Book Review: Young Adult: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

rites cover

Sam McKenna’s never turned down a dare. And she’s not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.

So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud-crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She’s even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won’t risk her future, or the dare, on something so petty…no matter how much she wants him.

As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they will stop at nothing to drive her out. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active… and determined to force her out.
At any cost.

Now time’s running short. Sam must decide who she can trust…and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.

Title: Rites of Passage
Author: Joy N. Hensley
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 402 pages
ISBN-10: 0062295195
ISBN-13: 9780062295194

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Military, Family, Sexism
POV: First person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: Another paperback ARC from Atsiko. I was a bit reluctant to read this one, because it did’t seem like my usual type of book. I was wrong.

Review:

I’m glad I read this book. The main character was a true strong female character. No excessive whining, knew how to handle a challenge, and was almost never unfair to her friends. That’s not to say she was perfect, which I would have hated. She had her flaws, but I was rarely angry at her for them. Plus, she felt completely like a real teenage girl, and not a stereotype, or an exaggeration.

The supporting cast was also wonderful. One of the great things about having a single limited perspective is that you get to see the various facets of a character, and you can really get in the shoes of the perspective character. For example, Sam’s brother was an incredibly frustrating character for most of the book, and I could understand why Sam felt the exact same way. And Kelly, one of her main trio of cadet friends had a similar feel. I loved how Hensley dealt with the idea of a good person causing trouble and pain for those around them. There are other characters I loved who I don’t want to spoil for you, but there was another female character in the book whose original connection to Sam only made the relationship they later developed more awesome. I happen to consider myself a feminist. And that means that the way this relationship passed the Bechdel test with flying colors made me really happy.

The only supporting character I disliked as a character was the love interest. He was a very nice person, and quite supportive, but I found him a bit dull, and while the relationship was perfectly healthy, I just didn’t care for it. I would have liked it better if Sam had just stayed single for the book. Especially because of the emphasis made on cadets not dating. It seemed like there was plot pressure and authorial intrusion because, as several other reviews have called it, the relationship was “off-limits”. A good way to describe the relationship without spoilers is that it greatly resembles Beatrice’s relationship with Four in Roth’s Divergent. So I’m sure many readers will like it. Take my dislike with a grain of salt.

Finally, I disliked the melodramatic lengths the story went to at the end. I think it could have been dialed down a bit without losing any of the impact. I just got really, really tired of the frustration I felt for the last two thirds, and I think it was unnecessary for the obstacles to be as huge as they ended up being. If you’ve ever seen any other military school stories–another review mentioned Cadet Kelly with Hilary Duff–or stories about crossing the gender barrier, you won’t find anything unique or original in this book, but the quality of the execution is very good. Definitely worth a read.

Conclusion: 77/100 (Loved reading it. Quite a roller-coaster.)
Premise: 7/10 (Not the most original, but very well-executed)
Plot: 7/10 (Standard and a bit melodramatic at the end)
Setting: 8/10 (Very well-portrayed)
Main Character: 8/10 (Awesome)
Love Interest 7/10 (Fairly standard)
Romance Sub-plot 7/10 (Sweet, but seemed a bit forced)
Supporting Characters: 9/10 (Loved or hated most of them. A compliment either way)
Writing: 3/5 (Good, but not inspired.)
Voice: 4/5 (Spunky!)
Themes: 8/10 (Fit with the story and were well-executed)
Resolution: 9/10 (Loved it, but it wasn’t perfect)

Buy Or Borrow: I’d say this one is definitely worth buying.

Similar Books:
It’s fantasy, but Mercedes Lackey’s Talia novels have a similar vibe and structure.
Divergent by Veronica Roth, for reasons explained in the main review.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
Lit-Up Review
Alexa Loves Books
The Bookish Owl
Reading Lark

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Barnes and Noble
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Book Review: Young Adult: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

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Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy.

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

Title: Heir of Fire
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Category: Young Adult
Genre: High Fantasy
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 562 pages
ISBN-10: 1619630656
ISBN-13: 9781619630659

Series or Standalone: Throne of Glass #3

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Betrayal
POV: 3rd Person Limited, Multi-POV
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Astiko

Where I Got It: I have my sources. I’d heard of this series before, but never gotten around to reading it, so when the opportunity came up, I figured, why not?

