Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Information

Goodreads: Hunted
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 2017

Official Summary

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast? 

Star Divider

Review

Hunted by Meagan Spooner is a quick and satisfying retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” If you want a take on the classic fairy tale that mixes things up a little but is more comforting than completely novel, this is the book for you.

I’ve been sitting on writing this review for several days after I finished reading Hunted because, frankly, I can’t think of must to say about it. The story is different from the versions of “Beauty and the Beast” most readers are familiar with; for instance, the main character is a hunter more than an avid reader (though she does enjoy books), and her bonds with her sisters are emphasized over her relationship with her father. The story is set in Russia instead of France, and there are other fairy tales and bits of folklore woven in.

And yet…in spite of all these obvious differences…the book doesn’t actually come across as original.

But while the book didn’t wow me, I enjoyed it, and I appreciate it for what it is: a fun take on an old tale, perfect for readers who want a cozy fairy tale retelling and to watch Beauty come into her own and then find her true love. I enjoy YA books immensely and have for years, but there has been a definite shift towards books that are trying to make points rather than tell stories, books that are incredibly dark, and books that are rather convoluted (with varying degrees of success). All this is fine, depending on what you’re in the mood to read. Hunted reminded me less of recent YA books and more of the ones I read when I was actually a teen: it’s really just a fun spin on “Beauty and the Beast.”

If you like fairy tale retellings and “Beauty and the Beast,” check it out. If you want really original take on the story or a YA fantasy that’s epic and complex, this might not be for you.

Briana
3 Stars

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark

Information

Goodreads: A Wish in the Dark
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Official Summary

All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, and inspired by Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

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Review

A Wish in the Dark has a compelling premise: a middle-grade retelling of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables set in a fantasy world, where light shines only on the “worthy.” The attempt to reimagine a classic work of literature for a younger audience, and thereby highlight inequality between the rich and the poor, is admirable. However, in the end, A Wish in the Dark lacks much of the power I would expect from a book based on one of the heart-rending stories I know. In attempting to make the material more child-friendly, the story loses something. A Wish in the Dark is a solid book with a worthy goal–but not quite the standout novel I had been led to expect.

Writing a story based on Les Misérables was always going to present challenges, as Victor Hugo’s work has a depth and a scope unmatched by many works of literature. A Wish in the Dark attempts to circumvent some of these challenges by focusing on a smaller cast of characters during a shorter period of time. It thus makes the story something that is more correctly described as “inspired by” Hugo’s work, rather than a retelling of Hugo’s work. This is all well and good, but, if the story is not going to attempt a critique of society and its morals set against a stunning historical backdrop, I at least want it to move me with its depictions of its characters. I want it to make me feel the injustice of it all through their eyes. A Wish in the Dark failed to do that.

Presumably because A Wish in the Dark is meant for children, the story often shies away from describing poverty, injustice, and their effects in too much detail. Readers are given pertinent information about the gap between the rich and the poor: the poor have no schools, the poor are herded into prisons where they lack enough to eat, the poor cannot even afford better lights for their homes. However, much of these is described very broadly; I never really felt their hunger, their anger, or their despair. The characters do not burn for justice like Enjorlas and his idealistic followers. The tone is not really clinical but, rather, kind of just describing what is.

Since much of what is in the book also is in the real world, I would hope that the story would inspire some passion around the injustices shown. But, frankly, once our hero Pong escapes to prison and to safety, it is relatively easy to forget that others suffer. Even when he is in hiding, he is cared for better than many, and a few scenes of people begging in the streets do not quite illustrate the full extent of the injustice that is presumably being carried out in the city. Also disappointingly, the book suggests that injustice is solved fairly easily by peaceful protest, love, and democracy. While I recognize that children’s books tend to be upbeat and hopeful in an attempt to inspire people to change instead of making them despair, the too-easy ending feels a bit dishonest.

Critiquing a book with a laudable goal–to expose the gap between the poor and the rich–is difficult. It is natural to want to praise any story that discusses injustice and that seeks to make readers more aware of important social issues. However, though I liked the characters in a general way and though I wished them well, I do not know that pointing out that the poor suffer in many ways more than the rich is enough to make a story amazing. A Wish in the Dark is a fine fantasy. A solid middle-grade novel. It is not, however, a book I will likely want to read again. It lacks the depth and insight I would want from a book attempting to tackle difficult issues.

