Review | Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

I thought I wasn’t going to read another Cassandra Clare book after The Infernal Devices.

Why lie?

LM_cover

(I apologize for the joke to those who are now hurting with a serious case of the feels. I know I am.)

Summary

Five years ago, Emma Carstairs found her parents murdered, soaking wet and covered in mysterious runes. Everyone said they were killed by Sebastian Morgenstern. She didn’t believe them.

Five years ago, Julian Blackthorn killed his father in the war against Sebastian Morgenstern. With his older brother, Mark, taken by the faerie Hunt and his older sister, Helen, exiled, Julian was left to raise his four younger siblings alone.

Now sworn parabatai living in the Los Angeles Institute, Emma continues to investigate her parents’ murder, and Julian raises his siblings with the hopes of Mark and Helen’s return. Then, Emma discovers a series of murders similar to that of her parents’ so many years ago. Investigating this is strictly forbidden, as the murders include faerie victims, but with the opportunity to bring Mark back, Emma and Julian find themselves keeping their findings a secret from the Clave.

But the investigation is not the only secret the parabatai are keeping. There is something else forbidden between them, a secret that would tear them apart—though they don’t know why. It is the law, but the Clave never explains why parabatai cannot fall in love…

Review

Reading Lady Midnight really shows how far Clare has come in terms of storytelling since City of Bones. Like most of her novels, the adventure plot tends to take a backseat to the dramatic character interaction, but the emotional investment is too deep to really care.

To get the negatives out of the way quickly, I will admit that the adventure/mystery plot gets completely overshadowed by the  romance and family drama. While the reveal of the antagonist at the end was surprising, the conflict itself was not really interesting. Rather, the world of shadowhunters and downworlders and faerie allows for complex character interactions—and that’s what had me on the edge of my seat.

This is because Clare’s character design and development is just so damn good. Take our male lead, for example. Julian Blackthorn may be one of the most complex characters she has written—and that includes William Herondale. I am in love with character, not because he’s a tortured, smoking hot shadowhunter (a.k.a. all of Clare’s male leads) but because of how the mixture of gentleness and ruthlessness within him. Julian’s motivation is the love he has for his family. And while that’s great in moderation, it is absolutely devastating to anyone who gets in his way—including himself. He teaches himself to be a parent in order to raise his siblings. He teaches himself to be strong. But everything he does is sort of intense, like he’s overwhelmingly driven by his love that he can’t see anything else.

This is mostly in reference to of leading lady, Emma Carstairs. Emma is a great female lead, wanting revenge, wanting to prove herself—but at the same time, not believing she is really worth anything she is credited with. It took me a while to figure out her character, but I think I get it. Emma is still very much lost. She will fight and die to protect those she loves, feels like it’s her responsibility to do so. But she seems to have this preset idea that she doesn’t truly belong anywhere, that she is expendable. This makes her incredibly vulnerable emotionally, almost making her seem empty, while maintaining an appearance of a strong warrior.

Cristina, the visiting Shadowhunter from Mexico, is a great new female character. I like how she stands by her beliefs, and can keep her head in a crisis. She kicks butt without having to be the snarky female stereotype. And I’m completely invested in her romantic plot.

The Blackthorn siblings are now on my list of favourite fictional families. I can’t help it. Clare give each sibling a distinct personality, memorable enough to be able to identify them, but compatible enough that they work as a cohesive unit. Mark and Ty are especially good examples of this, and Ty’s character is particularly intriguing, as he’s probably autistic and this brings out the collaborative power of the family.

My one (and unfortunately huge) gripe is the structure. The plot is heavily unbalanced with heavy emphasis on the emotional trauma of forbidden love and family problems. Kit’s appearance in the first chapter isn’t reprised until quite a ways into the book, which is odd for the character that starts the book. While Emma’s search for revenge is interesting and the mystery of the murders was a good premise, there just wasn’t enough weight given to the plot line for it to hold enough significance for me. Often, characters make stupid decisions (coughEMMAcough) just so that some adventure can be thrown in.

I can certainly see what Clare is trying to do here, contrasting the villain’s motivations with the romantic conflict. And while I appreciate the exploration of the dangers of loving too fiercely or acting without emotional discretion, I often had to put the book down and think, Why? Why does it have to be this way? 

