Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2)

Throne of Jade

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1)

Throne of Jade begins months after the battle at the end of His Majesty’s Dragon, with a Chinese envoy (and prince) demanding the return of Temeraire as a Chinese Celestial to the Chinese emperor. Laurence of course refuses, as does Temeraire, and so they travel with an English crew and the envoy back to China to negotiate the continuing partnership of Temeraire and Laurence.

I regret to inform you that this book was so slow and boring that it took me *checks notes* 16 days to read 338 pages. The first 100 were tense and exciting – the beginning of their journey is fraught with peril and after becoming to close to them after the first book, I felt very upset that they might be forced to part (although there being another 5 books in the series helped ease my fears a bit). But then the sea voyage that brings them to China lasts almost the entire book and it’s almost all translations and diplomacy and weather and negotiations…ugh. I finally made it to the part where they take off for Peking and Temeraire even meets his mom, but I’m so bored I don’t even care anymore.

This one is going back to the library on my way home from the Miami Book Festival and I’ll be moving on to a different set of books over Thankgiving break. Honestly I’m really disappointed, I thought this would be a series I could really get into after loving the first book so much. *sadface*

His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire #1)

His Majesty's Dragon

Naomi Novik stole my heart away with Uprooted. It was one of my first ever reviews on this site. Her writing was evocative and fresh and kept me hooked from chapter to chapter. Reading her book was like being welcomed into a new universe by an old friend and I had to stay to hear all her stories because I LOVE her stories!

When I began reading His Majesty’s Dragon, I gave an inward sigh because the writing style and language was reminiscent of very stilted and suffocating movies like Master and Commander. The height of propriety, every word has a place, every statement is backed by deep consideration for tradition and expectations, and everyone’s station is life is set. Think honor and duty above all else.

Imagine my surprise when I sank into this language and writing like I was being cuddled by the most comfortable chair, covered in blankets, with a hot beverage, watching the snow fall softly outside as my best friend told me the story of his old war days riding on a dragon against Napoleon. It was a story I didn’t realize I wanted to hear that I couldn’t get enough of as I moved through the chapters falling in love with character after character. Angels, I cried openly during one particular part because by the time I reached that point in the narrative everyone involved was someone I loved and I could not stand to see them hurt or in pain.

An English naval vessel captures a dragon egg from a French ship, and when it hatches before they can reach land Laurence, the English captain, moves forward to harness the dragon to ensure that it flies for England. His deep sense of duty drives him to act for the good of his country, but out of this action grows one of the deepest friendships and loves that I have read about in a very long time. He names the dragon Temeraire and they plan to enter the aerial Corps once the ship makes land.

Now the traditional military branches view the Corps as ‘lesser than’. It’s seen as a rougher life. People who enter the Corps traditionally don’t marry, they aren’t involved in the typical English social circles or ladders anymore. Their only duty is for England, the Corps, and the dragon to whom they are bound from the hatching. This kind of isolation gives most people the vapors, and Laurence, having been fed a steady diet of this misinformation, enters this new world with some nervousness. He soon discovers that the people who are involved with the Corps are just as smart, honorable, and duty bound as any other part of society that he has experienced thus far.

Temeraire is a very different dragon from those typically used in the Corps. Laurence speaks with dragon scholars and they believe him to be an Imperial breed from mainland China, sent as a gift to Napoleon but intercepted by England. Temeraire is disappointed because he cannot breathe fire or spit acid like some of the other dragons, and you get to watch him grow and eat and develop throughout the book to finally reach his full growth and abilities to reveal an identity even bigger than they initially thought. He loves for Laurence to read to him, and he knows both English and French, having heard them both spoken while he was still in the egg. In this book dragons speak with humans and it is so entertaining to see them as equal participants in the process instead of simply being beasts of burden.

Novik asks us to consider relationships in this first book of the series. Abusive relationships, especially ones that you cannot escape. What is kindness in the face of such inescapable bonds? How do we balance duty to our country and duty to each other? When is love the greatest duty that we hold? What is consent? YES CONSENT.

Honestly the most comforting aspect of this novel, and what creates the most tension, are the moments where the riders consider their dragons as equal partners and ask their input before doing things and when they do not. For example, Laurence insists on removing Temeraire’s harness at the end of exercise and washes his dragon after he eats and trains because Temeraire asks for it. Because it makes Temeraire comfortable. And what’s really excellent is that these simple acts of consideration and kindness spread to the other dragons, creating a community of deeper companionship among the members of the Corps. The lengths to which people consider the needs and comfort of others in this novel, both people and dragons alike, will renew your hope that such a society might be possible in our dragonless world.

