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

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

Series Review: The Lunar Chronicles

Lunar ChroniclesTitles: Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Fairest, Winter

Author: Marissa Meyer

Published: 2012-2015

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy

Synopsis: A series of fairy tale retelling that take place in the future. The first is a retelling of Cinderella with her as a cyborg.

Review: It is hard to put my thoughts about this series into words. On one hand, I really loved the first three books which I read one after the other. On the other, I wasn’t a fan of the novella, Fairest, and my opinion of Winter is a conflicting mess.

All four of these books are very fast paced. I read them in a short span of time because they’re the type of books that have one thing happen directly after another. That said, I think I would have enjoyed Winter much more if I had read it long after the other three books.

I read Cinder and Scarlet one after another about a month before the release of Cress. I read Cress within days of its release. This means that I had over a year to wait between the release of Cress and Winter.

This series is character driven. The readers’ enjoyment depends very much on how much they care about the characters. I’m not going to go into details because I don’t want to spoil anything, but each book in this series adds a new main character as its focus while continuing the ongoing plot line from the previous books.

By the time the story gets to Winter there are a lot of narrators. This isn’t necessarily a problem as Marissa Meyer is good at jumping between narrators and story-lines. The way the multiple perspectives were handled especially well in Cress where I really enjoyed the characters’ various story-arcs.

In Winter I still never felt the urge to skip any character’s perspectives. Everything included still seemed interesting and relevant, but I felt like because there were so many characters there wasn’t much time to focus on any one. Because of the time I spent between reading Cress and Winter I feel as if I lost connection to the characters and was never able to entirely regain it.

One of my favorite parts of the Lunar Chronicles is how the retelling aspect is executed. While the story is technically a retelling with several callbacks to the original story woven throughout, it also has an ongoing original story-arc connecting all of the books together. This ongoing original story helps to keep the book from being too predictable.

That said, I felt the world-building could have been better executed. Often while reading I had trouble understanding what was being described, and how the world had gotten to be how it was in the Lunar Chronicles from how it was now. This is especially true of the governments in the story. I have a hard time seeing how so many large countries would revert to being ruled by monarchies in which the emperor/king/queen had such a significant amount of power, and how said countries came to have the boarders that they did.

The Lunar’s essentially magical “gift” was especially difficult for me to understand. I didn’t see what the limits of using it were, and was confused about how certain people came to have so much more control than others.

Rating: I’m giving the series a 4.5/5 overall because of the amount of time I’ve spent obsessed with it.

4.5 blue jays

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

23437156Title: Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Published: September 29, 2015

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: When a substance is developed that turns magic users known as Grisha into mindless slaves of great power the world is put at risk. A crew of six thieves are hired to pull off the heist that could save the world.

Review: 

Six of Crows is a great book, and so much fun to read. It was very reminiscent of some of my favorite fantasy novels, but at the same time stood apart from others in this category.

Six of Crows Crew

The strongest aspect of Six of Crows is the characters. In spite of the fact that there are so many narrators, each one comes across as distinct. I especially appreciate the fact that the characters actually acted like thieves.

In many books the character will go around saying that they’re known as an assassin, an experienced solider, or have a lot of experience stealing from important people, but then when it comes down to the act of either murdering or stealing something they hesitate.

This has never come across as realistic to me. At the same time, however, I recognize why many authors chose to portray their “ruthless” characters in this manor. It is difficult to sympathize with a person who can harm or steal from innocent people and feel no remorse, but Bardugo managed to pull it off. 

The relatively small number of characters with magical abilities made them all the more impressive. The main characters in Six of Crows are highly skilled individuals, yet for many of them these skills are natural in origin (ie intelligence), but the characters use them in such a way that seems almost supernatural.

Six of Crows Map

That said, the magic that we did get to see was a great addition to the story. My favorite aspects of the first book and a half that I read of the Grisha Trilogy was the world-building, so I was more than happy to reenter that world in Six of Crows.

Bardugo has created a very complex magic system different from what I’ve seen in many fantasy novels (especially YA) where the magic is often glossed over. Though this novel has much less focus on the magic system than the Grisha Trilogy, it managed to further expand upon it by showing what a Grisha’s power can do when pushed to extremes.

The world itself was expanded upon as well. I really liked how many of the characters in this novel were from very different parts of this world as this isn’t something we often get to see in fantasy, which often focus on one region of the world the writer has created.

The only negative criticism I have to offer is related to the reason I did not finish the Grisha Trilogy. That is to say that a significant portion of this novel was spent on build up. This is not to say that nothing happens, quite to the contrary, things seem to go wrong quite often. What I mean is that I spent most of the book anticipating the climax of the actual theft as opposed to anything the characters were trying to overcome at that particular moment.

I really wanted to love the Grisha Trilogy because I have a signed copy (see the image below), but am so glad that I can now consider myself a fan of Bardugo thanks to this book. I was hesitant to read this one because I thought I might need to finish the Grisha Trilogy first, but was pleased to find that this duology stands on its own.

Siege and Storm

In any case, I managed to get a hold of a signed bookplate. Used as a book mark, really like the way my copy of Six of Crows looks:

Be Dangerous

What readers should know: Though this book keeps everything very vague, one of the narrators was forced to work in a brothel against her will. She has since left this profession behind, but still bares negative effects of her time there.

As stated in this review the thieves in this book truly act as thieves. This means that some of the narrators steal and kill people throughout the story. There is also some language.

Rating: This is a really great book. I highly recommend it to fans of fantasy and people trying to get into fantasy.

4.5 blue jays