Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr

Carnival of SoulsInformation

Goodreads: Carnival of Souls
Series: Untamed City #1
Source: Library
Published: July 31, 2012

Official Summary

In a city of daimons, rigid class lines separate the powerful from the power-hungry. And at the heart of The City is the Carnival of Souls, where both murder and pleasure are offered up for sale. Once in a generation, the carnival hosts a deadly competition that allows every daimon a chance to join the ruling elite. Without the competition, Aya and Kaleb would both face bleak futures—if for different reasons. For each of them, fighting to the death is the only way to try to live.

All Mallory knows of The City is that her father—and every other witch there—fled it for a life in exile in the human world. Instead of a typical teenage life full of friends and maybe even a little romance, Mallory scans quiet streets for threats, hides herself away, and trains to be lethal. She knows it’s only a matter of time until a daimon finds her and her father, so she readies herself for the inevitable.While Mallory possesses little knowledge of The City, every inhabitant of The City knows of her. There are plans for Mallory, and soon she, too, will be drawn into the decadence and danger that is the Carnival of Souls.


In Carnival of Souls, Melissa Marr invites readers to The City, a world of violence and pleasure, where anything can be bought and sold.  Except power.  That is earned by birthright, or through fights to the death.  Aya and Kaleb have entered the fight ring to win themselves a better life.  Belias has entered to watch over Aya.  And in a different world, the human world, teenage Mallory knows of none of this, or that everyone is The City is looking for her.  Mallory wants only to be safe, to continue living in comfort with her adoptive witch father.

Marr drops readers straight into this intricate mess, where everyone is vying for power.  Weapons may include fists, magic, or smarts, but everyone is playing the game to come out on top.  Readers get to watch a whirlwind of alliances build and fall, and they may be several chapters into the book before they can get a firm grip on whom they may want to win.  Marr guarantees that nothing is clear in her book, that no one is purely good or purely evil, so everyone must be given a chance.

In the end, “curs” Kaleb and Zevi came out as my favorite characters.  They are the underdogs in City society, and Kaleb is striving hard to ensure he and Zevi will one day be able to live in comfort and safety.  Their relationship as “pack” is also endearing.  Though the two have completely diferent personalities and strengths, they are zealously loyal and protective of each other.  It is refreshing to see two people so certain of each other, in a world where alliances seem more common than friendships, and just about everyone is out for themselves.  If Kaleb does win the fights, one hopes he will able to teach some of the cur “pack” mentality to the masses.

Aya and Belias are also interesting characters, primarily because their relationship is so complex.  They are less explicitly “nice” than Kaleb and Zevi, but Marr makes sure to give all her characters both positives and negative characteristics.  No one in Carnival of Souls is one dimensional.  That being said, Mallory, the ostensible protagonist, is the blandest character readers are presented with.  She was raised in the human world, so that certainly makes her less “flashy” than some of the other characters, but she is also generally close-minded and fixated on her personal safety.  (Ok, ok, that is a direct result of her upbringing, so it is logical in the context of the story and not at all her fault.)  The point is, if she does not experience some serious character development in the rest of the series, she will remain my least favorite character, no matter how much everyone else in the book is obsessed with her.

The outlook for Mallory’s personal growth seems good, however.  In Carnival of Souls, at least, Marr was focused more on building atmosphere and characters than on plot.  The book was essentially a 300 page introduction to the world of The City and the major players.  And, if not for the fairly original setting in the Carnival of Souls itself, the book would have read a lot more like an average paranormal romance: Girl does not know she is special.  Girl meets mysterious dangerous boy.  Instalove happens.  Girl rebels against instalove but is still interested.  Girl learns she is an important person and romance is threatened.  End of book one.  The sequel to Carnival of Souls has more plot potential, as the novel ends with an explicit goal for the characters to pursue, but I can imagine it sill meandering about, looking into the personal troubles of the characters—which may end up as the more interesting part.

In the end, however, I thought Carnival of Souls had a lot of potential it did not quite live up to.  The setting is a huge draw, but the alluring/dangerous carnival idea has been more fully developed in other novels.  I would have liked a little more description to draw me into the world.  Also, Marr goes to great lengths to portray the complexity of The City society, but she “tells” a lot more than she “shows,” having her characters deliver direct statements about how no one is good or bad because of their species, their class, etc.  Readers could draw such conclusions on their own, based on the actions of Marr’s characters.

