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:

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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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King of Scars

 

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Shadow and Bone
Siege and Storm
Ruin and Rising

Six of Crows
Crooked Kingdom

Language of Thorns

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I’m not sure how to make this review non-spoilery but I am going to try. I think it’s fair to say that there might be spoilers from the above books that I’ve already read and reviewed, so if you haven’t read those and you care about remaining unspoiled, maybe go read them first. I will not spoil THIS particular book though.

King of Scars is told through several viewpoints, but from two main locations: Fierda and Ravka. Nina is with a small team of Grisha attempting to infiltrate Fierda and save Grisha who would be willing to join the Second Army and help defend Ravka. She’s also there to return Matthais to the ground after his death in Ketterdam. Nicolai and Zoya along with the Grisha Triumverate are in Ravka building a fleet of submarines for Kerch to make money for the treasury while trying to handle the weird black demon thing that takes over Nicolai’s body and flies him around the countryside.

One of the things I love about Bardugo’s writing is her ability to write political intricacies into the plot. Ravka is facing war from the north and from the south, their financial situation is dire and they are in debt to Kerch (which they are hoping to supplement with the submarines) and they need the support of Novyi Zem to keep their naval defenses strong. In addition to all of the military and financial woes, other men are claiming they are the true Lantsov heir and have been trying to usurp Nicolai’s reign. It’s an understatement that they are in a bit of a pickle.

I enjoyed Nicolai and Zoya’s story more than Nina’s, and for a while there I was actually quite bored with Nina’s mission, her story feeling as gray and barren as the Fierdan tundra. I suppose this was to be expected. A lot of her and her team’s story was waiting, hiding, and being in disguise. If they were real people I’m sure they would have been bored (and cold and hungry) too.

Nicolai and Zoya have to deal with a growing group of people that claim to be loyal to the Starless Saint – The Darkling from the Grisha trilogy with Alina Starkov. They venture out to track ‘miracles’ that see to be popping up and radiating out from the spot on the Unsea where the Darkling fell and died. When they arrive on the Unsea they find a giant black, shiny disc in the sand. When they move toward it they are sucked into an alternate universe, leaving the Grisha Triumverate to tailor a solider and guard at the palace to look like Nicolai and manage a major diplomatic gathering in his stead.

It’s…a lot.

I cried real, gasping sobs in the first part of the book. Nicolai always has me laughing. And in Zoya I finally found a member of this Grishaverse that I could identify with. She’s everything I feel there on the page, walking around furious with everyone, with no fucks to give, and being a badass Grisha general. I love her. She’s one of my favorite characters now. I wish I could transport myself into the world of these books and live there, if only to help these characters that I have come to love.

I trust Leigh Bardugo 100%, and so I preordered this book. Other books I would put on hold at the library (if they were even available at all). Plus the hardcover jacket and book are absolutely gorgeous. I can’t wait to find out what happens to the whole Ravkan team in the second installment of the duology.

If you haven’t read Bardugo’s work by now I just don’t know what I have to say to get you to start. Her world is amazing and real. Her characters are diverse, interesting, and complex. The magic system is elemental and bone deep. It’s necessary reading for any fantasy lover. So go do it already.

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