Naomi Novik has written a novel in the traditionally formal style of an old naval story that will capture your imagination and your heart, making you wish for your own dragon as a partner. Please go read this book. You will be better for having read it and I would not lead you wrong. Go get you some.

Hero at the Fall (Rebel of the Sands #3)

Hero at the Fall

Rebel of the Sands (#1)
Traitor to the Throne (#2)

Amani is caught behind the Sultan’s fiery dome with the rest of her small army. Ahmed and their other leaders have been captured and transported outside of the city, and out of reach of their rescue efforts. She, Jin, and the rest must find a way out of the city without being burned by the dome, reunite with their leaders, rekindle the rebellion, and march on the city to dethrone the Sultan.

Amani is still having trouble with her sand powers after being attacked and operated on by the Sultan in Traitor to the Throne. She can use them, but it causes pain in her side which limits how much power she can access and for how long. Luckily she has no problem using a gun, and her skills get them out of quite a few scrapes.

In this book, the Djinni play a much larger role. We meet an ancient Djinni that has been imprisoned by his kin, and because Amani frees him he agrees to help her find and free her friends and to help their rebellion succeed. She kind of knows that he must have ulterior motives, as all Djinni tend to do, but her need to see Ahmed through to the throne is greater than her suspicions.

I waited a very long time to read this book after finishing Traitor to the Throne in March of this year (2018), but the story has been so wonderfully and vividly told all along that picking it up after that long of a break was not a problem at all.  Hamilton continues with the political complexity – this isn’t just a barge in and take over rebellion. Ahmed has concerns and worries, and takes the time to consider how things will change and what should stay the same once they remove the Sultan from power. He consults with all members of his leadership team to make sure he’s making the right choices. This is a compelling theme in this trilogy and is missing from many other “save the world” type narratives.

Along those same lines I was glad to see Amani let go of her guilt. Her understanding that their efforts will have costs and consequences was another welcome addition to the story. Constant character moaning about how everything is their fault and how people wouldn’t be dead if they hadn’t made the decision they made is so fucking tedious. It’s necessary for a bit, especially considering that these characters are just kids and would need to wrestle with these realities, but after enough people die you come to the realization that this is just the way things are and you can either accept them, or make sure that the people who have paid the price of rebellion haven’t died for nothing. In this way each character is given agency, which makes the story even more powerful when one of them dies or chooses to sacrifice themselves. I refuse to give away who those characters are but this book will make you cry if you don’t like goodbyes.

The ending was a little Deus Ex Machina for my tastes but it wasn’t so outrageous that I didn’t enjoy it. One of the final scenes had me sobbing in bed (I have been getting most of my reading done right before I go to sleep). It’s been a long time since a book has moved me so much emotionally. I loved every character by the end and I wanted them all to be okay and have good lives after everything was over. By the end, it was like they were all family.

I strongly recommend this trilogy. It has the perfect combination of fun and complexity to keep you reading as well as make an impression so you’ll want to come back and read them again. I’m adding them to my “must own” Amazon list. Go get you some.

Bright We Burn (The Conqueror’s Saga #3)

Bright We Burn

And I Darken (#1)

Now I Rise (#2)

Just in case someone is happening on this review in the future, I feel like it is relevant to mention that I am reading this book, and writing this review, the week of the Judge Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearing. I’m writing this review the day after Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the sexual assault that she experienced at the hands of Kavanaugh. Today they are voting to move him out of committee and tomorrow will be the confirmation vote in the Senate.

Reading this book quite literally soothed my soul this week. I ordered a signed copy which arrived soon after its July 5th publication date, but I kept putting off reading it. First it was because I was in the middle of other things, then I decided I didn’t want to read the signed copy, and so I put the copy at the library on hold. It just became available last week and I picked it up and began reading it over the weekend. Just before all these real world events began unfolding and deepening my rage stores.

This book is very violent, and yet it was so relaxing. Lada Dracul has taken over Wallachia and as prince she has decided that she is not going to be a vassal state to Sultan Mehmed anymore. In the first 100 pages she murders twenty-five thousand people and my pulse was so calm and steady. She did it out of revenge, to send a message, and to pay back the deaths of her own people tenfold. There is no reasoning with her – she has one goal and she will see it achieved. It was beautiful.

