Title: Wolf by Wolf Author: Ryan Graudin Publication Date: October 20, 2015 Genre: Young Adult Alternate History, Fantasy/Science-Fiction Synopsis: In an alternate 1956 where the Axis Powers won World War II Yael, a teenage Jewish concentration camp escapee, enters an ambitious cross-continent motorcycle race. The … Continue reading
Titles: The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, The Crimson Crown
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
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.
Title: 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.
Titles: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight, Dreams of Gods and Monsters
Author: Laini Taylor
Publication dates: 2011-2014
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Synopsis: “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”– Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor
Karou is a rather unusual art student from Prague. She never talks about her family or past, and answers all personal questions with an outrageous story about traveling around the world hunting for teeth. She mysteriously disappears often, and once returned to school having contracted malaria. The truth is, Karou can’t answer the questions about her past because they are as big a mystery to Karou as everyone else, but she’s about to find out the truth.
Lives will be lost. Wars will be fought. A forbidden love between an angel and a monster unearthed.
Review: The writing and pacing in this series is just amazing. I read the entire trilogy over the course of about a week, and there are so many great quotes to be taken from the writing.
I had some minor issues with the first book, especially the second half which consisted mainly of flashbacks, and felt there was an element of insta-love to the romance although it didn’t bother me as much as it does in most works because after the novel’s primary relationship was formed the characters’ reacted to learning hard to accept truths about one another in a relatively realistic way not normally seen in young adult fiction.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone feels much more typical in terms of young adult fiction than the next two books. The first book feels like urban fantasy as most of the novel takes place on modern Earth. In the next two books the fantasy elements take over and the story feels much more like high fantasy than urban.
One of my favorite elements in this series was the symbolism particularly that of the wishbone.
I appreciated the author’s portrayal of “angels” and “monsters.” I feel the message Laini Taylor was trying to get across involves questioning everything and not jumping to conclusions. Just because someone looks like an angel doesn’t make them trustworthy, and just because someone looks like a demon does not make them a demon.
Favorite quotes: “It is a condition that monsters do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.” –Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone
“Imagine if [Juliet] woke up and he was still alive, but…” She swallowed, waiting out a tremor in her voice. “But [Romeo] had killed her whole family. And burned her city. And killed and enslaved her people.” –Laini Taylor, Days of Blood and Starlight
“Karou wasn’t a prize to win; that wasn’t why he was here. She was a woman and would choose her own life. He was here to do what he could, whatever he could, that she might have a life to choose, one day. Whoever and whatever that included was her own affair.” –Laini Taylor, Dreams of Gods and Monsters
What Readers Should Know: This series contains cursing intermixed with casual conversations in the way many teenagers speak. Sex is mentioned with some frequency, although no detailed sex scenes ever occur. There are also some fairly gruesome scenes in book two due to the main characters becoming involved in a major conflict. *minor spoiler* In Days of Blood and Starlight a character is almost raped, but the “r” word is never mentioned. While younger readers may mistake this scene for an act of mere aggression it will be immediately clear to everyone else what was narrowly avoided. Personally, I thought this scene captured the fear and horror of the girl involved.
Rating: The first book was a 4.5/5 for me, but the rest of the series was a 5. It’s rare to find a series in which I preferred the sequels to the first installment, but that was the case here. I recommend this for people willing to overlook a little insta-love who enjoy fantasy.