Mixed Feeling About This Historical Gender-Bend

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Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Type: Fiction
Genre: Goodreads has it listed as a YA Fantasy, but it seems more like a gender-swapped Historical Fiction
Length: 475 pgs
Published by: Delacorte Press
Pub date: June 28th, 2016
Format: Hard cover
Source: I purchased this book from Amazon.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

See other ratings and reviews on Goodreads, then, checkout the author’s website!


The short version: For the most part, I enjoyed Kiersten White’s book. A sort of gender swap historical fiction, And I Darken kept me wanting more from beginning to end.Read More »

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Character, Setting, and Mythological Love

**This review will contain unmarked spoilers from the first book, An Ember in the Ashes.

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir; 452 pgs; YA Fantasy; Published by Razorbill, Aug 30, 2016; Purchased through Amazon.

Remember that one time when I was so excited to read this book because I loved An Ember in the Ashes? Yeah, Book 2, A Torch Against the Night was pretty much everything I’d hoped it would be and more. I loved this book for so many reasons, I barely even know where to start.

The second book in Sabaa Tahir’s series follows Laia and Elias after they barely escape Blackcliff with their lives. Rather than try to leave the Empire, the two decide to travel to Kauf prison to save Laia’s brother, Darin, who may be able to help the Scholar rebellion. Meanwhile, Helene, under orders from the newly appointed Emperor Marcus, must hunt them down and prove her loyalty to the Empire. But our protagonists on either side face dangers both human and not.

Perhaps one of the things I liked most was getting the perspective of my precious baby, Helene Aquilla (yes, I am aware she could probably kill me with a single look, but she is still precious). When I saw that we would be getting her point of view in this book, I was thrilled. Seeing into some of her thoughts while carrying out Marcus’s orders was heartbreaking, and her development as a character, though very well-written, was not the hope-filled journey I had hoped it would be. Which just made me want to read her sections even more. [SPOILER] I actually cried for her a little bit when Marcus killed her family, and after reading her last lines in the book, I had to set the book down for a little while before I could finish the last chapter. [END SPOILER]

The whole time she was hunting Elias, I really felt for Helene. Tahir did a great job of balancing her emotions so that you don’t want her to actually capture Elias (because it’s Elias and they are best friends) but you also kind of want her to capture him, because the other aspects of her life are a living hell for her until she can bring him back to Marcus. The whole time you’re kind of walking this tight rope with her, questioning not only what she will do, but what she should do. And Tahir gives her no easy way out, instead forcing her to make tough decisions. In this interview, Tahir talks a bit more about the choices regarding Helene, and some other things, and her words sum up my own thoughts, too.

Helene’s perspective was also a nice way to break up Laia’s and Elias’s narratives. While I loved their points of view in the first book, I was afraid that once they started journeying together, we would basically be getting the same story from two different people. Helene’s narration broke it up a little, and added some great tension and emotion into the book.

Speaking of Laia and Elias…

I love Elias, and his loyalty to the people in his life. While his development as a person is very subtle, I could start to see him move away from feelings of penance and moving toward recognizing that the hurt and frustration he’s been harboring has only hindered him. But my favorite scenes with Elias have to be the ones where he is in the Waiting Place. We get to see a somewhat gentler side of him that has, up until now, been reserved for Laia and occasionally Helene. Even this gentler side has the passion and fierceness I’ve come to expect from Elias, though. When dealing with certain people in the Waiting Place, he is kind and almost tender with them, but it’s like he is so protective of people in general, that he channels all of the ferocity of his Mask self into his gentleness, because he doesn’t want to hurt them, but he is also not about to let them keep harboring the hurt and anger they’ve refused to let go. So, while his arc may have been a bit more subtle, my love for him was not.

Laia, unfortunately is a different story. On the whole, I still love Laia, but all of the reasons I could not give the book the full five stars stem from her. [SPOILERS for the rest of this paragraph] My first problem is that, around halfway through the book, all the strength Laia gained from Book 1 falls apart for a while. She is left to travel alone with Keenan, who immediately assumes leadership of their mission and criticizes every idea Laia has and every question she asks, reminding her of all the mistakes she’s made. At one point, she thanks him for this, and berates herself for thinking she could ever make the right decisions. Needless to say, I was less than impressed that, for about 75 pages or so, Laia lost all of the development she had gained in Book 1. On top of that, her travels with Keenan seemed to develop their relationship too quickly. Among other things, it results in Laia giving her mother’s armring to  Keenan. To me, this seemed wildly out of character for her, and it definitely seemed way too soon for her to be so attached to Keenan. And it’s even more frustrating since this seems to be the launching point for the next book; for me, it needed to be a little more fleshed out to make it believable.[END SPOILERS] By the end of the book, however, Laia is back to her awesome self, kicking butt and saving lives.

Through the development of the characters, both major and minor, we are also given more insight into the otherworldly creatures like the jinn and the efrits, and the magic and powers that come with them. While I loved seeing the mythological side to the world, one

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I think I got this right…

of my favorite parts of this novel was that we finally got to see more of the cultures that exist outside of Blackcliff. Up until now, we’ve only really seen the Martials and the Scholars, but in this book, there is a lot of interaction with the Tribes, and even the hierarchy within the Martial class becomes clearer. The Scholar Rebellion exists right from the beginning of this book, but the chaos and tension between the different peoples only gets worse. I could definitely see the cultural hierarchies becoming a huge factor in later novels.

All-in-all, I loved this book, and the fact that I have to wait for two more books before I can see the resolution is KILLING me!! I can’t wait to see how and where these characters end up, and to continue exploring the world of Serra.

