Vicious (Villains #1)

Vicious

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)

V.E. Schwab is an absolute delight on Twitter. Following her brings me publishing info, random trivia, and delightful animal pictures and travel anecdotes. I read the first book in one of her other trilogies a while ago and my experience there echoed my experience of Vicious, the first in her Villains series.

Schwab’s style is very much like a cartoon bomb with a very long fuse that is lit from a far distance and the only thing we get to see is the slow progression of the lit end as it eats away at the fuse, moving towards the large explosion at the end. We’re not allowed to see where the explosion will happen or how big it might be. She expects us to be interested in the little things and to follow along, trusting that something huge will come at the end.

I see why steady fans are absolutely rabid for her. She respects the patience and intelligence of her readers and writes for the story and not necessarily for flashy chapters. I found myself having to ration my patience, motivate myself to read just one more chapter, because previous experience has shown me that Schwab doesn’t disappoint, she just makes you wait for it.

This style of writing and my understanding of it kept me reading this book, but it also kept me away from the sequels to A Darker Shade of Magic. When I have more time, maybe over the summer or someday when I can take time away from teaching, I can give more of my patience to smart, slow, fireworks finale books like this. Unfortunately I need a little more than what these books have to give to keep me reading and consistently enjoying what I read. I almost put this book away three times (I bought it on a $2.99 Kindle deal) but I had to continually remind myself to keep going because my time would pay off.

The story centers around Eli and Victor. They are students who decide to study EOs (ExtraOrdinary people) for their scientific theses. In the process of researching how EOs are created, Eli posits that near death episodes (NDEs) create a situation where the person comes back, but with powers that mirror their final thoughts or desires just before “death.” They decide to try to make each other an EO by overseeing conditions that cause one and then the other to die and then be brought back to life. Their experiments are successful, and the consequences for themselves and the people they love end up being more than they bargained for.

The book leads us through their present day movements and flash backs to their past relationship to illustrate how Eli and Victor become enemies, and their slow progression to a face off fueled by revenge and self-righteousness. Each man has gathered other EOs to their side and are using their abilities to achieve their respective goals, which are to eliminate each other. The clock ticks the hours, then the minutes by leading up to their confrontation. (The grammar of this paragraph is horrid, I know. Just know it’s a race to see who kills who first.)

The follow up to this book, Vengeful, is coming out on September 25th, so you have time to read through Vicious before its release to get caught up. My only suggestion is that you start now because you’ll want to read Vicious in bites – read too long and you will feel bored and want to set it aside – so you make it through the entire thing and get to enjoy the ending. I myself won’t be moving on to Vengeful. I’ve had my fill of these books and don’t want to have to “homework assignment” myself through another one. But they are smart and have great endings, so if you like those kinds of books, definitely go get you some. I think I’ve learned that they just aren’t for me.

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2)

The Heart of Betrayal

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles #1)

Middle children are so difficult. We expect so much of them. We want them to keep up the excitement of book 1 while elaborating on deeper themes that were introduced. While they are keeping the intensity up we also want book two to give us MORE NEW INFO AND MORE INTENSITY to continue the climb to the finale.

I wish there was a way I could temper my expectations of middle books in trilogies because I think I would enjoy them more. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this novel. But gosh do all middle books have to be so drab and one-toned?

Lia is in Venda this entire time, and it’s like the only color in this book is gray. I imagine all people get to eat is gray gruel and they all wear gray clothes. Lia literally wears a potato sack for the entire first day she spends there. There are little street urchins running around and the walls are made out of mortar and skulls. I’m not exaggerating this is real.

The Heart of Betrayal gives us a deeper look into the history of Venda and how it relates to the history of Morrighan. Lia manages to translate more of the books that she stole from the Scholar in Morrighan, and discovers that it is a holy text that closely mirrors the one she studied since birth and recites remembrances for. Maybe her ancestors lied. Maybe there are harsher, bleaker truths that exist but have remained hidden because history is written by the victors. Lia discovers these truths through reading and experience. All I could think about is how our real world religions do the same thing that these countries did with their holy texts – when you strip away certain specifics, they are all really about the same basic values.