But what strikes me the most is that, for all the trust and love flowing between the characters, the lack of communication is astonishing. How many of Clare’s (melodramatic) conflicts could have been solved if people just talked to one another? Basically all of them. This book in particular has a pretty half-assed reason for censoring some pretty important information, especially considering that Julian totally entered the parabatai bond for the wrong reason and now he’s basically screwed. Thanks for ruining his life, Clave.

While I probably will pick up the sequels, I know it will be with some cringing. I know Emma is doing what she thinks will protect the people she loves, but it will be painful to see how the ending of Lady Midnight plays out in Lord of Shadows.

Final Recommendation: Read. All in all, Clare’s skill in character building, interaction, and development outshine her plot line. Fans of the Shadowhunters universe and character driven novels are sure to enjoy Lady Midnight. People looking for an epic adventure may be disappointed with the lacking conflict.

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Review | Dragonfly by Julia Golding

Dragonfly cover

Summary

Fergox Spearthrower, the conquering tyrant of the most of the continent and worshipper of a vicious war god has set his eyes on the two last independent countries: the mainland country of Gerfal and the formal Blue Crescent Islands. Knowing that they cannot withstand the attack of Fergox alone, the two nations plan a marriage alliance to cement the collaboration of the Gerfalian army and the Blue Crescent navy.

But a marriage cannot be easily forged between the two nations with very different cultures. Prince Ramil of Gerfal is the son of the nomadic Horse Followers, young, wild, and untested in a world of politics and war. The newly crowned Fourth Princess of the Islands, Princess Taoshira, was a former goat girl. Her recent (and suspicious) appointment to the position has made her dedicated to the rigid ritual and formality of her religion and homeland.

Cultures clash when the two meet and the alliance is on the brink of falling apart. This is, until both Prince Ramil and Princess Taoshira are kidnapped on a riding trip. Can the couple learn to work together before their lands fall to war?

Review

Dragonfly is a fun, lighthearted read about romance, religion, and cultural differences. In terms of plot, it’s not particularly special. It’s pretty obvious where the plot is going, especially the romance, and the action that ensues is pretty standard YA fantasy adventure.

No, the strengths of this novel are it’s characters and world building. The protagonists, Ram and Tashi, grow a lot in this novel, and their progression as individuals as well as a couple are very well done. It’s a simple coming-of-age progression, and that’s all the story needs it to be. Since the coming-of-age isn’t really new, what makes it entertaining is the environment in which they grow.

The war torn land that they travel in is full of a variety of people and cultures. Tashi’s culture is definitely my favourite, riddled with ritual and formality and tradition and faith that it allows for so much imagery and cultural boundaries. Tashi’s culture also allow for the two plot lines that I enjoyed the most after the romance: (1) Tashi’s journey to retain her faith, and (2) the struggle to accept and respect cultural difficulties.

What makes these two plot/themes work so well is that Golding has an interesting writing style. Within a scene, she will switch cleanly between one point of view to another. This might be annoying for some people because the novel is in third person, but I feel like it’s essential.

Another note on the romance: a lot of readers tend to see that Ramil only starts to like Tashi after she takes off her makeup and he sees how beautiful she is. The way I see it, Ram starts to get interested in Tashi without her makeup because for once she isn’t the statuesque princess doll—she looks like a real person. And that’s what I like the most about their relationship. They allow each other to be themselves.

That being said, this book does have it’s flaws. The plot is a little cheesy and predictable and I wish there was a little more about Ram’s religion. But all in all, a good read.

Recommendation: Read. If you’re looking for a sweet, fairytale-like romance, fantasy adventure.

Review | Uprooted By Naomi Novik

Part Beauty and the Beast, part Over the Garden Wall, part Jane Eyre, part The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

…and I haven’t been so exhausted after reading a book in a long time.

Uprooted-by-Naomi-Novik

Summary

Every ten years, a sorcerer known only as the Dragon chooses one seventeen year old girl from the surrounding villages to serve him in his tower. In exchange, he protects the villages from the malice and magic of the nearby Wood, a forest infested with corruption and dark creatures. But the girls never return from the Dragon’s tower the same.

Living in a small village near the dangerous and magical Wood, Agnieszka is seventeen when the Dragon will select a new servant. But she isn’t afraid, at least, not for herself.

Rather, she fears for her best friend, Kasia, who is beautiful and skilled. Groomed to be the next girl taken, Kasia is everything the Dragon looks for. But on the day of the choosing, Kasia is not picked, but Agnieszka.

