Series Review: Seven Realms

6342491780122994094698069828Titles: The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Published: 2009-2012

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: A thousand years ago seven realms were one and wizards ruled like tyrants, but no longer. Now the queendom of the Fells is ruled not by magic users, but by the queens of the gray wolf line. Raisa ana’Marianna, the princess heir, is frustrated by the fact that she is trapped in the palace unable to make changes to improve the lives of her citizens. Meanwhile, ex-thief Han Alister, knows how bad life can get in the Fells. He only wants to keep his family fed and alive, but manages to get himself tangled in wizard politics anyway.

Review: This series took a little while for me to get into the first book, but after I finished The Demon King I was hooked and marathoned the rest of the books.

My favorite aspect of this series was probably the world building. Often in YA fantasy novels the world seems very underdeveloped, but that was not the case here. I enjoyed reading about all of the seven realms various cultures and the tensions between them though the name of this series is somewhat deceptive as it manly focuses on one of the seven kingdoms in this world known as the Fells.

This series often references historical events in the seven realms. I really like when fictional historical events help shape the present in fictional universes because it makes them feel more realistic. Though, as most of the events referenced happened a thousand years ago, it was somewhat unrealistic that so little had changed since then, but this is a common occurrence in fantasy novels so I’m willing to ignore this fact. The ways that the historical facts had been distorted with time made me think a lot about how our own history has been manipulated.

I liked that the romance in this series never overshadowed the fantasy elements. The romance gradual in development which is something I really appreciated, though I do somewhat wish Hans and Raisa had spent more time together in the early books.

Many of the characters were very well developed. Our male main character, Hans, was probably my favorite. I found his backstory as a reformed thief fascinating.

These books just seemed to get better and better as the series went on. Each book seemed to expand upon the scope of the world a little more, and the plot progressed nicely with several twists. It’s not often that I feel the urge to read all the books in a four book long series in a row, but this series continued to feel fresh and engaging throughout.

What readers should know: This series contains vague references to an instance in which a major character’s mother was raped long before the first book began resulting in the birth of aforementioned major character. Besides that there is a fair amount of violence including the torture of a major character. Readers should also know that although the first book is called “The Demon King” and the word “demon” is used on several occasions I don’t remember any demonic intervention/demons getting page time.

Rating: This was an engaging YA high fantasy series. I recommend it for fans of the genre or trying to get into high/epic fantasy as I think this would be a good series to start with. I can’t wait for the spin-off series to be released.

4.5 blue jays

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The Heart of Betrayal 4 Stars

21569527Title: The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)

Author: Mary E. Pearson

Publication date: July 7, 2015

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: When Princess Lia flees the palace on her wedding day she thinks she is done with royal life. She should have known it wouldn’t be that simple. She is pursued by the prince she was supposed to marry and an assassin sent to kill her. Lia must keep her wits about her if she wants to survive.

Review: This book was a pleasant surprise after the first one. I had a huge problem in book one with both the pacing and Princess Lia herself who annoyed me because she didn’t once even stop to consider that by running away from a marriage that was a political alliance she is risking starting a war between her people and Dalbreck.

The twist everyone talks about in this book was something I figured out fairly early on, and it wasn’t until the last twenty-five pages or so that I actually started to get interested in the story-line. It’s because of the way book one ended that I decided to pick up this book, and in the end I’m glad I did.

The writing in this book is very good. It’s almost poetic, but does not feel at all like purple prose.

Pearson’s portrayal of Vendan culture in this book is excellent. In book one we’re shown how the people of Morrighan view the people of Venda as “savages” because their cultures are so different from one another. In this book we learn how many of these “savage” cultural aspects actually made sense when taking into account the circumstances the people lived under. So many authors write about fictional cultures the main character’s culture views in a negative way and make some of the characters’ from said other culture not evil, but never explain the logic behind the other cultures seemingly “savage” rituals. I loved that Pearson didn’t fall into this trap.

The pacing in this book was much better than that of The Kiss of Deception, but it still lagged towards the middle. I ended up skimming through several sections around that point. Most epic fantasy books have the characters moving frequently from place to place even if the story happens entirely in a single city. I think the fact that the setting was the Sanctum for almost the entire book may have contributed to this fact. Pauline’s perspective also felt a bit unnecessary to me and I skimmed though most of her sections.

