“Kingdom of Ashes” by Elena May

Kingdom of Ashes (Nightfall, #1)(Author: Elena May) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I have been very, very cautious with vampire books in the last couple of years. In fact, I don’t remember the last vampire novel that I read, aside from re-reading The Historian and Dracula two years ago.

However, I read the synopsis of Kingdom of Ashes, and the many positive reviews, and I decided to give it a shot. And I’m glad I did!

This book reminded me why I love YA so much. It was very engaging and it kept me flipping the pages to a point where I skipped lunch with my colleagues in order to read on a bench.

The thing, which, for me, was very original and exciting, was the fact that every step of the way and every part of the narrative was cleverly thought-through. The author took all famous (and silly) vampire cliches and tropes and she turned them into an outspoken joke between the characters. Elena May managed to make everything that could have destroyed the book its exact opposite. For example at one point Myra tried to pull a Scheherazade on the prince and I was sitting there, worried whether this is going to be a real thing, because it was so obvious. And then the prince himself recognized and ridiculed it.

In terms of plot, there was one thing that was a bit of a cliched narrative and that was the fact that (while the book is obviously not doing the Scheherazade) it did go along the lines of Beauty and the Beast. Watching the movie right after finishing the book just made me realize it more clearly. However, I’m not sure that at a time such as ours where we are so over-saturated with pop culture, it’s possible to create anything that doesn’t borrow from absolutely anywhere.

Character-wise, I liked the fact that there was a game of black/white and shades of gray. Myra was on the same boat as me when I was trying to make up my mind about whether the vampires are all evil or all good, or those are concepts that don’t even apply to the situation. For example, many of the points the prince made on humankind were just as challenging as what can be said about vampires in terms of the book. In a world where vampires and humans co-exist and vampires have overtaken the world and wiped out a big part of the population, I think it’s still fair to say that that’s nothing humans haven’t done to other species or even to themselves. The only reason why people generally sympathize with people, and not, say, vampires or werewolves, is simply because we are people. But humans can be just as evil in a completely different way. For example, just yesterday a colony of griffon vultures in Bulgaria was completely destroyed by hunters who poisoned all of the birds. If that’s not monstrous, I don’t know what is.

Having said all of this, while I did sympathize with Myra at certain times, I didn’t necessarily think she was a nice person. Contrary to what I read in the reviews of people who thought she was selfish and self-absorbed, I think that was one of her most likable traits in terms of writing. She was a very realistic person, unlike the perfect/all-I-do-is-effing-magic heroines of other YA books. I wouldn’t like Myra as a friend, but I can read about her and think “Well… that’s true.” And her selfishness is something that can be attributed to most humans. The fact that she is so focused on her book and improving as a writer is to be expected from any person with any artistic capabilities. Then again, she was sometimes obnoxious and she did make stupid decisions, so I’m on the verge with her. But I am also known among my friends as someone who is specifically very demanding of female characters…

As is probably to be expected, I really liked Vlad, because I would say that I both appreciated his attitude, and got where he was coming from. He followed his set of rules and had a reason to act the way he did: I’m a vampire, my nature requires me to drink blood, so I drink blood. I like art, humans make art, I like humans. The end.

I am really excited for the next book in the series, I really hope it comes sooner, rather than later.

* I’m so happy vampires were just vampires, and not vampyrs, vampyres, etc. and magic was just magic instead of magik or magick.

“The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 4: Rising Action” by Kieron Gillen

The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 4: Rising Action(Author: Kieron Gillen) + (Year: 2016) + (Goodreads)


Review:

Yes! Thank the Pantheon, the art disaster that was the last volume has been put to an end. I couldn’t be happier to have the beautiful art back. Having read as many comic books as I have so far, I think that Jamie McKelvie’s art is up there at the top for me.

In every single frame the art is so astoundingly beautiful that I am even willing to forgive some of the flaws in the plot.

This volume convinced me that The Wicked + The Divine is following a simple story arc, using simple art (in the sense that there aren’t millions upon millions of layers, textures and so on), and following a pace that is neither too slow, nor too fast. While I think that this is a very safe recipe, it also makes it easier to follow through with the plots and to not create a mess of story lines that go no where. At the same time, the story does draw the reader in and keep their interest.

