Legendary

Stephanie Garber

Unlike many sequels which take place in a similar event as the first novel (e.g. Hunger Games and Catching Fire), Garber’s follow up of Caraval does not simply repeat the plot devices or themes of the first book. While the events occur over another of Legend’s games, it does not share much more with the previous game than an air of mystery and, oddly enough, another individual supplying the protagonist with her clothing every day.

Again, I enjoyed the prose. Many have complained about the nonsensical nature of some descriptions in these novels, but I feel they carry the magic and splendour of Caraval from the pages into the reader’s imagination. As soon as I started Garber’s sequel, I was swept away by the familiar tone.

This game takes place in a new city, which acts as a passive background to the action. The world-building has left room for interpretation. The main landmarks are clear, but you and I could still produce drastically different scenery around which our characters carry out their stories. While this may just be due to weak world-building, it has the effect of making the reader feel as if they are watching a play unfold before them. The entire novel feels as if it is setting up another act for an audience that will require more from the heroes and villains we have come to know a bit better.

The characters shine in this book more so than they did in the predecessor. There are no white and black lines between hero and villain. While the narrator may suggest someone is cruel, evil, or manipulative, the reader has their doubts. This conflict between the narrator and reader reiterates the unreliable nature of the storyteller. A reminder that in the game of Caraval you cannot trust anything, not even the story.

I felt the excitement, hope, heartbreak, and betrayal suffered by characters throughout the story as real as if it were my own. As I finished this sequel, I was confident only that Garber is not done with us any more than we feel done with Scarlett, Julian, Dante, Tella, and Legend.

I would like to thank Net Galley, Flatiron Books, and Stephanie Garber for providing me with an eARC of Legendary so that I could offer an honest review.

Keep reading, lovelies.
A Bookish Girl

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Caraval

Stephanie Garber

Fresh out of this novel, I was mesmerised by the prose and adventure of the story. Because I am so easily swept away by story-telling, I often give myself a day between finishing a book and sitting down to pen the review. After two days, I am still enchanted by this novel. I felt like I slipped into a more mature version of Alice in Wonderland. A trip which I rather enjoyed and would love to see what Tim Burton could do with a Netflix series of Caraval.

I enjoyed the metaphysical prose, which at times feels a bit silly but wonderful all the same. The romance is cheesy and a bit shallow, but it didn’t make me hate the book or story. It just felt like the magic of the world allowed for the reader to escape along with the characters into this mystical world created by the gamemaster. The world-building is limited overall but well-done with regards to Caraval, which is most important to the story.

The main character, which seems to divide readers better than Moses split the Red Sea, embodied anxiety. I did not find her fretting as obnoxious as many other readers because I am close to an individual with debilitating anxiety that would make our heroine seem tame. I enjoyed the strength she found playing the game. And was relieved that the game and her own choices helped her overcome her fears, rather than a romantic relationship – an all too easy and familiar trope which makes me want to scream.

The main villain is a fantasy trope that I adore – a demented, behind-the-scenes master manipulator. I would fall victim to his fantasies, lies, and games perhaps more so than our protagonist. (While it is easy to think you would not fall for the constant lies, I feel like it is the same thing that you see in a horror movie audience. “I would never walk in there!” Wouldn’t you? You don’t know you’re in a horror movie, so you’re bound to fall into the tricks and traps.)

While I do not think this is a perfect book, I felt it was a perfectly enjoyable escape for a rainy weekend. It struck me as the exact style and book that I wanted without even knowing I wanted it.

I have already begun the descent into Legend’s madness a second time and am already excited about his next game.

-A Bookish Girl

Mirage

Somaiya Daud

I adored this start to the Mirage series. It was terrific, devastating, romantic, and heart-wrenching. Daud has penned an outstanding novel that is short enough to be devoured in a day. (And, you will be tempted to do just that.)

The sincere empathy of the protagonist intertwined with her strength makes her one of the most intriguing female leads in YA fantasy. (That said, I think you could argue a decent case about her Mary Sue qualities. Yet, something about her did not feel obnoxious à la Twilight‘s Bella.) I adored her and thought she was a great character.

While the other characters are not so well-known (as is expected with a first-person perspective), they are each given their own depth. The relationships are well-developed, sophisticated, and give the reader fair understanding of the motivations behind their actions.

The world-building is incredible. Daud rivals Lawrence’s world-building skills in this novel. It is an imaginative and expansive world, which unfolded delightfully throughout the story. Typically a story which crosses over planets and moons loses me. I get the names and places so mangled that I give up. Daud does not twist up the reader with these vastly different settings. Instead, she uses them to more clearly separate stages of the plot. And, it works very well.

