoyed Our Dark Duet as much as This Savage Song. 

It’s difficult to determine the cause of these feelings.  I think part of it stems from the fact that the protagonists undergo significant development between books one and two and at the beginning of Our Dark Duet. 

August and Kate have become very different people by the time Our Dark Duet starts. On one hand, the development is believable. On the other hand, I miss who the characters had been.

August and Kate develop a great dynamic in book one. It took a while for the two to start interacting with one another at the start of the book.

A similar amount of time is spent with the characters apart in book two as in book one, but I found myself wanting them together more. I feel like August and Kate lacked some of the synergy they gained in book one throughout book two. The reason for this is explained, but I still found myself missing their interactions.

I also felt like there was a plot-line introduced at the beginning of book two involving the other countries in this universe that was never concluded. This makes me wonder if the author is planning a separate novella or spin-off set in this location.

Part of my lack of satisfaction with book two might involve reading this book so soon after finishing the finale in the Shades of Magic series. Our Dark Duet and A Conjuring of Light had similar plots. 

I can’t go into many details without spoilers, but suffice to say that the similarities stemmed from the nature of the antagonists. Both Our Dark Duet and A Conjuring of Light contained what I consider to be two of Schwab’s least nuanced villains.

This Savage Song, on the other hand, had a plot that felt more different from Schwab’s other novels, though it felt more similar to other books I’d read.

Verity was something I loved in both books. I loved the idea of having monsters appear as a result of people’s sins. The world-building manages to feel simple and complex at the same time. My main complaint about the world-building is that I wanted to see more of it.

Rating: While, I didn’t personally love Our Dark Duet  as much as This Savage Song, I’m putting most of this down to personal bias and giving the series a 4/5 overall rating with 4.5/5 for This Savage Song and a 3.5/5 for Our Dark Duet. 

4 blue jays

Have you read this duology? What did you think? Do you want to read this duology? Have you read any of Schwab’s works in the past? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, 4 Stars

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31423196Title: Defy the Stars (Constellation #1)

Author: Claudia Gray

Published: April 4, 2017

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Noemi will to do anything for her best friend and planet. Even sacrifice her life, but when Noemi discovers an abandoned Earth spacecraft and a chance to end the war between her world and Earth, Noemi’s plans change. Noemi might not need to sacrifice her life to save her planet anymore, but she’s not sure she can make it in time.

Abel, a humanoid robot, was locked in an abandoned spaceship for thirty years. Now, he’s been freed by one of his maker’s enemies. Abel wants nothing more than to find his master and serve his purpose, but a flaw in his programming won’t allow it. Abel has no choice but to do everything his new master says, even if it means helping his enemy.

Bluejay Feather

Review: This is the sort of science fiction novel I love. For whatever reason, I can’t get enough of plot lines where a non-human protagonist has to blend into human society, and along the way learn they have much more in common with humans than they thought.

I adore Abel for this reason, and his personality in general. I love it when authors manage to make readers sympathize with characters that might otherwise come across as things rather than people.

After all, in the end, none of the characters we read about exist in real life. Therefore, I see little reason why we can’t have robot characters come across as just as developed as the human ones. All characters are products of human imagination.

Noemi is a strong character, too. Noemi’s devotion to her planet gave her strong motivation. That said, at times I felt as though Noemi had less personality than the robot.

I think part of this had to do with her character. Noemi’s life has been full of loss, she’s just experienced another tragedy, and believes herself due for another as her planet sends it’s young people on a suicide mission. That seems like enough to make anyone harden to emotions.

Noemi’s seeming less human than her robot companion could also be seen as symbolism, and perhaps allow room for readers to grow stronger attachments to Abel despite his inhuman nature.

Another thing I loved about this book was that it posed philosophical questions. This is an element YA novels often lack, but I love the YA novels where it is present anyway. Many of the adult novels that strive to make readers think can get a little preachy. YA novels that make readers think often avoid this, or at least, the ones I’ve read do.

That said, I would have liked more exploration of the philosophical elements, but since this is YA I’ll take what I can get.

Another element I don’t often see discussed in nonsecular novels is religion. This book touches on religion more than most novels, particularly YA, that I’ve read. Noemi was raised Catholic and her planet’s culture places much value on religion. While it, again, does not come across as preachy, this influences Noemi’s actions throughout the novel.

I’m split on what I thought about the worldbuilding. On one hand, I like that readers were shown so much of it. The protagonists visit just about every habitable world. On the other hand, visiting so many places leads to a lack of depth.

That there were only enough robot models in the future for each one to be assigned a letter of the alphabet also seemed unlikely and of limited vision. Then again, this also seemed a means by which the author simplified her plot to keep it from overwhelming the story.