There are two things that I support, and at the same time, would not mind if they changed a bit:

  1. The pace: As I said, thanks to the medium pace, the story lines get resolved. However, 4 volumes in, we haven’t moved that much forward in terms of the plot. The character development is more vigorous, but the general aim of the book is somewhere in the distant future, because only at the end of this volume, do we see the end of the first act. Ananke‘s words at the end of Rising Action are ominous and predict that there is going to be a completely different big arc in the book, and one that will have a much bigger adversary.
  2. The character interactions: The characters have a set of relationships with each other worthy of a soap opera, but it’s actually really hard to find the motivation for their actions. Why these two hate each other and those two don’t is usually determined by the alliances and enmity which serve the author. Also, taking into consideration that they are in a constant war, they don’t actually have that much time to interact.

Thank being said, I love Laura’s team. But not Laura herself. He-he.

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“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

Uprooted(Author: Naomi Novik) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

*** Mild spoilers ***

I’m soooo happy that this was my first book of the year. As ironic as it is, by reading Uprooted, I went back to my own roots of YA fantasy novels and it was so refreshing and felt so good. In other words, I like diversifying the literature genres I read, but a splash of magic makes everything just… better.

I assume many of you have already heard of Uprooted, or even read it, as it was one of the most talked about fantasy books of 2015/2016, but for those who haven’t I’d like to make a short recap, as to what this book is and what it represents.

Uprooted is the story of a small valley in the kingdom of Polnya, which for centuries has been tormented by an enchanted forest full of evil and corruption. To help the villagers of the valley fight the Wood, a wizard called the Dragon lives in a tower in the valley, and every 10 years takes one girl to serve him in the tower. The girl who gets chosen for the next 10 years, a wild, messy and stubborn creature called Agnieszka, finds out that there is so much more to the corruption of the Wood, and to the mysterious and scary Dragon, himself.

If you are Polish, or know anything about Poland, you’ve already seen something familiar in the names above – Agnieszka and Polnya; as well as Rosya, Marek, Kasia and almost every other character or geographical location from this book. Uprooted is based on Polish culture and old Polish stories, as well as loosely on the common Slavic heritage, such as the stories of Baba Jaga/Yaga, with whom my own (Bulgarian) mother was scaring me when I was little. The reason for these legends and cultural elements to find their place in this book is that Naomi Novik’s mother is Polish. However, as a fellow Slav, I felt a closeness to the stories from the book, the pastoral (or not so much) pictures of quiet (or not so much) remote villages, legends of dragons and witches, and kingdoms and wars.

Another thing that I really loved about this book was the general creepiness of it. At the very beginning, when the sides and villains were not clear, it was easy to be confused by where the real evil lies. But most of all, it was the fact that it could, at any moment, corrupt any given character, like a virus which spreads and everyone knows it’s there, but can’t stop it, that made me feel anxious and almost disturbed.

While I didn’t necessarily hate any character in the book, Agnieszka was one of those that I groaned at the most. Everything about her, from the way characters, and even she herself, described her, to the capacity she had of doing amazing things – at some point, it just stopped adding up. At the beginning all the characters expressed time and again that she was not very beautiful (if the opposite), and then somewhere at the middle everyone was thought to be in love with her for her looks, and not for her talent or personality. She was the youngest to be added to the list of wizards and witches, but WHY? What made her more different and talented than the rest?

“But I had no room in my head for bees, or roses, or spying; no room for anything but magic, the raw torrent of it and his hand my only rock, except he was being tumbled right along with me.”

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As for the Dragon, I was curious and excited to read more, however, I didn’t find it fully convincing and satisfactory. Not much was said about him ultimately, and the only real stories of his past seemed to be there only to give him a past, and not because they were essential to the story. So for me, many questions remained. Most of all, why did he take only girls? Once you’ve read the book, you’d probably have an easier time understanding what I mean. But honestly…

I loved the story of the Wood, though. It was not as convoluted as another author might have made it, but in simplicity I found a comfort. It was clear but scary in how simple it was. Without going into serious spoilers, I could not explain in detail what I really liked about it, but there were some characters that I found very unsettling and at the same time, very logical on a completely human level.

