A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Pirates, magic, and multiple worlds, oh my!

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Summary

Kell is one of the last Antari, people who can use blood magic and travel between the different Londons. There are four Londons, and while they may share the same name, they are vastly different. There’s Grey London, where everyone speaks English and very few know of magic. There’s Red London, where Kell is owned/adopted by the royal family, and magic is a coveted art. There’s White London, ruled by the Dane Twins, who are as vicious as the land itself. And then there’s Black London…which no longer exists.

Once, the doors between the Londons were kept unlocked, but the overwhelming attack of Black London prompted the closing of the doors–and the flow of magic between worlds. As an Antari, Kell is one of the few left who can cross between them. He works as a messenger for the crown in title, but smuggles items between Londons on his trips. One day, he smuggles a terrible object, which is shortly pickpocketed fron him in Grey London. He must track down the stolen object and return it to its home, Black London, before the magic consumes him.

Review

Where to start? The interesting plot? The amazing cast of characters? The excellent magic system and world building?

Well, I can start with the one drawback: the novel was a little slow starting off. It took me a while to get settled into Schwab’s universe, but once I was, it was smooth sailing from there.

This might also be due to the plot being sort of mediocre. It was easy to guess who was the antagonist (I mean, Lila literally calls White London “Creepy London”.) And while the Dane twins are fairly creepy and sadistic, they aren’t necessarily inspired antagonists. As such, the plot makes for some interesting fight scenes and political plays.

But if you’re really going to get hooked to this book, it will be because of the characters.

Kell and Lila are probably two of the most interesting characters I’ve read about in a while. Admittedly, longing for freedom isn’t new to the motivations of main characters, but something about Lila and Kell’s search for freedom feels different. Possibly because they aren’t sure what freedom is.

Kell is one of the last of his kind, a novelty that has powerful to do whatever he wants, but is hindered because he is so rare. Lila, on the other hand, struggles with never belonging anywhere, and yet is terrified of belonging to, well, anywhere.

The side characters, Rhy, Maxim, Emira, Holland, Barron, and Calla were great too, with good development and great interaction. All the relationships in the novel seemed genuine.

The magic system Schwab creates is amazing. Granted, we don’t really get to see the extent of what can be done, but what is shown is a pretty good glimpse of it. The magic comes in two flavours: elemental and blood. The elemental magic reminds me a lot of Nickelodeon’s Avatar, which makes for some great fight scenes. Blood magic, on the other hand, is what makes Kell so special, and is more “you can do anything you want with it”.

What I also really like about this novel is that while it’s the first of a series, it stands its ground as a stand alone fantasy. I really commend Schwab on doing this so well, considering how most first books nowadays tend to feel a little lacking due to setting up future plot.

Recommendation: Buy. A Darker Shade of Magic is definitely worth the buy. Readers looking for unique characters and an inventive magical system should definitely pick this up.

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Review | The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

I feel like I have to review this book twice.

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Summary

Six months after angering Zeus by supposedly causing the awakening of Gaea and the march of the twelfth legion on Camp Half Blood, the god Apollo finds himself in a dumpster in New York City. But he is no longer a god—Zeus has made him a teenage mortal. With flab. And acne.

This punishment isn’t new to Apollo, and he knows he must find a demigod master to serve in order to work out his sentence. Hoping for the famous Percy Jackson, he is found first by Meg McCaffery, a twelve year old demigod with a talent for turning fruit into projectiles.

Without his godly powers and with an inexperienced demigod, Apollo knows his only hope is Camp Half Blood. But the camp is once again in danger. Any communication has been impossible, the Oracle of Delphi has not returned, and demigods have been disappearing in the forest.

And for some reason, Apollo can hear the trees whispering to him.

Review

As mentioned above, I feel like I have to review this book twice: once as the beginning to a new series, and again as the continuation of the ever extending Percy Jackson universe.

As the beginning of a series, The Hidden Oracle is spot on. The plot is well constructed, with Riordan pulling from traditional mythology and history and making it modern. I will say, that this may be the most creative he’s been in this universe, considering how the antagonist isn’t formal mythology per se.