I enjoyed Carnival of Souls, but I was not wowed by it, which was a reaction I anticipated after seeing tons of gushing reviews.  I would like to continue the series because I want to see what happens to some of the great characters Marr has created, and I do believe the romance has the potential to be very sweet.  I am less invested in the overarching plot.  This is a good book, but not a great one.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood and StarlightGoodreads: Days of Blood and Starlight
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2
Source: Purchased

Official SummaryOnce upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

ReviewDays of Blood and Starlight is a strong follow-up to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, written with the same imagination and lyrical prose.  Taylor brings life to both plot and thoughts with her beautiful descriptions.  In one of the opening chapters, she writes: “It was one of those dreams that invade the space between seconds, proving sleep has its own physics—where times shrinks and swells, lifetimes unspool in a blink, and cities burn to ash in a mere flutter of lashes.”  Small events become momentous through Taylor’s imagery and important ones become larger-than-life.

And Taylor’s characters are fighting bigger problems than before.   War is in full swing between angels and chimera and everyone is choosing sides.  The terrible events they experience change beloved characters from book 1, including Karou, Akiva, and his siblings.  Taylor demonstrates brilliant character development as she explores how each person is the same at the core, but must adapt to and be affected by heartache, betrayal, and battle.  In addition, Taylor introduces a complex array of new characters, both heroes and villains.

Taylor represents the innermost thoughts of these characters by writing in multiple points-of-views.  There is no pattern, and at least one point-of-view is introduced only to disappear without much conclusion later in the novel.  The effect is slightly disorienting, but it does gives readers unique perspectives on the action and personal thoughts that they would not otherwise be able to experience.  The trade-off—a bit of confusion for the sake of new and important knowledge—is worth it.

Plot-wise, the book is intense and exciting, following multiple threads through war, explorations of Karou’s and Akiva’s pasts, and the difficult decisions everyone must make in order to fight for a better future.  Ultimately, however, Days of Blood and Starlight reads very much like a middle book.  There is really no beginning, climax, or end—a frustration familiar to readers invested in multiple series.  Individual scenes may be gripping, but there is still the sense of lacking when it is unclear why any scene matter or where the story in general is going.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone appears to be a series where reading all the books in a row, instead of waiting years between publication dates, would be a great improvement.

Days of Blood and Starlight is a must-read for fans of the first book, and for fans of fantasy in general.  It is original, compelling, and often profound.  There is not much romance in this one, but certainly there will be more in the future.  Its greatest flaw is leaving readers hanging, desperately wanting more.

Published: 2013

The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski

The Shadow SocietyGoodreads: The Shadow Society
Source: Twitter giveaway from Macmillan

Summary:  Darcy Jones has spent her life shuttled among foster homes and has always wanted a place to belong.  She never imagined, however, that her original home was an alternate version of Chicago, a city where history is different, and a magical people called Shades live next to humans. Unfortunately, the humans and Shades are at war, and when Darcy discovers she too is a Shade, she also discovers just how many people would like to kill her.  Her primary objective is staying alive, but she’ll also have to decide whom to trust, whether she can stop the violence, and which world is home.

ReviewThe Shadow Society is a fresh take on young adult paranormal romance.   The action takes place between two eerily similar worlds, ones that seem like distorted mirror images of each other, and a boy and a girl from very different places in these worlds must learn to trust each other and themselves.  Fans of well-written and creative paranormal romances balancing plot, world building, and romantic relationship (think Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor or Unearthly by Cynthia Hand) will enjoy The Shadow Society, too.

The beginning of the story is a paranormal romance cliché. A hot and mysterious new guy at school stares down the seemingly average girl.  Whether he loathes her or desires her is unclear.  It is a shame these scenes even exist in the book because they could turn readers away—before they read far enough to realize that Rutkoski soon drops the Twilight template and makes her book her own, from characters to storyline.

Darcy’s voice is edgy, yet occasionally vulnerable.  She is tough yet very human (especially since she’s a Shade!).  She is a perfect protagonist for a YA novel, strong enough to be admirable even as she goes through the universal search for identity.  Although outside forces attempt to use her and push her around, she ultimately comes into her own and drives the action of her own story.

Conn is an intriguing love interest.  He may have a skeleton of clichés—mysterious bad boy whom Darcy is irresistibly drawn to even as she mistrusts him—but the details of his character make him unique.  He faces struggles and an identity crisis as complex as Darcy’s, and watching the two attempt to figure first themselves out, then each other, is fascinating.

