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.

 

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.

The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2)

The Heart Forger

The Bone Witch (#1)

The first novel of this series, The Bone Witch, has been sitting in the back corners of my mind for a long time. The book itself was good, but not ‘blow my socks off’ good, so I didn’t run to the sequel right away. But it was good, and so every so often I would think back to it and wonder what happened next.

The Heart Forger tells its story the same way The Bone Witch did: alternating between the perspective of a Bard (whose identity we do not know) and Tea’s point of view. The Bard’s experience is happening now, while Tea’s is the story leading up to the current situation. You might think this wouldn’t work, especially because the Bard’s story often spoils things that haven’t happened yet in Tea’s timeline, but I was surprised by how much I liked it, and it made me read faster to find out how these relationships and choices came about.

Dark forces are at play across all the kingdoms, and the enemy we only know as the Faceless are discovered to be attempting the forging of shadowglass, a heartsglass that would make its wearers immortal. To do this they need certain ingredients that would connect them back to a mythical trio: The Blade that Soars, Dancing Wind, and Hollow Knife of the darashi orun, a dance/play that is traditionally performed every year in the kingdom. The band of asha, deathseekers, and friends travel around the kingdoms trying to discover what is going on and to thwart the efforts of their enemies.

I really love revenge stories, and Tea’s use of her powers to get revenge on these Faceless and bring the kingdoms back into some semblance of balance, possibly at great cost to herself, is totally my jam. This story is full of strong women and supportive men and reading it was smooth as silk in terms of character building, plot progression, and magic use. The setting is beautifully described, and I felt like I was there sitting next to the asha in some scenes.

Be careful reading the last 100 pages or so in public. One death scene is described so emotionally that I had to fight my own urge to cry. Just one more friend to avenge with her pack of daeva. Go get ’em Tea, I’m rooting for you.

Invasive (Zer0es #2)

Invasive

This book showed up on a number of top science fiction lists, and so I requested it from the library. It is my first Chuck Wendig novel, and I feel bad because I did not realize that Invasive was #2 in his Zer0es series. To be honest it stands on its own well, and you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy the second (although the beginning of this book does spoil the first one, so if you’re a purist you might want to read the first book Zer0es first).

The plot is this: someone made a hybrid ant a la Jurassic Park that eats Candida (yeast) on people, basically skinning them alive, and Hannah Stander is an FBI consultant that is called in to research and discover who is behind their creation and distribution. Her search takes her to the secluded island of Kolohe, part of the Hawaiian islands, and she is caught on island when the culprit decides to release the ants and escape with more colonies, supposedly to bring about an ant apocalypse (think when Nedry steals the embryos and tries to escape but dies and the power on the entire island shuts down, and chaos ensues – it’s really similar to that but with more bodies).

This story is not character driven. The characters could be named with letters of the alphabet and this story would still be compelling. I kept reading because what was happening was horrifying and I had to know how it would all end. There were some points toward the end where I thought it might end with the ants actually taking over and destroying everything. I won’t spoil what actually happens; maybe they do take over and destroy everything. Ants are terrible creatures.

If you like mystery, thrillers, or science fiction, you should definitely give Invasive a go. It’s a quick read by virtue of its fantastic story – you won’t want to stop until you’re done. Go get you some.

Red, White & Royal Blue

Red, White, and Royal Blue

Red, White and Royal Blue was provided to me as a digital ARC by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review. Red, White and Blue is available for preorder now, and is scheduled for publication release on May 14, 2019.

I started hearing about this book around Valentine’s Day and when I saw some of the early reviews, the word JOY seemed to be in all of them. Casey McQuiston is an author who is new to me, and Red, White & Royal Blue appears to be her debut novel. It is an adult rom-com and honestly McQuiston grabbed me by the heart and the funny bone and refused to let go of either until the very end.

Alex is the first son of the first woman president and he has a long standing grudge against Prince Henry of England. They are about the same age, and he has always felt like they were compared to each other in the news and tabloids. Alex feels as though he could never measure up to Henry’s smooth, distant charisma, and the riches that he has access to don’t help either. So when the first family attends the royal wedding of Henry’s brother Philip and Alex gets drunk and trips into the table holding the $75,000 wedding cake, pulling Henry down with him, it creates a media firestorm that can only be quelled by a staged friendship between the two. The forced interactions become a close friendship, which eventually becomes more as Alex comes to realize that he is bisexual and Henry is definitely gay.

The physical interactions are good, but I think I enjoyed reading their emails and texts to each other more. The intimacy with which they talk to each other, even with an ocean between them, was just as powerful as their physical bond. If I’m being honest, I felt like I was eavesdropping and as their relationship continued, I became more and more worried about their information pinging around on the internet, given how high the stakes were: Alex’s mom running for re-election and Henry having been told that he would not embarrass the monarchy with his “depraved urges.” If even one text gets out, one email sent to the wrong person, someone overhears them, the world could absolutely explode. (That probably made everything that much hotter though, tbh, no regrets.) I won’t spoil the ending for you but WOW. It’s something.

My heart, you guys. My heart was in love with all the characters from the very first pages. This is one of those books where I don’t want to describe every detail to you, I just want to hold the book out to you until you take it and agree to read it. There is so little light and joy in this world right now and this book is a bright beacon in the darkness and you must let it wash over you and take you to a place that is pure and delightful, if even for the short amount of time that you will be reading this book. It’s a fast read by virtue of the fact that you won’t want to stop reading. Your eyes will race over the page, hungry for just one more chapter of these wonderful men. Go get you some.