3 Stars

How to Save a Queendom by Jessica Lawson (ARC Review)

How to Save a Queendom

Information

Goodreads: How to Save a Queendom
Series: None
Source: ARC from publisher
Published: April 20, 2020

Official Summary

From critically acclaimed author Jessica Lawson comes a whimsical fantasy about an orphaned twelve-year-old girl who is called upon to save her queendom when she finds a tiny wizard in her pocket.

Life’s never been kind to twelve-year-old Stub. Orphaned and left in the care of the cruel Matron Tratte, Stub’s learned that the best way to keep the peace is to do as she’s told. No matter that she’s bullied and that her only friend is her pet chicken, Peck, Stub’s accepted the fact that her life just isn’t made for adventure. Then she finds a tiny wizard in her pocket.

Orlen, the royal wizard to Maradon’s queen, is magically bound to Stub. And it’s up to her to ferry Orlen back to Maradon Cross, the country’s capital, or else the delicate peace of the queendom will crumble under the power of an evil wizard queen. Suddenly Stub’s unexciting life is chock-full of adventure. But how can one orphan girl possibly save the entire queendom?

Star Divider

Review

How to Save a Queendom by Jessica Lawson is a rollicking middle-grade adventure that takes all the best parts of a fantasy quest, mixes them up, and presents a story sure to enthrall its readers. From the moment twelve-year-old orphan Stub appears, bullied by the tavern owner she’s apprenticed to, and finding solace only in her pet chicken, readers will know that this is a quirky tale that means to entertain. The appearance of a tiny, grumpy wizard, magically bound to Stub by accident, along with a chef’s apprentice who can’t seem to stop talking about food, only add to the delightful chaos. Will all three be forced to go on a journey together across the nation to stop an evil queen from taking over? Of course!

There’s something kind of irreverent about the way Lawson takes fantasy staples–orphans, wizards, dragons, and evil regents–and puts her own spin on them. The orphan holds no special secret powers, but she is plucky. The wizard is small and impotent. The dragon is somewhat beside the point. And the evil regent almost gets our pity. But, somehow, it all works. The presence of the tropes gives readers something familiar to hold on to. But the way Lawson subverts them makes the book feel not only unpredictable, but also fun.

The characters, along with the plot, are sure to delight. Readers will be sure to fall in love with the protagonist, Stub, who is forced to live in a chicken coop and put up with her mistress’s abuse. Over time, however, Stub finds her strength by learning to trust others and allow them to help her. She is joined by Orlen, a somewhat cranky wizard who is not always as good at spellcraft as he would like everyone to think, but who proves lovable nonetheless. And by Beamas, who provides much of the comic relief by babbling on about recipes and spices when he ought to be thinking about how is life is in danger. Together, they make an unlikely team to save a queendom, but, somehow, it works.

Readers who enjoy middle grade fantasy, fantasy quests, and quirky humor will be sure to love How to Save a Queendom. Its irreverent take on genre tropes, along with its unlikely heroes, prove an irresistibly charming combination.

4 stars

Brightly Woven: The Graphic Novel by Alexandra Bracken, Leigh Dragoon, & Kit Seaton

Brightly Woven The Graphic Novel

Information

Goodreads: Brightly Woven: The Graphic Novel
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Sydelle Mirabil is content enough in her village, until the wizard Wayland North appears. He claims to have evidence that will stop a war, but he needs to get to the capital before war is declared. He takes Sydelle as his navigator, and to help repair his magical cloaks. But it may be Sydelle who saves them all.

Star Divider

Review

Brightly Woven: The Graphic Novel adapts the novel of the same name, presenting the story in vibrant colors sure to appeal to tweens who enjoy reading comics. However, despite the appealing illustrations, the book lacks a cohesive plot, as well as any meaningful character development or worldbuilding. Ultimately, the book is a lackluster affair, one that draws in readers with its looks, but then fails to deliver.

Details about the setting of Brightly Woven are vague from the start, which features Sydelle gathering plants in a remote village, then meeting the wizard Wayland North. North announces to all and sundry that he has important intelligence exonerating a foreign nation from an evil deed that will bring their nations to war. However, he has to get to the capital in a few days’ time, but he is being pursued by enemies. He makes lots of explanations about how the mail service and messengers are untrustworthy (though he just trusted an entire random village with his secret and his life) to ensure that he has to go himself, on foot. Also, apparently he can teleport, but apparently conveniently not that far. At any rate, this almost all the worldbuilding readers are going to get for the rest of the novel, until they learn that somehow colorful cloaks are magical (what different colors mean and how they work remains unexplained) and there is a wizard organization (which is maybe kind of evil, but maybe not. Who knows.). In the end, it feels like Sydelle and North are moving through an empty wasteland, devoid of any meaningful geography, culture, or politics.

