Showing posts with label high fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label high fantasy. Show all posts

Friday, April 21, 2017

[Review] Caraval (#1) - Stephanie Garber: Magical Games and Insensitivity

In CARAVAL, sisters Scarlett and Tella finally receive an invitation to a mysterious game.

What intrigued me: Pretty much the hype.

Lacks in World Building

CARAVAL is one of those books that charm you with flowery writing and hide the fact that there isn't really much else interesting going on. The biggest weakness is the world building. Hardly anything gets explained and the reader has very little time to get acquainted with settings, concepts, and unique elements before the sisters embark on their journey to attend Caraval. 

I assumed this would be a magical-realist read like THE NIGHT CIRCUS, which it has been so famously compared to, but CARAVAL is nothing like that. The story would've been so much better off had it been told in a Contemporary setting in my opinion. The High Fantasy world is hastily built, which lots of made-up names for existing things and for some reason half of it is in Spanish. No clue what that's all about. The setting itself is a very meager attempt to distract the reader from the fact that hardly anything in this book makes sense, the plot twists come out of nowhere and are incomprehensible, and there are also a handful of Deux Ex Machina situations.


Suicide as a Plot Device 

I was surprised to see that it's pretty much a reproduction of L.J. Smith's THE FORBIDDEN GAME series, which is one of my favorite series of all time. CARAVAL tries to hide that with a High Fantasy setting, but the comparisons are simply uncanny: Both feature a love interest named Julian and a mysterious and dangerous game that the protagonist must win to save their loved ones. Where THE FORBIDDEN GAME amazes with atmospheric truly dark and dangerous setting and characters, CARAVAL strikes me a little as PG-13. It's such a strange reading experience, because the writing is very juvenile at parts and then you have scenes involving heavy physical abuse, emotional manipulation, rape, and suicide. 

There is one scene that still renders me speechless and makes me feel sick thinking about it - at some point a character commits suicide as part of the game, only to be later resurrected with magic. I find it extremely inappropriate to use this as a plot device and for the shock value, and worse when it turns out that the character planned for this to happen all along. It's disgusting, really, and just the proverbial cherry on top of this very problematic cake. You'll find that most of the scenes involving abuse and rape are plot devices. The sisters have a very abusive father who's just there for conflict, which I can still forgive, but then there are also scenes where the love interest forces himself physically on Scarlett. He violates her consent by asking her to reconsider and/or straight up ignoring it when she says no. This is never addressed and just horrifying. I would've given this book a solid three star rating without all the problematic content, because I can still recognize that this is a book that may not be for me, but might delight other readers. But like this, I'm simply horrified and shocked and would advise you to be very careful should you plan on reading this.


Rating:

☆☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

CARAVAL is the disappointment of the year. Lush prose can't really hide that the concept and world building are mediocre at best. This book is a prime example why we need trigger warnings in mainstream YA, a lot of the very mature themes are used as plot devices. The suicide one hit me the worst, I can't believe they'd put this in a book for teens.

Trigger warning: rape, physical and emotional abuse, suicide, slut-shaming, violence, kidnapping


Additional Info

Published: January 31st 2017
Pages: 407
Publisher: Flatiron
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781250095251

Synopsis:
"Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away."(Source: Goodreads)



Have you read CARAVAL?

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

[Review] Red Queen (#1) - Victoria Aveyard: Special Snowflakes and Silverblooded People





In RED QUEEN, Mare gets mistaken for a silver-blooded princess and is able to escape her fate as a red-blooded peasant to be forced to fight in a deadly war.

What intrigued me: Recommendation by a friend.

Wait, I've seen this before

RED QUEEN is the epitome of late to the party. It's a weird mix between futuristic dystopia and your average high fantasy class revolution. 
During the height of the 2011 dystopia hype, this maybe would've been original, this maybe would've been able to keep my interest, but having read dozens of dystopian books that follow the exact same scheme, this isn't anything special. If you haven't read lots of books in the genre, this might strike you as quite interesting, I just found it dull and repetitive. 

Especially the beginning is so reminiscent of THE WINNER'S CURSE that I thought I had picked up the wrong book for a moment. 
The social divide between two people, one overpowering the other because of their almost supernatural skill, is so annoyingly overdone that I couldn't take this seriously. The red-blooded and silver-blooded people, peasants and nobles respectively, didn't even seem interesting to me. I find the premise pretty silly to be honest, the only thing that's missing to make this novel read like a bad fan fiction is that the silvers all have unusual eye and hair colors. The weirdest thing is that the set up suggests we have a straight up class war situation, but then the book does a 360 and turns into THE SELECTION, revolution style.