The Komizar was a complex and well developed antagonist. From the Komizar’s point of view he is doing what is best for his country and his actions are not evil. Despite this I did have a slight issue with some of the side characters’ believabiliy and this is the same issue I had with the first book. I had particular trouble with the Assassin. He just showed too much sympathy to those he was tasked to kill for me to believe he was the most accomplished assassin in Venda who had been training for this since childhood.

I was really hoping the magic system would be expanded upon in this book, but although we got to see a little more of it the magic remained in the background. I’ve noticed a lot of young adult high fantasy novels hardly mention the magic system at all. I love innovative magic systems so this is not a trend I like, but I think it might have something to do with the fact that young adult books are expected to be shorter so there is less time to expand upon one.

What readers should know: This book does contain some language and some character deaths occur. If this were a movie I think it would be rated PG.

Rating: I enjoyed this book, but I had several issues as listed in this review that kept me from absolutely loving it so this book is getting a four out of five.

4 blue jays

August 2015 Wrap-Up

August was a great reading month. I read nine books: one adult sci-fi, three adult fantasy, and five young adult fantasy. I also started revisions on one of my writing projects.

From now on I’m going to be splitting my monthly wrap-ups into three sections: reading, writing, and blogging.

Reading

The Martian by Andy WeirShort Synopsis: Astronaut is stranded on Mars.

Thoughts: A very realistic, well researched portrayal. Though I really liked it, the book didn’t always grip me as much as I would like. Review to come.

Rating:

 4.5 blue jays

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Short Synopsis: A princess is forced into a marriage to the mysterious “God-King” in an attempt to prevent war between too nations. While this princess settles in to life in the foreign palace her sister tries desperately to free her.

Thoughts: Once again Brandon Sanderson’s world building proves extraordinary. The plot is captivating and unpredictable, the breath and color based magic system is well thought out and unlike any I’ve read before. For my full thoughts see my review.

Rating:

 five blue jays

Elantris by Brandon SandersonShort Synopsis: Elantris was once the city of the gods. Now it is a city of the living dead.

Thoughts: I can really tell this is the first novel Brandon Sanderson published. His prose were really clunky and this is the only Sanderson novel where I’ve skimmed sections. Still an overall enjoyable read though, it’s interesting to see how much Sanderson has improved over the years.

Rating: 

4 blue jays

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. SchwabShort Synopsis: Kell is one of the only people left who can travel between parallel worlds. Kell uses his ability to illegally smuggle objects between worlds. One day an object Kell smuggles turns out to be especially dangerous and it’s up to Kell to dispose of it before it’s too late.

Thoughts: I haven’t read a lot of books about parallel worlds, but when done right it’s a topic I find intriguing. There were times when I felt this story felt a little predictable and the characters not as developed as I would like, but it was an excellent read overall. Review to come.

Rating:

4.5 blue jays

The Heart of Betrayal by Mary E. Pearson

Short Synopsis: A princess struggles to free herself from expectations of her. Book two in the Heart of Betrayal series.

Thoughts: I’m surprised how much I liked this one as I had mixed feelings about the first, but there were certain aspects I really liked. Review to come.

Rating:

4 blue jays

The Demon King by Cinda Williams ChimaThe Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams ChimaThe Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams ChimaThe Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima

Short Synopsis: A thousand years ago one nation became seven and the world was shattered during a terrible disaster. Now Han, an ex-thief, and Raisa, the princess heir, must learn from the past in hopes of a better future. The entire Seven Realms series.

Thoughts: The pacing at the beginning was a bit slow, but once I got into these I just couldn’t seem to put them down. I read the last three over what was primarily a two day period of time. The world building is some of the best I’ve read in YA (in a lot of YA it tends to be lacking), and the characters were so much fun. I’m surprised this series isn’t more popular. Can’t wait for the spin-off series Shattered Realms.

Rating: 

4.5 blue jays

Currently Reading: 

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Writing 

What I wrote last month: In August I started revisions on my high fantasy work in progress. It’s working title is A Rose Like Death, and it was my project for NaNoWriMo last November. Most of what I’ve been doing so far is rearranging the files of chapters and scenes into an order I think would better fit the story. (I use Scrivener.)