Living in the Dragon’s tower, Agnieszka will be exposed to magic, truth, and the true corruption of the
Wood.

Review

Holy crap, this book.

(Whether you read the abive statement with a positive or negative tone is up for debate, but you’ll see.)

I didn’t know how much I wanted a sort of dark fairy tale/fantasy until now. Novik’s world building is largely immersive, depicting the Wood and it’s evils perfectly. The concept of the Wood is my favourite part of the book. It’s got its own personality, it’s own vindictive agenda.

Agnieszka is also a fun protagonist. Is she a little bit on the side of cliche, klutzy, manic-pixie-village-girl? Yes, she is. But I appreciate that Novik made a strong female lead who was neither physically or even magically strong. Kasia is also a strong female character, though Novik does not delve into her story as much as I would have liked.

The story we are given is well constructed in terms of plot. The evil of the Wood is twisted, and once the problems that arise are solved, they instantly become problems again. There are genuine moments when you feel like the Wood is going to win, and it goes entirely to how candid Novik is in her writing. Blood, guts, gore, death—nothing is censored and I find that rather refreshing in a fairytale like set up.

The book does have some flaws. The Dragon’s characterization is a huge problem for me. A lot of the humanity in his character is only seen through Agnieszka’s eyes, and more than once I wanted his point of view. He’s too much like a brick: cold, hard, and unfeeling.

The odd thing is that because of this, the romance should feel incredibly forced—but it miraculously doesn’t. The book contains a remarkable amount of romantic (and dare I say, sexual) tension between the romantic leads, and it was surprisingly satisfying when they finally got together. And props to Novik for making a teen fantasy where the romance wasn’t the driving point.

Another issue was that the magic system was a little wishy-washy. (Brandon Sanderson has officially spoiled me for magic systems.) I understood Jaga’s unconventional style much more than the Dragon’s methodical one, which shouldn’t be happening.

But my biggest problem with the novel was that it was far too dense. Plot was just packed into these pages, leaving little room for the reader to breathe. And that’s not to say the plot was awful—it’s quite brilliant actually. But there was way too much in too few pages. Even simply dividing the novel into 3 parts within one tome would have sufficed.

In short, I need more of Uprooted. I feel that if the novel were split into (dare I say) a trilogy with (dare I say again) filler scenes to allow for better pacing and character development—possibly with multiple points of view. I definitely feel that Kasia, the Dragon, and Marek deserved their own points of view. More pages means better character development, more character interaction, and better building of the magic system. What I was given though (and it’s a lot) I thoroughly enjoyed.

Recommendation: Read. While quite dense, the story of Uprooted is worth the read. The magic and evil of the Wood make for excellent storytelling that fans of dark fantasy and fairy tales would enjoy.

Review | Champion by Marie Lu

They are legends. They are prodigies.

But are they champions?
44. Champion

Summary

Eight months after Anden’s botched assassination, Day now lives in San Francisco with his brother, Eden. He misses June terribly, but the lack of treatment for his condition holds him back.

That is, until June—now Princeps-Elect—calls him and insists he come back to Denver. The Republic is once again in trouble.

With an outbreak of plague along the warfront, the peace treaty with the Colonies is put on hold, and the Republic faces a continuation of the war. The only hope is to find a cure. For that, they need patient zero…Eden.

Plot

To be honest, the plot is the weakest part of this book. It’s just so…predictable. While I like the return of the plague, I’m not sure if the cliche why-don’t-we-ask-Eden-because-he’s-the-one-actually-involved plot. And it seemed to be solved so quickly.

The most irritating part is that with the mediocre plot, the only thing really pulling the story along is June and Day’s romance, which isn’t that compelling at all. I mean, I get it, their relationship has a lot of roadblocks (read: walls) that make it difficult, but if they can’t get over them, they can’t be together.

And to top it off, the ending sort of falls on its face. The plausibility of the epilogue is highly improbable to me. And there is no proper closure with the one thing threatening the relationship: the fact that June “killed” his family.

The best part of the plot (because there are some good things) is how Day forces the government to think about all of the people, not just the privileged. You can really see that he’s changing the regime.

Character

Something about June and Day made the romance seem so…forced. I can tell that they care about each other. Day struggling with seeing June and June wracked with guilt both make sense to me and fit with their characters. But once they begin interacting I have a hard time believing them.