The two eventually face off in a wild battle for the fate of the alternate Chicago, digging themselves deeper in intrigue and double dealings.  The book is primarily romance, but it has a heavy backdrop of action and suspense with a smattering of fantasy.

Recommended for those who like strong heroines, urban fantasy, and well-written paranormal romance.

Published: 2012

You Might Also Like

Daughter of Smoke and Bone   Black City   A Temptation of Angels

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand

HallowedGoodreads: Hallowed
Series: Unearthly #2
Source: Purchased

Official Summary: For months Clara Gardner trained to face the fire from her visions, but she wasn’t prepared for the choice she had to make that day. And in the aftermath, she discovered that nothing about being part angel is as straightforward as she thought

Now, torn between her love for Tucker and her complicated feelings about the roles she and Christian seem destined to play in a world that is both dangerous and beautiful, Clara struggles with a shocking revelation: Someone she loves will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

In this compelling sequel to Unearthly, Cynthia Hand captures the joy of first love, the anguish of loss, and the confusion of becoming who you are.


[Spoilers for the first book in the series, Unearthly]

Unearthly captivated me with its strong plot, real romance, and beautiful depiction of angels.  At the time I wrote my review, I called it “the best paranormal romance I have read.”  Unfortunately, Hallowed floundered and failed to live up to the expectations Hand had built for me.  In the acknowledgements she writes that “This book was like riding a bucking bronco to write,” and I am unconvinced that she managed to get it completely under control.

At the beginning, the writing itself is somewhat rocky—and this was the first aspect of the novel I thought of when I read Hand’s statement.  She appears to have had some difficulty getting back into the swing of writing. Clara’s voice does not sound real to me here, and she seems painfully awkward even interacting with close friends, making a number of flat jokes that I do not remember being part of her personality from Unearthly.  Things eventually get smoothed out, but I had to power through several hundred pages to see it happen.

There is also something of a dearth of plot.  At the end of Unearthly, Clara believes she has been unsuccessful in fulfilling her purpose.  In Hallowed, she mopes about it.  This is a very contemplative and explanatory novel, rather than an action-filled one.  Clara essentially walks around pondering whether she did fail in her purpose, what that means, what she should do about it, etc.  These are all important questions, but the exploration could be a little more interesting.  The book seems to be in as much of a rut as Clara.  If she did miss her purpose, well what?  Is that just it?  Life goes on?  Ok.

The romance is almost worse. The love triangle is taken to such an extreme that Clara has few romantic moments with either Tucker or Christian.  Mostly, she agonizes.  She wonders whether she should be with one or the other, who she is supposed to love.  This feels very author-contrived to me, a ploy to make the “suspense” last throughout the trilogy.  Personally, I would have loved to see more of why Clara likes either boy.  Christian does get a few more chances to prove his worth here, but there is still the idea of his being Clara’s purpose that makes the romance ring a little false, at least to me.  If Clara does end up with Christian, she needs to fall in love with him a little more in Boundless, and not just with the idea of him.

Essentially, I found Hallowed very slow.  In many places, it was just filling in necessary information about the world of angels or being actual filler to tide readers over until the third book.  I was dying to read Hallowed after I finished Unearthly.  Right now, I feel I can wait for the paperback of Boundless.  A fine book, but not a gripping one.

Has the series changed?  Or have my personal reading tastes changed?  Let me know what you thought of Hallowed in the comments!

Published:  January 2012

The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar

The Art of WishingGoodreads: The Art of Wishing
Series: The Art of Wishing #1
Source: ARC

Official Summary:

He can grant her wishes, but only she can save his life.

Margo McKenna has a plan for just about everything, from landing the lead in her high school play to getting into a good college. So when she finds herself in possession of a genie’s ring and the chance to make three wishes, she doesn’t know what to do. Why should she put her life into someone else’s hands?

But Oliver is more than just a genie — he’s also a sophomore at Margo’s high school, and he’s on the run from a murderer. As he and Margo grow closer, she discovers that it will take more than three wishes to save him.

A whole lot more.


[This review contains slight spoilers.  It discusses some of the questions Margo raises about her relationship with Oliver.]