This is largely because of his choice of subject. I didn’t know Apollo had been turned into a mortal before as punishment, and therefore I have little mythological background to work on. Also, the change in perspective is rather refreshing. All of Riordan’s previous works have been about a protagonist’s rise to greatness. Apollo is all about fall and redemption. Rick balances this well, with Apollo bemoaning the loss of his powers while slowing growing as a mortal.

Which reminds me: the character development is spot on. I love how Apollo struggles with the concept of being human. How he can’t remember things, how he keeps expecting natural greatness and coming up short. Every emotional scene he has feels genuine because Apollo close captions what we inherently know to be the human experience.

Speaking of characters, the cast is spot on. Apollo’s children have unique personalities, and we meet more new campers. And then there’s Meg McCaffery.

Meg is an especially well developed character. Like most demigods, she has a rather tragic backstory, and Riordan balances the repercussions of her childhood with her defiant, blatant attitude. I’m excited to see more of her in the future.

As for the writing style, Riordan has sort of redeemed himself. There’s a sort of tone to the writing that reminds me of PJO: the story telling is going to be serious, but there will be jokes along the way. I could do with less references to things like Spotify and Groot, since that dates the novel, but it wasn’t bad.

As a start to a new series, The Hidden Oracle is promising. It sets up a well rounded protagonist, as well as a tone of serious story telling that I hope Riordan keeps up.

And now we get to the difficult part: reviewing this book as a continuation to the Olympian saga.

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Due to the spoilerific nature of this analysis, if you haven’t read The Heroes of Olympus series or The Hidden Oracle BACK AWAY NOW.

There are a lot of things in this book that work if it was the first of a brand new series.

Solangelo is spot on and a welcome addition to the canon ships. Healthy, mutual, and supportive, Will and Nico’s relationship has been long awaited in western juvenile adventure fiction. The best part is that it reads so easily—I definitely believe these two are in a romantic relationship, and that kind of representation is so rare. Do I care that I didn’t get to see the formation of this? Not really. I do care that Nico’s character development has been a rollercoaster, but he’s finally happy.

I’m also quite happy with Percy’s attitude towards the demigod world. He will fight when needed, but wants to move on, and that’s fair. Riordan used him sparingly, and for that I am grateful.

And Leo Valdez. Can I get a ticket in line please? I mean, I’m glad everything turned out alright, but did I really have to wait until this book? Sure, there are explanations, but I shouldn’t have had to wait this long.

On the flip side, the antagonists and their evil scheme were sort of the back burner for me. I cared much more about the characters in this novel than I did about the plot, which I hope will pick up in the next instalment. The plot kind of fails here, because without the first two series to back them up, the antagonists don’t really have much of an evil presence.

My point is that The Hidden Oracle in no way makes up for the mistakes in Blood of Olympus, because this is a new story. As a series, I feel like Heroes of Olympus should be able to stand on its own, which it sort of can’t now. Because a continuation exists.

That being said, I prefer a late explanation to no explanation at all.

Recommendation: Buy. Fans of Riordan won’t be disappointed with his third series in the PJO universe. With a new perspective and a promising premise, I’m looking forward to the next installment of The Trials of Apollo.

Review | The Young Elites by Marie Lu

Sometimes the story isn’t about the hero.

Sometimes, it’s about the villain.

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Summary

Ten years ago, a curious fever swept the land, killing all affected adults and leaving a handful of the affected youth marked. These marked youth were dismissed by society and shunned. But the fever left some of the marked children with something else: incredible abilities to manipulate the energy around them: the Young Elites.

Adelina Amouteru is one of these marked youth, but despite her father’s cruel attempts to coax it out of her, she does not seem to have any special abilities. That is, until she finally runs away from home.

Adelina finds herself amidst the Dagger Society, a group of Young Elites determined to end the prejudice towards them and to take control of the throne. The Daggers offer to train her in exchange for her service to the Society. For once, Adelina is part of a group of people like her, but the trust between her and the Daggers is tenuous. As she comes into her power, two things are clear: She may have the greatest power of them all, and she is not to be crossed.