My main focus right now is big picture edits and making everything flow. I’m also doing a lot of rewriting to change my main character, Yuliana’s, voice because the narration feels too distant at the moment. Feedback from everyone who has read the first chapter has been very positive overall with most issues involving grammatical and sentence construction errors that I don’t intend to fix until far later. Everyone seemed to have a much better grasp of the world building and character dynamics than I expected by the end of chapter one, and each person who read it had a different theory about the direction the plot would take. Only one really got anywhere near to the truth.

What I plan to write next month: I plan to continue with what will become the second draft of A Rose Like Death. Now that summer is over progress is going to slow and the goal is to have it finished by October 31 so I can start a new project for NaNoWriMo in November, but I’m not sure if that is realistic yet.

Blogging

I know I’m behind on my tags. It might take me a while to get them posted, but I haven’t forgotten about them. I’ve been tagged for the quote a day challenge and my blog has been given the Liebaster Award, but have yet to post about them. I’m planning to combine the quote a day challenge into one day instead of three because I post once a week and like to keep it consistent.

Read or write anything interesting in August? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson 5 Stars

1268479Title: Warbreaker

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Published: 2009

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Synopsis:  Princess Vivienna grew up knowing that one day she would wed the God King, ruler of a nearby enemy nation, but when the time comes for the king to send Vivienna for her wedding her father decides to send her younger sister Siri instead.

Siri has spent her life rebelling and ignoring her tutors. She knows nothing about the Court of Gods. Fearing for her sister and not sure what to do with her new found freedom, Vivienna travels to the kingdom where Siri was taken to help her escape. If only freeing Siri were that simple.

Review: Brandon Sanderson has once again crafted a beautiful, captivating fantasy world with awesome characters and mind blowing plot twists.

Before continuing I’d like to point out that this entire book is can be read for free on Brandon Sanderson’s website.

The main characters in this novel are all very different from one another. There is Vivienna, the oldest princess of Idris, who spent her whole life being trained for her life in the court of their enemy after her arranged marriage to the God King. Vivienna holds firm to her beliefs and has a strong sense of duty. Vivienna’s younger sister, Siri, has grown up being rebellious and ignoring her studies, so when Siri is sent to be married to the God King in her sister’s stead Siri finds herself entirely unprepared for life in the Court of Gods. Lightsong, a god who doesn’t believe in his own religion, is my personal favorite. Then there is the mysterious Vasher whose motives are hidden from the reader for most of the novel.

These drastically different perspectives allow Sanderson to reveal the world and the magic system in ways that our judgement is not clouded by character bias in spite of some characters who have very good reasons to either despise the or appreciate the people around them.

The magic system in this book continues to be one of Sanderson’s strengths. The magic of Awakening uses something called Biochromatic Breath to do everything from causing a rope to come alive and strangle you on its own to reanimating dead bodies. The ways in which this magic has affected society and the limitations of said magic were all well thought out and explained.

Lightsong’s debates with his priests about whether or not he was a god was one of my favorite parts of this novel. Something about the concept of an agnostic deity is just so hilarious yet thought provoking at the same time.

I have enough experience with plots though reading and writing now that plot twists rarely surprise me, especially if I have read multiple books by a particular author before. Somehow Sanderson’s twists are ones I still can’t entirely predict though I have now read ten Brandon Sanderson novels.

This book is currently a standalone and reads like one, but I’d be more than willing to read a sequel if Sanderson ever finds time between his many projects.

What readers should know: This is a fantasy novel, so naturally it contains magic. This book also features the deaths of some relatively prominent characters, but the violence isn’t graphic. Sex is mentioned, but the characters involved are married and everything is very fade to black. It’s all in all relatively tame, for an adult fantasy novel in particular.

Rating: This book had great characters, an unpredictable plot, and world building. I highly recommend this book to fans of Brandon Sanderson, high fantasy, and/or trying to get into Brandon Sanderson’s novels.

five blue jays

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh 4 Stars

18798983Title: The Wrath and the Dawn

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Publication date: May 12, 2015

Genres: Young Adult, High Fantasy, Retelling, Romance

Synopsis:.Everyday a brings new bride and every dawn brings their death. For unknown reasons, Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan, marries a new woman each day before having her executed at dawn and repeating the cycle a new. Among the victims was Shahrahzad’s best friend and she is determined to avenge her death.

