Thoughts on Rereading The Return of the King: This Book Is Dark

Spoilers!

This year, I embarked on a quest to finally reread The Lord of the Rings. (I know: I talk about it enough on the blog that people probably assume I must reread it every year or something, but that’s not true. It’s been a while since I last read the story cover to cover.) In April, I posted some reflections on the geography of Middle-Earth after finishing The Fellowship of the Ring, in which I realized the world is much more isolated than I tend to remember. Now, after finishing The Return of the King, I’ve realized the story is also darker than I often remember.

The Lord of the Rings is generally a story I associate with hope. Small, unimportant people do great deeds. Disparate people band together to fight an incredible threat. Frodo succeeds in his quest despite all odds. I’ve written before about how the ending is bittersweet, as some things blossom and come to fruition (the actual return of the king) but other things pass away (the Elves). However, I don’t generally think of the book as actually dark. That changed with this rereading.

This time around, I really felt the despair of the peoples of Gondor, and slightly less so Rohan, as they prepared to take on the forces of the Dark Lord in battle. I know, of course, that Lord Denethor despairs of victory, but I always have it in the back of my mind that, of course, he’s supposed to be wrong. Gandalf tells him off for his despair, and readers learn that he’s been tricked into by Sauron, who has selectively shown him things in the Seeing Stone that will make him think Gondor has no chance of winning the coming battle. Knowing that, I’ve come to have in the back of my mind the idea that the other characters must be a bit more optimistic about the situation, but upon rereading, I’ve realized that’s not true.

None of the characters really know what’s coming before the battle at Minas Tirith, but they are not hopeful about it. In general, they are convinced they are going to die. Pippin fears the battle and that he will never see his friends again. Gandalf thinks they have a slim hope of winning this battle, maybe, but of course the whole war rests on Frodo’s ability to destroy the Ring. The people of Rohan ride hard to Gondor’s aid but are half-convinced they won’t arrive in time to participate in the main battle but instead will simply have a chance to briefly harry the orcs and Men who have triumphed over Minas Tirith before succumbing to said orcs and Men themselves, with no one even left to sing songs about their deeds. There is truly a sense that all the characters are going to fail. Or, even if the main battle is won, a lot of these characters are going to be dead.

Things get even more dire after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, when Aragorn and the Captains of the West go to challenge Sauron at the Black Gate. They’re not even pretending there’s a chance they are going to come back alive at this point. It’s basically a suicide mission to buy Frodo a little more time and privacy to get to Mount Doom while Sauron is looking elsewhere. This is very depressing! And when a chapter ends with Pippin’s being attacked and subsequently closing his eyes and losing thought, well, it certainly seems as if he’s dead! I cannot remember what I thought the first time I read the book, and didn’t know the ending, but I assume I really thought Pippin was gone, and perhaps Aragorn and all the others were next.

Of course, the Eagles come, Frodo’s quest succeeds, and things generally become happy by the end. It’s the eucatastophe Tolkien wanted, but for many, many chapters in this book, it really feels as if hope is missing. One gets into the minds of the characters, who do not know where Frodo is or if he’s even still alive, who assume they have a part to play in fighting Sauron because, really, it’s the only option, but they’re not convinced it’s going to work or they’re gong to come out alive. In some places, this may in fact be the most hopeless book I’ve ever read! Or perhaps the most realistic about how people feel before a large battle in which they are outnumbered. Why should they expect to be lucky enough to survive?

The Lord of the Rings is, of course, still one of my favorite books. I simply did not remember the amount of darkness and despair Tolkien manages to convey in the first part of The Return of the King, especially since I now know how it all ends. It’s really a masterpiece of writing, and I think this bit of darkness is often overlooked.

