Posts Tagged ‘Five Stars’

‘The woman is a danger…What she does is an abomination.’”

About :

Shai is a MaiPon Forger in a country that despises Forgers as abominations. When she gets captured during a routine palace art theft, she scrambles for an escape plan; but before she gets the chance to spring herself from prison, her captors change the game.

‘She is a valuable tool. This woman can save us. We must use her.’”

They visit her prison cell and demand that she complete a job for them, a job so secret that Shai knows she will be murdered at its close: reforge the emperor’s soul. The Emperor’s Soul is a Fantasy Novella written by Brandon Sanderson and published October 11th 2012 by Tachyon Publications. Hugo Award for Best Novella (2013), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Fantasy (2012).

Thoughts :

This novella opens with the emperor’s staff debating the fate of their captive Forger, and this first layer of cultural tension immediately intrigued me: What is Forging? Why do they hate it? And why must they use it to save the country?

Nearby in prison, Shai desperately seeks a way out of her cell before the next day’s scheduled execution, and her technique introduces readers to the unique Asian stamp magic of the novella:

To Forge something, you had to know its past, its nature.”

At this point (on like page four), the cultural tension and the magic already have me intrigued. Then the emperor’s councilors arrive and explain the situation to Shai and to readers: the emperor has been attacked and needs a new soul to survive.

Whoa. What?

They grant Shai a stay of execution for the next hundred days, during which she must create the soulstamp—a task that will involve a huge amount of complex, untested magic.

Her ambitious artist’s soul longs to create the perfect soulstamp, but she knows she must prioritize one thing over this primal urge toward faultless creation: she must escape before those 100 days are up or she will never leave the prison alive. The 100 day countdown heads each new section, and I totally felt the squeeze by the end of the novella.

Over the course of the story, Shai uses her magic in a variety of ways: transforming her room, making various stamps to reforge the emperor’s personality and history, etc. But a constant war rages inside her between the need to create a perfect soulstamp and the need to escape with her life. Her escape plan is just one more layer of mystery that kept me reading.

The final layer that got me fully invested in the story relates to the characters. In order to escape, Shai knows she’ll need to do something that makes her cringe: she’ll have to manipulate the elderly Arbiter Gaotana who visits her cell to test the soulstamps.

Gaotana seems to have the most integrity of all those palace staff, as he alone regrets the need to forever silence the young Forger after she completes the stamp. So when he criticizes Shai’s choice of profession—thief, Forger, abomination—Shai feels his disappointment keenly.

Why? Gaotana thought again. Why would someone capable of this artistry, turn to forgery?…Why not be a true artist?”

Aarcanum-unboundednd now she has to trick him—just to escape with her life? It made my heart hurt just thinking about it!

Overall:

I love the human psychology and the theme of cultural misunderstanding in The Emperor’s Soul. And, of course, I love the Asian-inspired stamp magic. It ties in with the “form” type magic present in Stormlight Archives, I think, too—or it sounds like it does, anyway. In fact, I love the format and pacing and characters and everything about this story! I’m so happy it was included in Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection, even though it was published previously. I kinda wish we could hear more about Shai because her potential as a heroine is limitless; but I understand that Sanderson wants to finish a few series before starting an entirely new one, haha.

Recommended To:

Although the novella is set in the same universe as Elantris, the reading order doesn’t matter. In fact, this might be a great introduction to Sanderson’s work, if you’re not ready to jump into The Way of Kings. There’s no fat to trim.

*****5/5 STARS

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shattered-blue

About :

After her older sister is killed in a terrible accident, Noa struggles through her classes in a prestigious California prep school. She relies on her friends to survive; her parents grieve too hard for their lost daughter to give their living daughter the kind of companionship she so suddenly and violently lacks.

Enter Callum Forsythe, the new high school hottie. Noa feels the sparks between them almost immediately. But even as Callum seemingly-reluctantly reciprocates her attentions, he explains why their relationship will be difficult: he is Fae, banished to her world where he must feed off human Light to survive.

And that’s only the beginning of their troubles. Shattered Blue is YA Paranormal/Fantasy/Romance authored by Lauren Bird Horotwitz and published September 15th 2015 by Skyscape. Paperback, 336 pages. It won several awards and honors including 2016 Independent Publishers’ (IPPY) Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, as well as Finalist honors in the 2016 USA Book Awards for  Best New Fiction and Best New Fantasy, the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Best Young Adult Fiction, and the 2016 International Book Award for Best Fantasy

I KNOW IT SOUNDS LIKE TWILIGHT, but hang on a sec!