The Art of Wishing is a fun story that explores the age-old questions of: What would you do if you had a genie?  What would you ask for?  The answers here, of course, are not entirely straightforward, which is what makes following Margo’s struggle with them so entertaining.  She goes a little deeper than most people world, first questioning genies’ attitudes towards granting wishes.  Is it slavery or something they enjoy?  Then she has the problem of deciding what to ask for.  Ribar weaves a delicate system of “genie rules” to background her story, and discovering them along with Margo keeps reading interesting.

The writing itself is also engaging.  Margo has a fantastically realistic voice, as well as a realistic outlook on life.  Through Margo, Ribar manages to poke a bit of fun at the paranormal romance genre in which she has set her debut, as well as fictional romances in general.  Are you skeptical that Margo can love a boy she met a week ago?  Well, so is Margo.

Although I do find most of Margo’s comments on these subjects both clever and amusing, I hold some reservations.  Authors of paranormal romance are noticing some of what many readers see as the major issues of the genre.  One, for example, being the huge age difference between the teen girl protagonist and her supernatural love interest.  Why would he of so much life experience be interested in her?  Margo asks this, too.  But—there is not much of an answer.  For me, the fact that authors are beginning to raise these issues, imply it is true they are issues, and laugh at them a bit, is not enough.  There is a difference between mentioning a problem, saying, “Yeah, you are freakishly older than I am.  How weird!” and managing to write a plot or explanation that actually fixes the problem.  The Art of Wishing is certainly not alone in this technique, but I would love to see YA authors strive further and actually work some issues out.

Romantic issues aside, the plot is  a lot of fun.  It is combination fantasy, action, romance, and serious teen issues.  Tense moments are followed by touching ones, which are followed by funny ones.  I laughed out loud more than once while reading this book.  I was also seriously surprised and horrified by some of the plot twists.  No obvious foreshadowing or cookie cutter plot here!

Overall, The Art of Wishing is a cute and fun read that takes itself just seriously enough.  It is entertaining, but it has a bit of substance to it, as well.  A great debut from someone who obviously knows YA writing.

Publication Date: March 21, 2013

If you were granted three wishes, what would you wish for?

Embrace by Jessica Shirvington

Goodreads: Embrace
Series: The Violet Eden Chapters #1
Source: ARC

Goodreads Summary: It starts with a whisper: “It’s time for you to know who you are…”

Violet Eden dreads her seventeenth birthday. After all, it’s hard to get too excited about the day that marks the anniversary of your mother’s death. As if that wasn’t enough, disturbing dreams haunt her sleep and leave her with very real injuries. There’s a dark tattoo weaving its way up her arms that wasn’t there before.

Violet is determined to get some answers, but nothing could have prepared her for the truth. The guy she thought she could fall in love with has been keeping his identity a secret: he’s only half-human—oh, and same goes for her.

A centuries-old battle between fallen angels and the protectors of humanity has chosen its new warrior. It’s a fight Violet doesn’t want, but she lives her life by two rules: don’t run and don’t quit. When angels seek vengeance and humans are the warriors, you could do a lot worse than betting on Violet Eden…

ReviewEmbrace is an exciting, solid paranormal romance.  It has a ton of the expected elements: a girl who finds out she’s not quite human, her disbelieving reaction, the people who want to help her believe, and the dangerous events that prove it’s all true.  Luckily, Shirvington has packaged them all in good writing and made her main characters quite attractive (in both personalities and looks).

All things considered, Embrace should be read for the romance more than anything else.  More than once, the explanations of how the magic works in this book had me laughing out loud; it was slightly ridiculous.  The angel/religious themes could also have been better.  So far, I think Cynthia Hand’s Unearthly has tackled this best.  In Embrace, readers learn that some religious stuff is sort of true and some isn’t and there is some stuff no one really knows about—including angels.  So there could be a God and there could not be.  Only the highest angels actually know.  The effect is confusing and almost wishy-washy.

The action is pretty intense, but this is a case where the protagonist actually invents most of it by being overly dramatic (i.e. If Violet were a reasonable person who didn’t overreact every time someone did something, there would be a lot less plot.)  Hopefully the drama is out of Violet’s system now, however, so that the second book can feature her acting on good instincts, and some outside forces acting more strongly.

BUT the romance is good.  Violet has a choice of two guys, and Embrace is a novel in which there truly seems to be a choice; she is not obviously drawn to one far more than to the other.  Both also have a ton of good qualities, so readers can be torn, thinking Violet could really be happy with either one.  (The down side is, of course, that one girl spending equal amounts of time flirting with and kissing two different guys means it can feel as if she is cheating or leading someone on.  Hazards of a love triangle.)

