Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas

Information

Goodreads: Dragon’s Green
Series: Worldquake Series #1
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Effie Truelove is not sure magic really exists until her grandfather ends up in the hospital.  Then, suddenly, he is bequeathing his library to her as well as an assortment of magical objects.  But her father sells the books to a man Effie is not sure she can trust.  And thus she finds herself on an adventure to reclaim her inheritance and the truth about her birthright.

Review

Dragon’s Green is a fast-paced and exciting adventure story that feels wholly original in the realm of middle-grade fantasy.  It seems based on role-playing games, requiring the protagonist Effie to collect magical items (called boons) and bequeath them to her allies, who all possess different innate abilities and thus different titles (scholar, mage, healer, etc.).  Together, they form a team that  can defeat an evil book-destroying mage.

A lot of intriguing elements come together in the story to heighten the mystery and keep readers intrigued. The story begins with Effie’s grandfather dying under strange circumstances and leaving her only vague hints about what to do with the magic she never really knew existed.  From there, she and her friends have to piece together the rules of the magical world, before they inadvertently do something terribly wrong or terribly dangerous.  Dragons, princesses, goblins, and guardians all make their appearances, making the story a very satisfying fantasy experience.

Dragon’s Green is the first in a series, but it’s the kind of first that really makes you want to read the sequel.  The characters are sympathetic, the world intriguing, and the mystery thrilling.  I, for one, am excited by the possibility of going on another adventure with Effie and her friends.

5 stars

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Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Wild Beauty

Information

Goodreads: Wild Beauty
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: October 3, 2017

Official Summary

Love grows such strange things.

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Review

Wild Beauty is one of those captivating books half-caught between fantasy and reality.  The protagonists live in our world, speaking Spanish and praying to the Christian God, yet their lives play out in an enchanted garden of their own making.  The women of the family are blessed with the ability to make flowers grow in any soil, any weather; they are cursed with the fact that anyone they love romantically eventually disappears.  The mix of the two worlds is on some occasions jarring, but when the focus remains on the women’s lives, their hopes and fears and relationships with each other, the result is pure magic.

The book is told from the alternating points of view of Estrella, one of the youngest cousins living in the garden, and Fel, a boy Estrella dug up from the ground who initially cannot remember anything about his past.  One can see the romance coming from a mile away, even as Estrella swears not to fall in love too hard, lest Fel disappear.  However, their relationship was one of the least interesting facets of the book for me.  Rather, I loved watching Estrella interact with the other women of her family and with the greedy man who comes to have legal ownership over the garden where her family lives.  I loved watching Fel become part of the family and think hard about his past and the family he must have once had.

Estrella’s four cousins are all well-developed and become primary characters in their own rights.  Their mothers and grandmothers are more sketches, groups in the background who seem to function as one rather than individuals.  But perhaps it is not surprising that a YA book would forefront the young characters and push the older ones away.  At any rate, I did enjoy reading about each of the cousins and learning their personalities and seeing how they acted as a family—sometimes fighting and bitter but always ready to have each other’s backs.

In terms of plot, I’m somewhat conflicted about the “big reveal” near the end of the story.  It’s certainly not something I saw coming, in part because I’m not 100% convinced it makes a lot of sense.  However, arguably part of the draw of the story is going with the flow and accepting that sometimes things don’t make sense; sometimes they just are.  We can try to react to them, but we cannot necessarily change them or stop them.

Wild Beauty is ultimately a book to be savored and thought over.  It’s about family and friendship and trying to make your own path while being beholden to others.  It’s about beauty and sorrow and pain and what we do to live with ourselves and the world we have inherited.  Some people might find it a bit of a slow read, but personally I thought it worthwhile.

4 stars Briana

Everless by Sara Holland

EverlessInformation

Goodreads: Everless
Series: Everless #1
Source: Library
Published: January 2, 2018

Official Summary

In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

Review

Everless has a fabulous premise, introducing readers to a world where time is used as currency, but everyone except the elite seem to be running out of it.  The story builds on this original premise by moving the story’s setting from Jules’s impoverished town to Everless itself–the sumptuous manner of the local ruling family.  Since I love unique fantasy and books that bring readers into the lush lives of the wealthy, I was on board with this from the start.