Let's play cliche bingo

Although there is lots of world building, it only made me shrug. Aveyard is unable to mix the futuristic influences into her medieval-ish fantasy world without making it seem lazy and strange. RED QUEEN consists of all cliches you've seen in dystopian and high fantasy books, smashed together and pretending it's something new. And adding a dreaded love triangle between the childhood friend and the forbidden lover, AND another guy (!) just made me sigh endlessly. 

Paired with a special snowflake protagonist that inexplicably has ~magical powers~, RED QUEEN comes more across as a parody on the genre than a novel that's to be taken seriously.

Without an ounce of originality, RED QUEEN reads like a half-baked cross between your average fantasy novel and the x men, in the worst way.


Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

No. I found it boring and full of cliches. RED QUEEN stuns with consisting of so many tropes that I'm surprised nobody has created a bingo sheet based on this.



Additional Info

Published: February 10th 2015
Pages: 383
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780062310637

Synopsis:
"This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart."(Source: Goodreads)



Have you read RED QUEEN?

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

[Review] Soundless - Richelle Mead: Ableism and Cultural Appropriation





In SOUNDLESS, Fei, who grew up in a village of Deaf people who are slowly also losing their eyesight, suddenly is able to hear when her village is in danger.
What intrigued me: I really liked her Vampire Academy series.

How to offend disabled people: the book

You have to be very, very, very, very careful when writing about disability. Especially when you're not disabled yourself. SOUNDLESS is the story of a girl that lives in a village of Deaf people and suddenly starts hearing.  Mistake 1: Don't "cure" disabilities for plot. 

I was hoping for a book that celebrates disability and portrays it as the absolutely normal thing it is - but nah. Disabled people in Mead's fantasy world are the losers of this story because they can't hear unlike special snowflake protagonist Fei who was magically cured. This book certainly would've dearly benefited from a sensitivity reader, anyone with a disability would have whipped out their pitchfork when coming across this book.

SOUNDLESS is proof that you shouldn't write about marginalized people if you have no experience whatsoever with the things they go through and aren't willing to put the research and resources in to make sure that the portrayal accurate.

Who needs world building?

My bitterness aside - I signed up for the typical fantastic Mead writing with a great voice and I got it. The writing truly is exceptional. Mead's storytelling is flawlessly effortless. It's very descriptive, but I personally like this, because it adds to the calm and withdrawn atmosphere of the book. The world building may be easy to understand, but that's because it doesn't exist. Nothing in this book makes sense and we just have to deal with it. 

The signed conversations between Deaf people are a little difficult to read and get used to because there is no indication that's dialogue.

Mead put an equal amount of research into the Chinese folklore part as she put into the disability part. Exactly zilch. The only thing that's sort-of-Asian is the nature surrounding them, their names, and their clothes. Here and here are some reviews by Chinese reviewers who went into more detail on this.

Still, as much as I admire the writing, SOUNDLESS is just an epic fail overall because of how Mead handles disability and the Chinese characters, and a massive disappointment. 


Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

If you have a disability or are very educated and passionate about disability issues, do yourself a favor and don't read this. It will only lead to high blood pressure. SOUNDLESS may be the most ableist book I've ever read, but let's not jinx it.



Additional Info

Published: November 10th 2015
Pages:  266
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781595147639

Synopsis:
"In a village without sound…

For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.

When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.

One girl hears a call to action…

Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.

She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…

And unlocks a power that will save her people.
 "(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read books about deaf characters?

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Recommendation: The Bone Witch - Rin Chupeco: Necromancy and Witches

In THE BONE WITCH, Tea gets taken in by a seasoned necromancer after she accidentally resurrects her dead older brother Fox.

What intrigued me: Necromancy! How to sell a book to me in one word.

For both fantasy lovers and skeptics

THE BONE WITCH follows the story of a rookie witch traveling the kingdoms with her mentor and her undead brother, whom you'll grow to love for his deadpan commentaries. 

There's a second POV from a bard who seeks out a bone witch and plans to sing about her life, and those two POVs are drastically different in style. While the former reads almost happy-go-lucky and lets us explore the world in a haunting, yet light manner; the latter feels really heavy. From the rich language to the tone it's spiked with more back story and feels more traditionally fantasy than the other. Especially as a very skeptic high fantasy reader, I thoroughly enjoyed the variation. 

I believe that THE BONE WITCH resides somewhere at the intersection between a light paranormal and an epic high fantasy saga, which is the most evident through those two POVs. 
Chupeco can definitely do both, her writing is so versatile that I'm convinced it will be a delight for both seasoned fantasy readers and beginners. Essentially, the experience you'll have when reading this will range from flipping through the pages happily to just being stunned by sheer magical originality of it all. 


