Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

You gotta love Maria V. Snyder. Her books are like pizza - even when it's cold, it's pretty good. (Not my joke. Look up "Edward Wallbanger" for more details.)

I loved this. After struggling, and failing, to read Hans Christian Andersen's biography, this was the perfect get-me-outta-this-funk read. (Sorry, Hans. I know your life is interesting. It's just me.) "Magic Study" is the perfect kick-your-feet-up-and-read book, the perfect pick for a lazy Sunday or a holiday (in fact, just pick up the Study trilogy and leave it at that. It's what gets you through the family weekends.)

The story follows Alena's adventures in Sitia, where she reunites with her family and tries to have a normal apprenticeship in magic... except, she's barely had time to put her feet under her before people are trying to kill her, torture her, or use her as a political pawn. (Seriously, girl can't catch a break!) Luckily for her, she's got enough magical powers for a small army, combined with a few useful allies here and there, to keep us hanging on for the ride.

(Sorry for the snark, but then again, we're here to be critical. Most of the time.)

Let's just get this out of the way: Yalena has ALL of the powers. All of them. Not just magic, but special magic. Magic that hasn't seen the light of day for a while. She can use it almost effortlessly and shock even Master magicians with her mad skillz. She can also talk to animals, fight super-experienced fighters, and when all else fails, she has Just The Right Friend to help her fill the gaps. And while it's not super-jarring and in-your-face as in other books... it gets old after a while.

Which is strange, because you'd think the plot would keep you occupied for a while. There's quite a lot of it. Almost too much of it. We have a kidnapping plot, a plot involving an Ixia delegation, a plot involving Yalena's brother, a plot involving a long-lost heir to the throne of Ixia, a plot about relatives to the evil wizard Yalena beat in the first book... it just goes on and on and on!

I suppose it's a little like Frozen - we spend waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much time on the least interesting character.

That's not really to say Yalena is a bad character - she is not. As far as her set-up goes, she makes perfect sense, and even all the powers she amasses like Pokemon cards don't really faze me because why the hell not? She's clearly operating on a different level from everyone else, let her be a super-powerful main character. They're nice to have.

Except, you have so many other interesting characters, and they all seem to have the most fascinating scenes... off-screen! Limitation of format, maybe, but only to a point - with Yalena's handy-dandy mind-reading/projecting tricks, you could easily have had a few of those scenes happen "in real time." 

I'm sorry I'm spending so much time talking about this, especially since it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel. No, really, I enjoyed Yalena's POV. But... it could have been better if there were a few more added in for variety.

("Days of Blood and Starlight" is a kinda-sorta-example of where multiple brief POVs, mixed in with the extended main character POVs, can work. Kinda-sorta because it gets a little jarring at times. Example, because for the most part in the book, it works.) 

Anyway, back to the good: I really, REALLY liked Valek in this book. No, really. It's been a while since "Poison Study", but thinking about Valek's actions in that book doesn't really endear him to me. A lot of what he did was morally wrong, and I can't really recall him telling Yalena he was sorry. In this installment, though, we get to see him in the role of a lover and a friend, and now that he and Yalena have trust each other... he really is kinda swoon-worthy. (But shh, don't tell anyone I said that.)

All in all, a very nice second installment. Looking forward to the last book.

Note: Image via BookLikes.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Celebrating Dreams of Gods and Monsters... by reviewing its predecessor

Noo, I'm not cosplaying as Natalie Portman in Black Swan, whatever made you think that? 

Laini Taylor's "Dreams of Gods and Monsters" launches today in the UK, thus officially concluding her bestselling "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" trilogy. Remember that? The uber-awesome book that had everyone falling over themselves. Can you believe we're finally saying goodbye to Karou?

No? Are you surprised we're even talking about it, because "Days of Blood and Starlight" got so little play?

If you're like me, you're prolly on the fence. I loved "Daughter of Smoke and Bone," despite an underwhelming third act that pretty much threw the entire plot dynamic off, but I got intimidated by the lackluster reviews of the sequel, so much so I didn't pick it up until months after its release, and didn't really review.