The tension between an occupied people and their oppressors is felt throughout the story. And, yet, there is always this feeling of hope. The reader never releases their desire for something more for the native people and the heiress. As a superior storyteller can do, Daud forces the reader to feel every bit of this hope throughout every obstacle and failure.

Honestly, this book just works. It is an exciting debut that has left me breathlessly awaiting the sequel.

Thank you to NetGalley, Flatiron Books, and Somaiya Daud for the opportunity to read an eARC of this story in exchange for an honest review. I look forward to the next books you produce!

Let’s be kind out there?
A Bookish Girl

The Spell Speakers

Day Leitao

This novella introduces the world of Whyland and the backstory to the main players of the upcoming Portals of Whyland series. For such a quick introduction, the novella is thoughtful, artfully written, and filled with personality-defining events. While I am sure you would be able to start the upcoming series without reading The Spell Speakers, I would urge you to pick up and start with it anyway. The tragedies of this short glimpse into our characters are worth experiencing first hand.

Though young, even for a YA, the characters are easy to relate to and their motivations are realistic. (I would assume they are so young so they are late teens in the future series, which makes a lot of sense.) The antagonist, a mistreated older sibling, is as likeable as he is untrustworthy. The protagonist is young and innocent, but the reader watches as he matures, as he grows from victim of circumstance to a leader with a hidden agenda.

The world was richly constructed and the conflict clearly portrayed. While the magic of the world is touched upon throughout the story, it does not have an active role in the course of events yet so it is not discussed in detail. Which works to peak the reader’s interest in the full series.

I was surprised by the depth of the writing; it appeared to me that The Spell Speakers was a middle grade story. I expected a shallow, but happy story. Leitao, however, delivers a story filled with unexpected philosophical ruminating and beautiful prose. She depicts love and tragedy appropriate for her young characters that resounds joyfully and heartbreakingly in readers of all ages. Yet, because this is a book for younger readers, the plot twists are simple, the emotions are written with simple language, and often the dialogue moves the story forward. While I don’t see these as shortcomings, I warn adult readers that this is not a challenging book.

These few pages have successfully enticed me into the world of Whyland and to finish the story that I’ve started. Thank you to NetGalley, Day Leitao, and SparklyWave for the eARC which powered this review. I look forward to the upcoming series with excitement.

Happy Friday!

A Bookish Girl

Torn

Rowenna Miller

I rarely toss a book to the DNF pile and still write a review about it. I feel that not finishing the story results in missing the author’s intention, which is why I often hold reviews for a series until I have closed the cover of the last novel. However, I have continued and continued to pick this story back up and find myself bored to the point of cutting short my reading time. Because I feel like it is not worth it to continue trying to finish this story and I did receive an eARC in exchange for a review, I feel obligated to compose a review without having completed the novel.

The setting of this book seems rather exciting; a bit of magic mixed up in a French Revolution-esque turmoil. The main characters appeared to have potential; a seamstress from the lower class and oppressed ethnic group, her brother is a day labourer leading a social movement, and the individuals who support her brother all fighting against the social elite. The writing is developed and mature, which is refreshing after reading more shallow YA authors. But, it does not work.

The world building is decently-developed. The classes, races, and politics are easily understood and creative. Yet, the magic is a mystery. It seems one ethnic group has a better command of it, while another considers it as many in modern society view voodoo. Perhaps, this question of and these relationships with magic are better explained given time?

The revolution is witnessed by the main character, but she acts as a bystander. She is kicked into action and swept further into her story by circumstance. Yet, the growth to become her own pathmaker never seems to occur. I waited for over a hundred pages to see some indication of character growth from our seamstress, but I saw none. Her brother is a much more interesting character, but we were not given much in the way of his story. We are just given the consequences of his actions on our character, which is expected with the first-person perspective.

The author handles first-person well. The descriptions do not feel forced, which can happen with this point of view. Yet, the character is bland and repetitive and very difficult with which to bond.

It was the vanilla main character which forced me to finally quit trying to push forward with this novel. I am sure others will enjoy this story, I do not think it is a bad novel. It is just not the flavour I prefer.

Thank you to NetGalley, Orbit Books, and Roweena Miller for the eARC of this book.