Beauty vs. Horror

What I love most about THE BONE WITCH is how effortlessly it combines beauty with horror. The daeva, terrifying demon beasts that can never be quite destroyed meet adorable happy villagers who wear hearts made of glass around their necks that display their feelings. Every so often Chupeco will present you with the most beautifully painted scenery, spiked with horrifying monsters. Paired with the Asian influences, that's such a winning combination that I am in awe. 

The world of THE BONE WITCH reminds me of an art deco painting, sprinkled with fairy-tale creatures that present themselves twisted and darkly. It reads like Tim Burton meets UPROOTED, which stuns just as much with originality and certainly rises up to my favorite high fantasy reads of all time.


Rating:

★★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

THE BONE WITCH presents us with a spell-binding, incredibly intricate world that you'll ache to explore. It absolutely caught me off guard, I didn't expect to fall in love with both the masterful writing and the uniqueness of it all. 

A must-read for all high fantasy lovers and definitely a suggestion to readers who like witches and just want to venture into high fantasy.



Additional Info

Published: March 7th 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781492635826

Synopsis:
"When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice."(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read books about necromancy?

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

White Authors Who Write about Slavery | YA Talk




Due to harassment and lack of allyship this educational post has been removed. Why?

More on problematicness:
Should We Separate Authors from Their Problematic Work? 
Do We Owe it to Authors to Call Out Problematic Books Nicely?
What is POC rep to you? "Olive Skin", On the Page, and Non-#Ownvoices Authors 
All YA Talk posts

BEFORE YOU COMMENT -
I don't want to hear about white authors who did it well or answer your question about your slavery book. Please listen. I'm trying to make you understand.

For personalized advice on writing diversely and recognizing problematicness, check my Patreon.
If you want to support The Bookavid and posts like this, feel free to buy me a virtual coffee via ko-fi.

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Friday, February 3, 2017

[Review] The Winner's Curse (The Winner's #1) - Marie Rutkoski: In Which Slavery Isn't All That Bad





In THE WINNER'S CURSE, Kestrel buys a slave and gets mixed up in a revolution.

What intrigued me: Gorgeous cover mostly, but also the hype.

So... slavery is okay, I guess?

I didn't really know what I was getting myself into when I started THE WINNER'S CURSE. I had no idea that it would be about slaves, and I had even less of an idea about the romance being between the slave owner and the slave! What can I say, I just find this incredibly distasteful and strange, especially as a minority myself, I don't want to read about the romanticization of slave trade.

THE WINNER'S CURSE is a prime example of how to not approach a sensitive topic and exactly the reason why I shy away from books written by white people about topics that influence the lives of POC. People never do their research. Rutkoski uses slave trade as a mere plot device to showcase her white savior protagonist and didn't even bother to portray the lives of slaves accurately. I'm not asking for historical accuracy here, it's high fantasy after all, but could we not act like the life as a slave is actually quite okay and they're basically just well-off servants? Could we not act like slavery doesn't involve torture, robbing people of their identities, robbing them of their homes, and treating them like actual human trash?

THE WINNER'S CURSE doesn't even once show us how horribly slaves are treated. The Valorians, the conquerors, are never actually shown beating their slaves. From a novel that's about such a topic you'd expect some graphic scenes. You'd expect something beyond just trading people like cattle. I assume Rutkoski decided not to show this because this would lead to us not rooting for the Valorians, aka Kestrel.

This is not a fictional scenario, slave trade exists to this day (!!!!). Could we not invalidate the experiences of minorities all over the world and act like it isn't all that bad and that you just have to wait for your rich white person to save you and give you the opportunity to revolt?

If at least the prose was great...

My personal feelings about the romance and the whole slavery thing aside, THE WINNER'S CURSE is not a skillfully written book. The writing is very technical, very emotionless. Lots of short sentences, lots of factual descriptions, even worse with changes in POV! I struggled with it a lot in the beginning because it's just not what I'm used to. 

The premise isn't that bad, despite Rutkoski not really bothering with world building. What made me lose all faith in the book is the fact that her protagonist Kestrel is an absolutely horrible person. She doesn't care about the slaves, she buys one herself even, and at no point tries to actually help the slaves. It's absolutely despicable to read about someone that doesn't understand slavery is bad - until she actually forms a bond with a slave. Wtf?!

I am tired, so, so, so tired. I can't believe that nobody bothers to mention this in reviews. I can't believe that nobody even seems to bother to get upset about this. 

Why is this so popular?

Rating:

☆☆

  


Overall: Do I Recommend?

I find this book incredibly offensive. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone and it's beyond me how you can close your eyes to the problematicness of it all. Privilege I guess. Thumbs down from me.