The character development does little to help save the story. Sydelle is pretty much a blank slate for readers to maybe project themselves onto. At any rate, she is a kind of standard small town girl who is swept up into a greater adventure. Sassy and smart. Presumably in love with the moody, mysterious wizard who took her travelling. But what her hopes and dreams, her fears, her motivations are readers will never know. Ultimately, she turns into a deux ex machina in a confusing and unexpected turn of events that rush by too quickly to feel meaningful.

North is perhaps worse than Sydelle in terms of character development. Readers mainly know that he is a wizard with a sad backstory pertaining to his father, and he has a teen wizard nemesis. How exactly all of this affects him or why readers should care remains unexplained. He also has magic, but what kind and how it works is a mystery. Sydelle appears to be in love with him, but readers may have to question why since he is so amazingly bland.

Ultimately, Brightly Woven left me confused and disappointed, unsure of what I had just read. The plot makes very little sense. The worldbuilding is all but nonexistent. The character development is severely lacking. The ending does leave room for a sequel, but it seems questionable how many readers will be interested in continuing reading a series where nothing is explained. The illustrations are well done, but they are not enough to salvage the work.

2 star review

Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Into the Heartless Wood

Information

Goodreads: Into the Heartless Wood
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: January 12, 2021

Official Summary

The forest is a dangerous place, where siren song lures men and women to their deaths. For centuries, a witch has harvested souls to feed the heartless tree, using its power to grow her domain.

When Owen Merrick is lured into the witch’s wood, one of her tree-siren daughters, Seren, saves his life instead of ending it. Every night, he climbs over the garden wall to see her, and every night her longing to become human deepens. But a shift in the stars foretells a dangerous curse, and Seren’s quest to become human will lead them into an ancient war raging between the witch and the king who is trying to stop her.

Epic, heartbreaking, and darkly atmospheric, Into the Heartless Wood is the story of impossible love between a monstrous tree siren and a boy who lives at the edge of her wood.

Star Divider

Review

Into the Heartless Wood brings readers to a fantasy world where tree sirens roam– and they are deadly. Against them, men and women try to wield fire and guns, but the forest always regrows. The result is a uniquely imagined and wonderfully atmospheric novel, one that many readers are sure to love, drawn in by the magic and trees and the lyrical prose. However, slow pacing and some minor plot holes lessened my personal excitement for the book.

Roughly the first third of the novel is focused on protagonist Owen setting the scene and then meeting with one of the tree sirens, Seren, who seems different– less inclined to kill, determined perhaps to become something other than the monster she has been. This was interesting to me at first, but I did reach a point where I began to wonder whether anything in particular was going to happen in the novel, or whether I would just be watching Owen and Seren have cutesy forest dates for 300 pages without any sort of rising action, climax, or structure to the book at all.

Things eventually did pick up, and I vacillated between genuinely being excited and wondering what would happen next, and thinking that things were a bit underdeveloped and could use more build-up or explanation. On the plus side, Into the Heartless Wood is a standalone, and I’ll accept a few things being rushed here and there to be able to finish the story in just one book.

Though there is action (just reading the book summary will tell you there’s a war), I’d say the book is truly a romance, and unfortunately that fell flat for me. Owen and Seren both seem like incredibly kind and strong people, but I wasn’t feeling any particularly chemistry between them; I personally didn’t care whether they got together or not, and their flowery thoughts about how much they meant to each other didn’t do anything for me.

The book salvages this, however, by representing some great family dynamics. Owen lost his mother (it’s YA, so of course she’s dead), but he has a vivacious sister who’s two and whom he primarily cares for, and he has his father–who, honestly, is a largely unsung hero of the book. Owen seems vaguely to recognize his father is smart and strong and brave–he’s faced the forest more than once and is always willing to fight for those he loves–but the point is never dwelled on, and I think it’s understated how much the man must have suffered. Seren has more complicated relationships, but watching her navigate her path dealing with her mother and her siblings is fascinating.

While I was expecting more from Into the Heartless Wood after absolutely loving Echo North, it’s a fine book. Readers who want something woodsy and atmospheric and don’t mind a bit of slowness will likely enjoy it. It’s a nice pick if you like fantasy but don’t want over-the-top epic fantasy or drawn-out wars.