Review:

I really wanted to like this book. I read the first two in preparation for this review, and though they had their issues, I mostly enjoyed them. And this book added some stuff I really felt was missing from the first two. It had tons more “gritty” content, and some cool plot twists, and some fun history/world-building tidbits. I liked that we finally got to see more of the world than just Endovier and the Capital. But this was clearly a middle book in a series, and lacked a complete beginning middle and end. Plus, despite some incredibly blatant lamp-shading about the fact that Celaena had sort of done the whole training montage thing a few times, we still got stuck with another one, and it followed the incredibly annoying “wise mentor” style of training montage, wherein the mentor yells a lot and is rude, and treats the trainee sorta like shit. And then some magical mental/emotional keyhole is found and with almost no actual training at all, the character gets really good control of their abilities. UGH!!! I was hoping for a lightly different structure than Throne, but it was basically the same story with some details changed. Plus, there was a lot of Mary Sue/Chosen One crap dripping all over the pages. In essence, it was every cliche of high fantasy ever dropped on top of what started out as a pretty decent continuation of the series.

There were some things I liked, though. For example, we are introduced to the character of Manon, an Ironteeth Witch, and she is pretty fun. Despite also following a few cliches, I just really loved her attitude, and it was nice to have another kickass female character to balance out the massive amount of angsting Celeana engages in in this book. Honestly, I started wanting to skip some of Celeana’s and Chaol’s chapters so I could get back to Manon.

Another new character is the Fae warrior, Rowan. Complaint One: Naming a Fae “Rowan”. Yuck. Also, he was a really annoying character. He had some potentially really cool back-story, including inner conflict and a past tragedy. But he suffered pretty hard from Edward Cullen syndrome, in terms of being a seemingly young but actually really ancient character. How can a powerful Fae warrior dodge so much character development over so many hundreds of years? I don’t know, but he manages.

Maas also manages to step up the bad guys in this book, and they also are potentially awesome. Who doesn’t love an ancient evil arising? But they come off kind of pathetic and boring.

This review mostly seems like complaints, but I did somewhat enjoy the book. It wasn’t a wall-banger, at least; I finished it. Fans of the series will probably enjoy this one. But it’s not any sort of serious contribution to YA fantasy literature.

Conclusion: 57/100 (I was hoping for more.)
Premise: 4/10 (Cliche and poorly-handled)
Plot: 5/10 (What little there is is a bit dull and predictable)
Setting: 6/10 (Nothing spectacular)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Loved Manon, the rest I didn’t care for in this book)
World-building: 8/10 (Loved the world-building, but there seemed to be a lot of exposition)
Romance Sub-plot: 5/10 (Little existed and none of it was very interesting or satisfying)
Supporting Characters: 5/10 (Not spectacular)
Writing: 2/5 (Info-dumpy and not particularly elegant)
Voice: 2/5 (They were all so damn angsty…)
Themes: 5/10 (Not well-developed)
Resolution: 8/10 (Dramatic, if a little forced)

Buy Or Borrow: Borrow if you can, unless you plan to collect the series.

Similar Books:
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Sabriel by Garth Nix

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
The Guardian
Kirkus Reviews
Great Imaginations
priceiswong
Fangirl Daily
Snuggly Oranges

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Book Review: Young Adult: Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes

anatomy cover

Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?

Title: Anatomy of a Misfit
Author: Andrea Portes
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
Publisher: Harper Children’s
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 330 pages
ISBN-10: 0062313649
ISBN-13: 9780062313645

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Child Abuse, Family Problems, Slut-shaming
POV: First person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

How I Found It: Atsiko got his hands on a stack of illicit review copies, told me I might like this one, or at least enjoy reviewing it.

Cover Notes: Simple but effective. Very literary looking. If only the book had lived up to it more.

Soundtrack: After 10 pages, I decided on some late 90s/early 2000s teenager punk indie rock. Kind of like this book, catchy but not that good.