 

Seven Blades in Black (The Grave of Empires #1)

Seven Blades

Once in awhile I read a book that I identify with so deeply and so completely that I wish I could live within the pages and be the main character. The feelings of regret and suffering, of revenge and perseverance just emanate from the pages and make me drool and moan with pleasure like the smell of freshly baked bread or maybe Calvin Klein Infinity cologne (I’m SO CLASSY). I live vicariously through the main character and find satisfaction in ways I could never find in real life. *slaps faces of enemies with a pure, white glove*

Salazanca a.k.a. Sal the Cacophony is brash, ferocious, and a woman on a mission. She has made a deal with the spirit of her gun (named the Cacophony) that she would kill everyone on her list, everyone who attempted to sacrifice her to meet their own magical ends. Her own history with the individuals on her list is slowly revealed as she tells her story to her captors, Revolutionaries who seek to upend the Imperium and its Empress in favor of a human-run government.

The political backdrop to the story is just as compelling as Sal’s own vendetta. The Imperium has always had mages as Emperors and Empresses. The Revolution is made up of “nuls” – humans with no magical abilities, who seek to make their own government where mages are not in control. In the middle are mages gone Vagrant, mad that the Empress has given birth to one heir, a nul who will one day become emperor. They refuse to support a nul emperor after giving everything to set up and support the current Imperium, so they are fighting to bring about their own future separate from the Imperium and the Revolution.

It’s important to note that this is not your typical revenge story. Along the way it’s made apparent that Sal has her own choices to atone for, and has made some shady deals that she may not walk away from in pursuit of her goals. The realness with which Sykes presents this anti-heroine is so welcome and refreshing that I am already ready to accept her past if it means I get to follow her into the future. She is an unreliable narrator, and she leaves details out of her story as she tells it to her executioner because she sees them as unnecessary, but you will discover that she’s lying by omission, and there are some very disturbing actions she’s taken/taking that we only hear a whisper of before the story ends, leaving you begging for more.

It would be difficult for me to express to you how much I loved this book. When I initially opened it on my Kindle (I received it for free as the winner of a Goodreads giveaway) it said it would take me 12 hours to read it. This was daunting, but from the very first page I was in love with Sal the Cacophony and wanted nothing more than to see her succeed and get revenge on those who had wronged her. I gave what little mental energy I had left over in the past 3 weeks to moving forward inch by inch in the 30 minutes before I fell asleep each night, and every moment was worth it.

My only criticism? I hate the cover art.

You absolutely must read this book. While I wait for the next installment to this series, I’ll be seeking out the rest of Sam Sykes’ works. If his writing is this amazing, I cannot miss out on anything else written by him up to this point. GO GET IT QUICK WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR???

The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air #2)

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1)

It had been quite a while since I had read The Cruel Prince, but Holly Black did an excellent job of summarizing the main points in her first few chapters of The Wicked King. There was an absolute bloodbath at the end of the last book where many factions made a play for the throne. Jude Duarte, the mortal ward of the Grand General Madoc outsmarted them all by having her foster brother Oak, revealed to be of royal blood, place the blood crown on Cardan’s head, making him High King of Elfhame. Oak is sent away to the mortal world until he comes of age, when Cardan has agreed to abdicate and place the crown on Oak’s head instead.

The Wicked King picks up with Jude playing puppeteer to Cardan’s rule, trying to make everything run smoothly after the attempts on the throne and his agreement to allow her to command him for a year and a day. The Undersea and its queen begin to make an attempt to overthrow the land using Cardan’s only living brother Baeliken, and that sets up this next stage in our journey.

One of the main enjoyments that I get from these books is that we are always operating at a medium level of danger. As we follow Jude through Elfhame the very plants can poison her, any agreement she makes can come back to bite her, and even accepting a gift from someone can place her in their service or at their bidding. She has to be on her guard all the time, and as you read this book you will find that you are holding your breath while you wait for the next danger to jump out of the bushes.

I love how Jude becomes a part of Elfhame. She thinks she has it all figured out. She’s a great fighter, strategist, and bargainer. The Wicked King shows us a Jude that has almost lost all connection with her humanity and uses her knowledge and power as a kind of armor/cloak that she thinks makes her belong. Despite all her scheming though, her humanity cannot be denied, and she must remember that part of herself or be forced to by others who may or may not care for her. (Honestly I’m still confused about who actually has her best interests at heart and whether she’s always been alone, pinging around Elfhame like a lonely pinball.)

I still am not sure if Cardan truly cares for Jude. I don’t know if Cardan is an idiot or a genius. I’m not sure if he wants to be High King or if he actually is going along with Jude’s plan for Oak to become king. Is he a trickster of the highest order or is he flying by the seat of his elven pants? I DON’T KNOW AND IT’S KILLING ME NOT TO KNOW. I hated him in the first book and now I can’t decide if I love him or hate him.

Holly Black is the most devious and wonderful author I think I have ever encountered. The world is lush and complex, the magic is terrifying and tricky, and the people are not to be trusted. You’ll want to trust, you’ll want to believe, but that’s what makes you mortal. So be careful when you venture into this series, because it’s easy to be trapped and in trouble in Elfhame. After this second book my heart is in trouble, because I’m not sure it can survive until the next book arrives.

If you enjoy magic, elves, intrigue, dangerous bargains, and roller coaster ride that comes with the pursuit of power, you will love this series. Go get you some.

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