The author did the same thing with the planets. Each one is defined by a key characteristic. There is a resort planet, a planet for geniuses, and a planet for devoutly religious people. This is a big part of why I say that the worldbuilding lacked depth.

The worldbuilding also reminded me of Star Wars. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise me seeing as Claudia Gray is also contracted to write Star Wars novels.

I added this one to my TBR because I’d read and enjoyed Gray’s Star Wars novel, Lost Stars. I’m glad I did, because I liked this one even more.

Rating: I keep going back and forth between 4 and 4.5 on this one. If I did quarter ratings I would. There were some things I didn’t like about this book, but there were even more things I loved. It’s one of those books I can’t stop thinking about. That makes me want to rate it higher.

In the end, I settled on 4.

4 blue jays

Do you plan to read Defy the Stars? Have you read it already? What did you think? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Strange the Dreamer 4.5 Stars

0526171722Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author: Laini Taylor

Published: March 28, 2017

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Lazlo Strange has spent his life recording the mystery that is the unseen city of Weep. Even its name is lost. Lazlo heard the name stolen from his lips when he was five years old.

Lazlo longs to leave his life as a librarian behind and search for Weep. Yet, Lazlo is only a dreamer with no resources. Until one day when Lazlo’s dream comes to him by way of visitors from the city of Weep itself. Unfortunately, Lazlo’s dream seems determined to disappear again without him.

Lazlo must find a way to meet the visitors from Weep before their departure, or Lazlo will loose the chance to fulfill his dream of visiting the unseen city forever.

Note: I received buttons and sample chapters from the publisher. I bought the book itself. Opinions are my own.

Review: I read the first few chapters in a sampler from BEA and fell in love. It took me a little while to get to this book when first it came out because I was so busy at the time. By then it had been so long since I’d read the first couple chapters I had to start from the beginning.

It took me a little while to reread the first couple chapters. Not because they were boring, but because I’d already read them and still had a lot happening in my life.

I read Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series a few years back, and loved the prose. Taylor can weave images with her words. This proves perfect for a novel that features a mysterious “unseen city.” 

The novel is written in third person omniscient point of view, an unusual choice for young adult novels. The author shows each character’s motives well. Each character is so distinctive that I never got confused about which character the story was following.

The two main characters are Lazlo Strange and Sarai. Lazlo is an orphaned librarian who’s spent his whole life dreaming and writing books about the lost city of Weep. Sarai isn’t introduced until about a forth of the way through the book.

My least favorite part of Strange the Dreamer is the pacing. It wasn’t enough to be off-putting for me as I still loved so much about the story. However, there were times when I felt like skipping pages because I wanted to get to the more action based scenes. This is especially true with regards to the romantic story-line.

This is one of those books where I wanted to see less romance and more action, but then I almost always want that. Maybe that’s just me.

The slow pacing continues until about the last fourth of the story where everything starts to happen at once. 

The ending is a cliffhanger, but one that I knew would happen for most of the book. The plot itself is rather predictable, but there were enough elements that left me guessing that I was still entertained.

While I loved the description of the places and the world itself, there were certain world building aspects that I didn’t like. The magic system is one in which magic resembles superpowers. I’ve seen this form of magic system done often.

The world building also draws on familiar tropes and legends. For example, Weep reminded me a lot of Atlantis or many other mysterious cities explorers set out to find.

The people of Weep are also much more ambiguous than the city itself. I got the sense that Taylor was trying to keep the people of Weep as vague racially and culturally as she could so that she would not appear to draw her inspiration from any one culture.

That said, I still really enjoyed reading this book. 

Rating: I recommend this book to people who love beautiful language and great character development, but can handle slow pacing.

4 blue jays

Shades of Magic Series Review

220552622076487929939230Titles: A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic Series)

Author: V. E. Schwab

Published: 2015-2017

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Kell is one of the only magicians able to travel between parallel worlds. Situated in his world’s version of London, he acts as intermediary to the royalty of three worlds. Bringing messages and information between them. Yet, behind the royals’ backs, Kell illegally transfers goods between worlds.

This smuggling remains a quiet side business until the day Kell makes a mistake and transfers something he shouldn’t. Something that puts everything and everyone Kell cares about at risk. It’s up to him and his new companion Delilah Bard, a thief from our world, to save all three Londons Kell travels to.

Review: The first two books captivated me and the third was enjoyable. Book one and two are some of the only books of their length I’ve read in a single day. Book three took a few days more, but the fact that it is the longest of the series might have something to do with this.

