Godsgrave (Nevernight #2)

Godsgrave

Nevernight (Nevernight #1)

If you’ve been a reader of AAB for a long time, you know that I tend to like a revenge story. Survival and revenge – the strength and intelligence it often requires a main character to have in order to achieve their goals is inspiring and makes for a good read. Nevernight also set up that assassin school/competition vibe a la Hogwarts for magic, which only added more tastes that taste great together.

Godsgrave takes a bit of a turn, which makes sense given the end of Nevernight. The Church is rebuilding its network, and one of the only remaining secret places in the world with a blood walk is, you guessed it, Godsgrave. Mia is assigned to its new watcher, her old trainer Mercurio, and he assigns her to find and kill a marrowborn woman, and intercept the map that she is scheduled to receive. SURPRISE! It’s Ashlinn and they have a good ol’ brawl during which Ashlinn implies that Justice Scaeva, one of the men Mia has sworn to kill to avenge her family, is a patron of the Church an knows about her and everything she’s been up to. She says that Mia has been kept busy to keep her from killing Scaeva because they are bound by honor to keep him alive because money.

We’re left, as Mia is, to figure out if Ashlinn can be trusted, but in the meantime she talks to Mercurio, who basically says that he doesn’t know about it but that logically it makes sense. He agrees to help her extend her search for the map as a ruse for her actually concocting a plan to murder Scaeva in secret so the Church doesn’t know it was her.

Here’s where the story goes a bit off the rails for me. Also spoiler alert, because I’m just gonna list some story details and roll my eyes while a type.

  1. She sells herself to a gladiator collector in an attempt to get entry into the biggest gladiator battle of the season, where if she wins, Scaeva grants her freedom directly as per tradition, and she can slit his throat when he’s close enough. THIS IS A TERRIBLE PLAN WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING.
  2. She is training as a gladiator FOREVER – I’m not going to lie there are like 150 pages that I skimmed because it was just training – cell – escape cell with darkness powers to fuck Ashlinn – cell – training – cell…you get the picture.
  3. SHE HAS SEX WITH ASHLINN – I just…I can’t. SHE MURDERED TRIC AND RUINED YOUR PLANS HOW WHY WHAT?? These kinds of story twists are what remind me that the characters are like 16 and have no fucking common sense. Her shadows Mister Kindly and Eclipse keep telling her she’s being stupid but she won’t listen – again with the teenager bullshit. In Nevernight I kind of forgot how young she was and this book slapped me in the face with it. Good YA, especially YA that Kristoff has repeatedly said is NOT for teenagers, should have characters that can handle their situations as young adults. Don’t give me a 16 year old protagonist that can’t tell her ass from a hole in the ground, especially after a first book that shows her to be cunning and calculating and powerful.

And I’m gonna spoil the ending for you because I don’t want you to get there and be as mad as I was about the dumb ass twist that throws everything off kilter.

  1. Her brother Jonnen is alive and has been given another name by HIS FATHER JUSTICE SCAEVA because he was basically a baby when everything went down.
  2. She’s told by a fellow gladiator (convenient) that her father was gay and her mom slept around with politicians for influence.
  3. Jonnen is also darkin, AND SO IS JUSTICE SCAEVA and so now her revenge for her parents requires her to kill her real father and she has to deal with that knowledge.

Jesus Christ I cannot with this. There weren’t nearly enough breadcrumbs along the way to lead to this twist. It feels really fucking convenient that she just happens to get put in the same cell as someone who worked with her father during the Kingmaker Rebellion that would know these things. And you can’t let us have one delicious moment, now Mia has to reckon with the reality of who her parents were and how that changes her situation and goals now. It’s too hard a left into a final book of a trilogy and I’m not happy about it.

Honestly for me this wouldn’t change anything. Family is who takes care of you, not who contributed sperm to your egg so you could burst into the world. Justice Scaeva still murdered her parents and stole her brother and brainwashed him – knowing he is her biological father changes nothing.

And Ashlinn better get dealt with. This weird romance thing between them doesn’t make any sense and I still want Ashlinn dead for what she did. I’m hoping Mia has other plans and is just fucking her to keep her thinking she’s close so she can deal with her at the right moment.

I was intrigued, then I was mad, then I was bored but hopeful, then I was shocked and mad that Jay Kristoff thinks he could just throw that many twists into the last 50 pages and no one would be like “WTF Jay, this feels too convenient.” I’m going to finish the trilogy because I bought the gorgeous UK edition and got it signed and it’s just waiting for me to crack open. I just hope that Darkdawn is the finale Mia deserves.