Again, this is a solid paranormal romance, and certainly one that is better written than many.  It is not unique, but it will be satisfying for those who like the genre.

Published: March 6, 2012

Black City by Elizabeth Richards

Goodreads: Black City
Series: Black City #1
Source: ARC

Goodreads SummaryA dark and tender post-apocalyptic love story set in the aftermath of a bloody war.

In a city where humans and Darklings are now separated by a high wall and tensions between the two races still simmer after a terrible war, sixteen-year-olds Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling, and Natalie Buchanan, a human and the daughter of the Emissary, meet and do the unthinkable—they fall in love. Bonded by a mysterious connection that causes Ash’s long-dormant heart to beat, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they’re caught, they’ll be executed—but their feelings are too strong.

When Ash and Natalie then find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to pull the humans and Darklings back into war, they must make hard choices that could result in both their deaths.

Review: Black City has an attention-grabbing premise.  It is set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic world where Darklings (*coughvampirescough*) are segregated from humans because of their race.  The two main characters, obviously, must first recognize their prejudices and then work to overcome the injustices and cruelty enacted by the government of their world.  Deep themes and some kick-ass action?  It sounds like the ultimate YA read.  Unfortunately, it fails to deliver, and generally gives the impression of Twlight in a more interesting setting.

One major parallel between Twilight and Black City is the problematic romance.   It is insta-love.  There is a love triangle (albeit an unbelievable one).  Ash is not as good of a boyfriend as Natalie blindly believes.  The first two statements barely need elaboration.  The third will need some defense.

(Minor spoilers in this paragraph about their relationship.)  Ash is a drug dealer.  That alone should send Natalie running.  Instead, however, she rationalizes and defends it.  She states that she is willing to accept the bad of Ash’s character with his good because she loves him.  Now, recognizing that your boyfriend is human (er, half-human) and therefore flawed is one thing, a good thing.  Expecting perfection is also bad for relationships.  Yet suggesting he need not change major bad habits is dangerous.  Couples, recognizing that neither of them is perfect, should help each other to become the best people they can be, instead of excusing negative qualities entirely.  Natalie is setting a poor example for teens.  Also, in case this was unclear, Ash deals drugs!

(Minor spoilers in this paragraph about their relationship).  If that is not enough, Ash is sort of a cheater.  He sees one other girl, recognizes he has a physical attraction to her, and is ready to run to her.  How…endearing?  Richards seems to be attempting to portray some inner struggle that Ash endures (which is clear once you read the book), but she fails.  Ash does not struggle.  He never tries to push the other girl away at all, but instead welcomes her touch in the name of “discovering which girl he is really attracted to.”  It seems to be his opinion that your soul mate is whichever person you have the best time kissing, with her personality being irrelevant.  This philosophy gets in the way of my personal interpretation of Ash’s being a kind person and a good boyfriend.

Black City also suffers from the quality of its writing.  Individual sentences are fine; Richards clearly does have a wonderful command of the English writing.  The overall construction of the novel, however, is flawed.  Richards attempts to cram a lot of action into Black City—but very little of it is particularly exciting.  In the first place, nothing unexpected happens.  Even minor details click into place exactly the way a reader would envision them.  There is not an excessive amount of foreshadowing that enables readers to predict plot events, but once plot events do occur, the immediate reaction is not surprise but a shrugged Yeah, that would happen.  Secondly, so much happens that none of it is given the time it deserves in build-up, event, or aftermath.  In Chapter 17 alone I made note of a sudden romance, a sudden fight, and a sudden death.   This was anomaly in that usually each “major” occurrence—such as a dramatic rift between friends—lasts for one or two whole chapters.

The world behind all this events does not fare much better.  Black City sounds like a fascinating place, but its history is unclear.  To start, whether this novel is set in a future version of our world or in some alternate universe where there is also a United (Sentry) States is unclear. (In Nameless by Lili St. Crow, for example, there are vampiric creatures who suddenly appeared in what was previously our world.  The same could be true of Black City, but it is a mystery.)  Next, the history of the Darklings is underdeveloped.  Readers do learn that the enforced segregation is very recent, having occurred during Natalie’s lifetime.  But how did Darklings and humans live together before then?  Richards implies it was fairly peaceful—but then later states that if segregation were to end, Darklings would need to find a way to eat besides drugging and feeding on humans.  I dislike sounding as if I would be on the racist government’s side in this novel, but if the modus operandi for Darklings had always been to attack, drug, and drain humans, I understand their dislike and fear.  In minor details, the word “fragg” as a curse can be annoying (I dislike invented profanity in general, so no offense to Black City), and the fact that Ash’s fangs tend to throb whenever he is angry or amorous is funny and maybe unnecessary.  The parallel drawn to male genitals here made me mildly uncomfortable, especially for something that served little purpose.

