shika2

“He sleeps beneath the lake,
The dragon child,
But he will wake
And spread his wings again,
When the deer’s child comes.”

Sounds so peaceful, right? Pastoral, almost.

But the Tale of Shikanoko is a bloody game of thrones inspired by medieval Japan and told in riveting, heartbreaking fashion.

About :

If you haven’t read book I or at least my review of book I, my recap of the plot won’t make much sense because there’s sooo much going in this series. Lian Hearn’s spare style allows for constant action, and the politics of the large cast is fairly complex, so if I try to recap every important plot line, my entire review will be one long recap and you won’t need to read the book anymore!

But here’s the short version of volumes 1-2:

An impostor prince sits on the Lotus throne and the Heavens take out their vengeance on all as the true emperor hides his identity from his scheming enemies. Shikanoko, The Deer’s Child of the prophecy, retreats to the magician Shisoku to mend his broken deer mask, following a humbling magical defeat by the Prince Abbot. While there, his heart softens toward a dangerous new threat, the five Spider Tribe demon children birthed by the Lady Tora. But despite the chaos all around him, all Shikanoko can think about is the true child emperor and his guardian, the lovely Autumn Princess…Autumn Princess, Dragon Child is an adult fantasy written by Lian Hearn and published June 7th 2016 by FSG Originals. Paperback, 288 pages.

Thoughts :

“The Tale of Shikanoko” series contains four volumes, but it’s really one long story published in four installments. FSG Originals published all four in quick succession in 2016. I read the first installment back in August 2016, so I worried about keeping track of the large cast after so many months; but with a little patience and piecing together, I was able to pick up the story again. I do, however, recommend reading them all within a shorter space of time than I did.

As in volume one, the main form of currency in volume two is power. Although the women vary in motivation and personality, the men all ruthlessly take power to protect themselves and their own families and tend to blend together to some degree. (I felt the same way about the genders in Across the Nightingale Floor, Tales of the Otori #1; but my antipathy toward the bland male characters in that earlier book was much stronger. I do find the characters in The Tale of Shikanoko much more interesting, as a whole, as well as finding the larger plot and style much improved.) But Hearn has a way of changing my mind about seemingly-irredeemable primary and secondary characters. I always end up caring about them by the end.

Shikanoko’s character develops in particularly interesting ways. His defeat at the end of book one broke him, and during the course of book two, he starts to grow from used child to adult warrior/sorcerer. His new humility proves to be a strength, by the end of this volume. His character development is one of my favorite things about the story.

Each volume ends with a monumental choice by Shikanoko—usually a combination of glorious victory and terrible mistake—and each time this poignant victory/defeat has made me eager to to pick up the next installment (although I didn’t get the chance to do that after volume one). Many readers have concluded that combining Shika’s story into one large volume would have made more sense, since the four small volumes (all well under 300 pgs, extremely short for adult fantasy) have very little in the way of self-contained plots. But regardless of this publishing model, the story is just as compelling in one or four volumes.

Overall :

So far The Tale of Shikanoko series is very dark and very adult, nothing like what I remember from Across the Nightingale Floor. I’m completely hooked!

Plot: 3.5/5
Characters: 4/5
Writing: 5/5
Worldbuilding: 4/5

****4/5 STARS

Recommended To :

If you enjoy literary fantasy and Asian settings (specifically feudal Japan, in this case), I highly recommend this series. Not recommended to readers wanting fast, action-oriented or “magic-systems” fantasy; though the spare, impactful style never wastes a word, the tale’s emphasis on character and political machinations leaves little room for action or humor. And although magic exists and influences the story in interesting ways, it remains completely mysterious to readers, used for atmospheric and structural elements.

The opinions I share are completely my own and in no way compensated for by publishers or authors. Thank you so much to Lian Hearn, FSG Originals and Netgalley for my free review copy! I loved it.

RidersRossi

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine to spotlight exciting upcoming titles.

I recently had a blast listening to the audiobook of Veronica Rossi‘s Riders (review coming soon!) and immediately Seeker became one of my most highly anticipated YA releases of 2017. I fell in love with Rossi’s fantastic characters in her first ya post-apocalyptic series, the Under the Never Sky trilogy, and didn’t realize until recently that she had published another YA. Book 1, Riders, is narrated by one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse; it sounds like book II will get us into the head of the other the half of the “good guy” team: the seeker. I can’t wait!