Review:

Several of the other reviews I’ve read have called this “Mean Girls Meets…” It is something like Mean Girls, but nothing like the John Green/Perks of Being a Wallflower second half of the comparison. It’s quirky like Green, but not cute like his books tend to be. It’s got darker themes like Perks but lacks the adolescent insight, and intriguing characters. Really, it’s got quirk and not a lot else. There’s lots of potential in the set-up, but the handling as the books goes on is not that great. For example, the big reveal at the end and the theme it plays on are really great. Anika’s response to it has some great moments and also a place or two where Portes edged too far into melodrama.

The romance sub-plot is a fairly standard love triangle with cliche reasons why Anika can’t just jump into one or the other of her options. The hot nerdy guy who would lower your social status has been around since before YA, and there’s really no new twist on it here. But! LOgan is actually maybe my favorite character in the book, and one of the few I actually liked, besides Anika’s mother. He’s actually a complex character with a great personality and a believable personal problem that flows into the only interesting conflict in the story. And Anika actually has a fairly believable relationship with him. He makes one cringe-worthy remark early on, but if you remember his relationship with Anika a few years before the story starts you could make a good argument it’s kind of cute, in context. I actually sort of like seeing such thin lines in novels, assuming the author doesn’t bumble the scene.

The main antagonist in the story is school Queen Bee Becky Vilhauer. If you can manage not to take her too seriously, she’s quite amusing as a character in a “yeah, right!” sort of way. But as a foil to Anika, she’s a bit ham-handed. And the in-betweener of the popular girls trio, Shellie, is also fun, even if her background is a bit ridiculous. I did wish she had a bit more agency, as she tends to switch back and forth between Anika and Becky.

I don’t think you can take the novel seriously as a realistic portrayal of young adulthood, and I don’t think it deserves all the buzz it’s apparently been getting. I can’t tell if Portes is just new to this whole YA scene or purposely playing on the conventions of the genre. I tend to think the former. But it wasn’t unreadable, and once I accepted is was not really anything like my favorite authors of realistic contemp YA, I did enjoy it in many places.

Conclusion: 75/100 (+10 for kind of enjoying it anyway)
Premise: 5/10 (Cliche)
Plot: 7/10 (Decent, if not inspired)
Setting: 6/10 (Not exciting, very shallowly-developed)
Main Character: 8/10 (Fun, but didn’t like her)
Romance Sub-plot 6/10 (A little too convenient)
Love Interest(s): 6/10 (Standard fare, no flare)
Supporting Characters: 4/10 (Caricatures, really, but consistent)
Writing: 9/10 (Liked the voice and writing)
Themes: 7/10 (Bad execution)
Resolution: 7/10 (Would be higher except for the too-“empowering” ending)

Buy Or Borrow: Probably borrow, but maybe buy if you really like these kind of books.

Similar Books:
Anything by Courtney Summers is like this but actually good.
Gossip Girl is similar but with more melodrama and less quirkiness.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
XPresso Reads
YA Midnight Reads
This Blonde Reads
Turning Pages

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Book Review: Science Fiction: Echopraxia by Peter Watts

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It’s the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.
Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat’s-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he’s turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out.
Now he’s trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn’t yet found the man she’s sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call “The Angels of the Asteroids.”
Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.

Title: Echopraxia
Author: Peter Watts
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Tor [Forge]
Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Format: NetGalley DRC
Length: 299 pages
ISBN-10: 076532802X
ISBN-13: 9780765328021

Series or Standalone: Companion Novel (Blindsight)

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Consciousness, Free Will, Transhumanism
POV: 3rd person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

How I Got It: I’ve always been a fan of Peter Watts’s fiction. So I was very happy when Nick told me he’d gotten approved for this book on NetGalley.

Cover Notes: This cover is not very emblematic of the content of the book. It’s not bad, but I think a less generic sci-fi cover might have been better.