Angry Angel Books: Top 5 Books of 2019

This year saw my reading slow down a bit as I reshaped my personal time to improve my mental health. Despite this, I managed to read about 60 books, several of which were very exciting. This year’s list includes only books that were published this year too, which is different from years past.

Seven Blades

Seven Blades in Black
Seven Blades in Black was the surprise of 2019. I haven’t read anything by Sam Sykes before this or since, but when they announce the sequel I will preorder it so fast your head will spin. Fallen empires and rogue sorcerers and crazy beasts roaming free PLUS an unreliable narrator on a revenge quest a la Arya Stark and her checklist – you can see me drooling about it, right? It’s a long one but I didn’t want to put it down. If you like fantasy and revenge and kingdoms and you haven’t read Sykes, you should definitely pick this one up.

king of scars

King of Scars
I love Leigh Bardugo and she is on this list TWICE. King of Scars focuses in on Nikolai, the pirate (ahem…privateer!) who becomes king of Ravka. He has a past that he wants to keep covered up and powers that even he doesn’t completely understand, and is chasing dark powers that lead to the re-emergence of [SPOILER ALERT!]. It was one of my favorites this year but it isn’t my favorite Bardugo book, mostly because it just seemed like a long way to bring [SPOILER] back into the universe and I found myself losing interest in a lot of places. But it’s still Bardugo so overall it was fantastic.

 

The Wicked KingThe Queen of Nothing

The Wicked King
The Queen of Nothing
How did both of these books come out this year? Why is Holly Black so amazing? They did and she is so if you haven’t read the Folk of the Air trilogy then now is the time because all 3 books are now in the world and they are all complete masterpieces. The Wicked King won the 2019 Goodreads Choice Award for Best YA Fantasy (I think The Queen of Nothing came out too late in the year to be in contention).
The Cruel Prince is the first installment.

Ninth House

Review: Ninth House
Leigh Bardugo is on my list TWICE because she is a bad bitch and I love her. Ninth House is a twisted tale full of magic, mystery, and finding identity in the midst of desperation. It showcases how dangerous one woman can be when she has nothing to lose, and how much more dangerous she can become when you give her something to fight for. Winner of the 2019 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fantasy Novel, it is definitely a book that deserves your attention.

Red, White, and Royal Blue

Review: Red, White, and Royal Blue
I could not be happier that this book won the 2019 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance AND Best Debut Novel. There was nothing wrong with this book. It was everything I needed and brought light and joy into a life that seems to always be tinged with darkness and sadness. It made me believe that happiness is possible. It made me believe in the goodness of people in general. The story is funny and smart and modern and the romance is hot and believable. Do you need a spritz of lightheartedness in your life? You must put this book on your TBR right away.

The Queen of Nothing (Folk of the Air #3)

The Queen of Nothing

The Cruel Prince (FotA #1)
The Wicked King (FotA #2)

There are lots of reasons I put down a book. Chief among these are uninteresting characters, slow-moving story, and predictable plot/twists. If my mind begins saying “I don’t care” or “I’m bored” or “Ugh, I already know what’s going to happen” then that’s the clock ticking on a did not finish work. I can usually live with one of these if the others are up to snuff. Characters I don’t care about don’t matter as much if the story is the focus, for example. It is very rare that I open a book and find myself on a fast train to everything I ever wanted with no compromises. Holly Black has brought me three such trains, and I have gladly ridden them to the end of the line, my head hanging out the window of my sleeper car like a dog on its way to the park.

Too many analogies? Who cares, these books are amazing.

Jude is in exile after the crazy events that concluded The Wicked King. She is the High Queen of Elfhame and is stuck in an apartment complex with her half-sister Vivi and her brother Oak, who is in the line of succession. Her twin sister Taryn shows up at her door, begging her to go to an inquest to lie on her behalf because she has murdered her new husband Locke and is forced to stand trial. Jude agrees and returns to Elfhame where her foster father Madoc is making a play for the throne and her husband Cardan is fighting to keep the kingdom intact.

I am in absolute awe of Black’s ability to have so many characters in play all at once and have you care about all of them. I have no trouble keeping track of who is who and where they are from and where their allegiances lie (although that last one can be troublesome). She’s also a champion of intrigue – you will read a mile a minute just to find out what happens next, and then you’ll have more questions than answers but just enough answers to make you feel like continuing is justified because WHAT HAPPENS NEXT GODDAMN.