Goodreads Description

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Veronica Rossi’s new fantasy adventure in the Rider series—Seeker .

When Daryn claimed she was seeing visions during her sophomore year of high school, no one believed the truth. She wasn’t losing her mind, she was gaining the Sight the ability to see the future. If she just paid attention to the visions, they’d provide her with clues and show her how she could help people. Really help them. Daryn embraced her role as a Seeker. The work she did was important. She saved lives.

Until Sebastian.

Sebastian was her first and worst mistake.

Since the moment she inadvertently sealed him in a dark dimension with Samrael the last surviving demon in the Kindred guilt has plagued her. Daryn knows Sebastian is alive and waiting for help. It’s up to her to rescue him. But now that she needs the Sight more than ever to guide her, the visions have stopped.

Daryn must rely on her instincts, her intelligence, and on blind faith to lead the riders who are counting on her in search of Sebastian. As they delve into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems and where Samrael is steadily amassing power, Daryn faces the ultimate test. Will she have to become evil to destroy evil? The very fate of humankind rests in the answer. Hardcover, 352 pages. Expected publication: May 16th 2017 by Tor Teen.

The Immortals

“I protect you, just like I protect all the women who come to me. And all I ask in return is two promises: You won’t tell the cops about me, and you won’t hook up with ***holes again.”

About :

The pantheon of Greek gods is alive, though not exactly well, in the city of Manhattan. Artemis—or Selene the Huntress, as she calls herself these days—wearily goes about her age-old task of saving women from male predators, but in truth her powers waned long ago as mortals began to worship other things.

But a brutal murder puts Selene back in touch with her ancient calling, and suddenly her powers begin to return…In her search to find the murderer, she finds herself disarmed and, alarmingly, charmed by a handsome classics professor, Theodore Schultz, who doggedly pursues the same answers. The Immortals is adult urban fantasy authored by Jordanna Max Brodsky and published February 16th 2016 by Orbit. Hardcover, 447 pages.

Thoughts :

Let’s start with the good things. The publisher marketed this as Percy Jackson for adults, and I’d say that’s about right. How could I not at least try “Percy Jack for adults”? So much potential in this premise! Brodsky clearly researched the pantheon, too, and developed an interesting faith system for modern life, as gods try to stay relevant to today’s worshippers. (Selene’s brother Apollo tours with his rock band, catering to adoring crowds and groupies.) Brodsky combines a murder mystery with this brilliant idea, and it held my attention, although I’ve read enough murder mysteries to have pinpointed the culprit immediately.

My other favorite thing? Nerdy and hilarious academic references abound. I love Theo’s pseudo swear, “Holy Roman Empire!” which had me literally laughing out loud as I listened to the audiobook. Brodsky represents the world of academia with great color and life. This goes beyond just the killer premise of bringing the Greek pantheon to life in modern Manhattan; Theo’s university scenes left me feeling totally nostalgic for college.

So it kills me to write this, but…

DNF at 33%

I could not get into the characters. I couldn’t help getting the impression that both protagonists are condescending snobs. Selene condescends to everyone except her dog, but especially to men and specifically to Theo, who practically prostrates himself before her. In one scene, he proves his credentials by helping her with a lead, then pleads to be allowed to help her investigate the murder. This response characterizes Selene’s attitude during the entire conversation:

She put on her baseball cap and pulled it low, so he could barely see her eyes glaring at him from beneath the brim. ‘But don’t think we’re partners, because we’re not.’”

Uhhh okay. Why does he find her attractive again? And she’s just like that all the time. It’s sort of inhuman, which I guess might be the point: Selene is a vengeance goddess. She doesn’t want or need to be liked.

At least Theo’s a nice enough guy, but both he and Selene spend the first 150 pages condescending to the police in ways that just irritate me. Just one example: Theo physically grabs a cop and then gets all amped up when the cop supposedly “trumps up” assault charges on him; but the fact is, grabbing anyone will legitimately earn you an “assault” charge. These kinds of misunderstandings always bother me because my husband is in law enforcement and depends on these laws for protection in the field.