Overall, I gave A Torch Against the Night 4 stars:

4-stars

Disappointed Expectations; But Can’t Wait for Book 2

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Title: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Type: Fiction
Genre: YA; Fantasy
Length: 398 pages
Published by: Harper Teen
Pub Date: Sept 20, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Source: I bought this book for my own library from Barnes and Noble

See other ratings and reviews on Goodreads, then check out the author’s website!


When kingdom come, there will be one. 

As this awesome tagline suggests, Three Dark Crowns deals with some darker ideas and themes, which is why I knew I just had to read it. The basic rundown: Every queen gives birth to three daughters, each with a specific gift. Mirabella is an elemental, the most powerful of this set of triplets, able to summon fire, storms, earthquake, etc. at will. Katharine is a poisoner; she can consume poisons and be unharmed, and she’s also been trained to concoct some crazy painful (or merciful) deaths for others. Arsinoe is a naturalist, a person who can control animals and convince plants to bloom. EpicReads has created this great chart for each of the sisters.

As born queens, these three are destined for the crown… once they kill the other two sisters. When I first cracked open the cover, I was expecting a book full of dark secrets, political intrigue, and some good old fashioned battles to the death. And that’s what I got… sort of.

Let me start by saying this book is well-written; Kendare Blake is a master at structuring her novel. Despite the fact that each chapter tells the story of a different sister, they all flow together pretty seamlessly. At the end of each one, something would happen that made me feel like I had to keep reading.

I enjoyed reading Katharine’s sections; she’s all-around interesting, and I am dying to know in which direction her character will go in future books, and how her relationship with Pietyr will develop. The romance between Pietyr and Katharine seemed a little forced; I like the two as individual characters, but they fall in love after two or three chapters. I think Blake just needed to take some time developing the relationship. Because of some events that happen later in the novel, I think she had a major character shift at the end, and while I’ll still be super interested in her character in the next book, I’ll also be a little afraid of her, too.

Arsinoe’s sections were probably my favorite. I might be a little biased because I’m a bit of an outdoorsy girl myself, but her storyline seemed the most believable to me (and the naturalist powers are probably the ones I would choose for myself if I could). The actions she took because of her frustrations with her gift lined up with her character and the setting, and her friendship with Jules was the most natural, believable, and well-developed friendship in the story.

Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where my appreciation of the characters ends. To me, Mirabella just seemed a little flat. The only thing that interest me about her was that she still had memories about her early life an her sisters. Because she’s the most powerful sister, there weren’t really a lot of conflicts for her to overcome, and instead just caused a lot of unnecessary problems. Although I did enjoy her friendship with Elizabeth, it seemed like all of her friendships needed to be more fleshed out.

To be honest, all the relationships, with maybe the exception of Arsinoe and Jules, need some work. (**SPOILERS ARE ABOUT TO HAPPEN! SEVERAL SPOILERS**) For example, the whole thing with Joseph and Mirabella. It just turned me off to both of their characters, and just didn’t fit in with the story. I get that you can try to blame it on Arsinoe’s magic use, but it still just seemed really forced to me. And the friendship between Mirabella and Elizabeth also didn’t make a whole lot of sense. During their first or second meeting, the priestess reveals some information that could get her kicked out of the temple, then offers to help Mirabella escape, loses her hand for it, and then still puts herself at risk for the queen. A friendship like that needed WAY more development than it was given, and just puled me out of the story a bit.

*These are kind of spoilers, but they’re super non-specific* Overall, I think my biggest issue with the book stems from the fact that there isn’t really a villain. Kendare Blake talks about her decisions about villains and characters a little in this interview, but honestly, I don’t think it paid off. I was expecting this big showdown between the queens, but they don’t even meet in any meaningful way until about the last third of the book.Because of this, a lot of the Game of Thrones-like espionage I was hoping for was mostly turned into boy drama for the sake of creating movement in the story. For me, this made the story move so slowly until group finally meets up for the festival that prepares the queens for their fight to the death.

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Despite the fact that the story moves pretty slowly up until the end, the last third of the book  was AMAZING! I’m pretty sure I flew through it in about an hour because I couldn’t put it down. (***SPOILERS, QUESTIONS, AND SPECULATION AHEAD***) I can’t wait to see how the queens and the Council deal with Arsinoe and Katharine being placed with the wrong families; there’s some great espionage opportunities there. And what Katharine is going to do to Pietyr; I’m ready for that girl to show her bad-assery. Maybe Pietyr knew Arsinoe was the poisoner and tried to help her by pushing Katharine off the cliff? But two of my biggest questions are 1) What is this religion; what do they believe? Because there was a lot of killing/sacrificing/maiming going on for your typical priestesses. What is it that they believe that justifies all this? 2) It’s mentioned several times that the mainland is forgetting about the island. Is the island self-sufficient enough to handle this? How do people forget about an entire island? What are they going to do when they don’t have king-consorts because the mainland has completely forgotten?

Three Dark Crowns kind of read like a prequel, and while a lot of it was uninteresting at first, I am SOOO ready to see where the story goes now that the queens are going all out; I will definitely be preordering the next book. There’s a small part of me that hope Mira will somehow use her memories to convince the other two not to hurt each other, because I’ve grown rather attached to them and don’t know who to root for, but at the same time, I am ready to see each of the gifts used to their fullest potential. Let me know who you are rooting for in the comments!

Overall, I gave Three Dark Crowns 3 Stars:

3-stars