This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron

This Poison Heart

Information

Goodreads: This Poison Heart
Series: The Poison Heart #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: June 29, 2021

Official Summary

Briseis has a gift: she can grow plants from tiny seeds to rich blooms with a single touch.

When Briseis’s aunt dies and wills her a dilapidated estate in rural New York, Bri and her parents decide to leave Brooklyn behind for the summer. Hopefully there, surrounded by plants and flowers, Bri will finally learn to control her gift. But their new home is sinister in ways they could never have imagined–it comes with a specific set of instructions, an old-school apothecary, and a walled garden filled with the deadliest botanicals in the world that can only be entered by those who share Bri’s unique family lineage.

When strangers begin to arrive on their doorstep, asking for tinctures and elixirs, Bri learns she has a surprising talent for creating them. One of the visitors is Marie, a mysterious young woman who Bri befriends, only to find that Marie is keeping dark secrets about the history of the estate and its surrounding community. There is more to Bri’s sudden inheritance than she could have imagined, and she is determined to uncover it . . . until a nefarious group comes after her in search of a rare and dangerous immortality elixir. Up against a centuries-old curse and the deadliest plant on earth, Bri must harness her gift to protect herself and her family.

Star Divider

Review

With a smart, determined protagonist, ties to Greek mythology, and magic that permeates our real world, This Poison Heart has a lot of potential, and I can see why Goodreads users are loving it. Personally, however, I was put off by poor pacing, clunky characterization, and general vagueness about the magic system, and the novel didn’t grip me the way I’d hoped.

The urban fantasy aspect is fun, and I love the idea that protagonist Briseis has plant magic she’s trying to hide in the heart of Brooklyn. Things get a bit more fantasy traditional when she takes her magic to a mysterious estate in upstate New York, but there’s still the cool feel that Bri is practicing magic in our real world, and her talents are rare if not necessarily unique.

I like Bri as the protagonist. She’s clever and persevering and seems to be a good friend. She’s not perfect, and she knows it, but she works on her strengths while acknowledging she’s not good at everything. However, I do think the book suffers from trying to make her (and the other characters) model “correct behavior” — which I think is a trend in YA in general and not something particular to this book. That is, the characters always talk out their feelings, always say the “right” thing, admit when they’re wrong, etc. Sometimes they do this in ways that seem as if they’re using a script someone would come up with for use in the “ideal” conversation, instead of saying things I imagine real people would ever say. I know a lot of readers actually like this, and I’ve seen books particularly praised for it, but it’s not my thing, and it’s one minor reason among many that I ultimately didn’t love the book.

Mostly I found the pacing off. The beginning is a little slow, but that’s not an issue for me. I’m fine with immersing myself in world building and learning things about the book. The main issues are that 1) so many hints are dropped about things that happen later in the story that none of them are really that surprising as reveals and 2) the pace moves from slow to rocket ship fast in the final chapters of the book, and I nearly found myself laughing at all the wild things that happened one after another. Bri’s relationships with new characters also progress strangely quickly. If the pace had been more even throughout the story, I would have liked it better.

This Poison Heart is fine. I understand why a lot of other readers love it. It’s not for me, though, and I have no plans to read the sequel.

Briana
2 star review

Other Books by Kalynn Baryon

A Vow So Bold and Deadly by Brigid Kemmerer (Spoilers!)

A Vow So Bold and Deadly Instagram photo

Information

Goodreads: A Vow So Bold and Deadly
Series: Cursebreakers #3
Source: Purchased
Published: January 26, 2021

Official Summary

Face your fears, fight the battle.

Emberfall is crumbling fast, torn between those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and those who are eager to begin a new era under Grey, the true heir. Grey has agreed to wait two months before attacking Emberfall, and in that time, Rhen has turned away from everyone—even Harper, as she desperately tries to help him find a path to peace.

Fight the battle, save the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Lia Mara struggles to rule Syhl Shallow with a gentler hand than her mother. But after enjoying decades of peace once magic was driven out of their lands, some of her subjects are angry Lia Mara has an enchanted prince and magical scraver by her side. As Grey’s deadline draws nearer, Lia Mara questions if she can be the queen her country needs.

As two kingdoms come closer to conflict, loyalties are tested, love is threatened, and an old enemy resurfaces who could destroy them all, in this stunning conclusion to bestselling author Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series.