Granted, the point is that not everything is what it seems and that the glittering lives of the rich are built (pretty literally here) on the blood of the poor. Plus, our protagonist is a servant, so she’s not 100% living the high life herself.  However, I enjoyed the balance of seeing both dies of this world, the lower class and the upper class.  I’ve been reading a lot of books lately about servant girls who work in the kitchen and live in a dormitory of cots with other girls and want to be handmaiden to their mistresses, etc., so the world-building was not 100% as fresh as I’d like, but it still drew me in.

I was also a fan of Jules. Sure, she does the stereotypical thing of doing exactly what she was warned not to do if she at all valued her life, but she’s at least self-aware about it. She realizes it’s objectively stupid but decides she’s willing to take the risk to find out what she wants to know.  She’s not necessarily foolish; she just knows what she wants and is willing to take risks to get it, and I can get behind that.

However, I have two  main issues with the novel. First, the magic system is unclear to me and seems hand-wavy. We know that someone found a way to extract time from blood; how or why is not mentioned.  (Obviously, it’s clear why people would want to live longer and would therefore want to take time from other people, but it’s not immediately obvious to me how time came to act as currency.)  The ambiguity of the magic was not a deal breaker for me in this novel; however, because of the way the plot went, I believe the author will need to clarify this in book two, or it will become a problem.

Second, the romance is not convincing. I won’t go into details in order to avoid spoilers, but the gist is that I don’t think the protagonist actually knows that much about the love interest; she also barely interacts with him. This, too, is something that could be fixed in book two, but we’ll have to wait to see.

In spite of these flaws, the book is original and entertaining enough that I truly enjoyed reading it. It’s strong YA fantasy, and I look forward to reading the sequel, where I think our protagonist will really grow into her own and show her strength.

I’d give this book 3.5 stars, but we don’t generally give half stars on the blog, so I don’t have a graphic for that.

Briana

8 Fantasy Books Featuring Court Intrigue

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

In the underground city of Caverna, babies are born without the ability to show emotion and must be taught Faces to express themselves.  The richer you are, the more Faces you have.  But then Neverfell appears from the world above.  Her face, with its ability to show exactly what she is feeling, makes her a danger to a world carefully built on lies and intrigue.  Frances Hardinge imagines an extraordinary world full of magic and madness–a world so original that you will want to return for me.  Unfortunately, this one is a standalone.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Nineteen-year-old Kelsea Glynn is heir to the Tearling throne, but may not live to be crowned queen. As a baby, she was stolen away from the castle and raised in secret by servants. After the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, her regent uncle ruled as the puppet of the Red Queen, the cruel tyrant (and rumored witch) of neighboring Mortmesne–a nation that has subdued the surrounding realms and looks to solidify its control over the Tearling. Now of age to take her rightful place on the throne, Kelsea plans to restore the independence of the Tearling and to erase her family’s legacy of bad politics. But first she must not only survive the journey to the castle but also win the love and support of her people.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMater Bujold

As a soldier turned tutor, Cazaril is now responsible for instructing the sister of the man who will one day rule.  But he turned from politics long ago and he is not certain he wants to be involved with the intrigues of the court.

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

Ten years ago, Wilhemina Korte, princess of Aecor, watched her parents die at the hands of the Indigo Kingdom.  She and the other noble children were taken to the capital of their conquerors.  But they escaped and now they live as spies, determined to do whatever it takes to return home.  Even if they do, however, the wraith, a toxic mist born of magic, is slowly wiping entire lands off the map.  Wil wants to become queen.  But can she protect her people from the Indigo Kingdom and the wraith?

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Years ago a young man set out on a quest to save the land from darkness. He rose in power as the Lord Ruler, but his world became one of darkness and ash. Now the skaa work as slaves under the nobles, who alone possess the genes that can impart the magical skills of Allomancy. Kelsier, a skaa thief escaped from a life of labor, dares to challenge the might of the Lord Ruler. He, after all, as a result of his mixed heritage, possesses all the skills of a Mistborn. But, if his plan is to succeed, he will also need the help of an unlikely ally–a young street urchin who does not yet know the power she wields.