I dislike having to write such a negative for Black City.  I very honestly believed it had potential, first from the summary and second from the fact that Penguin had decided to publish it even though the vampire trend is very close to dead.  I trust editors, and they clearly see something special and innovative about Black City.  In the end, I just did not see it, too.  However, there are a lot of very positive reviews for this book, and if paranormal romance and vampires is something you as a reader really love, this book could work for you.  If you like Twilight, especially, I think this has many of the same characteristics—but better.

Published: November 13, 2012

The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long

Goodreads: The Treachery of Beautiful Things
Source: ARC

Goodreads Summary:  A darkly compelling mix of romance, fairy tale, and suspense from a new voice in teen fiction
The trees swallowed her brother whole, and Jenny was there to see it. Now seventeen, she revisits the woods where Tom was taken, resolving to say good-bye at last. Instead, she’s lured into the trees, where she finds strange and dangerous creatures who seem to consider her the threat. Among them is Jack, mercurial and magnetic, with secrets of his own. Determined to find her brother, with or without Jack’s help, Jenny struggles to navigate a faerie world where stunning beauty masks some of the most treacherous evils, and she’s faced with a choice between salvation or sacrifice–and not just her own.

Review: The beginning of this story leaves a bit to be desired.  My notes on it are basically scattered words to the effect of “weird,” “ridiculous names,” and “wow.”  Essentially, I thought it was a little cheesy.  And, really, the main character “shines with innocence?”  That just made me laugh.

But I am glad I continued.

Quickly enough, I became truly captivated by the main characters.  Jenny is obstinate, but it makes her endearing rather than annoying.  She is absolutely determined to rescue her brother, and no man and no strange land is going to stand in her way.  She’s brilliant.  Jack is more complicated.  Is he good?  Is he bad?  Does he truly care for Jenny or is he just playing for his own rewards?  The constant questioning of his loyalty was really tugging at my heartstrings, and in fact was almost too stressful for something I was reading for fun, but it did keep me on the edge of my seat!  This is a case where you will be pretty sure you know what is going on, but you will never want to bet on it.  There is true suspense.

The world itself is also intriguing.  It is (you guessed it!) both beautiful and treacherous.  But, actually, it is.  No need to worry that the title exaggerates!  And although Long draws heavily on folklore, I found my very general knowledge of her sources was enough to give me grounding in the book.  I have no idea if other YA books use these elements “better,” but they work here.

The plot, after the slightly silly beginning, is truly exciting.  In addition to the ever-looming question of who is on whose side, there is simply a lot of action, a lot of running, and a lot of plotting.  And it is worth noting that there is a climax truly deserving of the name.  Yeah, things go down.

The ending is a little neat, but after the trauma of the preceding pages, I personally would not want it any other way.  It makes me happy to think that things might finally fit together in Jenny’s life, my life, the world at large.  Long brings an idealized fairytale ending to a fairytale that had previously been bleak.  So, readers get the best of both worlds, and that is satisfying.

Published: August 16, 2012

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Goodreads: The Iron King
Series: The Iron Fey #1
Source: free ebook from Kagawa’s website

Goodreads Summary: Meghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan’s life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she’s known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth – that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she’ll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

Review:  I have noticed that lately the reviews I am writing approach the book in a chronological order:  I felt this way about the beginning, this way about the middle, and this way about the end.  This is an approach that English professors tend not to like.  In some way, it can over-simplify things.  But I find it a useful approach for some reviews, where I want my readers to understand my progression of emotions towards the book, just in case someone else has the same journey.  A book that seems mediocre in the beginning can become good later on, and it would be a shame for someone who might ultimately enjoy it to DNF it in the opening chapters.  The Iron King is one such book.