Star Divider

Review

Spoilers for the whole series.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly drops readers right back into the conflict between Emberfall and Syhl Shallow, which, frankly, is actually a conflict between Rhen and Grey. Accordingly, the story is fast-paced and exciting but really focused on the interpersonal dynamics of the characters– which is where it excels at some parts but fails at others. As in A Heart So Fierce and Broken, Kemmerer seeks to make her characters nuanced, but the execution sometimes just makes them seem cruel.

The entire A Curse So Dark and Lonely series is riveting. The first book caught my attention with its original twist on a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling and its swoonworthy romance, as well as Kemmerer’s attention to making her characters seem real: strong and brave but also flawed and with certain things they have hang-ups about. And I’ve continued to be engaged with the entire series, turning page after page wondering to find out what will happen next– even if what will happen next is sometimes a bit obvious.

However, after book one, I’ve struggled a bit with Kemmerer’s characterization, mostly of Rhen but also of Grey. In A Heart So Fierce and Lonely, Kemmerer seemed to be getting at the fact that Rhen is traumatized after spending a magical eternity being tortured (completely fair, and something I’ve been seeing more books address instead of just letting characters move on from horrible events with no apparent effect on their mental health). She continues that theme here, showing how frightened he is of magic and how far he’ll go to protect himself, his friends, and his kingdom from magic. However…none of this can erase the events of book two for me, where Rhen whipped his friend, whipped an innocent child to manipulate his friend, and then murdered a bunch of innocent people while mounting a manhunt to find Grey. The book ultimately latches onto a theme of, “Does one bad choice erase a thousand good choices?” but when the “one” bad choice is actually several, and Rhen literally killed innocent people, this theme isn’t as effective for me as Kemmerer probably hopes it is.

Worse, Kemmerer tries to set up Rhen and Grey as two halves of the same coin: that is, that both of them did something wrong, so they’re both at fault, they both need forgiveness, etc. However Grey’s “crime” is not telling Rhen he is the rightful heir (when he also knew Rhen was interested in killing the rightful heir). So it’s really hard for me to believe that Rhen’s and Grey’s faults are on the same level. I really do appreciate that Kemmerer wants her characters to be flawed and gray and to explore the idea that people in power sometimes make tough choices, and sometimes those choices are necessary and sometimes they’re just wrong, but I didn’t really come away feeling Rhen and Grey are nuanced, just that the book was dragging me back and forth saying, “They’re good! No, now they’re bad! Now they’re nice! Now they’re cruel!” It all feels a little disjointed.

Harper and Lia Mara are more evenly drawn, and I found the idea they were both more interested in peace than the men interesting, whether or not that was intentional commentary on the part of the author.

Overall, I truly did love reading A Vow So Bold and Deadly. It has action and magic and a few plot twists. It strives to do interesting things with its characterization and not just give readers pure heroes. I don’t think it always lived up to its goals, but story is still engaging, and I look forward to reading more from Kemmerer.

Briana
4 stars

A Heart So Fierce and Broken by Brigid Kemmerer

Heart So Fierce and Broken

Information

Goodreads: A Heart So Fierce and Broken
Series: Cursebreakers #2
Source: Giveaway from Kelly from Another Book in the Wall
Published: January 7, 2020

Official Summary

Find the heir, win the crown.

The curse is finally broken, but Prince Rhen of Emberfall faces darker troubles still. Rumors circulate that he is not the true heir and that forbidden magic has been unleashed in Emberfall. Although Rhen has Harper by his side, his guardsman Grey is missing, leaving more questions than answers.

Win the crown, save the kingdom.

Rumored to be the heir, Grey has been on the run since he destroyed Lilith. He has no desire to challenge Rhen–until Karis Luran once again threatens to take Emberfall by force. Her own daughter Lia Mara sees the flaws in her mother’s violent plan, but can she convince Grey to stand against Rhen, even for the good of Emberfall?

The heart-pounding, compulsively readable saga continues as loyalties are tested and new love blooms in a kingdom on the brink of war.

Star Divider

Review

*Look for Krysta’s upcoming discussion post on why she didn’t like the ending of A Heart So Fierce and Broken!