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith

In fulfillment of a vow made to their father on his deathbed, Meliara and her brother Bran declare war against the monarch whose greed now threatens the prosperity of the kingdom.  Against the odds they struggle valiantly on, but find that peace can sometimes prove more dangerous than war.  Treachery lurks everywhere at court and Mel fears to place her trust in anyone.  Her reluctance to own to her mistakes and to take sides, however, may ultimately cost her her chance at happiness.  Contains Crown Duel and Court Duel.

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

As twenty-third in line to the throne, Freya never expected to be queen.  But when someone murders the king and a number of his successors, Freya suddenly finds herself fighting for her crown.  Unable to trust her own family, she will have to find a way to win the respect of the people and forge her own destiny.

The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente

Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë have spent countless hours imagining stories in the room at the top of the stairs.  Now, however, Charlotte and Emily must go off to school–where their two older sisters died from fever.  But just as it seems separation is inevitable, they find themselves in a magical world where the Duke of Wellington still fights Bonaparte.  Even stranger, the world seems to be the one they themselves have created and it is populated with their toys.  At first they imagine they can stay there forever.  But when Branwell and Anne are kidnapped, the siblings realize that this world may be out of their control.

A Dash of Dragon by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartowski

Information

Goodreads: A Dash of Dragon
Series: Dash of Dragon #1
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Lailu is the youngest chef to graduate from the academy in three hundred years and she has a plan to revolutionize the way people think about food.  She is a mystical chef, one who hunts and serves beasts like kraken and dragons.  But her master has made a deal with a loan shark and if their restaurant does not succeed, they’ll both end up in servitude for life.  Does Lailu have what it takes to navigate the underworld, match wits with a series of spies, defeat a cooking rival, and still prepare the perfect meal?

Review

At times, A Dash of Dragon feels a little like a clunky and convoluted mess.  Lailu, a thirteen-year-old Mystical Chef (one who serves meals made of monsters), finds herself caught up in a world where a loan shark holds power over local businesses, the elf mafia terrorizes the city, the scientists may or may not be engaged in deadly schemes, and the king is…too young to be relevant as his city lives in terror?  None of this is bad.  It’s all very exciting.  It’s just confusing that Lailu is dragged into it by the opposing sides.  Who really hires a thirteen-year-old to spy on other people?  Especially when they are already doing a better job of spying themselves?

Also unclear are the motivations of Lailu’s rival, Greg.  He is roughly the same age and has opened his own restaurant, which Lailu perceives as competition–even though the average city can surely sustain two restaurants quite comfortably.  He obviously has a crush on her, but also appears to be a little mean.  Whether or not he is really mean or not is left unanswered–read the sequel if you want to figure out what this guy’s deal is.

Indeed, read the sequel if you want any of your questions answered, because this book is more concerned with drama than it is with giving anyone clear or logical motivations.  Lailu, for instance, regularly forgets about really important things just to make the plot convenient and just as regularly tends to be wrong about the characters of essentially everyone she knows–again to drive the plot.  By the end, she has done a score of ridiculous things, like protecting the identify of a group of murderer/kidnappers.  Why?  Probably so they can show up in the sequel.  There is no other explanation.

And yet.  The book is quite entertaining.  I loved Lailu’s spunk.  I was intrigued by the elf mafia.  I thought the premise of a group of chefs who hunt and cook monsters original and exciting.  In short, I enjoyed the book.  And I want to read the sequel.  Not because I want to figure anything out–I’ll be surprised if book two makes any more sense than book one–but because I love traveling through the magical world built in A Dash of Dragon.

3 Stars

The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross (with Spoilers!)