Review:

This is a hard review in some ways. Much like Blindsight, Echopraxia is the quintessential science fiction of ideas. They’re there, they’re big, and they’re fascinating, whether you agree with Watts’s conclusions or not. Watts explores free will and consciousness from a very scientific and logical perspective. On top of the idea of digital reality. And his idea of vampires is one of my favorite from a sci-fi perspective. Well-done hard sci-fi is incredibly difficult to find, and from the concepts and themes side of things Peter Watts is one of the few authors who always delivers.

My major issue with the story was the story itself. Watts spends so much time on the ideas that the story gets less attention that it deserves. The reader is left to fill in many gaps, and the concept of determinism and the layers upon layers of external control over what would normally be seen as acts of free will can make the plot very hard to follow. I think the basis of the plot is sound, but the execution could use a bit more work.

As far as the characters go, I loved them. Watts manages to have many characters with very unconventional motivations and beliefs that are at the same time utterly believable and relatable, even if most of them aren’t very likable. Valerie the vampire in particular was one of my favorite characters, and Watts managed to give enough exposition of his vampire concept to make her consistent in all the right ways, and unpredictable in the same.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book, but it may not be something the casual science fiction fan would be interested in.

Conclusion: 79/100 (Good, but not the best story-telling in the world)
Premise: 7/10 (If it was more clear, I might have given it more points)
Plot: 5/10 (Not the most coherent, was back-seated to the ideas/themes)
Setting: 9/10 (Great)
Main Character: 9/10 (Not the most likable, but well-crafted and interesting)
World-building 8/10 (Pretty good, and very interesting)
Science 9/10 (Very well-researched. That appendix was… frightening?)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (Not bad)
Writing: 6/10 (Not awful, but not brilliant)
Themes: 9/10 (Great themes, well-executed)
Resolution: 10/10 (Loved it)

Buy Or Borrow: Borrow, unless you’re really into the science fiction of ideas.

Similar Books:
The Ware Tetralogy by Rudy Rucker
The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
Queen of Angels by Greg Bear
Permutation City by Greg Egan

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
Speculiction
The Taichung Bookworm
Armed and Dangerous
Drunken Dragon Reviews

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
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Kindle UK Unavailable
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Book Review: Horror Novella: We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

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Harrison was the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. Now he’s in his mid-thirties, and spends most of his time popping pills and not sleeping. Stan became a minor celebrity after being partially eaten by cannibals. Barbara is haunted by unreadable messages carved upon her bones. Greta may or may not be a mass-murdering arsonist. Martin never takes off his sunglasses. Never.

No one believes the extent of their horrific tales, not until they are sought out by psychotherapist Dr. Jan Sayer. What happens when these seemingly-insane outcasts form a support group? Together they must discover which monsters they face are within—and which are lurking in plain sight.

Title: We Are All Completely Fine

Author: Daryl Gregory

Category: Adult Fiction

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Publication Date: August 12, 2014

Format: NetGalley Digital Review Copy

Length: 112 pages

ISBN-10: 1616961716

ISBN-13: 9781616961718

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:

N/A

Themes: Trauma

POV: Multiple Perspectives, Blended

Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

How I Got It: Daryl Gregory, writer of beautifully bizarre fiction such as Afterparty and Pandemonium is a writer I have long followed but never read. I’d only heard good things, and I always liked his premises, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. An ARC from NetGalley seemed like just the impetus I was lacking, and I’m very grateful to Nick for providing it.

Review:

I don’t often read horror, but Gregory is an eclectic writer, so I figured I’d take the chance this time. I don’t regret it. Gregory has a strong command of his characters, something speculative fiction has oft been accused of lacking. The horror elements of the story were more like seeds or remnants, rarely seen in the flesh–even in psychological horror terms-but I think that’s part of what makes the idea of the story so intriguing, and it lets Gregory make good use of his characterization skills in a way pure horror doesn’t always allow.

The therapeutic setting may not be the most original, but it managed to remain quite active despite the obvious sedentary nature of such sessions.

Harrison plays the sort of mentor character by way of providing a great deal of elegantly inserted exposition, background, and validation to the other characters. I thought of him as the main character, despite the shifting perspectives, and I think he did a good job anchoring the narrative and the dynamics between the other characters.