Now I’m sorry but we need to talk about the dudes. I know that this is a YA book and so the “he had no choice he’s so conflicted so we should root for him as the underdog and hope he gets with the girl who can’t decide between the two dudes because he didn’t have a choice about where he ended up” appeals to the younger women, but honestly I do not have time for this pity party bullshit. Kaden does horrible shit. Just because he discovers that he likes Lia does not excuse all of his nonsense that everyone wants to explain away with his uncontrollable circumstances.

NO. N. O. SPELLS. NO.

I AM TEAM RAFE. IF SHE ENDS UP WITH KADEN I WILL BE SO MAD. DO NOT TELL ME WHO SHE ENDS UP WITH. Honestly I hope she ends up with neither but if I have to choose I choose Rafe and his motley crew who ventured into enemy territory and risked their lives to get Lia back. I love that it’s the prince and 4 other guys who are like HONOR AND JUSTICE AND SUPPORT OUR PRINCE AND FUTURE QUEEN! oh man my heart. Prince Jaxon Flaxon Waxon Rafferty is amazing and I ❤ him.

Aside from the dudes, I always appreciate a lady protagonist who learns to take hold of her own destiny. Lia has the dudes to help her, but no one can help her navigate the Komizar (leader of Venda) and the results of his scheming. She has to be on her toes when he tries to use her and her gift to escalate Vendan fervor ahead of what will be a very lean winter. She decides to explore the Sanctum, finds hidden passageways, and eventually discovers a plot that is deeper than she could have ever imagined, which links Venda back to Morrighan. She sings to the people and tells them stories from the holy texts, and her actions endear her to the clans and people.

The ending to this book made me want to rip the hearts out of every Vendan soldier, governor, and Rahtan and paint the walls with their blood. I don’t want to give away what happens but Lia may have taken on a role that she definitely doesn’t want and the ramifications of that action will almost definitely echo into the third book. The Beauty of Darkness just came in from my holds so I’ll be picking it up on my way home from work and smashing through it over the weekend.

(Psst – Team Rafe. I’m not messing around Mary. Kaden is a joker, Lia deserves the heat and passion and dedication she has with Rafe.)

I mean, it’s a middle book so it’s not as exciting, but it’s worth it to bridge from the amazing first book to what I am sure will be an exciting conclusion. Go get you some.

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles #1)

The Kiss of Deception

I would like an explanation for why no one prepared me for how fucking awesome this book would be. I demand to speak to a manager. From the very first chapter Mary E. Fucking Pearson had her claws in my soul and was dragging me through this story at a breakneck pace.

The book is YA Fantasy, but it’s that YA that I love when yes, the characters are in their late teens, early adulthood, but it’s mentioned so rarely that you can read this and imagine them older too. The main character, Princess Arabella a.k.a. Lia, runs away with her maidservant Pauline on her wedding day, escaping an arranged marriage meant to forge an alliance between two neighboring kingdoms. They take refuge in an inn run by Pauline’s aunt in an oceanside town. They work to earn their keep and see a future for themselves there.

Problem is that in her rush to escape, she was tracked by her betrothed from Dalbreck and an assassin from the barbarian realm of Venda. Both these men (boys) are referred to as The Prince and The Assassin when we hear the story from their point of view, and when Lia interacts with the both of them when they both find her at the same time in her hidey-hole they are referred to as Kaden and Rafe and we don’t have any fucking idea which is which as we watch their interactions. 

MARY. WHY DID YOU PLAY WITH ME LIKE THIS MARY. I need to know whether she was into the prince or the assassin to know whether to be filled with hope or dread and you gave me naught a clue so I was nervous THE WHOLE TIME.

BITCH I NEED TO KNOW WHO I’M ROOTING FOR.

Aside from the character drama that I am still fucking salty over (MARY YOU MUST MEET ME AT DAWN CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON) the fantasy elements are set up so slowly and sneakily that by the end I’m like omg there is a prophecy and what does it imply is gonna happen? Who is the Dragon? Venda has magic? WHAT IS THE GIFT WHAT IS HAPPENING I NEED TO KNOW MORE MARY.

Do you want to know how fast I went to the library for the next book in the series? I finished this book Wednesday night, and when I went by the library on my way home on Thursday to return it I picked up The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2) while I was there and if you don’t think I went to bed early so I could get through the first 100 pages before I passed out from exhaustion then you must be new to Angry Angel Books. 

(By the way, I just finished day 9 of the new school year and I think I’m sleep-teaching at this point because I am so exhausted I’m either sleep-walking or dead or maybe I’m dreaming but I AM SO TIRED SOMEONE SEND HELP.)

