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!

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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!

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

A Torch Against the Night 4 Stars

25558608Title: A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes book 2)

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Publication Date: August 30, 2016

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

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: *This is the second book in a series. This review will be spoiler free, but the synopsis isn’t. Those who haven’t read the first book might be interested in my review of An Ember in the Ashes.*

Lila and Elias must work together in order to free Lila’s brother from the most secure prison in the emperor. Along the way their own freedom will be threatened. They must free Lila’s brother while trying to avoid being captured or put to death themselves.

Thoughts: The second installment in the An Ember in the Ashes series proved a fast paced, engaging read.

My favorite part about this book was the author’s use of tension. I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next particularly since it seems Tahir has no problem with killing characters off.

One think I would have liked to know going into this book is that this is not a finale. I heard somewhere that this series was meant to be a duology, but it is most certainly not. I ended the book very confused as to why everything felt so open ended, but learning this book is the second in a series made a lot more sense.

I still felt the magic system wasn’t fleshed out all the way, but there was more of it mentioned in this book than the first one. It was nice to see more magic in this book, and I hope there will be more of it in the books to come. The magic system doesn’t strike me as particularly original, but it’s still a change from the element based magic systems that seem to dominate recent fantasy releases.

My main gripe with this book is similar to the one I had for the first book in the series. That is to say I didn’t find the story sticking with me long after I read it. 

Rating: This is a great book for people looking for a fast-paced read or need something to get out of a reading slump, but I didn’t find it particularly memorable, so it gets 4/5.

4 blue jays

An Ember in the Ashes 4 Stars


22529162Title:
 An Ember in the Ashes

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Publication Date: April 28, 2015

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Laia is willing to sacrifice everything to rescue her brother. Including her freedom.

When Laia agrees to work on an undercover operation for the resistance, in which she must work as a slave for one of the most powerful women in the empire, the last thing she expected to find was a kindred spirit in her master’s son Elias.

Elias wishes to be free of his obligations to the empire about as much as Laia wants to rescue her brother. Together they might just succeed.

Thoughts: Since I’ve read an ARC of the sequel, to be released in August, I’ve decided it’s about time I sort out my confused feelings towards this book so I can move on to writing an advanced review of the sequel.

This book is addictive. I started listening to it on the last day of a road trip. When I got home that night at about 9 PM, I could not get to sleep until I’d searched my house for my physical copy and read it the rest of the way through.

I’ve read a number of reviews in which reviewers say this book got them out of reading slumps, and I can see why. It’s next to impossible to put down. The timing was also perfect for me to read this book at the time that I did, exactly halfway through The Way of Kings.

Most people who read my posts are probably aware that Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series (the first book being The Way of Kings) is one of my favorite series, but even I started to feel a little discouraged about halfway through the first one because the book takes so long to read and I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere with it. Reading this book so quickly encouraged me to finish The Way of Kings, and I’m glad I did.

The society depicted is one that encourages blood lust, and one of the protagonists is a slave. It could have been unrealistic, or even disrespectful to glaze over the violence. However, there was a particular act of violence between characters who trusted each other that seemed to be crossing a line, and made me lose some respect for the characters’ in turn.

In the time since I’ve finished the book my confusion with regards to how I feel about this story has only grown. The story doesn’t standout in my mind from all the other YA epic fantasy books I’ve read, and therefore hasn’t proven all that memorable. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason this story doesn’t stand apart for me is its usage of many common tropes in a way I’ve seen used often before. The magic system didn’t seem particularly unique, and felt largely unexplained in this first book.

The element of having magical masks that permanently adhere to peoples’ faces also brought to mind a number of questions in my mind while reading with regards to sweat, dead skin, and shaving. The story also followed a familiar formula with the novel being arranged around a series of trials.

The familiar elements of the story helped make it a quick read, but also made the story somewhat forgettable.

Rating: I recommend this to people who need a break from lengthy books, are trying to get into reading fantasy, or are trying to get out of a reading slump, but it is not a thought provoking read.

4 blue jays

 

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff 4.5 Stars

IlumimiaeTitle: Illuminae

Authors: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Published: October 20, 2015

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Just hours after their recent break-up, exes Kady and Ezra find their home planet in the middle of a war between intergalactic corporations. In the evacuation the two find themselves on separate space ships.