Jan, as she likes to be known, is the therapist who creates the inciting incident of the story, and Gregory’s light touch in imparting the reasons for the group’s existence is a nice change from the heavy-handed foreshadowing one often comes across in pulp horror. The same goes for the unraveling of the web of history that connects the characters, history they themselves ma be unaware of. You’d think a story that deals so much with the past would drag, but it doesn’t, and the tantalizing hints of back-story definitely left me wanting more about these characters. It felt like I only got a snapshot of the characters’ lives, and that their stories existed long before that snapshot and will keep going long after. And yet the snapshot itself was still very satisfying. That’s something I consider a mark of a superior story–there are loose ends and secrets and histories the reader is unaware of, but it adds to rather than detracts from the story.

Also, +1 for using augmented reality in a horror story.

It’s safe to say I’ll be picking up a few other Daryl Gregory books after reading this, and I urge everyone else to do the same.

I think anyone who reads speculative or literary fiction would enjoy this book, no matter what they usually read.

Conclusion: 87/100 (An 87 is actually a really high rating, coming from me.)

Premise: 9/10 (Fresh and engaging)

Plot: 9/10 (Compact, but well-constructed)

Setting: 8/10 (Strongly evoked)

Main Character: 10/10 (Citing Harrison, lovely aged boy wonder)

World-building 9/10 (No info-dumping, great details)

Horror Elements 6/10 (Not all that much horror, even psychologically)

Supporting Characters: 10/10 (Well-crafted)

Writing: 8/10 (Well-written)

Themes: 8/10 (Trauma and related themes lovingly conveyed)

Resolution: 9/10 (Made sense, left you thinking)

Buy Or Borrow: Totally buy.

Similar Books:

Other Reviews:

GoodReads

Publishers Weekly

Kirkus August Picks

LitReactor BookShots

Eric Christensen

Bookworm Blues

Thinking About Books

Buy Links:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

IndieBound

E-Books:

iBooks

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Kindle US

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Book Review: Fantasy/Romance: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

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The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Title: The House of the Four Winds
Author(s): Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
Category: Adult Fiction/New Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Format: Digital Review Copy from NetGalley
Length: 231 pages
ISBN-10: 0765335654
ISBN-13: 9780765335654

Series or Standalone: One Dozen Daughters #1

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Pirates
POV: Third Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Marisa

How I Found It: I’ve always been a big Lackey fan, so when Nick told me he could get an ARC of her new series, of course I jumped at the chance.

Cover Notes: I thought the cover was lovely, but to start on a theme you can expect to see a lot of in my review, it felt very Pirates of the Caribbean to me.

Soundtrack: It might be a bit mean of me, but you won’t be surprised to know I read this one to the tune of my PotC soundtracks. Unsurprisingly, they fit it pretty well.

Review:

Maybe I over-hyped this book to myself, since I love Lackey so much. Perhaps I went into it with slightly inaccurate genre expectations. Either way, I found myself quite disappointed with this book. That’s not to say it’s awful. It’s a passable mix between a pirate romance and a fairy-tale. The plot mostly holds together, and most of the characters are interesting. But there’s nothing special about the book that grabs, and despite portraying itself as a fantasy romance, the fantasy elements are few and far-between, for the most part, and the romance has no meat to it. There’s insta-love on the part of Clarice, but 99% of the story pushes her relationship with Dominick towards friendship rather than romance. In fact, there’s something of a warm bro-mance between Dominick and Clarice’s alternate persona Clarence. I think the book might have been better if Clarice had been a boy, perhaps a disposable 12th prince instead of the 1st of twelve princesses.

The main plot of the story started out quite interesting, and up until half-way through the portion of the novel set in the eponymous House of the Four Winds, I thought the story was quite interesting. Despite a few small quibbles. But the direction the story took after that had horrible pacing, little suspense, and was chock-full of sailor lore cliches that added little to the story. There were three major conflicts in the story. The first, involving the mutiny, was fairly interesting and what at first appeared to be bad characterization in fact turned out to be an intriguing plot twist. I have to congratulate the authors on that one.