Review

After picking up Lu’s Legend trilogy last year, I really wanted to get my hands on this series. Lu proves that her writing prowess in the dystopian genre extends to fantasy with The Young Elites.

Lu’s plot is the classic “liar revealed” story with a twist: there is no forgiveness or redemption. Adelina is driven by two goals: to be accepted and to have power. It’s because these two ideas are so opposite one another that the plot is so interesting. At times, it’s hard to tell whether Adelina’s actions are for one goal or for the other.

The characters are also well conceived. Teren, Enzo, Rafaele and the Daggers are all well developed and have memorable personalities. Rafaele is probably my favourite out of the bunch (likely by design, Lu wrote him to be attractive after all). But it’s easy to see that all the characters struggle between doing what is right for humanity and what they personally want.

But the shining star is Adelina herself. Lu has a lot of control when writing about her protagonist, balancing a young person trying to find themself and a crazy person who lusts for power. I can see it very easily swinging to the latter, but I find myself sympathizing for her as much as I want to yell at her for making stupid and selfish decisions.

As usual, Lu’s world building is spot on, with an integrated magic system and a well developed society. I like the defined styles and culture of the countries in Lu’s universe.

I also like how Adelina’s POV is the only one in first person. It threw me off a little at first, but it really emphasizes that this is her story, not one of a hero.

My one complaint was that the romance was sort of weak. That may be because I didn’t really like the idea of Enzo and Adelina together. However, this is not because they have bad chemistry, but because they are both too dark. It’s like if Voldemort and Bellatrix actually got together.

Ugh, weird.

Recommendation: Buy. If you’re looking for a fantasy story about the villain, definitely try The Young Elites.

Review | The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

I’m going to admit….I’ve been putting this book off.

I was wrong.

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Summary

For the past two years, Magnus Chase has been on the streets. After his mother’s mysterious death, he had no one to turn to: his Uncle Randolph was pompous, his Uncle Fredrick moved away, and his cousin Annabeth ran away from home when they were kids.

On his sixteenth birthday, Magnus’ relatives are looking for him, but they aren’t the only ones. A man named Surt with extraordinary powers finds him, and Magnus discovers he has some powers himself. What’s more, he’s a son of a god. A Norse god.

And then he dies.

Review

In the world of Rick Riordan, this book is nothing new. A teenager discovers that a “dead” mythology still exists, and that they are linked to this hidden world. What’s more, they are fated to save the world. Enter band of misfits, gods that are way too powerful of their ungrateful good, and a narrowly saved planet Earth.

So what makes Magnus Chase not a PJO reboot? This:

The thing about fate, Magnus: even if we can’t change the big picture, our choices can alter the details.That’s how we rebel against destiny, how we make our mark.

And for a bookworm who recently complained about books sounding a lot alike, the details really matter in making a story unique and interesting. And Riordan doesn’t disappoint.

The key is the characters. While the plot of The Sword of Summer is rather formulaic, the cast is diverse and interesting. There’s Samirah, a young Muslim woman trying to balance her regular life with the responsibilities of being a valkyrie. There’s Blitz and Hearth, Magnus’ guardians, who chose to pursue skills others would rather dismiss. There’s Magnus’ hallmates, who each have a unique personality despite very little page count.

But Magnus is the best. This kid is not Percy Jackson. Magnus, despite being hardened by living on the streets, is unprepared for the death, blood, and violence that comes woth being associated with the Norse gods. Rather, his time on the streets makes him more sensitive to people’s needs, after being passed over by the masses walking by.

Futhermore, Magnus isn’t a skilled warrior by nature. He’s snark on the outside, and kind on the inside. This really comes through in his voice, which is sarcastic by nature and kind in response.

Riordan does put in the effort to make nods to the PJO story. Most of them are eye roll inducing while a small handful are rather clever. One similarity between the two series that I rather enjoyed were the witty titles, hinting at the contents of the chapter without giving it away. The last chapter title gives me much hope for the future of the series.