-A Bookish Girl

Prophecy of Darkness

M. Lynn and Michelle Bryan

A new series to the rapidly expanding young adult fantasy genre, I was excited to read Prophecy of Darkness. The book is described as a coming-of-age adventure of a prince and princess coming into the power of a kingdom struggling with the after-effects of a lingering war. The title, Prophecy of Darkness, excited me – a lover of grim-dark fantasy. This novel is not a stroll in grim-dark fantasy, as hoped, but a teenage adventure story of family and accepting responsibility.

The characters are shallow and fall painfully into gendered roles. The women cry at some point. The men all discuss women as sexual objects to be chased and conquered, playfully, of course! The women have all the emotions all the time. The men have emotions when they are quiet or acting out. While romance is sprinkled in the novel, it is as predictable and vanilla as the characters.

The world-building is okay. The author gives the reader a lot of freedom to form their own settings; the palace is a palace with a garden, the mountains are mountains, and the swamp a swampy marsh. The realms are provided with a bit more description, but you won’t leave this book with a lingering image of the world without a bit more imagination on the reader’s part. The interworkings of the magic of this world are exciting and will probably be expanded upon in future novels. There are a few rules we learn, which peak the reader’s interest.

The language is efficient. The entire book lacked the depth that I crave in a novel, even in a short read. The writing suffered from this shortcoming, as well. The prose isn’t particularly lyrical or metaphysical. The story is told directly and transparently.

Overall, Prophecy of Darkness is a quick, predictable venture into a new world. It does not offer much more to the reader than a shallow, easy romp.

I would like to thank NetGalley, Weapenry Co-op, M. Lynn, and Michelle Bryan for providing an eARC for a timely and honest review.

I wish you all the best!
-A Bookish Girl

Grey Sister

Mark Lawrence

The long-awaited sequel to Red Sister, Grey Sister, delivers more than any reader could have expected. Grey Sister outshines its predecessor and continues to develop the cast of female characters in a wonderfully unique (and believable) manner. The Book of the Ancestor series is quickly turning into one of my favourite fantasy series.

The characters are so wonderful in this series; I am emotionally and mentally invested in the outcome of each character. The story is female-lead, which is rare in fantasy. The characters (female or male) are fully developed human beings, have real personalities and thoughts, and have real faults like, you know, people, which makes this series almost singular in the genre.

Lawrence’s world-building continues to be spectacular. We are exposed to much more of his world through the travels of several characters. The more he reveals about the world, the more the reader understands the need for grim, resilient, and harsh characters. The world is bleak, severe, and requires survivors to push themselves to extremes. It is a world where the stories cannot end until the moon falls. I hope to revisit this in other series and novels by Lawrence.

The writing is skilled in every manner. Swift changes in perspective kept the action building and rolling forward without breaking it awkwardly into chapters or whole parts (looking at you Tolkien). There are moments of profound insight and moments of much needed comic relief. Lawrence is indeed a master of his craft.

Thank you to Mark Lawrence, Ace, and First to Read for the eARC of Grey Sister, which allowed me to provide an honest review. Keep ’em coming, please!

Enjoy your week,
A Bookish Girl

 

Owl Eyes: A Fairy Tale

Molly Lazer

Owl Eyes is a modern retelling of Cinderella with an underlying darkness that embodies a true fairy tale. The sanguine Disney retellings that have become embedded in public memory fail to capture the grimness of a proper fairy tale. Lazer delivers a story which has the pace and presence of a traditional fairy tale. By doing so, it has share faults of a classic fairy tale – shallow side characters, light world-building, and a stunningly quick march through the concluding action of the story.

The writing is crisp, clear, and efficient. The story is familiar without losing the reader’s interest.

The characters are stock, fairy tale characters with predictable behaviours and emotions. Nora, the protagonist, does not make herself likeable. Instead, she tells her story with all the difficulty of being a young adult in a twisted world.

The world is interesting, but we see very little of it. Lazer has the opportunity to explore this world through Jack’s (Nora’s sidekick) eyes in future stories.

I enjoyed this story as a quick read on a stormy night. Thank you to NetGalley and Fire and Ice YA for providing an eARC for my review.

Be good out there,
A Bookish Girl

 

Travels with Rachel: In Search of South America

George Mahood

Mahood has a delightful way of telling a story. I found myself reading his story aloud to my husband when conversations with his wife echoed our own or when I laughed out loud for pages at a time. You do not have to have the “travel bug” to enjoy this book, nor should you have any knowledge of South America. Mahood delivers his travels with humour and honesty in a way that every person can relate.

I highly recommend Mahood’s books to anyone. I have yet to find one I did not like.

Be kind.
A Bookish Girl