Briana

Silk, Volume 0: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon by Robbie Thompson (Writer)

Information

Goodreads: Silk: The Life and Times of Cindy Moon
Series: Silk, Volume 0
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Official Summary

Cindy Moon exploded out of her bunker and into the Marvel Universe when we first learned that she had been bitten by the same radioactive spider from the Spider-Verse arc of Amazing Spider-Man!

She then went on to save Peter Parker’s life (more than once!) and traverse the Spider-Verse alongside Spider-Woman. Now, as Silk, Cindy is on her own in New York City, searching for her past, defining her own future, and webbing up wrong-doers along the way! Robbie Thompson (writer from TV’s Supernatural) fills this new story with his unique blend of antics and feels. Featuring interiors by future superstar Stacey Lee.

Collecting: Silk (2015) 1-7

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Review

I wanted to read about Silk since I read Michael’s post “The Strength of Silk – Cindy Moon May Be Marvel’s Most Inspiring Hero” because I loved the idea that there is a character who is so unselfish that she decided to isolate herself in a bunker for ten years in order to save the world – and only came out against her will. I was not disappointed by this first installment, as I did indeed find a heroine who truly looks out for others and who also tries to see the best in them, even when others don’t.

In hindsight, I do wish I’d read whatever comic we first meet Cindy in, or whatever comic in which Peter Parker lets her out of the bunker. (Someone help me out here and tell me what to read!) This one starts with Cindy already out, exploring the world and trying to figure herself out now that she has to interact with other people, learn to use her superpowers, hold a job, make friends, possibly date, etc. Her backstory is explained, so following the story isn’t a problem, but I did feel a bit as if I were missing the fuller experience of having read about how Cindy and Peter first meet.

I enjoyed the story as it is, however. Cindy is personable. She has small moments of not understanding how the world progressed without her (like, what is Twitter?), and she’s not afraid to make some lighthearted self-deprecating remarks or to admit when she’s not quite getting something. This balances out the fact she’s, of course, incredibly talented and literally has superpowers. I also like the moments she engages with other people, like her friends at work or even some random bad guy she’s supposed to be beating up. It’s fun because, one one hand, she knows exactly who she is: the girl/woman who had the strength to give up everything to help others, but, one the other hand, she still has some things to figure out.

The one downside is that multiple artists worked on this volume, and I strongly prefer the installments done by Stacey Lee. I supposed varying artists is a thing with comics and can even be part of the appeal, but I did experience some disappointment when I realized I’d have to read an installment with art I liked less. However, Lee’s art is a bit on the cute side (one of the reasons I like it), but one could argue some of the artists do a better job making Cindy look older; she ought to be about 28, if she spent 10 years in a bunker starting as a teen.

Overall, this was a great read. I am definitely interested in continuing to learn more about Silk!

Briana
4 stars

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education book cover

Information

Goodreads: A Deadly Education
Series: The Scholomance #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2020

Official Summary

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.

There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.

El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. 

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Review

Dark academia isn’t necessarily my genre, but I loved Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Spinning Silver, so I had to pick up A Deadly Education. And while the school in the book is full of monsters, and characters need to spend their days on guard lest they die in the middle of their studies, the effect is lightened by the wit of protagonist El and by her fellow student Orion Lake, who is full of good humor and unusual luck.

As I began reading A Deadly Education, I had to admit to myself that it felt like an extended info dump. El has to explain everything to the readers: her backstory, what she did the previous years in school, how the school works, how the world in general works, how the monsters work. Everything. I found it interesting, so I read on, but I can imagine it being a deal breaker for readers who aren’t huge fantasy fans and don’t want to deal with extensive world building.

El herself is a bit of a challenge, but that’s her beauty. She doesn’t have a lot of friends at the school, and the reader can see why, but as she’s in her junior year she begins to recognize how big of a problem this is for her: she needs to make an alliance if she’s going to survive graduation next year, but she hasn’t put in the work to make anyone want to be her ally. Her big plan is to do something impressive, rather than to be approachable, and convince people she has strong magic they’ll want on their side, but she ends up being more approachable as the book goes on anyway, which will at least win readers over.