I don’t even want to spoil this experience for you. You need to suffer as I have suffered. YOU WANT THIS SUFFERING EMBRACE IT READ THIS BOOK ARE YOU READING IT YET WHY NOT HURRY UP HOW ABOUT NOW NO WHY NOT BITCH GO GET THIS BOOK DON’T WALK AWAY FROM ME I’M TALKING TO YOU.

***

Side story: When I was at the library checking out this book a girl walked in with one of those rolling backpacks and she was still in her school uniform and she was 12 if she was a day and she made a direct beeline from the door to the children’s section in the most businesslike way that I was absolutely struck with a fit of laughter and when the librarian asked what I was laughing at I said “nobody better get in that little girl’s way because she is here for books and she is not messing around” and I hope that little girl gets all the books she came there for because I totally respect her attitude.

 

The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicles #2)

The Wise Man's Fear

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicles #1)

This book has taken me a little over a month to read, mostly because it’s 1,000 pages and significantly more boring than the first one. I can’t even remember now what happened in the first like 250 pages of the book – the basics are that Kvothe and his friends come together for a caper against his nemesis Ambrose Jakis that involved setting his apartments on fire and stealing back something Ambrose stole. While it cannot be proven that Kvothe did it, there is enough information at hand that in his current financial situation he would be unable to afford the very subjective tuition amount that he would be given by the professors at his admissions interview. So the professors that like him, along with his friends, advise him to go out into the world and seek his fortune for a bit to let things cool down.

One of his friends from the Eolian where he performs says he has a possible patron for him. The Maer of a city across the sea is willing to entertain having him  and has requested assistance with a delicate matter. So Kvothe takes a ship that is attacked and sinks, and he survives with nothing but the clothes on his back and his lute case and somehow makes it to Severen, the town next to the Maer’s estate. The Maer wants Kvothe to write songs and poems and things to help him win the heart of the eligible Lady Lackless from the neighboring  city so he can produce some heirs. Kvothe helps, but then he’s sent away with a band of mercenaries to deal with bandits that are stealing the Maer’s taxes from his tax collectors on the road.

I mean, I would tell you more but I’m not really interested in giving you a full book synopsis. I want to tell you how it made me feel, or how exciting it was. The story was still interesting in that how a sixteen year old boy survives on his wits alone and the occasional infusion of cash is enough tension to keep me reading for the inevitable fall from grace. Seeing Rothfuss expand his world beyond the University was interesting too. Kvothe has to learn the cultural norms of the Maer’s nobility and then, after he deals with the tax bandits he goes to the Ademre where he has to pass a series of tests to be accepted into their society as well. Oh, and he fucks a famous Fae creature that he stumbles upon on his journey. That interlude is looooooooooong but necessary because he encounters a creature there that might not be such a good thing for his psyche.

It’s a book 2, what can I say? I mean, was I expecting more information about the Chandrian that killed his parents in the first book and set him on this course in the first place? Yes. Am I constantly surprised when I am reminded that I’m reading about a 16 year old boy doing all this crazy shit? Yes. Was I just as irritated about the presence of Denna flitting about and advancing the plot not a whit? YES. But we moved forward in the story, we got a little info here and there, and he’s back at the University at the end right where he belongs. This sets up his future expulsion I guess? How it possible for a main character to go to so many places and still have the plot go nowhere?

The thing I’m the most upset about is the fact that the Amyr/Chandrian issue doesn’t move forward at all. There are seven of these terrible creatures and I know nothing about them. I can’t picture them. All I know is that they show up like Beetlejuice if you say their names too much and they kill everyone within half a mile of the naming. I’m just not convinced they are any worse than any of the other crazy shit waiting to kill Kvothe at the University, including his own mishandling of sympathy (magic). How am I supposed to feel tension and fear about a group of creatures I don’t even see more than once in 2,000 pages?

I’m a patient woman, and the storytelling in these books is quality enough to keep me reading. But some shoes have got to start dropping. Soon. Which doesn’t seem likely since The Wise Man’s Fear came out in 2011 and there’s no third book in sight.

You should still go read it. It’s a good book. Just know that there will probably never be a third.

