Mini-review: ‘Crown of Midnight’ by Sarah J. Maas

“A line that should never be crossed is about to be breached.
It puts this entire castle in jeopardy—and the life of your friend.”

From the throne of glass rules a king with a fist of iron and a soul as black as pitch. Assassin Celaena Sardothien won a brutal contest to become his Champion. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown. She hides her secret vigilantly; she knows that the man she serves is bent on evil.

Keeping up the deadly charade becomes increasingly difficult when Celaena realizes she is not the only one seeking justice. As she tries to untangle the mysteries buried deep within the glass castle, her closest relationships suffer. It seems no one is above questioning her allegiances—not the Crown Prince Dorian; not Chaol, the Captain of the Guard; not even her best friend, Nehemia, a foreign princess with a rebel heart.

Then one terrible night, the secrets they have all been keeping lead to an unspeakable tragedy. As Celaena’s world shatters, she will be forced to give up the very thing most precious to her and decide once and for all where her true loyalties lie… and whom she is ultimately willing to fight for.

After I reviewed Throne of Glass, I had a few people tell me to persist, because the story gets better. I liked the first book well enough to continue (I just thought Celaena was all talk as far as the “greatest assassin in the land” thing goes), and I’m happy to report that my advisers were correct.

This book is better than the first one. There’s less focus on pretty dresses (although they do get a mention) and more on scheming, stalking, stabbing and snogging — not necessarily in that order. Also betrayal, magic and bad guys. I love the magic in this series, and the ancient mysteries. I am so there for those.

My main reason for not giving this book the full five-star treatment is that I occasionally found Celaena annoying, and more than a little dense. There is one point in the book where she’s given a riddle, and the first part of the answer is blindingly obvious, but it takes her an age to figure it out. (When another character mocked her for taking so long, there was vigorous nodding on my part. Although, to be fair, she had other stuff going on…) I also found her reactions to a couple of key events in the story a little … well, erratic? It’s hard to say more than that without spoilers, but I’m sure that those who’ve read the book know what I mean. 😉

Still, my initial complaint that Celaena was all talk as far as the killing goes was addressed to my satisfaction (though I don’t know what that says about me!). I’ve already downloaded the audiobook of the third in the series, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

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Mini-review: ‘Throne of Glass’ by Sarah J. Maas

Meet Celaena Sardothien.
Beautiful. Deadly.
Destined for greatness.

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake. She got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

I’m coming to this series pretty late — I bought it a while ago because the cover was just that awesome, but it took a while to filter to the top of my tbr (and I actually ended up listening to it on audiobook, so the paperback never even got opened — oops).

I found the story engrossing enough, though the main character is nowhere near as tough as I thought she’d be, given that whole “best assassin in the land” thing. She talks the talk, but we rarely see her walk the walk. I mean, she has all of the thief skills associated with your typical assassin, and is good with poisons, but she isn’t cut-throat by any stretch of the imagination. I struggle to imagine her actually killing someone for money.

She also likes pretty dresses and parties. I actually like this about her, because I don’t think a character has to be unfeminine to be tough. But I can see that she gets a lot of hate from that, and it definitely distracts her at times when she should be focused on the competition.

I liked how bad the bad guys were, and the way that the fantastical elements were woven through. (There’s also a love triangle, which I didn’t mind — though I never really had a preference between the blokes in question — but others might find trope-y.) I’ll definitely download the sequel when I get my next Audible credit. But if you’re looking for a more-gritty story about an assassin, then I’d recommend Nevernight by Jay Kristoff over Throne of Glass.

 

 


Review: ‘Godsgrave’ by Jay Kristoff

A ruthless young assassin continues her journey for revenge in this new epic fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Jay Kristoff.

Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church hierarchy think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending the men who destroyed her familia; in fact, she’s told directly that Consul Scaeva is off limits. But after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia suspicions about the Red Church’s true motives begin to grow.

When it’s announced that Scaeva will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end him. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between love and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

This is the second book in the Nevernight Chronicles (you can see my review of the first book here). Now, given that Jay Kristoff and co-writer Amie Kaufmann have a fabulous, bestselling YA series together, you might think this was YA. You’d be wrong. As I said about the first book, Godsgrave contains pretty much all those adult themes that make conservative school librarians faint: a bisexual main character, swearing, explicit sex and violent murder.

But if the idea of those things doesn’t bother you, and you love the idea of seeing a complex, dystopian fantasy world brought undone by a cold teenage killer, then this is the book for you.

If you took medieval Venice, mixed in some Ancient Rome, and added a daub of original World of Darkness Vampire: the Masquerade (but minus the vampires), you’d get the world of Godsgrave. Slaves, gladiators, masked balls, a looming and evil godlike presence, a secretive cult of assassins, a dissolute and entitled nobility that is either clueless or wilfully cruel — this book has it all.

And then there’s Mia. She was forced to watch her father hanged by her mother when she was a child, and was then taken in by a retired assassin who set her on that path. When you add in the fact that she can manipulate the shadows and is followed around by slices of shadow that eat her fear so she simply doesn’t feel it, she’s a little broken — although that spark of empathy  we saw in her in the first book is still there, buried deep.