If you think you know what happens in Shattered Blue when you read the summary, I guarantee you’ll be surprised. If you’ve ever enjoyed a YA paranormal love story, I recommend checking this one out—and for more reasons than just that GORGEOUS cover.

Thoughts :

After two DNFs, Shattered Blue was the perfect pick-me-up. I kept hearing about it on Socially Awkward Bookworm and The Worn Bookmark , but I hadn’t quite decided to order it for my library until I saw Renegade Red (book #2) pop up on Netgalley—I knew it was a sign! I ordered Shattered Blue immediately and it came in the mail on the very day I DNFed Crossroads of Canopy.

I devoured it.

Horowitz weaves a fully-formed Fae mythology into Shattered Blue. Several orders of Fae live in Faerie and their politics rumble through all the way through the “portal” to the human realm.

‘Use and Let Use,’ he proclaimed. ‘Fae Power without bias.’”

In a such fast-paced YA paranormal, this level of worldbuilding is completely entertaining. I was never bored.

The Fae magic system also personally affects Callum and Noa as they navigate their relationship: whenever Callum touches her, her Light flows into him. This roadblock adds even more tension and intrigue to the human-Fae relationships in the book!

And there’s more good news: Shattered Blue is full of emotional truths, especially regarding grief and love. When Noa’s older sister Isla dies, the whole family grieves in individual ways. Noa has strong, meaningful relationships with her family, especially her little sister, Sasha, but her grief over her Isla’s death sometimes stains even those precious Sasha-moments:

It suddenly struck Noah how awful it would be to lose a sister at Sasha’s age, like Callum had. A different kind of awful from losing someone like Isla, who was a person fully formed.”

The prose is also beautiful and poetic. Throughout the book, we get poems like this first stanza of Noa’s poem “Mermaid Hearts”:

We’re swift in currents.
Down spiny sprays of kelp we dive,
Run hands through leaves to hunt
for snails and sapphires.”

I admit, I have a soft-spot for atmospheric coastal stories (I loved Twilight as a young adult), especially set on the CA coast. Because spoiler alert I live there, haha. But isn’t that beautiful? Horowitz dazzled me with her poetic prose and free form poetry throughout the book.

Shattered Blue is also appealingly plot-driven, delivering regular twists to the romance and other plot arcs. Little mysteries or dramas pop up constantly throughout the story, set against the backdrop of Noa’s school or Noa’s home, and most of them have to do with discovering Faerie.

I slammed the request button for book II as soon as I finished Shattered Blue because *dances* I CAN’T TELL YOU WHY but I CAN’T WAIT to find out more about the Fae realms! And in book II, I have a very good feeling that we will!

Nay-sayers will find a few things to complain about, although I hardly feel like mentioning them after enjoying such an immersive experience!

However: (1) It does have that creepy Edward-watches-and-EVER-PROTECTS-Bella thing going on, and I don’t know if that’s just a ya trope or a paranormal trope or what, but it’s a little weird. (2) The focus never really lands on Noa’s female friendships. In fact, her best friend Olivia is mainly used as a plot device.

Overall:

A genre-perfect read. Gorgeous prose, emotional complexity, speedy plotting and absorbing twists on Fae mythology make this one of the best ya paranormal fantasies I’ve read in a long time.

Recommended To :

I think any fans of ya paranormal, especially of the Fae variety, will love Shattered Blue. If you need a beach read or a book to pull you out of your book slump, I recommend this one. If you liked Twilight, I think you’ll love this.

*****5/5 STARS

wordsofradiancecover2

About:

The Way of Kings launched readers into Roshar, the world of The Stormlight Archives, by introducing us to key members of the cast. We learned Kaladin’s backstory and we got some teasers about the magic in store for us in this ten book series. But as you can probably tell from the title of book II, Words of Radiance, this second installment begins revealing some of those secrets we wondered about in book I: secrets about the Radiants, about spren, about voidbringers and parshmen, and about the mysterious oaths that gave Kaladin his own powers in the exciting battle scenes of book one.

And Bonus!

Shallan is the backstory character for this second book, and behind her veneer of “scholarly Brightness,” she hides some pretty dang scary secrets. Epic High Fantasy published March 4th 2014 by Tor Books.

SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1! Not too many, but there’s at least one big one!

And if I tried to summarize book II, I would spoil it, so I’m going to skip the plot details. Because the actual plot-development of a ten-book series like this is so slow, revealing almost anything will seriously, seriously spoil the books. In fact, here’s my advice: if you like high fantasy, I recommend just skipping the rest of this review and picking up The Way of Kings. But if you want more than my blanket recommendation, by all means read on…

Thoughts :

I seem to be in good company when I express my potential inability to properly review Words of Radiance. The Way of Kings was my #1 favorite read of 2016, but book II is even better.

The pace starts off at a sprint and pretty much keeps going, only slowing down in Kaladin’s POV sections and during the Interludes. Even Shallan’s backstory feels like forward motion as we learn about her past and how it affects her present-day narrative. And there’s plenty of conflict to keep the main storyline hopping, too, as two major high princes of the war camps openly battle each other for allies and the prophesied Desolation draws nearer, clue by menacing clue.

As in book I, Dalinar Kholin continues to cop a King Arthur-like role, working to bring together Roshar’s equivalent of the Round Table. He pushes the main plot forward in a way lesser-ranked characters don’t have the ability to do. And it’s. So. Exciting! He doesn’t get as many scenes in Words of Radiance as in The Way of Kings, but I’m looking forward to looking backward on his life. He’ll get his backstory eventually, I’m sure….and it sounds like he was kind of a bad boy.
words-of-radiance2
Kaladin, my favorite narrator from book I, spends most of book II fighting metaphorical demons from his past. He leaves book I as an angry, bitter soul, despite managing to pull himself and his men from the depths of Hell by his cracked and bloody finger nails (with Syl’s help, of course). Basically, he wavers back and forth on one all-important character-building and plot-development decision, and can I just say that it’s completely agonizing to read about? Haha. But in a good way. That way a good book can give you an ulcer.

And SHALLAN! I literally cheered (on Goodreads) when we started getting Shallan’s backstory! In book I, Shallan’s tense narrative feels like a subplot (as opposed to Kaladin’s and Dalinar’s sections, which interact more); but in book II, Shallan slams herself into the main plot, refusing to be benched from the action. Now that Sanderson has loosed her into the middle of things, Shallan is a really really really ridiculously good lookin-…I mean, proactive narrator. I love her! Like many of Sanderson’s women characters, she continues to challenge the status quo for women in ways that make for totally entertaining or enlightening moments of social impropriety. I could go on and on about the characters, all of whom are doing interesting things (Adolin and Jasnah Kholin, the princes of war, the bridgemen…even Renarin Kholin and the spren!).

But I must mention the plotting and worldbuilding: the new secrets revealed in Words of Radiance color both Shallan’s arc and Kaladin’s in really engaging and interesting ways, not to mention how they set up the plotlines of the series…and I can’t share any of them here because they would spoil you 😉 But rest assured, we learn a ton about Roshar and its history in this book.

Everything about Sanderson’s writing, in this series, distinguishes itself noticeably above the first books I read by him (his original Mistborn series, which I enjoyed largely for their setting, creatures and plot twists). In terms of humor and messaging, there’s no comparison. I can’t stress enough the subtle and effective way Sanderson manages to keep up a running commentary on big topics, especially racism, elitism/classism and sexism. He does it with genuine insight and emotion and without harping on any crowd in particular. Kaladin’s sections in this book strike an especially thematic chord, as he deals with the trying situation of being a powerful darkeyes in a culture of elitist lighteyes:

‘…Of course. I keep looking at those captain’s knots on your shoulder, but—‘

‘But I’m just an ignorant darkeyes.’

‘Sure, if that’s how you want to put it. Whatever.’”

Yeah, that’s gonna put him in a great mood, haha. And as I mentioned earlier, Shallan’s narrative also shares moments like this. Here she’s remembering some advice from her enormously pragmatic mentor Jasnah Kholin, as she masters the art of [Highlight to read SPOILER: conning everyone around her].

‘Using a fetching face to make men do as you wish is no different from a man using muscle to force a woman to do his will,’ she’d said. ‘Both are base and both will fail a person as they age.’”

Yeouch!

I really enjoyed alternately reading and listening to this book, as I did with book I. (Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to sit and read through back-to-back tomes of 1,000+ pages, but this worked out really well!) I recommend either or both forms; get ready for some late nights!