I almost can’t blame Theo and Selene for their attitudes, though, because the cops in The Immortals are all bumbling idiots. They fail to investigate leads and, as poor Theo observes, can’t even remember to Mirandize their suspects (or perhaps don’t want to?). Brodsky’s narrative about law enforcement feels more angry and targeted than the humorously inept “Lestraudes” of normal mystery stories, going beyond humor and straight into using police corruption, brutality and neglect as the main antagonists of the investigators. I don’t know if this is just a clumsy mishandling of the mystery trope or if Brodsky is trying to set up a narrative, here, but unfortunately it made the book difficult for me to enjoy.

Overall & Recommendation :

If the things I mentioned above don’t personally barb you, and if you like the sound of the synopsis, I would definitely recommend trying The Immortals. I think most urban-fantasy lovers and mythology geeks will enjoy it; and luckily for you who do enjoy it, book II just came out in February!

BookBurners

“‘How bad can it be? I’ve never seen a demon attack on the news.’

‘People disappear all the time. All over the world…Lost legions. Lost cities. Have you ever heard of the town of Colebridge, New York?’

‘No.’

‘Exactly.’”

About :

NYPD detective Sally Brooks walks into her apartment one day to find that her techie younger brother, Perry, has come for a surprise visit—needing her help, as usual. This time Perry’s brought a strange book with him, the source of his latest troubles.

Things just get stranger when the Bookburners kick down Sal’s front door, demanding the mysterious book. They arrive too late to save Perry from opening the book and releasing a destructive power from inside.

Next thing Sal knows, her brother is hospitalized and comatose and she’s chasing down demon-possessed books of power with the same team who tried to save her brother. Her new team, the Societas Librorum Occultorum, works for the Vatican by containing the threats posed by magical artifacts. Sal wants in—if only to find some way to save her brother. Bookburners is an adult urban fantasy collection of serials, hardcover, 800 pages. Published January 31st 2017 by Saga Press. Authored by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty & Brian Francis Slattery.

Thoughts :

I first heard about Bookburners in a Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine review, and though I was interested in it, I couldn’t afford to pay $1.99 per episode (season one has 16 episodes) because I didn’t have a job at the time. But soon after that, I heard about Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence books and immediately fell hard for the humor, worldbuilding and characters. So I was pretty stoked when I heard that Saga Press was releasing a collected volume of all sixteen episodes in season one. I’m happy to report that season one easily lived up to my atmospheric expectations. If you pick up this collection, get ready to kick some demon butt with the Bookburners!

I love the premise of the worldbuilding: that books can be a window to the dangerous and mysterious world of demon magics and the Vatican protects the world from said dangers. Each episode has a full arc dealing with a new demonic or magical threats, and it never fails to deal moments of genuine urban fantasy “cool factor.” Whether it’s possessed restaurant owners, deal-making machines that steal knowledge from your mind or hand-drawn “tornado eaters” come to life, I guarantee you’ll enjoy the imagination of these four top notch authors. Some episodes also really hit home emotionally. One of my favorite episodes is Big Sky by Slattery, which is set in the US and just so moving. It feels like a western tall tale. As Sal walks through a small town Oklahoma in search of a mysterious pulse of magic, she reflects on the homey scene:

It was all so recognizable to Sal. She didn’t have a general theory about people—she’d seen a little too much for that—but if someone had forced her to give one, it would have ben that most people don’t ask that much from their lives. They want a roof over their heads, a job that isn’t too terrible, a couple of days off to relax now and again. If they have kids, they want to do okay by them. That’s about it.”

It’s an emotional moment for the cop, who doesn’t get to see this side of life in her line of work.

The writing feels a little choppy in the very beginning episodes (especially if you’re breathlessly anticipating Max Gladstone’s word perfect “Craft Sequence” humor, as I was), but it quickly smoothes out and regardless I enjoyed every episode very much.

Perhaps most interesting to me about the world of Bookburners is the debate among the characters over how to handle the magic: use it or destroy it? Magic is clearly dangerous, but what if it could be harnessed? Can it be harnessed? The religious members feel so genuine in their convictions, and the secular debaters pose equally strong arguments. It’s a hot topic in this urban fantasy world and I enjoyed seeing it bandied about among the characters.