Additional Info

Published: March 4th 2015
Pages: 355
Publisher: Farrar Strauss Giroux
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780374384685

Synopsis:
"Winning what you want may cost you everything you love... 

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. 

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. 

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined. "(Source: Goodreads)


Have you read THE WINNER'S CURSE?

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

[Review] Poison Study (Study #1) - Maria V. Snyder: Food Tasters and Poison





In POISON STUDY Yelena was arrested for murder and is released from the dungeon to become a food taster.


What intrigued me: I've seen this one around a lot.

Let me love you, Yelena!

The story starts right off with Yelena getting released from her dungeon, malnutritioned, almost hallucinating, and absolutely exhausted. POISON STUDY had me from the first page.

Snyder has a way of conjuring up images with words that make this novel easy to read and the fantasy world easily accessible. I often struggle with the High Fantasy genre because I don't really encounter concepts that fascinate me. Same with POISON STUDY to some extent - I didn't really care about the fictional region of Ixia that is ruled by different generals that have their own territories and force everyone to wear uniforms. 

I zoned out whenever there were intricate descriptions of uniforms. The whole world is certainly a weakness of POISON STUDY - the story about Yelena could take place in any other fictional world and be just as fantastic. I didn't find the world building particularly inventive or outstanding.

Making a murderer the food taster doesn't sound that interesting and groundbreaking of a story either, but it just is. There doesn't happen much in POISON STUDY, aside from Yelena getting attacked continuously by the soldier's of the father of the guy she killed, but yet it's ridiculously addicting. The writing is top-notch, the story feels like you are Yelena, you're experiencing everything first-hand and wandering through the castle yourself. I seldom have found myself so thrown right into a book as I read and grown attached to a protagonist.

Wonderfully refreshing concept

If you read a lot of YA and are very tired of seeing the same cliche tropes everywhere, POISON STUDY is the novel for you, because I don't think I counted a single one. No love triangles! No Mary Sue! No plot convenience! Actual danger! Consequences for messing up! It's so refreshing to read a book that makes you feel like the protagonist is in actual danger the whole time.

However, this book is very, very, very slowly paced. I did like this at first, but the more the pace slowed down, the more I disconnected from the characters. I do like to know what I'm getting myself into when I start a novel and the introduction of magic halfway in confused and annoyed me a little. POISON STUDY takes a completely different direction halfway in, causing me to lose interest completely. I was very enamored with the premise of the food taster and would have loved to just see an story about intrigues without any magic.

POISON STUDY awkwardly turns into Duel of the Magicians and this is just not what I'm personally interested in and/or signed up for. Regardless, I did enjoy this and think it's a good read!


Rating:

★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

POISON STUDY is a fantastically unique novel. I really needed this breath of fresh air and I can recommend this book to you, because it's just so creative and fun! If you don't mind a dash of magic, sure, go for this!



Additional Info

Published: March 1st 2007
Pages: 409
Publisher: Mira
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9780778324331

Synopsis:
"Choose: A quick death…Or slow poison...

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear...
 "(Source: Goodreads)

Have you read the Study series?

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

[Review] Nemesis (#1) - Anna Banks: Egyptians, Racism, and Slaves

In NEMESIS, element forger and princess Sepora flees from her home kingdom of Serubel only to end up enslaved to her nemesis Tarik, the new king of Theoria.

What intrigued me: Not the cover, that's for sure. I came solely for the enemies to lovers trope.



CAUTION: NEMESIS is a book about slavery. The fact that the blurb uses "servitude" instead of slavery (probably in an attempt to sugarcoat) is simply appalling. Google indentured servitude. There's a difference.

Cultural Appropriation and Whitewashing

NEMESIS is pretty much a "how not to" guide for white authors looking to write books inspired by a culture that is not their own. It's fairly obvious that Banks neither used sensitivity readers nor did any research that went deeper than surface level. Learn from her mistakes:

NEMESIS draws heavily from Egyptian and Jewish history and culture. And with "draws from", I mean appropriates. Complete with white savior protagonist Sepora, who starts out as a slave and easily works her way up to becoming a close advisor of the king, mostly because she's so beautiful and unique. This isn't an homage / rewrite / whatever you want to call it. There are no people of color in this book. And no, "olive skin" does not count as a stand-in for brown or black. Since this book so heavily draws from these peoples history, the least it can do is not whitewash them.