Well! I did read it, and guess what? I liked it despite my lowered expectations. Maybe I liked it a little more than the first book. So, in preparation for "Dreams of Gods and Monsters" (and in celebration of uber-long titles!) I bring you today my belated review of the middle book, along with my attempts to make a cover-seemy image (since I don't actually have time to get a blue wig.)

"Days of Blood and Starlight" picks off a little while after the end of the first book, with teeth disappearing everywhere, Akiva being emo, and Karou working her ass off trying to build the Chimera rebellion after... what happened in the previous book.

Can you tell there'll be spoilers? Because there will be spoilers.

While the Chimera try to pick themselves up, though, the Seraph Empire is about to suffer its own little shock, with Akiva and his siblings being dragged smack dab in the middle of a court intrigue. 

Got all that? Okay, let's get cracking on this review.

I loved the characters, maybe a little more than I did in the first book. Karou and Akiva are much changed by their experiences, their dynamic thrown off by anger, bitterness, and guilt. They're also part of a much larger cast, and much larger games - which could or could not piss you off, depending on your mileage. It's true that, for the biggest part of the plot, Karou and Akiva are not so much proactive as they are reactive - they're always part of a bigger plan, pawns in the hands of much more ambitious players - but given the way the previous book ended, and how things are set up in this one, I actually think it's a natural part of the plot.

And yes, "Days of Blood and Starlight" most certainly lives up to its name. There is enough violence and gore and emotional manipulation to make me set this down, several times, and go for a long walk, because really, it's unpleasant as all! Again, though - part of the package.

I think my enjoyment of the books in this series is strongly affected by my worldview. Back when I started the series, I was still fairly naive and simplistic in my outlooks on books and relationships and... everything. I had certain notions that love conquers all and that most conflict can be rationed away. I didn't realize the extent to which we, as humans, are irrational, and how our experiences affect our relationships. 

Similarly, Karou starts off the series as a very sheltered (yes, sheltered) girl - a very mature girl, a girl who has had a beyond-weird upbringing - but a sheltered one nonetheless. She's fairly naive and has only recently began to grasp the extent of nastiness that the world has to offer. 

It's not until she gets through the shock that is the ending of "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" that she realizes the world is not at all as she expected it to be, and she naturally goes through a crisis of self. And yes, it can be exasperating and tedious for a reader, but this is Karou's journey, and I think it was a realistic one.

And personally, I can't wait to see what is in store for her next.

I leave you with that, and a few more images of my attempts at being fangirly below. 

Note: Book cover images via BookLikes. Other images copyrighted by me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

To my 16-year-old self

I got into YA when I was a very old teenager (it took them 7 freaking years to call it NA, by which time I was too old for it, too!) Combined with the fact that most of the YA I read at first was awfully twee and immature and, well, I ended up having a fairly detached outlook on the genre. 

It never truly applied to me, is what I'm saying. The books that struck a chord were always exceptions, never the rule. 

And yet the Younger Me was a Twi-fan, and for a reason. I think that part of my self still lives within me, even though I've done a fairly good job of ignoring her. Since the Lantern is all about YA (and what YA tends to do wrong), though, I figured this might be appropriate.

So, dear 16-year-old-me,

Oh, sweetie, you'll do yourself SO many favours if you just let it go. Unfortunately, Frozen won't come out for over half a decade, and you have yet to figure out that feminism isn't a dirty word. 

First things first: Writing fanfiction, having a LiveJournal blog, writing embarrassingly juvenile sex scenes? Best thing you'll ever do. Because guess what? You're on a learning curve. You're putting yourself out there. You're figuring out your style, your voice, your plots. You learn about the world. You're growing a thicker skin. You're making friends. For the first time in your life, you'll be gaining confidence. Don't let anyone take that away from you.

Second - concerts aren't scary. You just think they are because you don't have any friends to go with. Do yourself a favour, start going out more. It helps. 

Third - Skirts are awesome.