Other reviewers have said that they had a hard time getting into the first book, but I did not find this to be the case. I think my reading experience was different because I started the first book at a time when I had several hours to devote to reading without interruption. Books one and two are some of the only books I’ve read that have kept me up long past midnight in the last few years.

Something I’ve noticed about many of V. E./Victoria Schwab’s characters is that many of her male leads have personality traits more often found in female leads with the opposite true for her female leads. This holds true in this series for Kell and Lila. The dynamic that results from these character traits in Schwab’s dual point of view novels with one male and one female lead character contrast each other nicely.

Kell has, for the most part, lead a sheltered life up until the start of the first book. He was raised in a palace as part of the royal family with most everything provided for. Yet, Kell also has an identity crisis. He is one of the only members of his kind, a blood magician known as an Antari, and was adopted into the royal family. Kell’s search for identity contributes to some of the series’ main obstacles.

Lila spends her days picking pockets in our world’s version of London. Not the version of today, I believe it’s meant to be set sometime in the 19th century but can’t remember for sure. Lila dreams of becoming a pirate and leaving London. She enjoys cross dressing to the point that none of the authorities searching for her know she is a girl.

Holland is one of the series most developed side characters. He is the Antari from White London, and the only other Antari Kell knows at the start of the book. It takes a while before the reader gets to know him, but my perspective of Holland as a character changed drastically once I learned his motives.

Rhy is another major side character. He too undergoes much development throughout the series. While I liked Rhy, I don’t think I loved him the way many other reviewers seem to.

The different Londons contrasted one another well. I liked how Red London, White London, and Gray London were all surrounded by different counties with different cultures and histories.

That said, I had some issues keeping the world-building straight. I don’t know if this is because I read the first few books so quickly, or because it was just hard to keep track of. While it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment, I was somewhat confused by the characters’ appearances/the characteristics common among some of the ethnic groups featured in the novel. For example, Kell is described as pale, but Prince Rhy has dark skin. I suppose this could be explained by Kell being adopted, but it still made me wonder if I was reading their descriptions incorrectly.

Rating: 4.5/5 for books one and two 4/5 for book three with a 4/5 for the series as a whole.

4 blue jays

 

Scythe 4 Stars

28954189Title: Scythe

Author: Neal Shusterman

Publication Date: November 22st 2016

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: In a utopian future there is only one way left to die: at a scythe’s  hands. Death is now a random, rare occurrence, and only those who do not want to take lives are permitted to do so . . . at least that is how it’s supposed to be.

When Citra and Rowan are chosen as scythe’s apprentices it becomes clear to them that that the Scythedom doesn’t always operate the way it was intended.

Thoughts: Neal Shusterman is one of my favorite authors, so I wanted to read this book the moment I heard about it. I really enjoyed this book overall, but there were a few points where it fell short for me.

I love the concept of a society that conquers death, and needs to kill off portions of its population as a result to prevent overpopulation. It is interesting to see a society where futuristic technology makes things better instead of worse.

The artificial intelligence in this book, known as the thunder cloud, is an interesting character. It’s the only story I’ve read where the AI is portrayed as less corruptible as the humans.

The Shythedom itself, what the scythes call their organization, is fascinating. The scythes all followed ten commandments, but interpreted them in very different ways. This is a nice exploration of the ways humans interpret different philosophies.

This book feels like a reversal of the author’s dystopian series, Unwind. In Unwind the people take bits of unwanted humans and using them to save people. Whereas, in this book, the taking of unwanted humans for the good of the many is meant to be forbidden.

The main issues I have with this otherwise great book was with the characters and the pacing.

Citra and Rowan don’t spend as much time together as was needed to form a strong bond between them. The long amounts of time the two spend apart also leads to their story arcs diverging a significant amounts. I can see how this might cause someone else to skip between one perspective for another.

The pacing feels a little too fast sometimes and too slow at others. Maybe the author did this so that the story would feel like the story happened spontaneously, like death often does in real life, but I don’t think it always worked. At times it made it harder to connect to the characters because I never really got to know them.

I think most of this can be contributed to rushed editing, as there was at least one place where I noticed a simple grammatical error.

Rating: I recommend this book to fans of Neal Shusterman, and who may want to see something that contains some dystopian tropes presented with unusual twists.

4 blue jays

The Diabolic 4.5 Stars

26836910Title: The Diabolic

Author: S.J. Kincaid

Publication Date: November 1st 2016

Note: I was provided an advanced copy by the publisher, but opinions are my own.

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Nemesis was engineered for one purpose: to keep Sedonia, the daughter of a galactic senator, safe. When it becomes clear the emperor plans to hold Sedonia hostage, the only way for Nemesis to keep Sedonia safe is to impersonate her.