‘Information is like a contagion. It spreads. Your employers do an admirable job controlling that, but they aren’t the only players in the game. As much as they might want to eliminate the knowledge and use of magic completely, not every vector can be silenced.’”

I love how Max Gladstone engineers all his work to be full of secrets, questions and conflicting opinions, a mirror of life itself. It reminds me of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings quote, “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” I love it when an author can channel that into their storytelling—and make it cool! [Also, highlight to view SPOILERY discussion: Even though Sal’s new team keeps emphasizing how much they trust each other in spite of their differences of opinion, I keep wondering if any of them are going to split over the issue of whether to use magic or destroy it, perhaps with Asanti and Sal forming a splinter group. That would be nuts! But I could see it happening! I don’t know how I’m going to wait to read season two, ahhh!]

And speaking of characters, everyone gets their own full, fascinating arc throughout the season, and often an episode laser-focuses on one or two characters. I especially fret over poor, damaged Liam, a studdly gym rat with a history of demon possession and a rocky, but fervent lifeline in the church. The conflicts surrounding him have hugely personal stakes (and he does tend to attract ALL THE DRAMA, lol), although Grace, the kick-butt ninja of the team has her own crazy magical secrets and is a very close second favorite…and Father Menchú, now there’s a cool priest…you know what, they’re all awesome. Forget I said anything about favorites.

Overall :

Fantastic and I can’t wait for season 2. We will get a compilation of season two, right? Pretty please?!

Recommended To :

Readers looking for a fresh take on the demon hunters trope.

4.5/5 STARS

Oathbringer

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine to spotlight exciting upcoming titles.

My most highly anticipated book of 2017. ‘Nuff said.

Goodreads Description

In Oathbringer, the third volume of the New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, humanity faces a new Desolation with the return of the Voidbringers, a foe with numbers as great as their thirst for vengeance.

Dalinar Kholin’s Alethi armies won a fleeting victory at a terrible cost: The enemy Parshendi summoned the violent Everstorm, which now sweeps the world with destruction, and in its passing awakens the once peaceful and subservient parshmen to the horror of their millennia-long enslavement by humans. While on a desperate flight to warn his family of the threat, Kaladin Stormblessed must come to grips with the fact that the newly kindled anger of the parshmen may be wholly justified.

Nestled in the mountains high above the storms, in the tower city of Urithiru, Shallan Davar investigates the wonders of the ancient stronghold of the Knights Radiant and unearths dark secrets lurking in its depths. And Dalinar realizes that his holy mission to unite his homeland of Alethkar was too narrow in scope. Unless all the nations of Roshar can put aside Dalinar’s blood-soaked past and stand together―and unless Dalinar himself can confront that past―even the restoration of the Knights Radiant will not prevent the end of civilization.

Renegade Red

Love is tricky, and love is strong. Not some flower, but a warrior weed, growing in any condition, through any obstacle, surviving frozen tundras, pushing up through cracks in stone!”

This review contains spoilers for book I!

About :

Noa lives the life of an average teenager at the start of volume one, Shattered Blue. But everything changes with the arrival of the Forsythe brothers, Callum and Judah, who are runaways from the Fae realm. Both boys fall in love with Noa, and by the end of book I, secrets (Twists!) have already begun to shift Noa’s feelings between the two brothers.

At the last moment of Shattered Blue, Noa’s little sister slips through Judah Forsythe’s hands and disappears through a portal to Aurora, or faerie; Noa, Callum and Judah step through after her, hoping to find her in Aurora, but OF COURSE that’s not where they end up! So begin The Horowitz Twists…Renegade Red is ya fantasy/paranormal romance written by award-winning author Lauren Bird Horowitz and published March 14th 2017 by Papaloa Press. 420 pgs. Advanced Read Copy.

Thoughts :

As usual with the Light trilogy, nothing is as it seems. The first 19% of Renegade Red is one extended twist following Noa’s leap through the portal and it foreshadows the rest of the book in both plot and characterization.