NEMESIS doesn't commit and doesn't have the guts to make this an unapologetically African or even African-inspired story and therefore can only be called cultural appropriation. You can't take the existing history of marginalized people, take the bits you like, make it all butterflies and unicorns, and paint it all white to top it off. I have major problems with the way Banks portrays the Theorians, who are very clearly fictionalized brown/black Egyptians. While Banks does not portray them bluntly like savages, thankfully, her portrayal is full of racist micro aggressions. 

From calling their language, which very clearly is an allegory to East African languages, primitive, and generally making fun of their traditions, ridiculing pretty much every Egyptian-inspired and -coded tradition they have as redundant and ridiculous as seen through King Tarik's eyes - NEMESIS is incredibly offensive on so many levels. If King Tarik's POV represents how Banks sees people of color, I am absolutely speechless.  NEMESIS is not written for people of color. It really feels like an attack, as an African, to see an author draw very obvious inspiration from an African country but to dismiss pretty much every aspect of their culture that makes them what they are. I cannot speak for Banks' portrayal of the Serubel (faux-Jewish) people and I won't, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's just as bad.

It's not very flattering either that white Sepora's arch enemy is the "olive-skinned" (speak: faux-black) Tarik, king of Theoria. It's absolutely not a good idea to insinuate brown/black vs. white conflict without committing to it. This isn't a book about race, so this allusion doesn't belong here. Banks has no business writing about this in the first place.

...and look at all that wasted potential.

I was immediately impressed with the winged serpents and element-forging protagonist in NEMESIS. And Banks also has these interesting two POVs that really complement each other. 

While I'm not necessarily a fan of the writing, which is a little too simple, info-dumpy, and clunky for my personal taste, protagonists Tarik and Sepora's alternate storylines are surely interesting. Sepora's story consists of a lot of wandering around and reckless info-dumps which easily and quickly annoyed me, and Tarik's story packs a punch from the start, beginning with his father dying of a mysterious illness. 

NEMESIS could have been SO good. Exceptional, unapologetic, and big. This book could've been huge if it was only starring a diverse cast and if Banks had bothered to hire sensitivity readers, which she c l e a r l y did not. I generally do not want to read anything about slavery in a book that doesn't tackle race.
  • And I don't know, I don't understand in what world it is okay to pretend that all of these people were white. 
  • And I also don't know in what world writing a romance between a master and a slave without even doing as much as just mentioning the word slavery, and not approaching this topic with the sensitvity and respect it deserves, is okay. 
  • And I also don't know why it seems to be so hard to have the basic decency to hire a sensitivity reader if you're going to write about a culture that isn't your own. 



Rating:

★☆☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

NEMESIS blatantly whitewashes and culturally appropriates the history of Egyptian and Jewish peoples in the form of a fantasy rivalry between the fictional kingdoms of Serubel and Theoria. This book is about slavery while whitewashing it and using it as a plot device, which for me is absolutely a no-go, especially coming from a white author. And of course this features an obligatory master/slave romance. Don't let the blurb fool you, nobody is a "servant" in this book. It's slavery.

  • Note - even more problems: 
I have a major problem with the cover. I understand that painting their skin is a thing that Sepora's people do. But it just awkwardly seems like one step removed from blackface to me. Maybe that's far-fetched, I'm well-aware that people of color didn't invent painting their skin and don't own this, but considering that this is a practice commonly associated with the indigenous peoples of some Pacific Islands, some African countries, or New Zealand, it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. 

If Sepora was a person of color I wouldn't even have to mention this. I don't understand why she had to be white. I know many people who were put off by this cover -specifically- because it shows a white person with full body paint in one color and decided not to read this book or anything else by this author. Which I absolutely understand knowing that the content of the book matches the cover.

[HEY JEWISH OR EGYPTIAN REVIEWERS - have you reviewed this book? I'd be happy to link your reviews here, just shoot me an email or comment or whatever!]


Additional Info

Published: October 5th 2016
Pages: 368
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781250070173

Synopsis:
"Princess Sepora of Serubel is the last Forger in all the five kingdoms. The spectorium she creates provides energy for all, but now her father has found a way to weaponize it, and his intentions to incite war force her to flee his grasp. She escapes across enemy lines into the kingdom of Theoria, but her plans to hide are thwarted when she is captured and placed in the young king’s servitude.

Tarik has just taken over rulership of Theoria, and must now face a new plague sweeping through his kingdom and killing his citizens. The last thing he needs is a troublesome servant vying for his attention. But Mistress Sepora will not be ignored. When the two finally meet face-to-face, they form an unlikely bond that complicates life in ways neither of them could have imagined.

Sepora's gift may be able to save Tarik’s kingdom. But should she risk exposing herself and her growing feelings for her nemesis?"
(Source: Goodreads)


So... that was exhausting. Tell me something nice? Maybe about an #ownvoices book that has good representation of people of color?