Nemesis is a genetically Diabolic, not a human, yet the more time Nemesis spends pretending to be human the less it feels like an act. Everything Nemesis thought she knew is thrown into question as she begins to wonder how different human and Diabolics really are.

As the Empire starts to fall to ruin, Nemesis’s new understanding might give her the ability to end the chaos.

Thoughts: This book helped get me out of one of the longest reading slumps I’ve had in years. Part of what allowed me to do this is the novel’s fast pace. There is a lot of plot in a relatively short time. The amount of plot in this book could have been an entire trilogy.

The trade-off of this is that the book ends up feeling too fast at times. I would have liked more time for character development and world-building, but managed to understand and enjoy the novel’s sequence of events regardless.

I would like to note that this novel is very different from S.J. Kincaid’s Insignia trilogy. This novel is on the edge between YA and adult whereas the Insignia trilogy is on the edge of middle grade and young adult.

I read this novel before Insignia. As a result, I found myself surprised at the different feel of the two works. I would have liked to know going in that her other works were for a different audience.

My favorite aspect of Nemesis’s character was her identity struggle. Nemesis struggles with her own humanity and what she believes she deserves. I enjoy the trope where a character from one group has to pretend to belong to another group. That the character was imitating someone else while searching for her own identity further heightened her identity crisis.

I’ve read books with elements of the world building contained within this book before. It has a very space opera feel with some fantasy elements thrown in with the science fiction ones such as the the monarchy and long term technological stagnation before the story began. That said, these are elements that I really enjoy, particularly as this novel used some of these elements in ways I haven’t seen done a lot before.

I read most of this book believing it to be a series, and was disappointed when I learned it was a standalone. The book does have a satisfying ending, but I would really like a sequel.

Rating: I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to fans of space opera, political intrigue, and plots where a character from one group must disguise themselves as a member of another.

4.5 blue jays

Blood for Blood 4.5 Stars

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Title: Blood for Blood (Wolf by Wolf #2)

Author: Ryan Graudin

Publication Date: November 1, 2016

Genre: Young Adult Alternate History, Fantasy/Science-Fiction

Note: An advanced copy was provided by the publisher (Little, Brown). Opinions are my own.

*This is the review of a sequel. For my review of the first book click here.

Synopsis: In an alternate 1956 where the Axis Powers won World War II Yael, a teenage Jewish concentration camp escapee, entered an ambitious cross-continent motorcycle race. The winner got to meet Hitler.

Her goal was to win the race, kill Hitler, and start a revolution. This book is the aftermath of that plan.

Thoughts: I didn’t know what to expect going into this book. I was worried with the way Wolf by Wolf ended this book would be all filler in an attempt to make a series out of a standalone.

I was wrong.

This book is one of the best dystopian revolution type books I’ve read. (Yes, I’m calling the government in this book “dystopian” even though it is based off of a form of government that once existed because this is alternate history, not actual history.)

What set this book apart from most other novels’ I’ve read centering around a revolution is that the main character, in this case Yael, still has an important message and roll to play in what is to come.

The world-building, something I didn’t feel was well executed in the first book, was better in this one. This is due in part to the fact that in the first book almost all the flashbacks were dedicated to showing Yael at the most devastating moments in her life, whereas these show a variety of circumstances.

This book put greater influence on Yael’s Jewish culture than the first one. Yael spent most of the last book pretending to be other people, and had trouble keeping herself from getting absorbed into the roll of the person she was pretending to be. That was not the case in this book. I enjoyed seeing Yael come into her own and embrace who she was. Though I can’t comment on the accuracy of the depiction as Jewish culture is not something I’m overly familiar with.

Our two leading side characters from the first book, Felix and Luka, play an even greater roll in this book than the first one. They get entire chapters from their point of views. I appreciated how, in spite of this choice, the author didn’t make the book all about romance.

I have a feeling Luka’s character arc in this book is going to be controversial. He accepted things rather quickly. Though the way he learned only part of what was going on at any given time made his actions more plausible.

Something else I noticed that I didn’t in the first one was that I’m not sure how accurately German words are used. I’m not anywhere near fluent in German, but when I read the first book my only exposure to German was spoken.

Between reading the first and second books of this series I decided to learn a little about the German writing system. Keeping in mind that the version I read was an ARC and I have only limited knowledge of German,  I think all of the German nouns in the book should have been capitalized but some weren’t. It seems to me like this is a very basic rule the author should have had a German speaker check for, but maybe I’m wrong since I’m not a fluent German speaker and this was not a finished copy.

Rating: A great sequel overall, though I had a few reservations.

4.5 blue jays