When I reviewed the first book in the Cursebreakers series, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, I called it “an enchanting, romantic tale perfect for fans of fairy tale retellings who want a slow-burn, swoonworthy romance combined with a more active, political take on ‘Beauty and the Beast,'” so of course I was thrilled to pick up A Heart So Fierce and Broken, which continues the story but with different characters’ POV’s. While A Heart So Fierce and Broken does feature some complex characterization and another lovely romance, however, it has the same flaws as A Curse So Dark and Lonely, possibly magnified: the politics make absolutely no sense, and many of the characters’ actions and motivations are unbelievable.

Although I was invested in Grey and the new friends he makes on his new journey, I spent the first half the book wondering if he were not possibly creating most of his problems for himself. I then spent the second half of the book wondering if his (and other characters’) assumptions about how to make an alliance were completely wrong and if there weren’t an obvious solution to one of the major problems that everyone was simply overlooking (for plot reasons, I assume, as the book never clarifies why this could not be a solution in these particular fantasy countries). This was frustrating, to say the least, and I honestly thought I was going to rate this book two stars at several points while I was reading it.

I was also frustrated with Rhen’s character, which seems to deviate wildly from book one. Brigid Kemmerer seems to have gone Sarah J. Maas on me, by which I mean: characters apparently do things because they cause drama and facilitate plot points, not necessarily because their actions and motivations fit in with their previous characterization. Kemmerer throws a little bit of explanation to readers, but mostly I felt as if I were reading about an entirely different character than the one I met in A Curse So Dark in Lonely. I also really wanted a chapter with Harper’s POV, to get her take on his changes and the situation in general, but of course this book isn’t actually about her.

So why did I ultimately end up giving the book three stars? A lot of the other characterizations are great, nuanced and compelling. Grey gets more fleshed out than he was in book one, and his new love interest has many facets, as well. I also like the general idea of the plot: the kingdom is not as stable as Rhen and his friends hoped after book one, two brothers might need to fight it out for the good of the kingdom, magic might need to be reassessed, etc. It’s overall very exciting and raises excellent questions, and I really did want to keep reading to find out what would happen next.

As for book three…I have no idea what my expectations should be. The final chapter of A Heart So Fierce and Broken changes a lot of the stakes, and not necessarily in a way I like. I have no idea how Kemmerer is going to resolve all this, particularly when her grasp on court intrigue, politics, etc. seems so lacking and nothing anyone does to save the kingdom ever seems to make sense. I only hope the individual stories of the characters will be enough for me in the next book, as well.

Briana
3 Stars

Read More

A Curse So Dark and Lonely Discussion: Would People Really Believe in a Made-up Country?

A Curse So Dark and Lonely Discussion on Made-Up Countries

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Information

Goodreads: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1
Source: Library
Published: January 29, 2019

Official Summary

Fall in love, break the curse. 

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom. 

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

Star Divider

Review

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is an enchanting, romantic tale perfect for fans of fairy tale retellings who want a slow-burn, swoonworthy romance combined with a more active, political take on “Beauty and the Beast.”  The novel introduces readers to protagonist Harper Lacy, who must fall in love with Crown Prince Rhen of Emberfall in order to break the curse that has consigned him to turning into a violent beast at the end of each season–but it takes readers beyond this classic love story and asks how Harper and Rhen can help the kingdom outside the castle doors, what steps they can take to protect the people of Emberfall, even if the curse is never broke.  The result isn’t perfect, as intricate political machinations do not seem to be the novel’s strength, but the ambition of making a “Beauty and the Beast” story more than a romance staged in an isolated palace and the the passion and complexity of the characters help make the story shine even through its small flaws.

The romance–and the two characters in it–is really the high point of A Curse So Dark and Lonely. It’s been a while since I read a novel where I was so invested in the romance, captivated as I watched the two characters come closer together slowly but surely, hesitant to trust each other but hoping they could–and then that the trust would turn into something more. This is a lovely, slow burn romance that builds over the course of the novel and brings the readers right along with it.

The characters themselves, however, are also wonderful as individuals. Harper is a bit rough around the edges, understandable since her mother has cancer, her father has run out, and her brother is apparently involved with the Mafia.  She’s no-nonsense and straightforward, but she is also kind and does what’s right even when it’s hard and even when it seems foolish. Rhen is equally complex, a man struggling with a curse that has lasted seemingly forever, tired of his fate but also hoping to do what he can for his people.  (A lot of readers prefer the guard commander Grey as the most interesting character; I like him, as well, and he is complex, but I actually think his real time to shine will be in the companion novel Kemmerer has planned.)