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

[Review] The Olive Conspiracy - Shira Glassman: Jewish Fantasy and Queerness

In THE OLIVE CONSPIRACY, Chef Yael is blackmailed because she is transgender and Queen Shualmit is not having any of that.

What intrigued me: Jewish fantasy! Who'd say no to that. I love high fantasy in diverse settings so much.

Extremely Diverse 

Even though THE OLIVE CONSPIRACY technically belongs to Glassman's Mangoverse series, you do not have to have read the other books to read this one. There are a lot of established character relationships that you will have no problem understanding if this is your first Mangoverse read. Quite on the contrary actually, I found myself growing very interested in her characters and am even more intrigued to read the rest of the series because THE OLIVE CONSPIRACY hints at all the interesting things happening before.

THE OLIVE CONSPIRACY is so diverse - it's fantastic. There are transgender, sapphic, and POC characters whom you'll all grow to love. The Mangoverse is inhabited by different peoples who all have their unique customs and Glassman cleverly uses this to establish Jewish customs and familiarize the reader with the setting. THE OLIVE CONSPIRACY is a very easy and educational read that absolutely managed to fascinate.

Charming and Educational

THE OLIVE CONSPIRACY reads quite like a cozy mystery in a diverse high fantasy setting. Though I hoped to see the story anchored to a specific character, which ultimately made it a little more difficult for me to follow the plot. Glassman narrates for the most part from an omniscient perspective that sometimes focuses on shape-shifting wizard Isaac, whom I absolutely grew to adore. 

I wish the story would've been told from a different perspective, maybe first-person. Especially for first-time readers of the Mangoverse it does irritate a little and did make it a bit harder for me to truly get invested. THE OLIVE CONSPIRACY does work as a stand-alone and is an absolute must-read if you're looking to diversify yours(h)elf. I found myself learning a lot about Jewish culture that I didn't know before and found it quite charming how effortlessly Glassman incorporates this into the setting. 


Rating:

★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

THE OLIVE CONSPIRACY is a unique and original delight. Jewish queer fantasy at its best and if you want to learn more about Jewish culture, I absolutely recommend this novel considering that it's written by a Jewish writer.



Additional Info

Published: July 20th 2016
Pages: 229
Genre: Adult / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781944449780

Synopsis:
"When Ezra tries to blackmail Chef Yael about her being trans, she throws him out of her restaurant and immediately reports him to the queen. When police find Ezra stabbed to death, Queen Shulamit realizes he may have also tried to extort someone more dangerous than a feisty old lady.

The royal investigation leads straight to an international terrorist plot to destroy her country’s economy—and worse, her first love, Crown Princess Carolina of Imbrio, may be involved. Since she’s got a dragon-shifting wizard at her disposal, contacts with friendly foreign witches, and the support of her partner Aviva, Shulamit has hope. What she doesn’t have is time.

A love story between women, between queen and country, and between farmers and their crops."(Source: Goodreads)


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Saturday, October 15, 2016

[Review] Rebel of the Sands - Alwyn Hamilton: Middle Eastern Fantasy, Guns, and Djinn

In REBEL OF THE SANDS, Amani wants to escape her abusive family by leaving town and ends up having to team up with a fugitive.

What intrigued me: Mostly recommendations from friends.

Very Unique and Hard to Get Into

REBEL OF THE SANDS has a beautifully unique setting that's somewhere between a Middle Eastern and a classic Western town. Surprisingly, the mashup isn't as strange as you'd expect. There's shooting, djinns, other malevolent creatures and magic. It's certainly something that I have never seen before in YA and therefore definitely gets the full score if we're talking originality. Though I do think that REBEL OF THE SANDS plays into stereotypes too much and does very little to help you familiarize yourself with the world. 

I love that Hamilton drew inspiration from Middle Eastern culture, but I really would've wished for her to make it easier for the average reader to truly understand the culture. Similar to the criticism I had for THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, which also features a Persian-inspired world, I would've been over the moon happy if there was a glossary included. So many words of Arab origin that you'd never understand or recognize unless you're googling what it means, little nods to clothing and culture and food, that you'd have no way of understanding. 

I think especially when you're not including a Western setting, considering that this is a book first published in the US in English, you have to consider that that will frustrate readers. It did frustrate me and take away from the narration because I was constantly looking up words and absolutely couldn't get truly immersed into the world.

Gimmicky and Lacking in Execution

Ultimately it's a mixture of the lackluster storytelling that just didn't get to the point, and the confusing world building that really didn't make REBEL OF THE SANDS match my taste. Hamilton merrily uses lots of info-dumps at the most inconvenient times that made me want to skim, skip, or even quit altogether. I never quite grew invested in the story, all about it felt gimmicky to me and kind of unbelievable. 