The book, once one gets over the info dumps, is fairly fast-paced, and there always seems to be something happening. After all, the school seems intent on killing El, so she has challenges she has to deal with frequently. El is wary and clever and powerful, and there’s so much of her magic that remains to be explored that I hope to see tackled in the next book. It’s also fun to see the other characters’ strengths and how they can use them to work together to beat the monsters, if only they stop being so suspicious of each other.

This is a wildly original and imaginative story, and I’m definitely excited to read book 2. However, readers who thought Novik’s other books were “too slow” probably won’t be better pleased by A Deadly Education.

Briana
4 stars

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Rhythm of War photo

Information

Goodreads: The Rhythm of War
Series: The Stormlight Archive
Source: Purchased
Published: November 17, 2020

Official Summary

After forming a coalition of human resistance against the enemy invasion, Dalinar Kholin and his Knights Radiant have spent a year fighting a protracted, brutal war. Neither side has gained an advantage, and the threat of a betrayal by Dalinar’s crafty ally Taravangian looms over every strategic move.

Now, as new technological discoveries by Navani Kholin’s scholars begin to change the face of the war, the enemy prepares a bold and dangerous operation. The arms race that follows will challenge the very core of the Radiant ideals, and potentially reveal the secrets of the ancient tower that was once the heart of their strength.

At the same time that Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with his changing role within the Knights Radiant, his Windrunners face their own problem: As more and more deadly enemy Fused awaken to wage war, no more honorspren are willing to bond with humans to increase the number of Radiants. Adolin and Shallan must lead the coalition’s envoy to the honorspren stronghold of Lasting Integrity and either convince the spren to join the cause against the evil god Odium, or personally face the storm of failure.

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Review

Rhythm of War is one of those books I feel are almost not worth reviewing: it’s book 4 in a proposed 10 book series, and you’re either committed to reading the series at this point or you’re not. (Or you may not have started the series at all, but then why are you reading a review of book 4 and not book 1?) However, I can say with confidence that Rhythm of War is excellent, as complex and imaginative as the previous three books in the Stormlight Archives, yet highly readable, as all Sanderson’s book tend to be.

I did throw all caution to the wind and decide to read Rhythm of War without so much as reading a recap of the first three books, and I have to say I was not nearly as confused as I’d thought I would be. It did take me a while to remember some of the finer details of what had happened in the story before, especially because SO MUCH is going on, but I managed to piece most of it together eventually. I would still recommend reading a summary online, but if you’re too lazy like me, you can probably get through Rhythm of War without one.

Part of the reason trying to remember everything that has happened previously is that there is so much growth and movement in this series. From book to book, Sanderson expands the world of Roshar. You start book one really focused on the characters and their personal lives, and then suddenly all kinds of legends are coming to life and magic is growing, and things are just so much bigger than before. Somehow, Sanderson manages to do that again in Rhythm of War. One might have thought there was nowhere else to go, that all the secrets had been revealed, that the stakes couldn’t get any higher– and yet Sanderson pulls it off.

However, the story does stay grounded in the characters, which I love. Sanderson really delves into their questions and insecurities in this book, even while highlighting their strengths and letting readers keep believing they are amazing, new legends for Roshar in the makin. I also really love that the characters disagree with each other on topics, and it’s really very subtle, and the book never stops to tell the reader who is right. For instance, one character might a confident assertion about the nature of honor, and it sounds good and all, but then many chapters later a different character says something about honor that conflicts with the first statement–but also sounds pithy and quotable. Who is right? It’s up the reader.

If you’ve been reading this series, book 4 does not disappoint. If you’ve not been reading it, I recommend starting before all 10 books are published and it seems too daunting!