Noa spends most of Renegade Red trying to choose between the Forsythe Fae brothers, and although you may think you have her pinned…just wait! Horowitz has a few surprises for us readers who dare think we know what’s what. The character-development threatens to topple the whole structure of this compelling love triangle (square?). I really have no idea how Horowitz will resolve the romantic tangle—and that’s exactly how I like it!

The boys’ characters develop significantly in this second installment. Judah’s quick-tempered foibles become clearer, along with his passion and quick-thinking; Callum comes across very much the opposite, a more direct, faithful and rule-abiding type, and although he lacks Judah’s strength and flexibility when faced with mental or emotional manipulation, he’s also more the active brother, liking to remain in control so he can protect those he loves.

As Callum wrapped his arms around her, warmth began to spread from Noa’s chest, radiant from her heart. Little flowers of heat bloomed over her injuries as Callum knit her back together: not just her leg, but her arms, her wrist, her back, her knees.”

SaWOON! I love it when Callum uses his Blue Fae power to heal Noa. So dreamy…

Callum’s proactivity draws me to him as a character—although I also love Judah’s smart-mouthed intelligence, which comes through loud and clear whenever he and Callum argue about the next move to find Noa’s sister in Aurora.

And although Noa seems to lack character development, her strong interiority makes up for it: Horowitz’s skilled third-person narration feels just as immediate as first person, and we can feel Noa’s desperate drive to find her sister.

As for the stunning poetic quality I loved in book I, it emerges differently, but just as eloquently in book II. Particularly in Noa’s and Callum’s perspectives, Horowitz uses prose to mirror consciousness. She explores Noa’s feelings and experiences using metaphoric dream sequences that help Noa make decisions throughout her journey in Aurora. For Callum, bursts of stream of consciousness call attention to his mental state at various important junctures. These techniques emphasize the struggles faced by both characters when challenged by the mental or emotional (Red or Green) Fae powers.

Despite a few minor considerations—I wish we’d gotten more of an overall picture of Aurora; and at 420 pgs, the novel runs a bit long for a romance- and action-centered (rather than worldbuilding-centered) ya fantasy—overall?

Overall :

This is the most beautiful, innovative and twisty ya series I can recall reading in recent memory. Though it slows down after the initial twist, Renegade Red picks up the pace again near the middle and stuns again and again with emotionally resonant revelations, legitimate relational dilemmas, harrowing action/problem-solving sequences and smart, gorgeous writing.

I can’t wait to read book III!!

Recommended To :

Highly recommended for fans of ya fantasy that moves quickly and doesn’t linger over worldbuilding. Anyone who wants the perfect blend between a strong, swoonworthy ya fantasy and sparkling literary elements.

4.5/5 STARS

Thank you so much to Lauren Bird Horowitz, Papaloa Press and Netgalley for the Advanced Read Copy. I loved it!

Last Star BurningOne of my favorite things about book blogging is finding out about awesome books I might not otherwise run across. A couple weeks ago, Book, Bones and Buffy posted this great lineup of 2017 ya speculative releases and there it was: Last Star Burning.

Must! Have!

Goodreads Description

Sev has been tattooed with the White stars of a criminal since she was eight. That’s the penalty for being the daughter of the woman who betrayed their entire nation.

Now her mother’s body is displayed above Traitor’s Arch, kept in a paralyzed half-sleep by the same plague that destroyed the rest of the world. And as further punishment, Sev must do hard labor to prove that she’s more valuable alive than dead.

When the government blames Sev for a horrific bombing, she must escape the city or face the chopping block. Unimaginable dangers lurk outside the city walls, and Sev’s only hope of survival lies with the most unlikely person—Howl, the chairman’s son. Though he promises to lead her to safety, Howl has secrets, and Sev can’t help but wonder if he knows more about her past—and her mother’s crimes—than he lets on.

But in a hostile world, trust is a luxury. Even when Sev’s life and the lives of everyone she loves may hang in the balance. Last Star Burning is ya fantasy written by Caitlin Sangster and expected to be published October 10th 2017 by Simon Pulse. Hardcover, 400 pages.

The author actually lived in China, so I’m crossing my fingers for some awesome setting-inspired fantasy elements!

What books are you waiting on this Wednesday?