REBEL OF THE SANDS tries to be a western with paranormal elements, but also a classic high fantasy novel and the genre-mashup just doesn't work. I found it lengthy and boring and the writing too bulky and awkward to pull all of it off. At the core there is just no story to tell. REBEL OF THE SANDS purely relies on the world building (which is pretty much summed up by "there are monsters in the desert"), and that just doesn't work. While the setting is interesting, I think this lacks severely in execution and storytelling and I wish there was more to it all aside from the unique setting. 


Rating:

☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?


REBEL OF THE SANDS tries to bring a new perspective and breath of fresh air into the genre, but doesn't quite deliver. If you generally enjoy Westerns, you still might enjoy this. But don't expect this to be the first Western to get you into the genre.

Important: It has come to my attention that Hamilton's portrayal of Middle Eastern culture is a little offensive. Please read the review by my blogger friend Aimal, she's Pakistani Muslim and makes some valid points that you should take into consideration.

EDIT: This is actually more racist than I thought, so I'm lowering my rating. I don't feel comfortable speaking on any of the issues because I'm not Muslim or Middle Eastern and I wouldn't know what I'm talking about.


Additional Info

Published: August 22nd 106
Pages: 352
Publisher: cbt
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9783570164365

Synopsis:
"She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there's nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can't wait to escape from. 

Destined to wind up "wed or dead," Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she'd gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan's army, with a fugitive who's wanted for treason. And she'd never have predicted she'd fall in love with him... or that he'd help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is." (Source: Goodreads)


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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

[Review] Inked (#1) - Eric Smith: Magical Tattoos and Adventure

In INKED, Caenum is due to receive his magical tattoo that marks his coming-of-age, when the Scribe who is supposed to perform the ritual gets in major trouble and needs his help.

What intrigued me: I've been folllowing the author on Twitter for a while and eventually grew interested in his writing.

Lovable Characters

INKED is essentially a classic adventure story. Wrapped up in a world spiked with extensive mythology and an innovative concept, it's very easy to lose yourself in. Caenum is a very likable character whose narration I thoroughly enjoyed. However, his spotlight is easily stolen by the side characters.

My favorite is the scribe, a sassy-yet-vulnerable boy called Kenzi, whom I immediately grew to love. You'd expect the main character in such a setting to be the one with the unique abilities and all, but for the most part it's not him. Such a fantastic twist to the whole narrative that made me rejoice with joy. 

I almost instantly fell in love with the relationship protagonist Caenum has to his best friend Dreya. If it weren't for this lovely friendship with some tension, I'd probably say this is more of a Middle Grade than Young Adult read. The prose is very simplistic and colorful, but definitely does read like the intended audience is on the lower side of YA. 

Own Spin to it All

The magical tattoos are an interesting factor that defines this world. In INKED, you get a tattoo that marks what your destiny and/or future profession will be. Smith managed to incorporate them flawlessly into a world that I inexpclibaly immediately associated with a  Disney made-for-TV movie. It's so colorful and upbeat, but does fall into a couple of stereotypes. 

The villains feel very stereotypical, having scars and shaved heads, and the protagonist accidentally stumbles on a conspiracy, as you'd expect from a chosen one story. Despite those stereotypical elements, I do feel like Smith manages to put his own spin on all of it. 

If it weren't for the comparison with Disney movies, I'd say this essentially reads like DESCENDANTS meets FURTHERMORE. INKED really surprised me with being unlike what you'd expect from the blurb and really bringing a breath of fresh air into the genre.


Rating:

★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

INKED is a lovely little read if you like light High Fantasy and YA that's on the lower side. It made for a fun bedside table read, I found it very entertaining and was pleasantly surprised!



Additional Info

Published: January 20th 2015
Pages: 250
Publisher: Bloomsbury Spark
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781619638594

Synopsis:
"Tattoos once were an act of rebellion. 

Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin. 

And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can't escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice. 

But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves. 

Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel."(Source: Goodreads)


What would your magical tattoo look like?

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Monday, August 29, 2016

[Review] Truthwitch (The Witchlands #1) - Susan Dennard: Magic and Persecution

In TRUTHWITCH, Safi has the ability to see truth and lies through magic and is in big trouble when people realize what she can do.

What intrigued me: I've been in the mood for some witches.