Briana
5 stars

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

Information

Goodreads: A Darker Shade of Magic
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2015

Official Summary

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

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Review

A Darker Shade of Magic, really the whole Shades of Magic trilogy, is beloved by readers; nearly anyone you mention the books to in the book community seem to have read them, and if they’ve read them, they love them. Personally, I was not going to read the series, based purely on the fact I read Schwab’s middle grade book City of Ghosts and found it perfectly solid but unremarkable. However, a friend gave me A Darker Shade of Magic for Christmas, so I gave it a try anyway…and found it just the same. It’s competent. I can hardly say there’s anything wrong with it. But nothing about it stands out.

Schwab, I think, has the craft of writing down. When I think about the two books by her I’ve read, they seem fine. The pacing is good. The characters are rounded and develop a bit over the course of the stories. The plots are fairly interesting. She knows how to write a book and put it together. And yet when I think about her books, they fall utterly flat for me. I’m not immersed in the worlds, I don’t really care about the characters, and I’m, frankly, baffled why so many readers think she’s the breakout fantasy writer of our times. She’s fine, but I can’t say her work is more than that.

Explaining why a book is just fine and not actively bad has always been a struggle for me; these are the hardest reviews to write. However, I’ve really sat down and thought about this for A Darker Shade of Magic, and my problem with the book is that it doesn’t seem to be about anything. There’s a plot, of course, and magic and thieving and battling and all sorts of things that ought to make a story exciting, but I don’t really know what the themes of the book are–or they’re not themes that stood out and spoke to me. There wasn’t a moment in this book that made me stop and think; nothing made me go, Huh, that’s interesting or Wow, I’ve never thought about that before.

I can’t even say the book is particularly invested in anything like the proper use of magic/power, or what it means to be privileged, or what it means to have a family, which are all things it seems to vaguely wave its hands at but not actually do much with. The focus seems to be on the concept (multiple Londons in different universes with different types of magic!) and the plot (bad magic is attacking!), and it just isn’t enough for me.

Even the characters are just kind of competently drawn, in my opinion. I see Kell is both powerful yet inexperienced, that he has a family but doesn’t feel he belongs, that he feels responsible for his brother. Yet the writing and the framing of the book don’t make me invested in this. It’s as if Schwab is telling me all these things about the character, but she isn’t making me feel.

So, the book is fine. That’s the main word I can come up with to describe it. I was mildly bored while reading and glad the book isn’t all that long. I have no plans to read the sequel or anything else by Schwab. I can sort of see why other people like her writing, but it isn’t for me at all.

Briana
3 Stars

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Information

Goodreads: From Blood and Ash
Series: Blood and Ash #1
Source: Library
Published: March 30, 2020

Official Summary

A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.

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Review

From Blood and Ash is the book everyone seemed to be reading in 2020, so when I saw it at the library, I figured I might as well check it out; it’s also the first book I’ve read by Armentrout, and I’ve heard good things about her work in general. In the first half of From Blood and Ash, I was confused what all the hype was about; the plot seemed a bit basic and the world building somewhat confusing. However, events got exciting enough by the end of the novel I do have some interest in finding out what happens in book 2.

At the beginning of the book, I admit I was wondering whether other readers primarily liked the novel for the steamy scenes and the hot love interest; so much of the book is based on the premise that protagonist Poppy is the Maiden and must remain pure and untouched that it seems a main point of the book is showing readers how she doesn’t remain untouched at all. This is fine, but I was expecting more of the “high fantasy” aspect of the book and not so much of the “romance” part.

I did get more of that as the book went on and the plot progressed. Parts of the plot are certainly predictable; I called a lot of them from the beginning. However, Armentrout manages to add enough action and drama to the major reveals near the end of the book that they still kept my interest. The end is a real cliffhanger, as well.

The book is fine. I’ve seen it recommended for fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses, and that seems right. It’s entertaining and steamy and just a bit short on the actual fantasy story aspect.