Shahrahzad has volunteered to marry the Caliph for the opportunity to get close to the Caliph. It was Shahrahzad’s plan to kill the Caliph, but as she speaks with him Shahrazad realizes the Caliph is not who she thought he was. All the same, Shahrahzad is determined to put an end to the murders. She will survive the dawn.

Review: I read this book directly after finishing The Hero of Ages (The conclusion to Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn Trilogy). After enjoying that book so thoroughly and knowing this one was high fantasy, I went into this expecting to be disappointed. Fortunately,  I instead found this to be an engaging, interesting read.

This book is a retelling of 1001 Nights. I was not very familiar with the story line of 1001 Nights, so I can’t judge the quality of the adaptation, but this story made me interested in reading the original work. This retelling focuses on the ongoing plot linking the many stories within 1001 Nights together.

Our main character, Shahrzad, is a very determined young woman and remained so throughout. I liked that she never let Khalid, the Caliph, scare her into submission although she was scared at times for good reason. She also never forgot what Khalid had done or entirely forgave him even as she started spending more time with him. This is something I can’t say about a lot of YA characters and it makes me appreciate Shahrzad even more for it. The retelling didn’t put much emphasis on the stories Shahrazad told during the night, and I’ll admit I found myself skimming through them when they were incorporated as the contents of the stories told didn’t hold much influence in this particular retelling as a whole besides distracting Khalid and making him think.

Although I really enjoyed this, there were some elements that kept me from rating it higher. Every character in this book seems to have their own unique eye color. While the author may have intended to use this as a way for the reader to better differentiate between characters, and this fixation on eye colors is fairly common in novels, I found it extremely annoying. Overall, however, the writing was very good: just the right balance of poetic but not too poetic.

Shahrzad gave the impression that she had planned and expected to distract the Caliph. Much of what she did seemed improvised and I’m surprised she didn’t know more about the Caliph before going in. This made the story a little unbelievable for me, but I guess the author was trying to use the fact that desperation can make people act irrationally as justification.

The love triangle is something else I could have done without. It’s clear who Shahrzed is going to end up with, and so I view it as rather pointless. However, I can see that the author added it to create tension, and it doesn’t bother me as much as it does in many other books. The magic system was also barely touched on. I would have liked to see more of it.

While I was reading this I was trying to place it in history due to references of a few real world countries/cultural elements. The religious references in particular left me confused as the characters would appear to worship the Greek gods but the story seems to take place in the Middle East. Though I think the author might have simply had Shahrzad pick up on terms that implied she worshiped the Greek gods as she grew into a friendship with a Greek serving girl.

What Readers Should Know: Sex is mentioned and there scenes where sex was implied, but this wasn’t explicit or frequent. The characters involved were married. There was the use of the occasional curse word, but it was not frequent. There was no gory violence, but there were mentions of the Caliphs past murders, attempts at murders, and practice with weapons.

Rating: The pacing and overall writing of this book was well done, and I liked that it was set in a fantasy world that did not resemble Medieval Europe as I haven’t read nearly enough fantasy novels where the setting didn’t, but there were too many minor issues I had with it for me to give it higher than a four.

4 blue jays

Seraphina by Rachel Heartman 4 and a half Stars

19549841Title: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman 

Publication date:  July 10, 2012

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: Dragons and humans are at peace, but it may not last much longer. The long war between dragons and the humans of Goredd  has not been forgotten by either species. As the forty year anniversary of the peace accord draws near tensions are high after a member of the royal family is murdered in a suspiciously dragon-like manor.

Seraphina, who has just arrived at court and recently become assistant to the court composer, is about to become involved. The last thing Seraphina wants to do is to gain attention from others, especially not Prince Lucian Kiggs who is determined to solve every mystery that presents itself. Seraphina has a secret of her own, one that she could be killed for if discovered.

Review: Several people I know who’ve mentioned this book thought it was a sequel to Eragon. I assure everyone it isn’t. Yes, it’s about dragons and the main character’s name sounds quite a bit like “Saphira,” but that’s where the simulates end. That said, I’ve always been attracted to the topic of dragons which is what drew me to this book.

I was expecting to be bothered by the fact that their were characters shifting between human and dragon “forms.” This is fairly common in dragon stories (for example Firelight by Sophie Jordan or Eustace from C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader), but was pleased that the main character did not have this ability which made the story more unusual.