Overall :

A High Fantasy that reads quickly, despite its huge scope, largely because of the highly personable cast of humans and other species. The series will give you a second home for 10,000+ pages—and give you a serious book hangover.

*****5/5 STARS

shadowsofself

About :

A year following the events of The Alloy of Law, Waxillium Ladriam has successfully retired from The Roughs into the city of Elendel and managed to compromise between his “lawman from the Roughs” and “rich city lord” responsibilities. He still fights crime, but he manages to fit in a party, here and there, with his respectable fiancée, Steris.

But the city of Elendel has grown more restive, even in the last year. Labor workers riot, religions battle for worshippers and everything else that might go wrong in a young, developing city, does. Wax, his sidekick Wayne and their associate, Marasi, now a newly-minted constable, work together to find the source of the city’s tensions, which seem to revolve around the possibly-corrupt Governor Innate. But at the center of it all, they discover a rogue kandra, a creature which is considered an ancient servant from the time of the last emperor, Elend Venture (detailed in the first three Mistborn books).

And Wax could never have anticipated the staggering personal consequences of involving himself with this particular investigation…not that he had a choice. Shadows of Self is an adult western fantasy authored by Brandon Sanderson and published October 6th 2015 by Tor Books. Set in the Mistborn universe.

Thoughts:

‘Out of work,’ Marasi thought. Too many idle men out of work’…

The governor had recently given political speeches to these men, making promises. More coach lines to compete with rail lines, going places the railroad could not. Higher tariffs on imports from Bilming. Empty promises, mostly, but men losing hope clung to such promises…How would people react if they began to wonder if the governor, Replar Innate, was as corrupt as his brother?

‘A fire is kindling in the city,’ Marasi thought.”

And Wax finds himself at the center of the fire, yet again. As The Alloy of Law explores Wax’s identity crisis—is he a Roughs lawman? Or a respectable city lord?—so Shadows of Self forces him to face the tragic death of his girlfriend, Lessie, over a year before. He never recovered from her loss, and his heartache shows in his emotional distance from both his betrothed, Steris, and from constable Marasi, whom he rejects even as a colleague after she expresses her admiration of him. I didn’t anticipate the direction of this novel at all, but that’s part of why I LOVE IT! Sanderson incorporates Harmony, Waxillium’s past and the kandra (which are an awesome throwback to the original trilogy!) to add an emotionally potent character arc to the normal adventure and mystery of an Alloy Era novel.

The mystery plot ties in directly with the character arc, too. I love how Wax and Harmony brainstorm together about how to deal with the rogue kandra:

‘One of your ancient servants,’ Wax said, ‘has gone mad and is killing people.’

‘Yes.’

‘So stop her!’

‘It is not so simple…Something is wrong, unfortunately.’

‘What?’ Wax asked.

God was silent for a time. ‘I don’t know, yet.'”

Shadows of Self totally levels up the series. Everything has improved on the last book (which I also loved), from the secondary characters to the metal powers to the action and the humor. I had been leaning toward a 3.5 stars for the first book until the explosive ending, which earned it 4 stars. But Shadows of Self was clearly a 5 star read from the beginning.

As with book 1, I never wanted to put this second installment down, and the patented Sanderson twist got me again in the best way. I was desperate to start The Bands of Mourning after finishing Shadows of Self. Of course I didn’t have it on hand, and of course I had another book to finish at the time. But the Sanderson Epoch isn’t over yet! And I suspect it won’t end with Bands of Mourning, either…

Overall :

I NEED BANDS OF MOURNING!! Immediately!

Recommended To :

If you’ve read this far into the series, I say ‘Don’t stop now!’

*****5/5 STARS

way-of-kings About:

Roshar is a land ruled by Highstorms and Shardblade warfare. But as a cycle of Desolation approaches to destroy humanity, four people will play key roles in the outcome:

Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar, assassinates King Gavilar and begins a cycle of vengeance—the “Vengeance Pact”—between two races. He weeps as he is forced to kill for his masters.

Kaladin Stormblessed, an apprentice surgeon, is forced to become a soldier in the armies fighting for vengeance. After suffering the betrayal of a “light-eyed” noble, this dark-eyed soldier fights for his life and that of his dark-eyed crew.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands an army like the one that employs Kaladin. But as he is drawn to an ancient text of law, The Way of Kings, he finds himself questioning the purpose of this war.