Finally, Magnus Chase does something better than PJO and HOO, and that’s how it deals with the idea of resisting fate. And yes, PJO and HOO seriously address this issue, but in PJO, people choose try to force fate (i.e. Thalia becoming a Hunter, taking the di Angelos out of the Lotus Casino) and in HOO, the prophecy was rather forced. These stories were about heroes (Percy and Leo) choosing fates as if they were prizes up for grabs.

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is foretold, and everyone is anticipating it. Magnus knows what’s coming and the roles people are meant to play. And yet, Magnus is constantly questioning why it has to be this way. Why does the world have to end? Why must we betray the ones we love? And those are really interesting questions to ask.

Recommendation: Buy. The Sword of Summer is a promising start to what looks like a great series. With a return to the sassy and yet serious voice and a new mythology with play with, Riordan’s latest book is goes back to the days of PJO with a twist that’s all its own.

Review | The Naming by Alison Croggon

It’s been far too long since I’ve read this series.naming-1438354975

Summary

Sold as a slave at a young age, Maerad only dreams of freedom. Her only solace is a lyre that belonged to her mother, who was sold as a slave with Maerad and died many years before.

Freedom comes in the unlikely form of a man named Cadvan. Travel worn and on a mission, Maerad is surprised to discover that Cadvan is a Bard–a user of a curious language known simply as the Speech to perform fantastical works. Cadvan tells her that she too is a Bard, sensing a great power within her.

But as Maerad becomes more aware of her powers, darker forces also take notice. Could Maerad really be The Foretold—the only one who can defeat the darkness?

Review

The Books of Pellinor was my introduction to high fantasy, and having read a fair bit of fantasy since then, this series was a perfect start for me.

The plot is fairly common in fantasy and YA: a chosen one plot with a clear dichotomy of good and evil. The chosen one in this series, Maerad, is hesitant to be the chosen one, afraid of her powers. I do have to say, that I always thought that The Naming served as an extended prologue to the actual Books of Pellinor, since this first book is all about Maerad discovering her power, and the next books are when we see her use it against the forces of the dark.

That being said, while definitely a long prologue, it’s a thoroughly satisfying one. I like how (despite the prologue-y feel), everything that happens in this book will become important later.

So if this is a fairly generic plot, why stick around? Two things: characters, and world building.

Maerad and Cadvan are one of my favourite duos in high fantasy. In a way, they’re like Obi-wan and Anakin Skywalker: they evolve from mentor/student to best friends. Maerad, a teenager hardened by life as a slave, but terrified of both men and her great powers, if a great protagonist. I really relate to the way she struggles with socializing, feeling left out and beneath these people who know so much more than her. It’s not the first time we’ve had a humble protagonist, but I like her a lot.

Cadvan, on the other hand, is the snarky lone-wolf type. Who’s also crazy powerful and well read. His dark past also borders on cliche, but it also makes him a very interesting character. Cadvan is super preachy, and very proud, two things that I don’t think he would be if he didn’t have dealing with the Dark forces when he was younger.

The world building is also excellent. Alison Croggon has a great sense of imagery, able to capture the cruelty of Gilman’s Cot to the decadence of the barding schools to the barren of the wilderness without missing a beat. I love her magic system, The Speech, and the political struggle introduced through the Bards.

My one nitpick with her writing style is that it’s an odd mash of high fantasy and YA. Sometimes her writing is very elevated, and I enjoy it. Sometimes, her writing is silly, hinting at relationships and jokes, and I enjoy it. But when they clash together on the page, it throws me off.

Finally, I really like her emphasis on the balance of the Light and Dark, which Maerad and Cadvan both constantly deal with. Maerad is scared of her powers because she’s afraid of what she could do. Cadvan doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself for his lapse in his youth. All the characters ride that fine line between good and evil at some point, and it’s really interesting.

Recommendation: Buy. Fans of high fantasy and strong female leads should really check out The Books of Pellinor (I’m looking at you, fans of Mistborn).