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: 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.

The Bird King

The Bird King

The Bird King came across my library holds list after I perused some of the best of 2019 lists. It was billed as a great fantasy read, and you all know I’m always down for those. I finished this book, the first finish in a little bit, and I am really sad to say that I was a little underwhelmed by the story. It moved quickly, it was easy to follow, and the ending was moving, but as a complete package it wasn’t anything to write home about.

It’s difficult for me to write about how the story even works without giving a ton of stuff away. It’s set in 1491 on the Iberian peninsula, and Fatima is the last Circassian concubine to the sultan there. Her best friend Hassan is gay as well as a magical map maker – he can make doors appear to places just by drawing a map. When the Holy Order (read: Spanish Inquisition) comes a-knocking Hassan and Fatima must run for their lives or be tortured, killed, or in Hassan’s case, used for the Order’s purposes.

The best part of the story is the first third leading up to their escape. G. Willow Wilson paints a beautiful picture of Fatima and Hassan’s friendship as well as her relationships within the harem and with the sultan. She is just beginning to see that she could hold real power and is waiting to see if she becomes pregnant with the sultan’s child when everything falls apart.

Their escape and subsequent journey to Qaf  where the King of the Birds resides is a bit of a mess storytelling-wise. The villain isn’t scary, Hassan’s powers are not clearly defined and how he uses them is not made clear, and without giving too much away, how they find the island and defend it seemed rushed and strange.

The ending was moving enough for me to ask you to read it, but don’t be shocked when you feel like giving up around page 300 (if you’re reading the hardcover). I pulled a rare “I made it this far, I might as well finish” and made it to the end, and I’m glad I did. It’s a nice story. If you have a gap in your reading schedule, pick it up and enjoy.

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Tor Books via NetGalley as a digital ARC in return for an honest review. Magic For Liars went on sale on June 4, 2019 and is currently available for purchase.

Magic For Liars is the story of a pair of sisters, one magical and one not, who took very different paths in life: one a Theoretical Magic teacher at a prestigious magic school and the other a beat-down private investigator. When Ivy gets the call to investigate a magical murder at the school where her sister Tabitha teaches, the story takes us through Ivy’s struggle to connect past with present to solve the mystery.

It has a promising start. That dark, down on your luck kind of opening that any private eye kind of flick might have. I settled in, ready for a dark and dingy kind of tale. What I got was a whole lot of nothing through 75% of the book, where I finally decided to stop and move on to something else.

This book stays at one volume level the entire time. Ivy is endlessly interviewing students and then nothing happens. She confronts her sister and seems to make headway about their past as rivals and their magic/non magic issues, and then nothing happens. A teacher is dead, and while we meet many interesting characters and might have suspicions about a few, the tension never ratchets up enough where you feel like we might be headed toward a solution, which would then keep you reading to find out more. I have other things to read, other things to do, either give me something to nibble on or stop wasting my time.

It was really disappointing. It was a cool idea but difficult to pull off without any reveals or wrong turns or accusations in a world where Harry Potter already exists. Sorry fam, it’s a thumbs down from me out of sheer boredom.

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.

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1)

The Poppy War

The Poppy War is a book about tests and schools and usually those are totally my jam. Runin (Rin for short) is a war orphan from the second poppy war. Her foster parents tell her at age 14 that she will be marrying a much older man once she turns 16, so she makes a deal with her tutor and her foster parents that if she take’s the country’s placement test and tests into the tuition-free military academy, that she can leave and not have to marry. She studies and memorizes and crams for two straight years and manages to score high enough to place into the Sinegard Academy.

When she arrives she experiences what you would expect from rich, pampered kids who are trained from birth to come to this academy – her skin is darker and she’s from one of the poorest provinces – they think she cheated to get in or that she was let in to make the test seem fair, and she would be sent home after the Trials that all first years must pass. She works hard and discovers a unique power within her along the way, something that hasn’t been seen since the end of the Second Poppy War. Rin can meditate and reach the Pantheon of gods to call on their power and use it as her own, but with a price.

It’s a very enjoyable book through about the first hald. It gives glimpses into Chinese history through a fantasy story and map, and I find that it’s much easier to learn things that way, or at least to prompt questions that I can ask the husband, who is am expert in world history topics. The story about the school is neat, and the topics they study are interesting. I found myself thinking of The Name of the Wind as I was reading this book: poor person tests into school they shouldn’t belong at, must impress a particular professor in order to remain at school, gets banned from a certain aspect of the school so they have to adjust and train themselves, trains to discover something/skill/knowledge people thought was long dead, now has a dangerous power they don’t know how to control, etc. etc.

My only confusion came when Rin’s motivation abruptly shifted from “be the best I can be so I don’t have to marry or have kids” to “REVENGE.” Like, revenge against who? It was such a fast shift in her narrative that it was like hitting a brick wall in her character development. The only way a revenge story works is if I feel like I want revenge too on the character’s behalf. I get her thirst for power over her own destiny, but I feel like the hunger for revenge isn’t earned in the plot.

Also the second half of the book gets bogged down in a new war that we only see through Rin’s perspective, and most of that time is spent agonizing over her powers and whether or not she should access them. I found myself getting bored toward the end, if only because war is pretty boring on the page without some kind of action or fighting. When most of it was just hanging around the camp being angsty about gods, I lost interest. The most interesting developments happen in the last twenty pages, but the fact that they came after such a down period made them less exciting. I won’t spoil it for you, but by the end I didn’t have anyone I was rooting for, barely understood what was going on, and just wanted to send the book back to the library.

I have the sequel as an advanced reader copy, so I’ll let you all know if the series gets better in book 2. If you’ve read my reviews for awhile though, you know that rarely happens, as book 2 tends to lag even worse than book 1. There was enough in this first installment to get me to read the entire story, but now I wish I could go back and undo the reading of it so I could try something else. Take from that what you will.