The portrayal of dragons was made further unique in that despite the dragon characters in the book occasionally appearing human their thought process is made to seem very different. This is something I have found lacking in other dragon books: dragons aren’t humans so they shouldn’t think like humans no matter what they look like.

The relationship between Kiggs and Seraphina was refreshing. The relationship developed slowly, and I enjoyed that the two struggled to trust one another as I would expect from people of their particular backgrounds. They’re also unusual in YA in that they don’t stop in the middle of a disaster to kiss. In fact, at one point Seraphina states, “‘Crisis first, love later.'” The romance remains very much a subplot without overpowering the story as a whole.

My main complaint with this story is the number of flashbacks. I normally do not like flashbacks and prefer the story I read be told primarily in the present as telling the story out of chronological order can make it difficult to follow. Despite this, all of the details included makes this a good book to reread. I’ve read this book two and a half times now and am surprised how many details I notice after multiple readings I missed the first time.

What readers should know: This book contains frequent use of the word meaning illegitimate child that starts with a “b.” Other than that it’s pretty clean language-wise. The romance doesn’t go beyond kissing when involving the main character, but there are some scenes involving other characters that suggested more was going on romantically between those side characters, but the novel doesn’t go into much detail. There was some violence, but it wasn’t described in depth. This novel deals with discrimination between humans and dragons with some organizations and reactions that loosely resemble historical manifestations of discrimination.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 for good world-building and well thought out plot.

4.5 blue jays

Series Review: The Abhorsen/Old Kingdom Trilogy –Lirael and Abhorsen

Lirael (Abhorsen, #2)Title: Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen
*Note: This is a review of the original trilogy not including the recently released prequel Clariel. It focuses on books two and three since they are two parts of a longer story-line. My review of book one is found here, but this review does not contain major spoilers.*

Author: Garth Nix

Genre: High Fantasy, Young Adult

Synopsis: All Lirael has ever wanted was to have the Sight so that she could be a full member of the Clayr. So long as she lives with the Clayr, a group of individuals tasked with seeing into the future, Lirael will be viewed forever as a child no matter how old she gets.

Picking up fourteen to twenty years after Sabriel left off this novel follows the separate journeys of Lirael and Sam, Sabriel’s son until their lives converge on their quest to protect the Old Kingdom from the Greater Dead.

Review: I liked Sabrel, but had a difficult time getting through it. When I decided to read the sequel I expected to have the same problem, but was  47666pleasantly surprised when I finished book two in only a day and book three in the two days after that.

My favorite aspect of this series is the world building. There are so many details in the way the necromancer’s bells work, to the magic system, and the way the fictional society is structured that make it feel more believable and realistic.

I found our new characters more compelling than the ones in the first book. I had a hard time connecting with Sabriel and Touchstone, but connected with Lirael almost immediately. I feel her sense of being estranged from everyone around her is something to which most people can relate. Sam can be annoying sometimes, but his passages were enjoyable as well, and I didn’t feel tempted to skip them during the time periods when Lirael and Sam are apart. I liked that it was Sam who needed to be rescued all the time instead of Lireal who would stereotypically be the damsel in distress in a fantasy novel where the lead male character holds aristocratic status.

This is the first book I’ve read in a while where there was both a lead male and female character and the two never fall in love. I know several people who have been trying to find a book where this happens, or rather doesn’t happen, and will need to tell them about it.

The linear progression of book two was unusual. Part one of the novel is told entirely from Lireal’s point of view on her fourteenth birthday and shortly thereafter. The rest of the novel is told after her nineteenth birthday. A time gap this large in the middle of a novel is unusual for young adult fiction, and it makes me wonder why it is classified as young adult. The only time I ever come across main characters in young adult books older than eighteen seems to be high fantasy. I’m wondering if the only reason this book is classified as it is has to do with the first book being YA and Sam being between the ages of  sixteen and seventeen throughout the entire portion of the novel he narrates.

Rating: I really enjoyed the second and third books of the Abhorsen series, and recommend them to anyone who read the first one and liked it even a little. For amazing world building and for being so engaging I give both books five stars.  As much as I enjoyed this continuation of the series, I’m not sure if I will continue with the recently released prequel as I have seen mixed reviews. If anyone has read the prequel I would appreciate them leaving their perspective on it in the comments.

five blue jays