The ending (which lasts about 50 pages) is too good to give away here, even under a spoiler warning. It’s a lesson in power, relationships, what’s worth giving away, and what’s worth sacrificing. It makes you question whether change or the status quo is more valuable. You’ll ponder the true meaning of trust and love. On the surface this trilogy is a beautiful fantasy story about magic and elves and how humanity interacts with that. Deep down this trilogy is a story about the roots of cruelty, love, and how we can overcome even the darkest expectations that others have for us to carve out a life that we can be proud of.

I love this trilogy, and you will too. Please go get you some.

 

The Guinevere Deception (Camelot Rising #1)

The Guinevere Deception

Kiersten White’s writing is one of my favorite things. Her feminist retellings of old tales and historical figures are enjoyable and instructive. I still owe whoever suggested And I Darken to me an Edible Arrangement. So when I saw the retelling of Arthurian legend in her hands, I preordered immediately.

I have read some of the other reviews that have been published, and I believe that the criticism is well founded, but perhaps too harsh. The story is slow going, and even at the end we don’t know who “Guinevere” is or where she came from, or why two of the most dangerous magical beings (the Dark Queen and the Lady of the Lake) want to get at her and the third most dangerous (Merlin) kept her in seclusion, training her until the time was right. The real Guinevere died and Merlin, who has been exiled from Camelot, put this new girl in her place to marry Arthur and defend him from magical enemies in Merlin’s stead.

We interact with a limited number of characters and while the pace of the book is to be expected given how many people we have to meet and the world-building that has to occur to match our ideas of Camelot with White’s, the action is low-key until the very last 30 pages. Most of it is Guinevere sneaking around the castle dropping knots all over the place because that’s the magic that she knows: different knots for different spells. We see a small romance bloom between her and Arthur, and whispers of a forbidden romance with Arthur’s cousin Mordred, but nothing gets too serious. Lancelot appears as well, but I’ll let you discover that underwhelming twist for yourself. I enjoyed her friendship with her lady’s maid as well as a knight’s sister, Dindrane. The final twist that spurs the fast-paced conclusion and cliffhanger is also painfully obvious, so much so that I actually groaned out loud. Overall the story is well-written, but lacks in the suspense you might expect from a story with hidden identities and magic.

I am going to go out on a limb and say that this book is targeted at a much younger audience than even And I Darken or her retelling of Frankenstein. All of the twists were SO OBVIOUS and the writing seemed to flirt with the edges of middle grade in its simplicity. Arthur is 18 and Guinevere is 16: can an angry angel get a story like this but with the girl at the age of consent at least? That’s what made me feel like this was for a younger crowd, because I know full well that YA can stretch into the late teens, early twenties. Even Sarah J. Maas has her heroines at 18 years old, but to be fair there is so much sex in her books that she would have to make it that way. It was not uncommon for young women to marry that young in these times, so I guess I won’t hold this one against White too much.

I found The Guinevere Deception compelling in the same way that The Song of Achilles and Circe were compelling; it was a good story that didn’t ask a lot of my imagination. I didn’t have to stretch my belief too far because I was already familiar with the story. The new elements added to the Arthurian legend were interesting enough for me to want to know what happens next. I am worried because the second book of any trilogy is usually the red-headed step-child, and with this first installment so slow to bloom, the second book will need to be much more exciting to carry me through to the trilogy’s finale.

It’s Kiersten White, so it’s good, but don’t expect the excitement and fire that we have found in prior books. Bring your patience, perseverance, and fresh expectations so that this will be an enjoyable, if slow, fantasy read.

Ninth House

Ninth House

When I heard that Leigh Bardugo was coming out with an adult novel, the speed with which I pre-ordered Ninth House could not be measured by any mortal instrument. I don’t want to spend my review summarizing what happens in the book, so please click here to read the synopsis.

This book was amazing from start to finish, but I did not devour it quickly. Some spots were so disturbing that I needed a few days to process what I had read. Also it would probably be a good idea to not make this bedtime reading if you value dreams over nightmares.

Ninth House is for desperate women who just need a leg up. It’s for women who constantly get eaten up by and then spit back out into the world. Ever felt like an imposter? Oh man this book will speak to you as well. Have you been wronged by someone, especially physically, and wanted to exact revenge? *tents fingers* Excellent.