Young Shallan Davar, Brightness of a small, struggling estate, risks everything to plan a daring theft. The first step of her plan is to train as a scholar with the heretic Jasnah Kholin, Brightlord Dalinar Kholin’s niece; but as she gains Jasnah’s trust, she realizes that the woman studies much more than obscure academia: she studies the secrets of the fabled order of the Knights Radiant, their shards and the Desolations they fought so long ago. Adult High Fantasy Published August 31st 2010 by Tor Books.

My Thoughts :

Wow. 1,000 pages of wow. Just let me fangirl for a moment, here.

Don’t let the size of this tome fool you: The Way of Kings is a compulsively readable, highly character-driven high fantasy. The characters always let you know what they want; but you never know what twists lie in store for them.

And there are so many twists! They start coming early on. It’s almost funny how I continue to guess and theorize because I’m always totally wrong. Everything is sailing along as the characters expect, and then BAM! You weren’t getting comfortable were you, Christy? Because this guy’s being sold into slavery and this gal’s not the naïve young bookworm you thought. You think you know what’s going on? Trust me, you don’t.

I can’t talk overmuch about the plot without spoilers, but:

I dare you to get bored during a Kaladin scene. Seriously. I bet you can’t do it. Early on in the novel, he’s drafted into a hellish portion of the army known as “bridge duty” (wherein generals force crews of unarmed men to rush first into battle, set bridges across chasms and draw enemy fire away from the “real” soldiers) and his goal becomes one thing and one thing only: keep his bridge crew alive. He constantly schemes up crazy ideas to meet that goal, and I promise, it’s worth your time to read The Way of Kings just for this one innovative soldier’s arc.

But Dalinar Kholin’s arc is a close second favorite. Uncle to the king and brother of the slain King Gavilar, Dalinar dominates the battlefield. Known as the Blackthorn, he fiercely wields a weapon called a “Shardblade,” a giant sword with unimaginably destructive power. As the book’s description says, wars are fought for and won by these ancient, mysterious weapons that appear from mist and kill souls as easily as they kill bodies. Dalinar is a cultural hero among his war-obsessed countrymen—but he has lately been troubled by Highstorm visions that may or may not be the onset of madness. As everyone including his sons and the king begin to question him, Dalinar has to navigate the visions, public opinion and private family business. A complex man with a complex path. I’m totally obsessed with Dalinar.

I think Shallan’s arc qualifies as the most complex among the four main narrators. She possesses the potential and desire to become a great scholar, but family secrets close that option to her. While innovation and leadership concerns characterize the narratives of Kaladin and Dalinar, Shallan’s narrative blossoms more slowly, and it feels almost self-contained until we find out more about Jasnah’s research. Nevertheless, I love Shallan’s scenes. Her intelligence and ambition make her arc tense and painful, at times, but always twisty and keenly satisfying.

Szeth the assassin is the most mysterious of the four narrators, but I suspect that he holds the secret to the coming Desolations. We shall see.

The worldbuilding itself is like a fabulous character. It’s so big! And it feels that way, paradoxically, by detailing the small stuff.

“Kaladin stared out over those grasses blowing in the mild breeze. Whenever the wind picked up, the more sensitive of the grass stalks shrank down into their burrows, leaving the landscape patchy, like the coat of a sickly horse.”

Although we expect large amounts of setup and worldbuilding in a novel like this, Sanderson incorporates it all smoothly into the secretive and engrossing characters arcs. The swords, the storms, the mysterious “stormlight” that connects everything together…and don’t even get me started on the countries, social prejudices and religions! One society lives on an endless, shallow lake, and citizens just…stay wet. All the time. And Alethi men and women must eat gender-specified foods! It’s craziness. The smooth writing let me slip easily into the world of Roshar, never drawing attention to itself. I got lost in this engrossing giant of a novel.

When plot twists pay off—when the action starts—it’s explosive. This is totally cliché, but the battle scenes really are heart-rending and pulse-pounding. Very “visually” effective (better than Mistborn‘s action scenes, I would say). The tactics and strategy are extremely well drawn.

I switched back and forth between the audiobook and the hardcover copy, so I can confirm that the story reads easily in both. Hearing all the unique names pronounced with such assurance made the audio version a favorite with me; but the easy writing makes the hard copy equally as engrossing—and the illustrations! They’re gorgeous!