Side note: The text in this book is TINY. If miniscule font is not for you, you might enjoy the ebook better.

Briana
3 Stars

Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Wicked Saints

Information

Goodreads: Wicked Saints
Series: Wicked Saints #1
Source: Gift
Published: 2019

Official Summary

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

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Review

Wicked Saints is undeniably an attempt to replicate the success of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, with its Russian-inspired setting, its endless war, its romance with a monster, and its musings on the true nature of religion and sainthood. Unfortunately, however, the book never reaches the same level of writing or introspection of Bardugo’s work, instead relying on cheap thrills and plot twists to keep readings hooked. After too many attempts to shock me, however, the book started to get more laughable than dramatic. Wicked Saints is one of those books that made me deeply grateful the experience of reading it was finally over.

The premise of Wicked Saints is intriguing. It focuses on Nadya, a girl raised in a monastery to be the ultimate weapon to end her country’s war with a neighboring nation, as well as on the prince of that enemy country, and a boy whose power is monstrous yet compelling. These three should spark the interest of readers with their unique perspectives on life and religion, especially when their lives collide. However, the characterization is regrettably weak. Nadya’s main feature is her hatred of the enemy country mainly because they are the enemy, as well as “heretics.” The prince, Serefin, is more compelling, but readers don’t get much from him except that he likes to get drunk and isn’t as terrible as his tyrant father. The boy/monster remains an enigma and his main reason for existing seems to be so Nadya can fall in love with him, while flip flopping on the question of whether she can trust him.

The romance here is seemingly a replication of the Alina/Darkling romance from Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. Unlike that one, however, this one is hard to be invested in. Nadya has no real reason to start falling for a boy who practices blood magic she finds abhorrent, and whom she is not even sure she can trust. He gives her no backstory, no reason for her to see the boy behind the monster. They barely even spend any time together. Instead, the author just tells readers that Nadya is physically attracted to him, and that is apparently supposed to be enough. But the great romances of literature always have a lead-up, always have a reason for readers to want to see a couple together. Here, the only reason is that YA loves the enemies-to-lovers trope, and Duncan wants to set up readers for a series of “Can we trust him? Yes! No! Yes! No!” scenes that start to become ridiculous the more prolific they become.

The book really starts to fall apart around the midway point when Duncan starts to attempt to play up the mystery and the drama. Part of this happens with the aforementioned series of scenes, where Nadya keeps trusting, then not trusting, her love interest as a bunch of of plot twists come out of nowhere, not because they make sense in the plot, but because drama is everything. But part of the strategy to create dramatic tension is apparently to simply not explain anything. In my opinion, this is shoddy writing. Writers should not have to rely on confusing their readers into thinking something exciting is happening. The plot should make sense and readers should be able to follow it. They should be worried because they have an inkling of what is about to happen, not because they lost the plot thread 100 pages ago and are now just along for the ride.

Wicked Saints will possibly appeal to readers who want more of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. However, the danger in trying to copy another book’s success is that any failure to reach the bar set by the first book becomes more pronounced. Wicked Saints is no substitute for the Grisha trilogy, and it is disappointing to open up a book with a promising summary only to find weak characterization, a bland romance, and a nonsensical plot. I won’t be picking up the sequel.

2 star review

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.

Star Divider

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

Ravage the Dark by Tara Sim (ARC Review)

Ravage the Dark

Information

Goodreads: Ravage the Dark
Series: Scavenge the Stars #2
Source: ARC from publisher
Published: March 2021

Official Summary

Step into an opulent world filled with risk, romance, and revenge and find out whether two unlikely heroes can save the world and stop corruption.

For seven long years, while she was imprisoned on a debtor’s ship, Amaya Chandra had one plan: to survive. But now, survival is not enough. She has people counting on her; counting on her for protection, for leadership, for vengeance. And after escaping Moray by the skin of her teeth, she’s determined to track down the man who betrayed her and her friends.

Cayo Mercado has lost everything: his money, his father, his reputation. Everything except his beloved sister. But he’s well on his way to losing her, too, with no way to afford the treatment for her deadly illness. In a foreign empire also being consumed by ash fever, Cayo has no choice but to join Amaya in uncovering the mystery of the counterfeit currency, the fever, and how his father was involved in their creation. But Cayo still hasn’t forgiven Amaya for her earlier deception, and their complicated feelings for each other are getting harder and harder to ignore.