Second Reading: Six of Crows

Six of Crows

I read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo back in October of 2016 (original review linked). It is the inspiration for the team component of my current novel, and so I returned to read it again now to remind me how the elements and points of view worked together. This is not so much a review as it is a revisit to see if any of my opinions changed from the first reading and to encourage you to enjoy some of my favorite books.  

There are only a few authors that I trust so implicitly that I would preorder their books without taking them out of the library first. One of these authors is Leigh Bardugo. I have read every single one of her books and they all are amazing and I will sing her praises from on high until everyone that can hear me has read her books.

I was in a bit of a reading lull this summer. Every book I picked up seemed to make fart noises into my brain and I couldn’t get into any of them, even the ones that were identified as HOT SUMMAH READS. Eventually this got tiresome so I decided to return to the Grisha universe and reread Six of Crows.

This book goes from 0 to 60mph in 2.5 seconds and it never stops. Everyone is hot, and while you might think that’s creepy because they are all 16-18 years old I will repeat what I said in my original review and say that you forget all about that. Their age doesn’t matter. This story could be written with them as older teens or in their mid-thirties and it would still work. So I choose to see Kaz Brekker as a cranky af 32yo ready to get some crazy revenge and I AM HERE FOR IT.

The backstories are absolute gold. Kaz’s traumatic childhood experience with the death of his brother and being fooled past the poorhouse and into the streets of Ketterdam. You see exactly why he is who he is and why, and you understand that he has one purpose, which is to get revenge on Pekka Rollins for essentially murdering his brother and creating the bastard of the Barrel.

Nina is me and I am Nina – a Heartrender Grisha who can control people’s hearts, pulses, and consciousness. She longs for her home in Ravka and is wrapped up with Matthais, a soldier from the very anti-Grisha country where the prison is that they have been hired to break into and steal a scientist who has come up with a formula for a drug that will turn all Grisha into drug addled killing machines.

This book is just so fucking tight. It’s the perfect game of Tetris. Everything makes sense. Everything has a purpose. Everything fits. Bardugo does not waste a single word or action. Everything that happens moves us towards a goal, one of six mind you. Intertwined with the character stories and backstories is an unfurling of the world that they work in. All the different locations are mentioned and described in this book and you get a sense of what a person coming from each location might believe, especially in relation to Grisha and the use of “magic” (what they call the Small Science).

This book is one that I love so much that I have a difficult time describing why. I just want to shove it in your hands and then sit there and wait until you are done reading it so we can talk about it together because you will love it too.

If you haven’t yet, PLEASE, go get you some.

Dance of the Gods (The Circle Trilogy #2)

Dance of the Gods

Morrigan’s Cross (#1)

It’s about this time that I get bored with Nora Roberts. Her books are so predictably formulaic that if you read too many in a row you start to hate them simply because you know what’s coming next like ten pages ahead of time. Dance of the Gods takes our circle of 6 heroes (3 couples) into Moira’s realm of Geall to prepare her citizens to fight Lilith and the vampire army in the Valley of Silence on Samhain.

There are a lot of moments in this book when the group decides to flex their muscles and make a statement by poking at Lilith’s forces that are hidden in the nearby caves in Ireland, which is where they are staying as of the first book. Each time they do this ends predictably – someone learns a lesson about not going it alone and making sure to work together. The person who learns this lesson the hardest in this book is Blair, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer character that was ignored and then abandoned by her father and whose daddy issues cause her to want to always be alone. The “everyone I ever loved has left me” boo hoo pity party really makes her badass character a lot less believable, but you’ll make do I’m sure.

Roberts’s thing being a couple per book, Blair is destined to be with the shape-shifter Larkin, who is from Geall and came with his cousin Moira through the Dance of the Gods (the stone circle) to train with the other four members of Morrigan’s circle of six. He shifts into different kinds of animals and at one point he shifts into a hawk in front of Blair and she says something like “that’s so hot” and she does that a couple of times, enough to make me think she might be into bestiality, but I’m not sure.

He wants to care for her, she believes she’s meant to always be alone, and they fight through that tension to have sex a couple of times, until finally she admits she loves him after they return to his country and get ambushed by a bunch of vampires that are also preparing for the battle. I get the themes that Roberts really wants to touch on here: that you can be a tough woman and a sensitive one too, but in the way of romance novels the story doesn’t get much deeper than what gets them into bed. And that’s okay, if I hadn’t just read four other novels set up exactly the same way just before this.