Fourth - Play the piano. Do aikido. Paint. Sing. Dance. Do the stuff you want, the books aren't gonna go anywhere. Believe it or not, there will be a time when you get sick of them.

Five - Don't bother yourself with the university entrance exams in Bulgaria. They suck, and you have better things to do with your time.

Six - Relationships are awesome. So is being single. 

Seven - Stop stressing. Seriously, everything's going to be okay.

Here's the thing, sweetheart - being responsible is all well and good, so long as it is within your power to actually do something about it. Be nice. Be kind. Recycle. Don't buy into rape culture. Be a good friend. Be a diligent student. 

Don't try to be everyone's Mom. 

Don't cry for every single injustice done in the world, because you'll wring yourself dry.

Don't go around acting mature and sophisticated when you don't want to be, and then get mad when people tell you to lighten up. There's merit to laughing at yourself and being ridiculous.

It's not easy. People will try to pile on the responsibility on you. They'll say: "You must be a role model," or "You need to think about the future." 

You're sixteen. The only future you need to think about is the one where you're Queen of the Universe, and guess what - you already are. The world just needs to figure it out. 

I'm not telling you to be irresponsible or to screw authority, just don't bend to it preemptively. Do what you want. Do what you like. The rest will come naturally. 


Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Ashes and Shadows by Ilsa J. Bick

I could have sworn I'd reviewed these!

But since I was on a reading drought of sorts for a long time in 2013, I guess these got waylaid. I didn't think much of it until I saw reviews of Monsters crop up, and realized that this trilogy was about to end.

Well, high time I do my duty. 

But first, let me get this out of the way: If you're a newcomer to this series, and if you're interested in reading it, don't faff around buying these books one at a time. Do a bulk purchase, order both books from your library, or do whatever you legally can to have Shadows is nearby when you finish Ashes...

...because Ashes ends in one of the cruelest cliffhangers I have ever had the displeasure of reading. 

Luckily for me, by the time I picked the trilogy up, the second book was already out, so it was a matter of one trip to the nearest bookstore before I read it. But oh, it was a really unpleasant night when I did finish this. It was even more unpleasant because it was dark and I kept seeing things creep around my bed. 

I have to admit, I'm not an expert in the horror / suspense genre. I am, however, fond of Apocalypse stories, all that stuff about society falling apart and rebuilding itself, and I'm even more fond of stories where the characters act like... you know, people. As opposed to cardboard cutouts. 

The story follows Alex, a cancer patient who sets out on a trek to scatter the ashes of her parents, (supposedly before she dies,) but halfway up the mountain something happens that causes the entire world to change. Suddenly, animals are not acting like animals, Alex is no longer sick, and, oh yeah, ZOMBIES! 

Okay, they're not technically zombies, but they do act like such. It's interesting to see Bick's spin on the genre, with the Changed being almost like any other human... except stronger and meaner and with a great appetite for guts. I also like how the human society rearranges itself around this change, how people treat the fact that suddenly their nearest and dearest turn on them. (One of the more interesting aspects of the zombie genre.) 

Along the way, Alex meets more people, makes friends, kinda falls in love, loses a lot of people, and then more shit goes down. I'd like to give more detailed summary of the plot, but the truth is, there isn't much more to it than that. There is some talk about finding out exactly what happened, and there are some theories thrown around, but that's not what's on the forefront of the action, and it's definitely not what the main characters are trying to accomplish. The focus has always been on how they, especially Alex, react to the fact that the zombie apocalypse happened.

Speaking of Alex, she's one of those characters that is likely to polarize readers. Not because she does anything particularly controversial or shocking - in terms of her actions, she's fairly practical. Actually, she's something like Carey from "If You Find Me" - tough, but realistically flawed and insecure... and for whatever reason, she does everything right and brings all the boys in the yard. Depending on your tolerance for those types of characters, you'll either love her or want to thump the book in frustration. 

Other than that, the books move at a quick pace, have a lot of intrigue and strong character voices. Mean cliffies aside, they're a pretty good read if you're in the mood for some apocalypse-type action. 

Note: Images via BookLikes.