If they want to survive Kady, Ezra, and the other refugees need to reach the nearest jump station, through which they can reach a more densely inhabited region of space, before those who invaded their planet catches up with the refugees.

Review: At first I had a hard time getting into this book. Adjusting to the formatting was a bit of a challenge, and months at a time passed in a matter of pages.

When I was on page 366 of 599 I noted in a Goodreads update:
“At first I was having trouble getting used to the constantly changing formatting, it can be jarring at times, but now I’m really starting to get into the story and the pace has really sped up.
— Dec 15, 2015 07:42AM”

However, I think the pacing picked up for me at an earlier point than I noted in that update. It was likely around page 250 or so. With the formatting the way the novel built to a climax was necessary to give the reader time to adjust to the formatting before everything started happening at once.

For those who think that this book is long with its length of nearly 600 pages I would like to remind them of the formatting. Had this book been written in the standard form of a novel there would likely have been much shorter.

I had a slight problem with some of the times technology was mentioned in this book. The characters had cars, a subway system, and tablets. It seemed as if at times the only technology that had progressed were weaponry  and spaceships that allowed for long distance space travel.

Considering that this book is supposed to take place in 2575, or over five hundred years in the future, this threw me out of the story a little. This is, however, a minor concern. Due to the way the story was narrated these objects were not described in detail and may have born little resemblance to their 2016 equivalents.

As this story takes place almost entirely on space ships in an isolated part of this fictional future, the reader isn’t told as much about the way the government functions  and other habitable planets. I think this was a good choice on the part of the authors as it allows the reader to become slowly immersed in the world-building as opposed to having the need to learn everything all at once. I hope to see more world building in the sequel.

I ended up reading this book twice. Once in physical form and then again in audiobook format not long after. This is unusual for me.

What Readers Should Know: This book contains many character deaths and zombie like individuals. All of the cursing in the physical version of the book is censored, but in the audio book the first and last letters of most of the curse words is not censored making it easy to tell what all of the censored words are.

Rating: This book started out a little hard to get into, but the second half made up for this.

4.5 blue jays

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

15724396Title: The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1)

Author: Rick Riordan

Published: October 6, 2015

Genre: Young Adult Mythological/Urban Fantasy

Synopsis: Magnus didn’t plan to die on his sixteenth birthday. He actually didn’t plan anything at all.

Magnus has spent the last year homeless on the streets of Boston after the mysterious death of his mother. Finding the source of his next meal is higher than his birthday on Magnus’s priority list, but when Magnus discovers he is the son of a Norse god his life is changed drastically minutes before his death where Magnus finds himself in a strange afterlife he hadn’t known existed.

Review: Magnus Chase has one of the strongest voices of any character I have read for some time. This being the author of Percy Jackson that comes as little surprise. While I normally hate it when authors break third wall, Rick Riordan does so in a way that somehow manages to add to the story.

There appears to be much concern about this book being too much like Riordan’s Percy Jackson books. There were some major parallelisms, Magnus is even the cousin of on of the main characters from the Percy Jackson book and it is clear there will be more overlap between characters of Riordan’s various series in future books.

That said, readers do not need to have read any of Riordan’s other books to read The Sword of Summer. The series stands on its own thus far in spite of the sometimes not so subtle callbacks to Riordan’s previous books.

The similarities between this book and other books by this author don’t really bother me. Whenever I read several books by one author I start seeing common themes and character arcs throughout their works and even see the same in my own writing. The similarities between Riordan’s books just happen to be more obvious than most.

Perhaps my favorite thing the Percy Jackson books and this series have in common are the hilarious chapter titles. I missed the chapter titles in The Heroes of Olympus.

Some of the side characters were very well developed while others felt like they didn’t get enough development. *slight spoiler* There was one side character in particular that died in this book, but didn’t get all that much development. I feel her death would have been more meaningful had the reader been given a chance to get to know her.

Rating: Really enjoyed reading this book, but it doesn’t standout in my memory as life changing. For that reason it gets a four out of five.

4 blue jays