The context within which I was reading this book removed all sympathy I have for Radu or Mehmed. My heart was only for Lada. I wanted more blood, more destruction, more suffering heaped upon the men and the systems that would hold her back and prevent her from being the prince and dragon of her country. Every success for her was something I experienced as though it was my own. Her perseverance through capture, her absolute brutality, all of it made me feel like it was possible to seek justice at all costs and experience the fulfillment of success along the way.

She does suffer losses, but we rarely see a vulnerable Lada – when something is taken from her, she takes three things from the person who would dare to steal from the dragon of Wallachia. Justice, revenge, and consequences that were lofty enough to be impressive as well as deterrents. I was cheering the entire time.

Some of the people she kills simply got in the way, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their deaths as named, secondary characters might have made me sad before, but honestly they didn’t touch me. I didn’t have the space for mercy this week. My mind and soul only wanted justice, and in its absence, revenge.

This series is brilliant. I have never read anything like it. Every book was a triumph, the story gorgeously told, the characters are developed with depth and care. I demand that you read every book in this trilogy. If you are a woman who is furious in our current times, you must read this trilogy. Take refuge in these stories. They will bolster you and build you up. Let Kiersten White spin you a tale of a woman who will control her own destiny or die trying. GO GET THESE BOOKS.

The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles #3)

The Beauty of Darkness

The Kiss of Deception (#1)
The Heart of Betrayal (#2)

I have terrible news.

This book is SEVEN. HUNDRED. PAGES. LONG.

But that’s not all. I put it down at page 369.

I cannot remember a trilogy I have attempted to read that has begun so intensely yet left me uncaring enough to leave it unfinished. I don’t even know what to say. I’m so disappointed.

Rafe and his band of merry men have helped Princess Arabella escape from Venda, but they have also escaped with the knowledge that the Komizar has an army 150,000 strong and is planning to march on the other kingdoms. Kaden and Griz catch up to them and are taken prisoner, only to be freed to help them fight off a band of Rahtan sent by the Komizar to kill them all. They escape and make it to a Dalbreck outpost, where Rafe discovers that both his parents have died in his absence, leaving him as the new King.

Lia still needs to press on to Morrighan. She sees it as her duty to save her parents and to uncover the snakes in her father’s cabinet and in the Royal Scholar’s employ. Rafe insists that she not go, to the point that he has her under guard everywhere they go at the outpost. This eats at their relationship until Rafe decides he has no choice but to let her go. So she and Kaden and another person that isn’t important right now end up getting into Civica (the city outside the castle) after a brief stop in Terravin, the city she ran away to in the first book.

We see Rafe fighting battles to maintain his control over Dalbreck and Lia trying to stay alive long enough to uncover the traitors in Morrighan and Kaden continues to pine for her to no avail and…well…I just realized that I don’t care how this ends.

Lia’s character arc ended at the end of the second book. If anything, in this third book she goes past the strong, independent female lead into the bitchy, drunk with her own independence, jerk character. I mean, she’s really shitty to everybody through almost page 400 and part of why I stopped is that I discovered I wasn’t rooting for her anymore. I didn’t care if she lived or died. All the tension surrounding her success was completely gone for me.

I loved Rafe as a character. He had the same misgivings Lia did about their marriage but, under the cover of a false identity, he came to love her for who she was and I wanted to see that love story continue and work through their differences. But I’m not gonna read about them whining at each other for 300 pages and wait another 200 more before they even see each other again. That’s not fair to set up that kind of love story and then just kill it in the third book.

Oh and this gift she has – oh boy do I not care even a little about it. It’s like it’s just her gut talking to her about what she should beware of, a little warning system that’s like an overactive conscience. I was nosey and looked at how the book ends and BARF. No thank you. To give me this turd of a third book and then Deus Ex Machina the battle scene with her up-until-this-point pointless gift? Nah.

Also, for a girl who escaped to find her own destiny, she sure lets holy texts determine her every move, breath, and thought. I did not expect that this would be an independent woman turned religious fanatic trilogy but I am not the one for that nonsense.

I mean, I’m glad I read the first book because it was such a ride, but this would have worked just as well as a duology: make the second book a little longer and detail their escape and return to Dalbreck. They make sure his throne is secure and then move as a united front to defend Morrighan. There’s a kind of Hobbit Battle of the Five Armies moment where kind of enemies come together to fight the larger evil, and then all is well in the end. I don’t know, I don’t usually say how a book should have been written but this third book was just about as unnecessary as that fourth Hobbit movie.

Back to the library it goes. If you’re a completionist then please finish this third book and let me know what you think, but for me it’s a no go. I have other things waiting to be read.

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.