Briana
3 Stars

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly (ARC Review)

The Frozen Crown

Information

Goodreads: The Frozen Crown
Series: The Frozen Crown #1
Source: Published Giveaway
Publication Date:

Official Summary

A princess with a powerful and dangerous secret must find a way to save her country from ruthless invaders in this exciting debut fantasy, the first novel in a thrilling duology packed with heroism, treachery, magic, and war.

Askia became heir to the Frozen Crown of Seravesh because of her devotion to her people. But her realm is facing a threat she cannot defeat by sheer will alone. The mad emperor of the Roven Empire has unleashed a horde of invading soldiers to enslave her lands. For months, her warriors have waged a valiant, stealth battle, yet they cannot stop the enemy’s advancement. Running out of time, she sets sail for sun-drenched Vishir, the neighboring land to the south, to seek help from its ruler, Emperor Armaan.

A young woman raised in army camps, Askia is ill-equipped to navigate Vishir’s labyrinthine political games. Her every move sinks her deeper into court intrigues which bewilder and repel her, leaving her vulnerable not only to enemies gathering at Vishir’s gates, but to those behind the palace walls. 

And in this glittering court, where secrets are worth more than gold, Askia fears that one false step will expose her true nature. For Askia is a witch gifted with magical abilities—knowledge that could destroy not only her life but her people. As her adversaries draw closer, Askia is forced to make an impossible choice—and no matter what she decides, it may not be enough to prevent Seravesh’s fall.

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Review

The Frozen Crown promises an epic story of war, magic, and political intrigue as protagonist Princess Askia leaves her northern home to beg an army from her powerful neighbors to win back her throne. While I did enjoy the magic system and some of Askia’s political maneuverings, much of the book was too illogical for my tastes, and I found some of the characterization lacked nuance.

It’s a priority for me that books need to make sense for me to enjoy them, but The Frozen Crown fell flat for me from the first chapter. I was baffled by the idea the protagonist was going to a derelict city for aid, that her own country was only a mile away (but over a whole mountain range!) yet the war was completely contained there, and that the first course of action involved hunting and a ball rather than anything more…pressing. While the book is supposed to be about political intrigue and not really the war itself (which readers never see), the book never hooked me on its logic. Some of the political maneuvers were interesting, and it was fun to watch Askia grow from a short-sighted woman with a temper to someone more cunning, but ultimately the political intrigues never felt that twisty or clever to me, which was a disappointment.

I also thought some of the characterization in the novel was incomplete or simply not nuanced enough, which meant I couldn’t fully understand the characters’ motivations or what they were doing in the political intrigue, and I couldn’t fully appreciate Askia’s relationships with them. For instance, Askia claims someone is like a brother to her–but readers never actually get to see why.

I did enjoy the magic system in the book. While there are different types of witches, readers primarily see Askia’s abilities. Kelly does a good job of explaining what Askia can do, what she ought to be able to do with more training, and what she might be able to do that would be entirely unique (you know, because protagonists always need to be the most powerful witch of their kind!). It was also fun to see how Askia approaches her magic and how she mostly uses it to help people, that it never occurred to her to use it in the more selfish ways that seem obvious to other characters.

I believe this book will be popular. As I draft my review in September 2020, there are only a few other Goodreads ratings, but they’re high. I know from experience that although books drive me crazy when they don’t make sense, most other readers seem not to care, so the lack of logic I see in The Frozen Crown won’t be a problem for it. I also think the book has enormous YA-crossover appeal. In fact, though Askia is 21, she acts more youthful than many teen YA protagonists (which was something I did like about her!). I felt underwhelmed by this, but my official prediction that is I will be in the minority.

Briana
2 star review

Dark One (Volume 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Dark One

Information

Goodreads: Dark One
Series: Dark One #1
Source: Purchased
Published: August 17, 2020

Official Summary

Paul Tanasin is a young man haunted by visions of a dark and fantastic world―visions he initially believes are hallucinations. But when he discovers they are prophecies from Mirandus, a world in which he’s destined to become a fearsome destroyer, he’ll have to embrace the fear, rise up as the Dark One, and shatter everything. Dark One examines the dual roles we often take on in life—the ability to be a savior as well as a destroyer.