I had just a couple small issues with the book. First, the enchantress who has cursed Rhen doesn’t seem to have a plausible motivation.  There’s an explanation, but it seems flimsy. It doesn’t explain her desire to torture Rhen, Grey, and really anyone else any chance she gets or her apparent desire to see Emberfall as a whole burn to the ground. She’s a bit flighty and actually reminded me of Lucinda from Ella Enchanted the way she randomly pops in and out of places and causes unasked-for havoc, but inexplicably more sadistic than Lucinda. She makes sense as a plot-mover, not so much as a character, which is a shame considering how complex the rest of the characterization in the book is.

Second, I didn’t really understand all the political maneuverings in the novel.  I understand Kemmerer has written contemporary YA before, so maybe “how to run a country” is not her area of expertise, but I was a bit lost when things like “closing the borders and stopping all trade” were presented as “initially wise” moves that “protected the country.”  I also was not 100% clear on why all the royal guard was gone, why the prince was no longer communicating with his army or…anyone, etc. I think there are some obvious solutions to their problems that were never taken or addressed.

These questions did not ruin my enjoyment of the book, however.  I loved reading this take on “Beauty and the Beast” and meeting a cast of fantastic characters who all had to find ways to overcome their doubts and past mistakes to do what they could for other people. In many ways, the book isn’t so much about romance or even saving a kingdom as it is about personal sacrifice and finding strength in unlikely places. Highly recommended.

4 stars Briana

Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

Prisoner of Ice and Snow

Information

Goodreads: Prisoner of Ice and Snow
Series: Prisoner of Ice and Snow #1
Source: Library
Published: April 4, 2017

Official Summary

When thirteen-year-old Valor is sent to jail, she couldn’t be happier. Demidova’s prison for criminal children is exactly where she wants to be. Valor’s twin sister, Sasha, is serving a life sentence for stealing from the royal family, and Valor is going to help her escape…from the inside.

Never mind that no one has escaped the prison in centuries. Valor has a master plan and resources most people could only dream about. But she didn’t count on having to outsmart both the guards and her fellow prisoners. If Valor’s plan is to succeed, she’ll need to make some unlikely allies. And if the plan fails, she and Sasha could end up with fates worse than prison.

Set against the backdrop of an icy queendom, this thrilling fantasy is on the start to Valor’s quest to protect those she loves at all costs.

Review

Prisoner of Ice and Snow brings readers to an icy world where one girl decides she will do anything for the sister she loves—even if that means betraying her queen and her own parents. Valor lives up to her name and exhibits extraordinary courage and determination throughout the novel, making her a protagonist worth rooting for.

Since this is middle grade, some of Valor’s exploits go a little more easily than I would have expected, particularly for a top-security prison that apparently no one has ever been able to escape alive. The characters, oddly, seem frequently to be left without supervision from the prison guards (with excuses like “Oh, well they’re too big to fit in the mines like us children”), and the characters converse A LOT to formulate escape plans, considering that the prison has a “no talking to anyone else ever” rule. That aside, however, Valor suffers just enough setbacks to keep the plot leaning towards the more realistic side.

A smattering of side characters round out the novel, as well as add a bit of mystery to the adventure. Valor, and readers, have to decide which of the other inmates are worth trusting. Valor also has some interesting run-ins with the royal family, leading her to believe that they have their own buried secrets, as well. Some of this is probably fairly easy for readers to figure out, but author Ruth Lauren does keep enough tricks up her sleeve to make sure no one can be 100% certain how everything will play out.

Though the book is being marketed as middle grade, it has a mature voice and would have excellent crossover appeal into the young adult market. Readers who liked the prison break aspect of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows may also enjoy Prisoner of Ice and Snow. It will also appeal to fans of fantasy and those looking for a story about the love between sisters.

4 stars Briana

The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Dragon with the Chocolate Heart

Information

Goodreads: The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart
Series: Untitled #1
Source: Library
Published: May 2017

Official Summary

Aventurine is the fiercest, bravest dragon there is. And she’s ready to prove it to her family by leaving the safety of their mountain cave and capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. But when the human she finds tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, Aventurine is transformed into a puny human girl with tiny blunt teeth, no fire, and not one single claw.