The underlying theme throughout this book is that desperate women are constantly used, abused, and put away wet. They are seen as a means to an end, and that the ends justify the means, even if it means the death of girl after girl. Perhaps what I appreciated more than anything is that Bardugo not only illustrates the usual male involvement in this abuse, but also sheds light on how women hurt each other to get ahead too.

Alex is in a world where she doesn’t belong, for reasons that benefit anyone but herself, and yet she tries to earn her place there. For anyone who has found themselves someplace where everyone around them knows they don’t belong, reading the first third or so of this book will put that sharp taste of hope and desperation in your mouth – the thrill of simultaneously having an unimaginable opportunity and needing to prove you deserve it.

When things go terribly wrong only Alex embracing all of the events that have made her who she is allows her to push forward to find justice for her friends and to claim the title of a daughter of Lethe, a defender of the normal against the winds of magic, a knight in shining armor. Even if that armor is tattooed on her body in whorls, wheels, and snakes. She becomes the walking embodiment of the old saying that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…and dangerous.

As I always do when I finish a Bardugo book, I can only sing in my clearest Ariel voice:

source

Please my darling Leigh, I know you’re busy with the Netflix series Shadow and Bone but I’m gonna need the next Nikolai book and the next Galaxy Stern novel stat.

Stat means now. Please.

Love, Amanda.

Second Reading: Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)

Original Empire of Storms Review

My original review of Empire of Storms was not glowing. My love for the first three books was the fuel that got me through Queen of Shadows, but by the time I arrived at the first page of the over 600 page tome that was Empire of Storms, Sarah J. Maas had lost a lot of her luster.

My second time through this book opened my eyes even more. Characters are completely abandoning their behaviors to pair up. Aelin and Rowan, Lysandra and Aedion, Dorian and Manon – everybody is ready to fuck and it is just the worst. Of all the moments I think the worst was when, after transforming into an ancient sea dragon and devastating an entire Valg fleet along with its sea wyverns, Lysandra is lying on the beach, still in dragon form, basically bleeding out, when Aedion blurts out “You can’t die because I am going to marry you!” and I had to put the book down and go do something else.

The sad thing is that even in the midst of all the love stories, the skeleton of the fantasy epic is still there. They have two Wyrdkeys, they have been sent to retrieve a lock that will seal the keys and Erawan behind the Wyrdgates forever, and Aelin is working to create an army to prove that she can defend Terrasen, defeat Erawan, and earn back her throne. The story could have been this with no love stories and it would have been an amazing journey. If these characters had all been friends, members of Aelin’s court, working together for a better tomorrow, I think I would have loved this book. But, as many, many Goodreads reviewers have noted, once Maas started writing A Court of Thorns and Roses it infected everything else with its sex, word repetition, and purring – drowning out any other excellence that might have existed.

Reading a Maas novel from this period is painful. It makes you wonder what happened, and I even mentioned in my second reading review of Queen of Shadows that something must have happened to cause this complete 180 degree turn away from the books that were so amazing. I’m looking down the barrel of Tower of Dawn right now – the only remaining book between me and Kingdom of Ash. I do want to see how this series ends, but all I see is a 600 page, never-ending story that just works to get Chaol and the magic nurse to fuck so we can have one more pairing to keep track of. CHARACTERS DON’T HAVE TO BE IN LOVE OR DICKING EACH OTHER FOR US TO CARE OR BE INVESTED IN THEM. Ugh.

Not to mention that Tower of Dawn is just a book that is meant to cram in all kinds of exposition to explain who Maeve really is and what happened in the past and why so Maas can set up the ending she wants instead of the ending that has been set up over the course of FIVE FUCKING BOOKS. Tower of Dawn is the book she had to write so we could all get on the same page because she spent so much time on love stories instead of slowly showing us clues and giving us info about the world that this story set in so we feel invested. Instead we have to sit through a 600 page lecture about history. Buckle up, buckaroos.

On to the next one.

Second Reading: Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4)

Original Queen of Shadows Review

The Throne of Glass series has been one of my favorites since I started this blog. When I hit a wall with new reading over the summer, I decided to return to the series in order to re-read up to the final book, Kingdom of Ash, which I still haven’t read.

The first three books still held up. I devoured them and remembered why I loved this series so much. The characters were clearly defined, their motivations fairly well communicated, and you’re just waiting for the giant, terrible forces to be revealed so Celaena, Chaol, and Dorian can rip them apart. Even the reveal of the witch clans in book 3 was exciting and a welcome addition to the universe and the tension.