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Review

There’s some difficulty inherent in reviewing the first volume of a graphic novel because the story isn’t finished, and it feels less like reviewing the first book in a series and more like attempting to review just the first quarter of a single book. However, from what I’ve seen of Dark One so far, it’s an intriguing story about good vs. evil and free will vs. destiny.

The book initially caught my attention because its protagonist is the Dark One, the villain, the powerful being everyone fears; I wanted to see what the world is like through his eyes, how he approaches his destiny. The interesting thing is that “destiny” is part of the struggle. In the world of Mirandus, everyone believes in the Narrative, which plays out every generation: a Dark One Rises, a Destined One ascends to oppose him, war reigns and people die, but ultimately the Light wins. Paul’s (the Dark One’s) problem is whether becoming the Dark One is something to be embraced. Does the Narrative “need” a Dark One? Should he enter the Narrative and give it what it wants? Or should he try something else? (And, frankly, at seventeen years old, he hardly knows what he wants sometimes.)

Personally, I’m lukewarm about stories about Story or Narrative or whatever the author wants to call it. I get that such books are likely inspired by real world questions about, say, the existence of God or a divine will and preordination vs. human free will, but it the premise always seems awkward to stuff into a book. What is the Narrative? Where does it come from? Why can’t people escape it? Should they want to or not? I don’t know that Sanderson’s take on this idea is wholly original or more appealing to me than other ones I’ve seen–but, again, the real problem is that this is only Volume One, so I actually have no idea how the whole thing plays out. Sanderson usually can surprise me with thoughtful questions and clever plot twists, so I’m hoping for one down the line here.

Although I would say “character motivations” and how they approach the Narrative is one of the focuses of the book, I do wish I’d gotten a more in-depth read on Paul and exactly who he is. The book does try to give readers insight and some background, and I do think that the graphic novel form might be a bit of a barrier here, but I didn’t understand some of Paul’s choices as clearly as I’d wished. Hopefully this is something that is also expanded upon in future installments.

I did enjoy Dark One, and I’d like to read more, but I also feel as if I’m floundering a bit here and haven’t quite gotten enough of the story to latch onto in order to understand it. If you’re interested in this story, perhaps wait until Volume Two is released to start reading!

Briana
3 Stars

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Snow and Glass book cover

Information

Goodreads: Girls Made of Snow and Glass
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: September 5, 2017

Official Summary

Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber in this feminist fantasy reimagining of the Snow White fairytale.

Sixteen-year-old Mina is motherless, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all.

Entwining the stories of both Lynet and Mina in the past and present, Girls Made of Snow and Glass traces the relationship of two young women doomed to be rivals from the start. Only one can win all, while the other must lose everything—unless both can find a way to reshape themselves and their story.

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Review

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a quiet yet powerful reimagining of “Snow White” that focuses on relationships rather than action. While the pacing is slow at times, the novel shines when showing readers the love between Princess Lynet and her stepmother and all the obstacles, both external and internal, they need to overcome to keep it.

The first half of the novel was my favorite because it focuses on Lynet and Mina and really delves into their hopes and dreams, their struggles, and all the forces that have made them who they are. Both have somewhat disappointing fathers, as Lynet’s is obsessed with her dead mother (to the point where he seems a bit one-dimensional as a character, to be honest) and wants Lynet to be just like her, and Mina’s father has always been out for himself; when he interacts with Mina, it’s just to get her help in obtaining something he wants.

It’s rather beautiful to read their alternating chapters, as the book shows both the past, where Mina fought to become a queen and feel she had some power in the world and over her own life, and the present, where Lynet and Mina have a loving relationship in spite of all the people who never wanted them to become close. Bashardoust’s skill really lies in drawing these complex women and in drawing all the lines that connect them to the people around them.