But she’s still the fiercest creature in the mountains — and now she’s found her true passion: chocolate! All she has to do is get herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she’ll be conquering new territory in no time…won’t she?

Review

The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart combines two things a lot of readers are going to love: dragons and chocolate.  In this story, a young dragon turned into a human and separated from her family has to learn to make her way in the human world—which, first of all, means making money.  Aventurine has never been entirely sure what her great passion in life would be, but once she tastes this thing that humans call chocolate, there’s no turning back: she has to apprentice with a chocolatier.

The story is a charming one, filled with some amusing mishaps as Aventurine has to figure out how to think like humans, whom she always considered unintelligent, beneath her notice, but maybe a source of food.  This means practical things like what a town is and how to function in one, but also more abstract things like cultural and societal norms about what is appropriate to say or to wear.  Aventurine always maintains her sense of dragoness, however, and has a bold, fiery personality she never allows anyone to beat down.

The world building is occasionally a bit sparse, but it’s just enough for the story.  Readers get the sense there are other countries and other magical creatures, but none of that is really the point.  The focal point is Aventurine’s town and the nearby mountains where her dragon family lives.  Conveniently the royal family lives here, too, though one does not always get the sense it is a large enough city to be the seat of the government.

The main point is that I enjoyed the story.  It’s unfortunately one of those books where I can’t seem to think of much more to say about it than that; it doesn’t offer any deep themes beyond the general stuff you might encounter in middle grade fantasy—finding yourself, dealing with friends, etc.  I had fun reading it, and I would recommend it, but overall it does seem a bit light.

4 stars Briana

The Truest Heart by E. D. Baker

Information

Goodreads: The Truest Heart
Series: The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker #3
Source: Purchased
Published: October 11, 2016

Official Summary

Born to be a tooth fairy, Cory Feathering has been busy proving there’s another life meant for her — one of matchmaking! She’s already helped Marjorie Muffet and Goldilocks find true love, and now it’s Mary Lambkin’s turn. When Cory has a vision of Mary with one particular boy, Cory knows exactly what to do.

But it’s Cory’s own personal life that needs help. The Fairy Guilds are constantly hounding her, furious that she’s abandoned the guild she was born into in favor of choosing her own path. They won’t stop until justice has been served. As Cory prepares to fight for what she believes in, she must decide once and for all if she’s prepared to take on the responsibility of her biggest role yet, one that will change her destiny forever.

Review

I’ve been enjoying E. D. Baker’s Fairy-Tale Matchmaker series so far (review for book 1), with my only concern being that the protagonist is much older than the normal middle grade protagonist.  (She’s looking for a job and even thinking about marriage as the series progresses.)  The stories, however, are light and fun–even with the ongoing theme of bullying–and combine fun fairy tale references and elements into a unique story.  It’s therefore with a heavy heart I must admit I thought this third installment in the series was just okay.

All the favorite characters from the first two books are present, and Cory continues to work on her matchmaking and play with her band.  However, the plot really flattens and the pace slows because the guild harassment has become so bad at this point in the series that Cory must give up her odd jobs–the things that really brought some spice to the series, particularly in the first book.  Indeed, several characters encourage Cory to barely leave her house until the danger is past, and though she does flout this advice (thank goodness, or nothing would happen in the book!), the story is really just an endless list of mean things that guild members do to her.  It feels very episodic and as if there’s not much progression towards anything.

Weirdly, after not much happening, I did get such a distinct sense that enough was wrapped up in the final chapters of the book that I suspected this might be the end of the series.  (But no, I checked on Goodreads, and a fourth book is planned for fall 2017.)  I was somewhat entertained by this book, and I enjoyed reading it, but it just doesn’t hold up to the magic of the first two books. I’m hoping for more from the fourth.

Note: You do have to read the entire series for this book really to make sense. I’ve noticed several Goodreads reviewers post dissatisfied reviews because they read this book and not the first two.  I don’t recommend that because this is not a series where the books can essentially function as standalones.