The second conflict/sub-plot, involving the aftermath of the mutiny and the character’s arrival at the House was also interesting. But it was rushed through, and the swash-buckling, pirate-wrangling adventure I was anticipating was almost immediately done away with.

The third conflict was cliche, rushed, and boring, with only one or two sparks of interest to carry me through it.

In the end, while this isn’t an awful book, and I don’t think I completely wasted my time reading it–short as it was, I’m not particularly excited to see the next few books in the series either. This was not of the quality I had come to expect from Mercedes Lackey. I haven’t read any of her other collaborations with James Mallory, so perhaps his influence has something to do with the lack. I’m not very motivated to find out, at this point.

Conclusion: 61/100 (A very cliche and rather boring Pirates of the Caribbean clone)
Premise: 6/10 (Fun and an old standard, but no interesting twist)
Plot: 5/10 (Cliche and a bit dull, but coherent)
Setting: 8/10 (Our world, but nicely re-imagined)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Loved Clarice/Clarence, found Dominick rather flat)
World-building: 5/10 (paper-thin facade of an alternate earth, but coherent enough)
Romance Sub-plot: 5/10 (Sweet, but way under-developed)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Fun and diverse)
Writing: 7/10 (Decently-written, but not fantastic)
Themes: 4/10 (No real theme to add depth to the story)
Resolution: 6/10 (Rushed and hollow)

Buy Or Borrow: I’d say borrow unless you’re a huge Lackey fan or love nautical romance.

Similar Books:
I don’t read a lot of romance, but I’m sure there are similar books. As for fantasy, I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Dear Author
Bibliophilia, Please
There Were Books Involved
Between the Pages
Imaginary Reads
Gun In Act One

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Book Review: Fantasy: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool's Assassin Cover

Nearly twenty years ago, Robin Hobb burst upon the fantasy scene with the first of her acclaimed Farseer novels, Assassin’s Apprentice, which introduced the characters of FitzChivalry Farseer and his uncanny friend the Fool. A watershed moment in modern fantasy, this novel—and those that followed—broke exciting new ground in a beloved genre. Together with George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb helped pave the way for such talented new voices as Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Naomi Novik.

Over the years, Hobb’s imagination has soared throughout the mythic lands of the Six Duchies in such bestselling series as the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles. But no matter how far she roamed, her heart always remained with Fitz. And now, at last, she has come home, with an astonishing new novel that opens a dark and gripping chapter in the Farseer saga.

FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.

Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . . .

Title: Fool’s Assassin
Author: Robin Hobb
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray Spectra
Publication Date: August 12, 2014
Format: Electronic Review Copy
Length: 580 pages
ISBN-10: 0553392425
ISBN-13: 9780553392425

Series or Standalone: The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, #1

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Family/Parenting
POV: Dual First Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

How I Got It: Nick received an electronic review copy of this book from NetGalley, and being a huge Robin Hobb fan, of course I said I’d review it.

Review:

I always try to write my reviews as soon after finishing the book as possible, because the longer I wait, the more I notice things that weren’t actually so great about it. But as a reader, if the author can manage to sweep those things under the rug long enough for me to finish the book, I’m willing to give them a bit of wiggle room. But, even having only been done for a day or so, I still had a few issues with this book, even though I mostly enjoyed it.

World-building

Judging a book in a series is always harder than a standalone. Especially a book that continues a larger series after ten years or more. I loved the rest of Hobb’s Fitz series, and all her stories set in the same world, to be honest. So she has the weight of all her previous (and incredible) world-building work behind this book. That said, I think she still did a great job with her world-building in this novel, tying in with the older books with barely the knot even showing. The Six Duchies still stands out as one of the most beautiful and fully-realized fantasy settings I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. And the setting of Withywoods is in the same vein. I felt just as present there as I did at Buckkeep in the previous novels.

Characters

The first major issue I have with the book–and many other reviews apparently agree with me–was the characters. Nettle, Fitz’s daughter with Molly, was almost perfect. A bit clueless about some things, but more by authorial edict than character development. Molly, too, felt like a natural progression of her previous character. But beyond that, the main characters had some serious flaws in their portrayal. Fitz himself seemed to be his old smart self or a complete idiot as the plot dictated. He would ignore his daughter Bee’s problems at one point, and a page later he would be almost the ideal father to her. It was incredibly frustrating in some places. It didn’t ruin the book for me, but it contributed to several concerns I had with the way the plot was constructed. When Hobb was on the ball, she was on fire, but when she was off it, she was terrible in this respect.