Because I was kind of just interested in watching the characters grow and interact, I thought things got a bit boring once the climax of the novel hit, when the “Snow White” retelling part really takes off, as Lynet flees the castle to be safe from her stepmother, etc. I do think the pacing was off here, which didn’t help. It felt slow for a while and then got fast suddenly at the end, but Lynet and Mina without each other were also simply less interesting. Bashardoust still tries to explore their feelings, their choices, their fates in this section of the book, but I just wanted them to get back together to see what happened then.

Overall, I enjoyed the book because of the deep look into interiority readers get. The “Snow White” aspect was vaguely interesting, and the magic and the world building had their moments, but I wouldn’t recommend the book for those things. If you want a book about strong female relationships or about complicated family relationships, this is a gem. If you want an original and exciting fairy tale retelling or complex magic system, there are better books to choose.

Briana
3 Stars

My Favorite Character in The Lord of the Rings (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS?

Star Divider

I want to preface this by saying I’m not certain I have a favorite character from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There are a number of characters I like, including Eowyn, Faramir, and Legolas, and a number of characters I think are fascinating even if they might not be “my favorite.” (For example, see Krysta’s post on reconsidering Boromir.) However, for the sake of this post, I want to talk about why Aragorn has always been one of my favorite characters.

A lot of Tolkien scholarship extols the presence of hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, comparing them to the Everyman and suggesting that Frodo and company are what make the story really “relatable.” Hobbits are the small people with no particular power or previous role in great world events, yet their decisions, their perseverance, and their commitment to doing what is right are what drive the novel and help free all of Middle Earth from the evil of Sauron and the Ring. As Elrond states:

“This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?”

All this love for the importance of ordinary people means, however, that Aragorn often gets tossed to the side. Scholars–and general readers–sometimes think that Aragorn simply is not interesting: he’s a king, a skilled warrior, a leader, etc. Liking the “traditional hero” is just too obvious for them.

Well, I like traditional heroes.

I enjoy a good epic adventure, whether it’s an old story like Beowulf or a new fantasy like Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, and I love that Aragorn is a strong, admirable character who brings a sense of gravity to the novel. Sure, he’s not “relatable” because I will never be a monarch or a leader of an elite group of fighters or even a mysterious and forbidding character in a tavern, but the feeling that he’s a bit larger than life is what’s beautiful about him–and the book as a whole. He’s also something I think most of us would aspire to be: brave, confident, and wise. He’s willing to sacrifice everything to keep others safe, going so far as to lead what most think is a suicide mission to distract Sauron at the Black Gate so Frodo and Sam have a final chance to destroy the One Ring.

Dismissing Aragorn as some sort of run-of-the-mill hero type also does a disservice to the sadness that surrounds him. First, he has some personal sorrows. He is in exile from his own kingdom; though he does serve Gondor under a pseudonym, he spends years in the wild with the Rangers, protecting Middle Earth for little thanks. He’s also separated from the woman he loves, as Elrond will not give his blessing for Arwen and Aragorn to marry until Aragorn is king and “worthy.”

Second, he brings a sense of sorrow and things passing to the story as a whole. After Aragorn is crowned king (only after he is assured the people of Gondor desire his coronation), readers know he is essentially the last of his kind–the last truly great king of royal Númenórean descent. Although he has children, one gets the sense that Middle Earth has lost something awe-inspiring and beautiful when Aragorn dies. In another parallel with Beowulf, one can feel the passing of an age with the passing of a final great king.

Aragorn is a hero, yes, but labeling him one as if that explains everything about him and he is uninteresting as an individual character overlooks the complexity Tolkien weaves around him. Also, basically everyone in The Lord of the Rings ends up being a hero, and isn’t the exploration of heroism in many forms one of the things fans like about it?

Briana