Information

Goodreads: The Queen’s Rising
Series: None
Source: Goodreads Giveaway ARC in exchange for an honest review
Published: Feb. 6, 2018

Summary

Brienna has grown up in Valenia, never knowing the name of her father, who hails from the neighboring land of Maevana.  Still, she always feels split.  But for now she has to focus on attempting to passion–proving that she has a talent for knowledge and being chosen by a patron.  However, when no patron chooses her, she chooses as her patron a lord who wishes to overthrow the king of Maevana.  She dreams of the day the rightful queen will rule over Maevana again, but, as she spins her webs of intrigue, she soon finds that she may have entangled herself too far.

Review

I have already provided a review of the ARC edition of The Queen’s Rising.  However, now it’s time to bring out all the spoilers and discuss in-depth all the feelings I had while reading this book.  Though I expected to love it based on the premise, I quickly found that the story is poorly paced, the romance uncomfortable, and the plot twists…not necessarily so twisty!

I can usually tell when a book is poorly constructed when I have trouble summarizing it.  In this case, I was already confused while reading the summary on the back cover, so I had some foreshadowing of what was to come.  On the one hand, this is a boarding school story about a girl who must find a way to master a passion (talent) for knowledge in three years instead of the usual seven.  And about the first third of the book focuses on her final week of classes as she tries to prepare to graduate and secure a patron.  Then, wham!  Suddenly, the book is not about Brienna’s passion at all! It’s now a court intrigue/rebellion book!

The patron she secures is not a passion, as is typical, but a man who wants to overthrow the ruler of the neighboring kingdom.  And he wants Brienna not because she’s a passion or has knowledge or really understands the lineages and history of Maevana, but because she is randomly getting memories about the hiding spot of a magical artefact.  Erm, why did we spend a third of the book wondering if Brienna has a real passion and if it needs to be inherent or if it can be gained through hard work…all for her to be chosen for patronage just because she got lucky and has memories triggered at odd moments?  Also, isn’t it grand that all the memories are super important and all related exactly to what she wants to know?

Of course, at this point I’m wondering why everyone in the country of Valenia cares so much about what happens in Maevana.  I’m pretty sure from watching the real world that the majority of people do not care what happens in other countries and are perfectly willing to overlook atrocities committed elsewhere.  Explaining that Valenia helped put the current awful king on the throne of Maevana does not convince me that so many ordinary citizens of Valenia would put themselves on the line to see a queen rule Maevana.  Nor am I convinced by Brienna’s constant musings about how she is “split in half” and that the Maevan blood calls to her or something.  She’s spent her entire life living in Valenia and knows only Valenia, but she’s suddenly super invested in Maevana and willing to die to put a queen on throne because her blood “wants to bow to a queen.”  Even if she does not know the queen.  Okay…

Yes, it is is convenient that everyone Brienna happens to meet secretly turns out to be Maevan, too! Wow, it’s almost like no one Valenian actually lives in Valenia!  Still, that does not explain the Dowager nor does it explain Merei.  (Actually, I would really like someone to explain to me how Merei knows archery when she’s spent seven years in a fancy girls’ school learning music.)  The book tries to shortcut all this, however, with some  highfalutin’ language and incredibly fast relationships.  It’s truly incredible to me that Brienna’s passion father kills to protect her one day after they’ve first met.  And truly incredible that Brienna now has a “real” family to love and die for after one day–I guess her grandfather doesn’t mean anything to her?

And how can we even begin to explain why her birth father decides to start a rebellion to put her on the throne the very first time he meets her?  Even though she’s working for his enemy?  Apparently he thinks saying, “Hey, betray your friends and join me, your true father who never cared about your existence before now” is a really convincing argument.  But I guess it works on Cartier, whose loyalty to his queen is so strong that he agrees to throw her to the wolves as soon as Brienna suggests she herself could be queen instead.  Morals? What are morals?  Cartier wouldn’t know.  Why exactly is it that we’re supposed to like and admire him, again?  Rebecca Ross seems to think it’s because offering to betray your country for your lover is super sexy, but I’m pretty sure the average woman would find a man of integrity far more attractive than Cartier.