In book 4 Celaena/Aelin is returning to Rifthold to recover the Amulet of Orynth from her former assassin master and discover what has happened while she was in Wendlyn training and gaining entrance to Doranelle, where her aunt, the Fae Queen Maeve lived, so she could interrogate her about the Wyrdgates and Wyrdkeys. Almost immediately this book takes a hard left turn and never really recovers.

You can read my original review to get a sense of where my confusion lies with this part of the story, but the general gist is that the characters went from mature people who worked together and understood each other’s actions even when they were less than savory as long as they advanced the goal – to a bunch of whiny babies who stick out their tongues and stomp their feet when they don’t get their ways.

Chaol talks to Celaena like she chose to go to Wendlyn and train with a Fae prince. Did he forget that he sent her there? Did he forget that she had magic and was part Fae and needed guidance for that power so it wasn’t out of control? He sent her there because he couldn’t stand to lose the woman that he loved. He blames her for being away when Dorian got taken. He blames her for the increase in shadow soldier movements. He is mad that she ‘made such a show’ of her power in Wendlyn that it caused the king to increase his creepy plans. She wasn’t gone that long, and yet he has ZERO feelings for her at the start of this book.

But he’s not alone in this. Celaena knows how the black collars work, she fought things like it in Wendlyn. So why is she screaming at Chaol about how he left Dorian there alone? Didn’t she just finish training with the Fae to learn tactics and skills? She’s been an assassin for like 8 years, she knows the value in living to fight another day. Even the simplest mind can understand that if Chaol had stayed instead of escaping, he would be dead now and Dorian would have been well and truly alone with no one to say what happened to him and to recruit people to try to free him.

The childish bullshit between the two of them makes absolutely no sense when combined with the first 3 books. It makes no sense when you consider that all of them know that their problems are bigger than all of them and that they need to bring all their knowledge together to face them. All the maturity is gone, the drive and intensity towards a common goal is gone, and to be honest, it almost feels like Maas was trying to fresh-start her series in this book and I do not like it.

To further confuse the matter are a cadre of additional characters that we don’t need, but apparently we do because Maas is setting us up for all the LOVE STORIES we have to have moving forward. Also we have to learn about the “territorial Fae bullshit” because now her cousin Aedion is with them, and her Fae trainer Rowan comes to town too, and they decide to posture over her like two animals fighting over who gets to mate with the female.

I was curious about something, and so I looked up a couple of the books in her other series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, which is exclusively about the Fae, how a human comes to be a part of that world, and is basically a trilogy of YA softcore porn. I was wondering how working on that series might have affected Throne of Glass, and whether they were coming about at the same time.

In fact, both Queen of Shadows and A Court of Thorns and Roses were published in 2015. Empire of Storms and A Court of Mist and Fury were published in 2016, and Tower of Dawn and A Court of Wings and Ruin were done in 2017.

Seeing “Fae bullshit” leaking into the Throne of Glass series is not surprising when you see this timeline. Queen of Shadows is also when Maas begins to make the books longer, with more exposition and repetitiveness: We see Celaena/Aelin referred to as “my queen/queen” in almost every paragraph, and once Rowan shows up we start to see the “male/female” animalistic language starting too. The softcore nature of ACOTAR begins to leak into ToG too, with all the Rowan/Aelin teasing in the second half of the book. All you are forced to focus on is how hard they want to do each other instead of their planning to free Dorian and find the Wyrdkeys.

The ACOTAR series was a feminist, romance trilogy (whose third book is an absolute disaster and an embarrassment to the first two books), so you would expect a lot of sex, relationships, and overdramatic actions. Throne of Glass was supposed to be a sweeping fantasy series – good versus evil, a queen regaining her kingdom through any means necessary and beating back an ancient force threatening to conquer all worlds. That’s what I signed up for, and I can see how in Queen of Shadows it took a turn away from that in favor of the Fae sexiness, and it isn’t a good look.

Something happened to Sarah J. Maas in 2015 (or before, I know how long it takes to write a book) that changed her style of writing and her focus. I’m sure if I cared more I could research it and find out what it was, but this obsession with Fae culture, with the sexual relationships in that culture, with the idea of eternally bonded mates and immature friendships, sticking out tongues and the stomping of feet, the petulance…I don’t know but something changed and it wasn’t for the better.

On to the next one.