Overall :

Combines the intrigue of Elantris with the action and themes of Mistborn. X1000. It’s definitely my favorite thing by Sanderson, as yet. As I was reading, I kept wishing the book could last forever. Thankfully, 9,000 is a conservative estimate of pages remaining in the series, right?

Recommended To :

It sometimes feels like I was the last person to this Stormlight Archives partaaay, but I know that’s not true! The books are so gigantic, I was intimidated away until I saw the list of contents in Arcanum Unbounded. Then I knew I needed to get on these books already. But seriously, if you like character-driven fantasy, I highly recommend trying The Way of Kings. You might be surprised how the pages fly by, once you start to get to know the characters.

*****5/5 Stars

Yo! I’m still on my two week holiday break from blogging (I meant to post my review of Marissa Meyer’s Winter by now, but, alas, the holidays! The food, the games! Next week, I promise), but I couldn’t resist writing the ubiquitous Best of 2016 list. I got to read such a great stretch of books near the end of 2016, and I found a couple of new to “go-to” authors throughout this year. That’s a good reason to come back from my break for a day, right? You know it!

I read something like 65 books this year (not counting rereads such as Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park audiobooks I enjoyed this Fall). Many were new releases, but, happily, I also managed to fit in some backlist reading! Most of my 11 favorites are books published pre-2016, but the best books published this year were smash hits. I grouped them all together, below, roughly in the order of favorites; but really? The books in the top two rows are basically all tied with each other, as are the bottom two. I just loved so many books this year! It’s been wonderful!

Favorites of 2016

  • Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone. Max Gladstone is one of those clever authors who subvert expectations constantly with humor and unique religious insight (this time about Mesoamerican ideas of sacrifice). Definitely one of my faves! Even though I enjoyed book I (Three Parts Dead) more than Two Serpents Rise, book II still earned a whopping 4.5/5 stars.
  • The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson. This year has been a Sanderson Epoch for me! I read and loved the original Mistborn trilogy on audiobook. All in all, I will have read seven and started an eighth Sanderson book, all in the course of 2016.
  • The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Because if a book makes me laugh this hard, it belongs in my favorites!
  • Waer by Meg CaddyA gorgeous YA travel fantasy by a debut Australian author. Told in the style of Juliet Marillier. Published in 2016.
  • Railhead by Philip Reeve. Sentient trains ship passengers throughout the galaxies. Great setup for a great series, I hope!
  • The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima. I really enjoyed this YA Fantasy and would love to finish the series. Just bought book two with Christmas money!

 

2016 Runner-Ups

  • Ibenus (Valducan #3) by Seth Skorkowsky. I was really impressed with this gritty adult urban fantasy (published in 2016). If that’s your jam, you should definitely check out this series.
  • Emperor of the Eight Islands by Lian Hearn. A literary Asian-influenced adult fantasy (2016). I really enjoyed this dark fantasy, much more so than the other book I’ve read by Hearn, The Nightingale Floor.

And that’s it! What a great year. What did you enjoy reading in 2016? Link your recap posts to mine so I can read them!

every-hidden-thing-9781481464161_hr

“We’d set out from Crowe at first light, and the grassland seemed endless. But after another few minutes, a crack appeared in the prairie. As we trotted closer, with every second the crack widened and deepened into a vast canyon that spread to the horizon.

A sunken world within our own. Water and glaciers and time had scooped it out, leaving behind a windy river and tall weathered buttes and mazes of ravines. The steep slopes showed all their ancient layers—tawny, black, gray, red—like the diagrams in Father’s geology books.”

Many reviewers have heard this novel described as Indiana Jones meets Romeo and Juliet, and that’s exactly what it is.

Premise :

Professor Cartland and Professor Bolt feud like the Capulets and the Montagues. But these two American professors war over something brand new on the 19th century western frontier: dinosaur bones. Particularly the bones of what young Samuel Bolt likes to call the “rex.” When Samuel Bolt and Rachel Cartland, the teenaged offspring of the rival professors, fall in love, the race to find the rex gets even more complicated. YA Crossover Historical/Western Romance thing. Published October 11, 2016 by Simon and Schuster. Goodreads. Author Link.