After returning to Geall the group informs the country that (1) yes, women are in charge here and will be teaching you how to not die, (2) vampires are real, and (3) magic is cool and okay. I liked the way that the women dealing with other women was written here. Some women wanted to hold onto the “women’s work” but were brought to understand that anything is women’s work (small caveat: it takes Glenna asking how they might protect their babies to get them to fight, so I guess it’s not exactly 100% feminist but their lives were on the line so whatever works?).

The book ends with Blair agreeing to marry Larkin (again, I don’t understand why the ending for every couple has to be marriage) and Larkin agreeing that he will leave Geall behind to return to Earth with Blair so she can continue to be a hunter of vampires there, and they streak across the sky with a flame sword and I guess she writes an entire sentence in the air like a plane might? Again, this book is a lot of “LET’S SHOW HER WHAT WE’RE MADE OF” and a lot of it just ended with them getting their noses bent.

This is not my favorite book of the series. It makes a strong woman look weak and needy, and the actions the characters take are stupid and dangerous given the stakes. I’m going to wait a bit before beginning Valley of Silence, because it has my favorite pairing and the battle is cool, but I have to get this Nora Roberts taste out of my mouth so it doesn’t spoil it for me.

Morrigan’s Cross (The Circle Trilogy #1)

Morrigan's Cross

Time travel? Check. Sorcerers and witches? Check. Vampires? I mean, okay. Celtic vibes? FUCK YEAH.

The goddess Morrigan has come to Hoyt McKenna in Ireland after his twin brother Cian has been attacked and turned by the vampire queen Lilith. Hoyt is a sorcerer and Morrigan tells him he must travel through time to gather a circle of six people who will lead an army to take down Lilith. If they do not, Lilith will bring about the apocalypse across worlds and timelines, turning some, murdering others, and enslaving the rest. So Hoyt travels through a stone circle and lands in present day New York. He finds his brother, now about 1,000 years old and ready to help bring his maker down.

A witch named Glenna (I know, right?) also lives in the city, and is connected to Hoyt in her dreams. She follows her intuition and clues to Cian’s club and find the twins collaborating in the apartment upstairs. They all agree that returning to Ireland via Cian’s private plane is the best course of action, and along with Cian’s giant, black bodyman King, fly to Cian and Hoyt’s childhood home to train and wait for the remaining two members of the circle. Moira and Larkin do arrive through the same stone circle, but from a different realm of Geall, and then they all begin to train.

Nora Roberts’s books have a formula, and it’s a coupling per book, no more, no less. Our first couple is Hoyt and Glenna and what I find hilariously inconvenient is that every time they have sex all the candles and fireplaces in the giant old Irish house get REALLY BRIGHT AND DANGEROUS and instead of letting the sex scenes get me excited I laugh because I imagine the other characters reading or listening to music somewhere else in the house and then suddenly their candle blowtorches to the ceiling and they’re just like “really painted the ceiling with that one, huh Hoyt?” omg I can’t stand it, it’s too funny.

I love this trilogy because of the magic and the honest to god creepy and scary villain. I believe Lilith is terrifying. I believe that having drunk the blood of hundreds of sorcerers and witches she has gained their power and more and can reach between timelines and realms. This is a problem that must be solved or else all worlds will end. And I’m here with my popcorn, ready for it.

My problem with any Nora Roberts novel is the timeline of romance. Hoyt and Glenna know each other for like 6 days and he proposes to her after having sex twice. It’s just difficult for me to really invest in the love story when in a week and under duress characters are pledging their lives to each other. This book was written in 2006 so I don’t feel like it would be completely wild to just have them be together without bringing marriage into it.

I can accept that they have a deep connection, and that magic brings them closer together, and that the end of the world creates a sense of urgency – all of that is believable and I am with you when they are just suddenly attracted and having sex. What I’m not here for is for some reason throwing in marriage proposals like us ladies can’t handle Hoyt getting it in without making an honest woman of Glenna. It’s the end of the world. Get it in when you can, don’t worry about planning a ceremony or anything.

By the end of this book the circle is complete, if not in the way you expect, and plans are in place to return to Moira’s land so she can take up the mantle of queen and lead her people as the circle’s army to take down Lilith in a battle of the ages. It’s really a fun trilogy, one of her best. Go get you some.