Briana

Witch Switch by Sibéal Pounder

Witch Switch

Information

Goodreads: Witch Switch
Series: Witch Wars #2
Source: Gift
Published: February 27, 2017 (USA), 2015 (UK)

Summary

Tiga Whicabim is settling in to the witchy, glitzy world of Ritzy City. Peggy is Top Witch, and Tiga is enjoying life at the Brews’ house with Fluffanora. But when Fran the Fabulous Fairy visits Linden House and finds Peggy has gone – leaving behind only a note to say she is ‘AWAY WITH THE FAIRIES’ and has left the evil Felicity Bat in charge – the girls realise something is very wrong. And then witches all across town start to disappear. Tiga and Fluffanora set out to investigate and discover an old, unsolved Sinkville mystery that might just be the key to it all.

Review

I absolutely loved Witch Wars, so I was excited to continue following the adventures of Tiga, Peggy, and Fluffanora in Witch Switch.  The series is a silly one, always upbeat and quirky even when  the heroines are in a bit of danger, and it’s a great choice for those looking for a fun and lighthearted read.

I admit that Witch Switch did not impress me quite as much as Witch Wars.  The story does not seem quite as cohesive as Book 1, and I think it’s missing a bit of the glamour of the reality TV premise that helped Witch Wars come alive.  There’s also a lot of revisiting characters and places, rather than the novelty of seeing them for the first time.  However, Tiga and her friends do delve a bit more into some of the seedier parts of town, which does add something new to the book.

Furthermore, the book is still immensely entertaining.  It’s part mystery, part adventure, and always a bit on the cleverly ridiculous side, which is just what I love.  The plot is not too obvious, which I find is sometimes a problem with middle grade mysteries, and while Pounder does give reasonable hints and leads, there’s also a nice element of surprise. It’s also cool to see a focus on friendship in all of this, particularly as the focus here switches from Peggy (she is missing, after all) to Fluffanora.

In my review of Witch Wars, I said that my only complaint about the book was that there were not enough cats.  After all, apparently witches adore cats, but somehow they were not really present in Witch Wars.  Witch Switch definitely picked up the slack on this matter and provided me with plenty of cats including, dare I say, wearable cats.  I am all about the cat fashion that Witch Switch proposes.

This is a great installment in the series, and I am eagerly looking forward to getting my hands on Book 3.  (And on Pounder’s new series, which will feature mermaids!)

4 stars Briana

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (Spoilers)

ACOMAF Banner


a court of mist and furyInformation

Goodreads: A Court of Mist and Fury
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #2
Source: Purchased
Published: May 3, 2016

Official SummarY

Feyre is immortal.

After rescuing her lover Tamlin from a wicked Faerie Queen, she returns to the Spring Court possessing the powers of the High Fae. But Feyre cannot forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people – nor the bargain she made with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.

As Feyre is drawn ever deeper into Rhysand’s dark web of politics and passion, war is looming and an evil far greater than any queen threatens to destroy everything Feyre has fought for. She must confront her past, embrace her gifts and decide her fate.

She must surrender her heart to heal a world torn in two.

Review

Spoiler Warning

In which I mostly grump about the romance rather than commenting on the rest of the book. But aren’t we all here for the romance anyway?

I should have seen this coming. I didn’t want to believe this is how A Court of Mist and Fury would go, based on the events of A Court of Thorns and Roses, but I guess deep down I always suspected Maas was going to hang Tamlin out to dry.  After all, here is how I ended my review of book #1:

The downside to this section of the book, however, is that love interest Tamlin entirely disappears while Feyre takes center stage.  Readers are then introduced to a different male character very much in depth, who quickly becomes far more interesting than Tamlin.  When Beauty and the Beast are finally reunited…I found myself not really caring.  I wanted the other guy.  It looks as if I’ll be getting my wish in the second book to see more of the new guy, but that doesn’t satisfy me.  I can’t help docking stars from a book that drops its own love interest and makes the ending super anti-climatic, no matter how much I liked the rest of the book.

And so this is my major issue with A Court of Mist and Fury. I really like Rhysand–I liked him even in ACOTAR–but Maas has to do some major work to convince readers that Feyre’s prancing off with him instead of Tamlin, instead of the man she risked everything for and was willing to die for, is a good idea and a romance we should be invested in.  Because, frankly, it’s a really tough sell to say that the actions Feyre took in book #1 were meaningless or misguided or directed at the wrong man. If someone would do all that for a guy who was completely wrong for her, what on earth does true love look like?