Through glittering galas, dazzling trickery, and thrilling heists, Cayo and Amaya will learn that the corruption in Moray goes far deeper than they know, and in the end the only people they can trust are each other.

Star Divider

Review

Ravage the Dark picks up where the first book left off, with Amaya and her allies headed to a new country in an attempt to uncover the truth behind a deadly conspiracy. Readers need not be overly familiar with the events of the former book, as its events are not particularly relevant to this story. Once the author sets the scene and reminds readers of everyone’s relationship status, that proves enough for readers to get the gist of the plot. As with the former book, worldbuilding details are scarce, with different nations, cultures, and politics being hastily sketched just enough to make it seem like the characters are not walking through an empty earth. The plot and its drama are the main focus of the book, and readers are really just along for the ride, whether it makes sense or not.

Initially, I worried that I would not be able to understand this book, since it has been so long since I read Scavenge the Stars. Incredibly, however, the main fallout from the first book seems mainly to be that the love interests Amaya and Cayo are not ostensibly mad at each other. As is typical in many a YA, they spend the book alternately flirting and then yelling at one another, repeatedly crying that they no longer have any trust, but not doing a whole lot to rebuild it, either. Ultimately, the hormones seem to win out and that is supposed to be enough for readers to feel invested in the love story, even though it has to be admitted that Amaya and Cayo do not seem particularly compatible, in the end.

There is also a whole lot of drama, plot-wise, to keep readers engaged. There’s a deadly plague ravaging the nations, a shady counterfeiting scheme, some international politics that don’t make much sense, and a new sub-plot about a side character’s past, her journey to find her sister, and her desire to wreak revenge on the man who helped subjugate her country. Frankly, it’s all a little too much for one book to address adequately, and a bunch of the loose threads end up being resolved “off stage” in the end, with characters simply reporting that they have discovered the solution to all their problems and enacted it. After reading two books about these problems, readers might very well feel cheated that they do not get to see the resolutions actually happen.

Ravage the Dark entertained me immensely while I was reading it, and I think it is a stronger book than Scavenge the Stars. Objectively speaking, however, I have to admit that the worldbuilding is close to nonexistent and that the plot structure is a little too unwieldy. I think fans of YA fantasy will enjoy this one, but it may not be the type of book one wants to return to again and again.

Readalikes

3 Stars

Hush by Dylan Farrow

Hush

Information

Goodreads: Hush
Series: Hush #1
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

They use magic to silence the world. Who will break the hush?

Seventeen-year-old Shae has led a seemingly quiet life, joking with her best friend Fiona, and chatting with Mads, the neighborhood boy who always knows how to make her smile. All while secretly keeping her fears at bay… Of the disease that took her brother’s life. Of how her dreams seem to bleed into reality around her. Of a group of justice seekers called the Bards who claim to use the magic of Telling to keep her community safe.

When her mother is murdered, she can no longer pretend.

Not knowing who to trust, Shae journeys to unlock the truth, instead finding a new enemy keen to destroy her, a brooding boy with dark secrets, and an untold power she never thought possible.

Star Divider

Review

Hush by Dylan Farrow is a very standard YA fantasy where the protagonist learns that she has special powers and that she is living in a dystopian society where the people in power lie to stay that way. It also includes the usual love triangle with the boy next door and the aloof, mysterious magic worker. I feel like I’ve read this book a dozen times already, so I admit I was not very impressed.

Reviewing Hush proves rather difficult precisely because it is so unmemorable. Perhaps if Farrow had given readers a unique protagonist in Shae, the book would feel a little more original. However, as it is, Shae has little to no personality, functioning mainly as an empty vessel who can illustrate the point that sometimes people speak the truth and no one listens. Farrow is very open about the fact that this dystopian society is meant to reflect the experience of survivors of sexual abuse, whose stories are not believed. This is an admirable effort, though the messaging of the book sometimes threatens to overshadow the story.

The plot itself is equally bland, following the usual trajectory as Shae leaves her village to discover the truth about her world and finds herself embroiled in politics she is little equipped to handle. Along the way, she also learns that she possesses magic–magic stronger than what most other people possess–and she starts to fall for a mysterious Bard who insists he is not attracted to Shae, but whose actions seem to say differently. At this point, the novel almost seems to be following some sort of dystopian fantasy YA template.

Hush may be appreciated more by readers who missed the dystopian boom after The Hunger Games was published, and so may think that this book reads as more original than it is. For my part, however, Hush proves a lackluster read. I have no plans to read the sequel.

3 Stars

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