Despite my questions, and especially the ending, which was more open than I hoped, I’m more than very glad that I read Uprooted, and I can completely, hands down, join the hype about it.

“Ten Thousand Skies Above You” by Claudia Gray

Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird, #2)

(Author: Claudia Gray) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review:

*** 3.5 stars ***

I read the first book of this series last year: A Thousand Pieces of You. I admit, I was pleasantly surprised. Then coming to this second installment, I did not know how to feel. Yes, sure, the first book offered good grounds for a second one, but series often tend to disappoint. And proof to the fact is that I was disappointed by Ten Thousand Skies Above You.

The simplest explanation is that I just couldn’t get into it. Something felt off the entire time. Blah-blah-blah-splintered-souls-blah-blah-I’m-the-perfect-traveler-blah-blah-Paul-Paul-Paul-Theo? That is honestly the best summary I can give you. The thing is, and I wrote about this last time, too, no matter how they try to sell you the Firebird series, ultimately it is a romance. If you have come searching for sci-fi, you will not get it, most of all, because the main character and narrator, Marguerite, simply has no idea what is happening. She does not understand the scientific part of the Firebird project, she only knows that she is perfect and she will mention it in every chapter, lest you forget.

Also, there is romance and there is sappy-soulmates-forever-you-are-my-destiny romance. This is the latter. It was not as obvious in the first novel because they were still setting the grounds for this. But I cannot tell you how many times in Ten Thousand Skies Above You Marguerite managed to decide that destiny and fate exist, that there is such a thing as soulmates and that Paul is hers… but is he? Every couple of chapters she would have the same inner monologue and present it like it is the first time the reader has to read this boring mutterings of an annoying artsy-fartsy high-schooler who thinks she is the smartest person to ever live. She isn’t. I think that even the author got fed up with her by the end of the book:

“Then I realize how stupid we’ve been not to guess that another dimension was in on it…(I will skip some of the spoilers here). We should have known that from the beginning. Because Triad means three.”

And not long after:

“Romola gives me an odd look. “The name of the company has nothing to do with dimensions. How could it?”

Hahahahaah. Oh, Romola, give her a break, she thought she is brilliant.

Basically it was Marguerite that annoyed me the most in this book. She was very childish, indecisive and over-praised. Actual serious events were dismissed while tiny details were blown out of proportion for the sake of her tantrums. Nah.

What I did like about the book was the setting and Claudia Gray’s creativity when it comes to world building. I enjoyed exploring the dimensions, despite the fact that I had no warm feelings toward the narrator. I found the small differences, the big ones, the giant ones, very interesting to follow, even though they raised some questions for me.

For example, one can see how a world could be just slightly different, instead of tPhone there would be an iPhone and so on. But how do you logically assume that at the same time, let’s say 2016, there would be a dimension where people would still be living in conditions similar to the Roman empire. I am not challenging the book as much as asking a legitimate question. Which or how many events would have had to happen differently in order for the Roman empire to not only survive 100 or 200 years more, but two thousand years more?

“Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe” by Brian Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe (Scott Pilgrim, #5)

(Author: Brian Lee O’Malley) + (Year: 2009) + (Goodreads)


Review:

This volume felt more serious and kind of depressing in comparison to the others and I think the reason for that was the idea that things need to get worse before they get better. In a nutshell.

I also thought that here we saw more mature themes and more sexual innuendo than in the previous volumes and most of all, worse moments for both main characters. This was a defining volume for Ramona as a character and I really pitied her in the bedroom scene. Scott is always pitiful but in a comic and “make the best out of it” way, while  the same does not apply to Ramona usually.

Nevertheless, I think volume 5 was focused less on the group of characters and more on setting the mindset for the final volume and especially, getting everyone in their places for the final stand.

That, obviously, meant many characters leaving and Scott ending up in a pretty bad situation, but that is also the charm of him as a character, he gets himself out of hard situations. Having mentioned that, there is not much more that I can add to this review, because I really saw the entire volume 5 as “setting the ducks in a row”, which might have taken something from the overall idea of the volume, but it arrived at the right places for the final book. Even the villains were setting ground for the one big ex, Gideon, whose appearance I was really looking forward to and we finally almost approached.