Thoughts :

I knew from reading Kenneth Oppel’s Airborne that I could easily love his work. His enthusiasm for the details is contagious and his prose is flawless. His novel Airborne lacks narrative drive and the character development that would have made it a spectacular read, for me; but I was still amazed by the details of the airships and all the research that went into portraying the luxury airliners. So when I saw Every Hidden Thing, I was immensely curious to see how Oppel had developed his writing.

Samuel Bolt and Rachel Cartland narrate the book. Samuel is a budding paleontologist hampered by his father’s reputation as a passionate but unschooled and impoverished “professor.” He knows they must travel to the Badlands to find the dinosaur of dinosaurs, which he dubs “tyrannosaurus rex,” in order to secure their fortunes and reputations.

Then he meets Rachel.

Rachel Cartland is a serious student of paleontology who dreams, above all, of getting a college degree and rising high in the field. She’s a tough girl who recognizes the possibilities that women should and don’t have, in the late 19th century. When she makes a risky but successful move, out in the field, her father reacts badly, and she thinks,

This was not the reaction I’d been hoping for. If I’d been a boy would he have praised me for my devotion, my initiative?”

But she never feels sorry for herself. She just pushes on to the next opportunity. She works hard to get to the Badlands with her father, and when they find one of the rex teeth, she becomes as determined as Samuel to find the prize.

Some reviewers are complaining that Rachel seems cold and unfeeling. On the contrary, I find Rachel the most compelling protagonist of the entire cast. YA often tries and miserably fails to portray the plain, but unusually bright teenage girl. Oppel pulls it off with a brainy first person narration, paired with the life experiences that would realistically go along with her characteristics. I think he imagined Rachel with fantastic precision.

The relationship between Rachel and Samuel brings them both to life, just as the rivalry brings their fathers to life. Rachel doesn’t drive the plot, the way Samuel does, but she does drive Samuel onward. Sam wants nothing so much as to be loved, and Rachel’s admiration and liking inspire him to man up, instead of letting his father run his life. I love their relationship so, so much, although it does get a little more, er, adult, than I would normally green light for a YA novel. It’s just done so well, though!

A few reviewers complained about the romance being “awkward,” and I’m pretty sure I know why. This book breaks all the YA romance stereotypes and I LOVE that about it. But not everyone will. It feels like a historical fiction romance…because that’s what it is. This is not an airbrushed romance because there is nothing discreet about an archaeological dig in the 19th century badlands. In addition, real relationships are hard and require communication; unlike this novel, the typical YA romance fails to accurately convey that reality.

I also love how Oppel brings a personal quality to every subject he examines. Samuel and his father are Quakers, and Oppel manages to share the heart of the Quaker faith while also showing the very fallible representatives humanity can be of faith. The book also takes our travelers straight into the territories of two Native American Plains tribes: Lakota Sioux and Pawnee. Oppel carefully portrays the multitude of confused perspectives on Natives during this time period, then personalizes the Natives and their problems.

Samuel on his pre-badlands experience with Natives:

I didn’t know much about Indians. The only one I’d ever seen, at a circus back home, turned out to be a man in face paint who was actually speaking Latvian.”

But later on, Samuel interacts with the Natives and gives their plight a lot of thought. After he and his crew narrowly survive an attack by an unspecified group of Natives, he offers the perspective,

We’d fight, too…if it were the other way around. Wouldn’t we?”

The Booklist review complains that the ending of the book “smacks of cultural appropriation,” but I love how the ending brings the Sioux mythology to life.

Other Stuff :

I did have two major complaints: (1) The beginning of this book really should tell readers when the book is set. The author’s note at the back helps, but teen readers may not check there and may not realize that the book is set during the late 19th century. (2) The plot involves a few major coincidences, related to finding the rex bones. Thankfully, the book really isn’t about the plot—it’s a very character-driven work.

Overall :

Plot: 3 Stars
Setting: 5 Stars
Characters: 5 Stars
Writing: 5 Stars

The average of these scores is 4.5 stars, but I don’t care. I’m rounding up to five stars because this book deserves every single one. Not only does Oppel perfectly develop the characters and the dry hope of the American dream out West, he examines religious life and Natives with the same amount of care, all in the context of a gripping drama.

*****5/5 STARS

Recommendation :

I’m going to recommend ages 16+ on this one, mostly because of the schmexy scenes (yes, there are multiple). [It explores the rocky beginning of a marriage. (hide spoiler)] But really…I loved this book. Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction and crossover YA. I already got a copy for my library!