Magic for the Sake of It

TRUTHWITCH immediately sucked me in through the marvellous writing. Dennard uses one of my favorite ways to start a story - jumping right into the scene and leaving the reader trying to find out what's going on. I was absolutely infatuated with the idea of these two havoc-wreaking girls who also happen to be witches, but after a few dozen pages quickly realized that there is one thing missing:

TRUTHWITCH heavily relies on it's massive foreign-yet-familiar world that's somehow reminiscent of Funke's spellbinding Inkworld trilogy. But where the Inkworld is cohesive and strucutred, TRUTHWITCH absolutely doesn't explain anything. Dennard chooses to introduce us to its world by simply mentioning words. Bloodwitches, Truthwitches, magic ropes. Everything is magic somehow but beyond the name of said magical object or person we aren't learning anything about the world. It's blatanlty obvious that this world building may be extensive but isn't well-thought out. Especially with the inciting incident: Truthwitch Safi is chased by a Bloodwitch all of a sudden. What's a Bloodwitch? Why is he immortal/invincible? What did they do? Why are they being chased??

This stands representative for the entire experience you'll have reading this. Zero explanations. Zero structure and logic, despite a giant world that you'll want to desperately know more about.

...everything else? Top notch.

At the core, TRUTHWITCH is so very well-written involving the most fantastic friendship between the leading girls Safi and Iseult and I wish, I desperately wish the magic system made sense. I wish the world building wasn't so la-di-da and standoff-ish. I grew so attached to the characters so quickly and I absolutely love Safi's character voice, which makes it all the more difficult and tragic to say that I genuinely didn't like this at all. 

TRUTHWITCH is by no means a book that you should skip because of that; I feel like this is a deeply personal thing - I personally like my magic to be cohesive and to make sense immediateley. The dilemma with TRUTHWITCH is that everything else about this novel is very close to perfection. The characters are great, the writing is top-notch, the world feels absolutely real. 


Rating:

★★☆☆

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

TRUTHWITCH is by no means a bad novel. I guess it comes down to personal preference; I'm a factual person that likes clear-cut descriptions and explanations. If you don't mind that and want a solid High Fantasy read that will suck you into its world, TRUTHWITCH is the right pick for you.



Additional Info

Published: August 22nd
Pages: 512
Publisher: Penhaligon
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9783764531348

Synopsis:
"In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she's a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden - lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult's true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls' heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.(Source: Goodreads)



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Thursday, July 7, 2016

[Review] Unicorn Tracks - Julia Ember: Safari, Conspiracies, and Hunting




In UNICORN TRACKS Mnemba and tourist Kara are determined to find out who is hunting down unicorns and sawing off their horns.

What intrigued me: Unicorns and lesbians. Everything I want in life.

Fresh, creative, and fun

The world building is reminiscent of South East African culture, and absolutely spot on. I really enjoyed seeing concepts and setting we don't usually get in fantasy novels and I found them to be very realistic as well. I especially noticed how uncanny Ember's unique approach is - I can't name a single stereotype that I've seen before, this is truly a 100% fresh read with a great concept. From the descriptions, to the writing, to the animals featured, this is so refreshing and new! 

The Nazwimbe savanna is full of mythological animals that tourists from other countries are seeking out for fun. They are all incorporated believably, some with their own little backstories, some without, and I really enjoyed it. I feared that the concept of unicorns would come across as little dorky and strange, but Ember makes it truly feel like an adventurous, fun story. I absolutely loved reading about manticores, phoenixes, and many other mythological creatures you don't often encounter in novels. 

Too Short & too Dense, but worth the read!

The majority of UNICORN TRACKS deals with what's happening to the unicorns, and I do think that it all got resolved way too quickly. While I do like the approach, the idea behind all of it (which is also a very realistic one), the mystery is just missing. Or simply resolved too early. I wanted to guess with the characters, but you won't do that for long because UNICORN TRACKS is written incredibly densely. 

A lot happens in these 180 pages, but in my opinion, squeezing all of it down to this low page count doesn't do the story justice. Especially the lovely f/f romance which is so sweet and tender, could have benefited from a higher page count. Even though Mnemba and Kara's interactions feel genuine and painstakingly adorable, their relationship almost feels instant-love-y because UNICORN TRACKS is so short. 

In general this is my biggest problem with the novel - the density and the low page count make it harder to read than it deserves. The story is great, the characters are great, but it deserves to be longer, have more descriptions added, and even the occasional filler. 


Rating:

★★★★

 



Overall: Do I Recommend?

UNICORN TRACKS is an incredibly fresh story, with a seldom before seen setting that you don't want to miss. A must-read for fans of f/f and original fantasy.



Additional Info

Published: April 21st 2016
Pages: 180
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Genre: YA / High Fantasy
ISBN: 9781634768788

Synopsis:
"After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.

Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge. "
(Source: Goodreads)

Can you recommend some African-inspired fantasy?

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