It’s a conundrum, so Maas relies on two major crutches to try to fix it all. 1) Do a bait and switch and suddenly make Tamlin a villain. Sure, she foreshadowed some protectiveness in ACOTAR and used the ending to imply maybe Tamlin’s not as great as we thought he was–but implying Tamlin just isn’t right For Feyre at this point isn’t enough. Maas relies on a time-tested cliche: making the former love interest so villainous that readers and the protagonist simply can no longer consider him a viable option. 2) Maas squeezes the world-specific concept of “mating” for all its worth.  Love, marriage, and mating all all separate things in this place, but mating is binding and surpasses everything else.  Thus, readers are forced into believing Rhys is best for Feyre because they are mates. Anything else she experienced in a romantic relationship before might have been true–she may have really loved Tamlin–but it’s all superficial compared to the mating bond.

Now, my personal problem is that I actually do enjoy Rhys as a love interest. He’s caring, intriguing, playful, complex.  But the cost of making Rhys complex for Maas is making sure that Tamlin is not.  Any characterization Tamlin had in ACOTAR disappears; readers and Feyre are left only with a man who is a selfish abuser and appears to have minimal reason for being one, despite the meaningless speculations Feyre tries to make that maybe he was “broken” Under the Mountain, too. Because in this book, Tamlin’s brokenness doesn’t matter; the references to it have no substance.  Apparently, only the brokenness of Rhys and Feyre is worth being explored.

So, yes. I enjoyed reading about Rhys and Feyre. I’m interested in seeing more (and I can only assume Maas isn’t going to pull a bait and switch on readers again since Rhys and Feyre are mates). However, I think the way the romance was accomplished was a bit disturbing.  Tamlin is being thrown under the bus for the sake of plot, and it seems unfair.

That said, the plot of ACOMAF is breathtaking. One of my major complaints about ACOTAR was that there didn’t seem to be much of a plot at all under Feyre went Under the Mountain (so, you know, for most of the book). Here. Maas compensates for that spectacularly, and I can’t wait to see what happens at the end of the series.

4 stars Briana

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

ACOTARInformation

Goodreads: A Court of Thorns and Roses
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #1
Source: Giveaway
Published: May 5, 2015

Official Summary

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Review

I wasn’t a huge fan of Maas’s debut, Throne of Glass, but this was in large part because I thought the book still read like something the author had started writing at the age of sixteen, even after extensive revisions before publication.  With this in mind, I decided to give Maas’s new series a chance; after all, fans everywhere are obsessively swooning over the book, and Maas has garnered a lot more writing experience finishing the Throne of Glass series..

As an amalgamation of “Beauty and the Beast” and Faerie lore, A Court of Thorns and Roses isn’t offering something spectacularly original. but it’s still wildly fun and engrossing to read.  The main draw is really the romance–steamy, enthralling, and tantalizingly forbidden.  That is to say, I’m not sure anyone is here for the plot, which for a long while features protagonist Feyre living it up in her captor’s mansion, doing little while pretending she’s a badass (an unconvincing characterization, in my opinion, which I did my best to ignore).  The true attraction are the unfathomably handsome and off-limits Faeries, who do their best to provoke Feyre and reader’s hearts into submission.

However, the plot excels in one particular point.  I always hate the part of “Beauty and the Beast” retellings where Beauty goes away and bad things happen to the Beast and “Oh, no, will she go back to save him?”  We know she’s going back to save him, and it can seem like a tired and unnecessary plot tangent in uninspired retellings.  Maas makes it work, though.  This isn’t a pit stop in her plot; it’s when the plot really gets going and Feyre begins to show more of her character.  I enjoyed this section more than I would ever have anticipated.

The downside to this section of the book, however, is that love interest Tamlin entirely disappears while Feyre takes center stage.  Readers are then introduced to a different male character very much in depth, who quickly becomes far more interesting than Tamlin.  When Beauty and the Beast are finally reunited…I found myself not really caring.  I wanted the other guy.  It looks as if I’ll be getting my wish in the second book to see more of the new guy, but that doesn’t satisfy me.  I can’t help docking stars from a book that drops its own love interest and makes the ending super anti-climatic, no matter how much I liked the rest of the book.

4 stars Briana