What really bothers me, however, is the romance.  I am very uncomfortable with seeing a relationship between a teacher and a student.  Yes, it’s also weird that Brienna is 17 and Cartier is probably around 28 (assuming four years passed after he passioned and then he got a job at the school at the age of 21).  That’s a large age gap for young people.  Imagine someone out of college, nearing their thirties, dating…a high school junior.  Why?  They have nothing in common!  And the power imbalance  is a little creepy.  Cartier has much more knowledge, experience, and maturity–and could use that to manipulate a teen who is experiencing her first romance.  But, I digress.  We might, after all, hand wave this and say it’s a pseudo-medieval/Renaissance world and age gaps might not be weird in their society.  But I cannot stress enough how inappropriate it is for a teacher to fall in love with a student!

Yes, it’s true that Cartier wants until after Brienna passions (or graduates) to make any real moves, so they are no longer in a teacher-student relationship by the time most of the romance stuff starts.  We can’t argue that she might feel pressured to do…stuff…because of the power difference resulting from their professional positions.  However, Cartier’s preference for Brienna is marked enough during her time at school that another student notices it and complains.  He uses his romantic interest in her to favor her at times.  Even more uncomfortable is the fact that he sends her special adornment for her passioning and tells her how to style her hair, not because he’s her teacher and trying to help her make her best impression on future patrons, but because he gets pleasure out of seeing her dressed a certain way.  Here he is using his power as a teacher to make her present herself physically in a way that he wants.  That’s just icky.

And don’t get me started on his presumptuous choice for her passion cloak.  He chooses a constellation that does not mean anything for Brienna at the time of her graduation.  Instead, he chooses a constellation that completes his–a constellation that is about him and not about Brienna.  Because, remember, there have only been about two days of seeming flirtation between the two of them at the time that Cartier plans to present this cloak.  Was he going to use her graduation as the excuse to finally declare his love to his student?  Was he waiting years for this moment?  Now I’m uncomfortable again because it almost seems like he was waiting to pounce as soon as it was legal.  And when did his interest in her start?  When she first came to him at the age of 14 and he was 25?  Even if we hand wave the age gap, Brienna is still a child for, well, as long as Cartier knows her at school.

And then we get to the plot “twists.”  It is awkward to spend the majority of a book hiding Brienna’s parentage when it’s all revealed in a family tree before the story starts!  Also awkward are other possible reveals.  Luc=Luscas and Isolde=Yseult; their fake names are easily associated with the correct person on the family tree, for someone with a sharp eye.  I truly hope that the final version moves the family trees to the end of the book (I read an ARC).

The Queen’s Rising is an enjoyable read if you can overlook how the poor pacing and the other flaws.  I imagine most readers will since the book reflects closely what so many other YA fantasy books look like.  Still, I am very disappointed that the execution did not live up to the premise.

3 Stars

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor

Information

Goodreads: Nevermoor: The Trial of Morrigan Crow
Series: Nevermoor #1
Source: Gift
Published: October 31, 2017

Official Summary

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests–or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.

Review

Nevermoor is one of those magical middle grade fantasies that draw you in from the first pages and never let you go. There’s a bit of darkness to the story, as Morrigan is a cursed child—both for herself because she’s doomed to die at the age of twelve and for her community because a simple look from her can bring bad luck down upon others. Sadly, a lot of people, perhaps including her own family, are not going to be overly distressed by her death. However, the book nicely balances this darkness with whimsy and laughter, and Morrigan eventually finds a place where she belongs.

Morrigan herself is a spunky, determined protagonist whom readers will love to root for as she attempts to earn a coveted place in the exclusive Wundrous Society, a group of intrepid adventurers with unusual talents. Her good points are nicely balanced by some realistic character flaws, such as occasionally doubting her own abilities or getting into spats with other children.

The plot is engaging and ties together several threads, including Morrigan’s quest to pass the tests to enter the Wundrous Society and her attempts to fit into her new home, as well as a more overarching plot about good vs. evil. I couldn’t help but keep turning the pages to see what would happen next, as well as to keep exploring Townsend’s imaginative world.

Nevermoor delighted me the entire time I was reading it. It’s only January (at the time I’m writing the review, not when I’m publishing it!), but I already think this is going to be a contender for one of my favorite reads of 2018, and I can’t wait for the sequel.

5 stars Briana