Individually, however, they are very well developed. I like how Day realizes how he can actually help change the Republic for the better. I like how June discovers what she wants in life.

Tess’s character development is once again really strained, but I really like Eden and Anden’s development.

Writing

Marie Lu knows how to world build. My favourite part has to be the description of Antarctica. That was super interesting. They literally turned living according to the laws into a game in order to enforce good behaviour. That’s an awesome concept, and I wish I could have seen more of it.

As for the dual point of view, I still think Lu can handle the two voices flawlessly.

Themes

I like how each system of government has its problems—no government is perfect in this series and to be honest, I don’t think one ever will be.

The point of the story, I think, is to fight for what’s right, in the right way. June and Day never truly become rebels—or rather, they rebel in the right way. They know how to instigate change: with the support of the people around them, by making others want change to occur in a way that is constructive, not destructive.

My only problem is that the romance tears us away from this idea. I’m not sure if Lu is trying to contrast the success of constructive change in their society to the effects of destruction in their relationship, but June and Day’s relationship is just meh. If there was meaning to the relationship, I would say that it’s how we have to forgive past mistakes in order to move forward, but since that never really happens, I don’t really get that message.

Final Verdict

Recommendation: Read. Champion, while not exactly satisfying, manages to tie up the lose ends of the Legend trilogy and keeps its major themes. Definitely finish this series.

Recommendation for Legend Trilogy: Read. I like this trilogy a lot. Marie Lu takes a lot of chances with this series, and some are great, while some fall flat on their face. Definitely give it a try if you’re looking for a good dystopia. I’m fairly impressed with Marie Lu’s work, and am definitely going to look into the Young Elites series.

Review | Legend by Marie Lu

It’s going to be Legend—wait for it…

Oh, that’s it.
42. Legend

Summary

Day should be dead. After failing the Trial—a national aptitude test in the Republic of America—he escapes the clutches of the government, and becomes their most wanted criminal. Stories of his break ins and scuffles with the military make him legendary amongst the people.

June is a prodigy. Scoring a perfect 1500 on the Trial, she is the youngest student at Drake University at sixteen years old. Orphaned at a young age, she is training to be a soldier like her older brother Metias, the only family she has left.

Then one night during a hospital raid, Metias is killed. Instantly promoted to the military, June is intent on vengeance.

The number one suspect? Day.

Plot

Is this the most compelling plot? No.

I’ve come to develop a sort of “just get through it” attitude with first novels in a series because set ups are often the same, especially with dystopia. Here’s this government—now here’s how the protag finds out it totally sucks to live under it. Now, rebel!

So it really wasn’t a shock to learn about the corruption in the Republic. And from there, it was standard action dystopia. What I liked was that, despite these characters’ smarts, they are drawn together by accident. As if they were pulled together by fate.

What was much more compelling were the characters.

Characters

I love Day and June. They are intelligent. They are realistically emotional. They are flawed. I also like how despite these similarities, they are fundamentally different people.

The various side characters are also very well developed and interesting. Tess, Kaede, and Thomas are easily favourites of mine.

The romance seemed a little forced to me, but I can see it happening. It was just too…instant. I mean, they had time to admire each other’s talents, but June and Day sort of shoot into it headfirst.

Writing

Marie Lu’s writing is amazing in two respects.

(1) She can really rock the two points of view. June and Day are so well developed, mostly because of the way she writes their point of views. June’s voice is logical, analytical, formal, and dedicated. Meanwhile, Day is casual and uses slang, analyzing without sounding scientific, and a tad more emotional.

(2) The world building. Marie Lu has a talent for imagery and world building. The brutality of the military, the luxury of the Gem sector, the bleakness of the slums—it’s all there, plain as day and vivid.

Themes

I feel like this is a story about brutality. To what measure to we discipline ourselves, put ourselves and others at risk for the sake of order? And how do we know that order is fair?

This is huge in a militaristic government like the Republic. This is huge for June, a girl who’s spent her life dedicated to her country. And this is huge for Day, a boy defying the country at every turn.

Final Verdict

Recommendation: Read. While I really enjoyed Legend I’m not dying to read it again. It does what it’s meant to do: set up a trilogy with compelling characters, an interesting premise, and the promise of a thought provoking rebellion against the government. I’m looking forward to the next book, Prodigy.