There is little I like about the beginning at all.  The writing here is unremarkable and the story bordering on stereotypical.  Meg is an under-appreciated teen with an attitude, whom for some reason I am supposed to adore in spite of (because of?) her grating personality.  However, the fact that her stepfather—and essentially everyone else—literally forgets her existence is too overstated to excite my sympathy.  And I can never side with the “normal” kids who need to throw lame insults at the “popular” ones in order to bolster their own confidence.  Calling a girl “inflate-a-boob Angie” is not witty; it is mean and makes Meg no better than the shallow students she is supposedly setting herself against.

I almost set The Iron King down here because it dawned on me that both the story and the style sounded like something I could find on FictionPress.  It was not particularly good, and I had only believed it was as good as I had because I knew it was a bestseller, that everyone loves it, and that I was supposed to believe it was good.  I had a sudden revelation that, really, it was not.

This opinion lasted about to the time Meg enters Nevernever.

Here, the stereotypes begin to float away.  Kagawa even explains why people always forget Meg in a way that mostly soothed my ruffled feathers.  My only interpretation is that Kagawa writes fantasy better than she writes contemporary fiction.

I still have the problem that I did while reading The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long; I have not read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and I am unfamiliar with all the folklore this story is based on.  Nonetheless, to my uneducated senses, Kagawa seems to utilize her source material well, creating a fairy world that is equal parts beauty and danger, though the danger in Long’s interpretation seems greater.  Kagawa’s best creation, however, is the iron fey themselves, who come as a fantastic and timely surprise.  She does run the risk of overdoing them, but their invention is spot-on.

Ultimately, however, The Iron King is a romance, a fairly sexy one, in fact.  And, ultimately, it is really cute.  Meg and Ash do not really know each other, and the love triangle that is coming in book two can be smelled a mile away, but these are issues that can be easily resolved before the end of the series.  For now, readers can just have fun watching the tension and attraction.  I have to assume this is the primary draw of the story, since the plot is a fairly generic travelling quest.

I gave The Iron King three stars on Goodreads.  It is solid, romantic, and fun.  It has several elements I thought were fantastic.   After all the hype, however, I found it a bit overrated.  I recommend it for readers looking for a light, fun romance.  Personally, I think I will pursue the rest of the series, but not as a priority.

Published: 2010

A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink

Goodreads: A Temptation of Angels
Source: ARC

Goodreads Summary: Even angels make mistakes in this page-turning epic romance

When her parents are murdered before her eyes, sixteen-year-old Helen Cartwright finds herself launched into an underground London where a mysterious organization called the Dictata controls the balance of good and evil. Helen learns that she is one of three remaining angelic descendants charged with protecting the world’s past, present, and future. Unbeknownst to her, she has been trained her whole life to accept this responsibility. Now, as she finds herself torn between the angelic brothers protecting her and the devastatingly handsome childhood friend who wants to destroy her, she must prepare to be brave, to be hunted, and above all to be strong, because temptation will be hard to resist, even for an angel.

Michelle Zink masterfully weaves historical fantasy with paranormal romance to create a gripping tale of love and betrayal.

Review: The cover makes this story look dark and therefore not necessarily my type of read—but I was pleasantly surprised.  That is not to say the story is light—there is murder, pain, distrust, and a host of other truly “dark” things that our protagonist must face, not to mention the fact that the fate of the world is at stake—but the end result is very readable and filled with just enough hope.

The book does not draw as much on the angels as it possibly could.  What we see is that there are two forces working against each other, the good angels and the fallen angels.  Their powers are obviously superhuman, but not always skills or characteristics that are particularly angelic.  This in no way is a flaw, however, as the fight of good vs. evil is always a good story, regardless of the species of the players.

And this fight is wrapped up in a nice standalone package—something that is sometimes a true blessing with all the series that are out there.  This means that the action and the romance (which is very sweet) move a little faster than some of us are getting used to (things actually have to happen in a single book!), but it works very well within its own timeline.

The one drawback of the book is the protagonist.  Generally, she is a nice blend of someone who is vulnerable because a lot of new and strange things are being revealed to her quickly and someone who is willing to take care of herself.  Unfortunately, she is also one of those protagonists who insist on doing things their way and going everywhere they are told not to go.  Doing so a couple of times makes her look independent.  Doing it all the time makes her look stupid because she never learns to take good advice when she hears it.

A Temptation of Angels is a great read for those who enjoy action, romance, and paranormal that is not cheesy.

Published: March 20, 2012


You Might Also Like