Bee was another problem character. Again the plot seemed to force her into some unnatural behavior, such as her lack of communication in areas where even a girl her age would have known it was needed. She was portrayed as wiser than her years in many ways, and yet she also had the instincts of a child and the apparent knowledge of how adults are so divorced from children’s politics to be good allies. In many ways, she was an expertly constructed character, despite my issues with the rather cliche “old soul”/ mystical waif character Hobb assigned her. I was so split on Bee. I wanted to love her when sparks of Hobb’s first person characterization brilliance showed themselves. But often I found her annoying.

Finally, several characters were caught up in the authorial persecution of Bee’s character. FitzVigilant(Lant), Shun Fallstar, even Fitz, on occasion. Hobb had so many other seeds she could have nurtured in pursuit of her goal with Bee, and yet she fell back on mediocre conspiracy between characters. Certainly Fitz often joined this conspiracy by being a complete idiot on several occasions.

Shun’s character was quite irritating in that regard. And others. I never figured out why Chade was such an idiot regarding how her temperament might conflict with Bee and Fitz. Why he even let her retain such a temperament in the first place. Several of the characters are getting a bit old, perhaps losing some of their edge. A great route to take, I think, if only Hobb had made better use of it. But it doesn’t excuse their utter failure to think ahead more than three seconds when convenient to Hobb’s plot.

In fact, I might have enjoyed Shun and Lant’s personalities in isolation or in another context. But as is, they frustrated me quite a lot.

Plot

For obvious spoiler reasons and the fact that this is an advance review, I won’t be able to discuss the plot issues as fully as I’d like. The main plot was quite interesting. On it’s own, it might warrant a 9/10. But Hobb’s obvious desire to accomplish her set-up and character introductions meant the pacing in this book was off quite often, and the book dragged in areas. Even with the large time-skips near the beginning of the novel. If Hobb had focused more on the main plot, and not dropped such a brutally lazy cliff-hanger at the end of the book, it would have been a great re-entrance into the Farseer universe. There was a lot of potential in the book, and I’m very hopeful that the rest of the series, having its set-up completed her, will be a vast improvement in terms of actual story.

Conclusion

This definitely felt like a Fitz novel, and though it may seem like I hated everything about the book, it was actually a mostly enjoyable read, even if I have to admit it’s not Hobb’s best work. I do think it’s worth reading, and the portion of Fitz fans who were desperately waiting for more Farseer novels will definitely want to read this. It was great to feel the old characters around me again. Even though there wasn’t a lot of new action and mystery in the novel, it was still interesting, and I wanted to know what would happen as I turned the pages.

That said, for someone just getting into the Farseer novels or Robin Hobb as an author, I would not start here. I would read the Soldier Son trilogy or the original Fitz trilogy first.

Conclusion: 80/100 (Worth the read, but my expectations were much too high)
Premise: 8/10 (For anyone whose ever wanted an “after the quest is over” narrative)
Plot: 8/10 (Coherent and interesting, but had some holes)
Setting: 9/10 (I definitely felt like I was in the Six Duchies. Withywoods especially was great)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Mostly well-drawn and interesting, but Bee had some issues)
World-building: 8/10 (Lovely, few holes)
Magic System 9/10 (Very solid and integrated to the world, though rarely flashy)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (The newer characters felt a bit shallow)
Writing: 8/10 (Very evocative, but awkward in places)
Themes: 8/10 (Good themes, and well executed for the most part)
Resolution: 8/10 (Interesting, but an annoyingly massive cliff-hanger)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth buying this. I can’t wait to read the next one.

Similar Books:
The Demon Child Trilogy by Jennifer Fallon
Winds of the Forelands by David B. Coe

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publisher’s Weekly
SciFiNow
I Smell Sheep
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
Kobold Press

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