The plot twists and turns like a twisty, turny thing. And I didn’t see most of them coming, which always fills me with glee. I can’t wait to see what Mia does next.

 


Review: ‘The Slow Regard of Silent Things’ by Patrick Rothfuss

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

This novella is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. Or listened to on audiobook, at any rate. It’s set in the world of The Name of the Wind, and focuses on Auri, an enchanting side character from the main story. In fact, it focuses on her to the point where she’s almost the sole character.

After a fashion.

Auri has a peculiar character trait in that she personifies the objects around her. She sees them as having names and moods and desires of their own, and believes her role is to make all the objects happy, to make the world “proper true”. As a result, there are objects in this novella, such as the light she carries around or a brass gear that she finds, that I was downright fond of by the end. And Auri, who cuts a very lonely figure, is never really alone.

As for the plot, well … there isn’t one. Not in the traditional sense. This novella is seven days in Auri’s life, as she prepares for a visit by Kvothe (though he is never named directly). She goes exploring, she searches for a gift to give him, she makes soap.

That’s it, in terms of the plot.

What the novella does do, and in a breathtakingly beautiful way, is explore the reality of someone who is entirely, utterly broken. Auri used to be a student at the University, and occasionally her educated vocabulary breaks through and gives a tantalising glimpse of the person she used to be. It’s never completely clear how many of her beliefs about the world around her are objectively true in Rothfuss’s world and how many are manifestations of her mental illness — and, at the end of the day, I’m not sure it matters. This story is from Auri’s point of view, and Auri believes these things with all of her being (while acknowledging in her darker moments that she herself isn’t “proper true”), so, as a reader, they were real for me too.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things isn’t a story in the traditional sense. It’s a set piece, a piece of art. The writing is gorgeous, like poetry. As a writer myself, I was humbled.

Rothfuss says in his foreword that, “If you haven’t read my other books, you don’t want to start here.” I can see why he said that, because this story isn’t typical of his style, and I guess he doesn’t want people reading this, being baffled, and not going back to the rest of his books. But, by the same token, you don’t need to have read his other books to appreciate the beauty of The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys beautiful writing and the exploration of the mind of a strange, wonderful character. (Or for those who want to learn how to make soap!)


Review: ‘The Way of Kings’ by Brandon Sanderson

Speak again the ancient oaths,

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

And return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.

Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.

In one such war on the ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by the ancient text named The Way of Kings and troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.

Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

Brandon Sanderson is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long. That is a lot of 30-minute commutes.

Still, the time commitment is worth it.

I started out a little concerned, because Sanderson does something a little unorthodox in modern fiction and starts you off with not one but two prologues. I felt a little dropped in the deep end, and wanted to get to the main character so I could begin to learn about this new world. But Sanderson came good. And, boy, do we get to know this world. With a book this big, he can immerse you in many of the cultures, let you see how different characters think, let the characters and their decisions and mistakes drive events.

It turns out there are three main characters — which I’d have known if I read the blurb rather than buying the book on faith and diving straight in. (I’ve read/listened to quite a few Sanderson novels now and he’s an autobuy for me.) But we get chapters from other characters too. Honestly, I could have lived without some — though not all — of the interludes, because they didn’t seem that relevant to the main story. However, Sanderson has tricked me before when I’ve thought details were interesting but not relevant. He’s the master of literary sleight of hand.

I enjoyed all three main characters: Shallan is very intelligent and quick of wit but also incredibly naive; Dalinar is a hot older guy (I’m showing my age) who is a true noble, big on honour in a society where war and betrayal are almost tenets of faith; Kaladin is young, determined and a talented warrior and leader, but struggles with depression and bitterness due to some awful betrayals in his past.

Although this is a hugely character-driven story, there is a big bad looming in the background, a force or deity called Odium (which I imagine is like the elemental force Ruin in Sanderson’s Mistborn series: something that seeks the destruction of the world and is resisted by a Preservation equivalent). The more you read, the more you realise how all-pervasive Odium’s influence is over the world of Roshar. I suspect from this first book that the disintegration of the Alethi culture of which Dalinar is a part can be attributed to Odium’s influence.

I’m super-excited to read the rest of the series to find out if I’m right.


Review: ‘A Tangle of Gold’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Kingdom of Cello is in crisis. Princess Ko’s deception has been revealed and the Elite have taken control, placing the Princess, Samuel and Sergio under arrest and ordering their execution. Elliot is being held captive by the Hostiles and Colour storms are raging through the land. The Cello Wind has been silent for months.

Plans are in place to bring the remaining Royals home from the World but then all communication between Cello and the World will cease. That means Madeleine will lose Elliot, forever.

Madeleine and Elliot must solve the mystery of Cello before it is too late.

A Tangle of Gold is the final book in The Colours of Madeline trilogy by Aussie author Jaclyn Moriarty. You can find my first two reviews here and here. I commented in my review of the second book that the series title didn’t quite work for me, because Madeline’s parts of the story in the first two books were the less engaging parts.

It’s fair to say that, in the third book, Madeline finally comes into her own. I can’t say much more than that, because it’d be spoiler-tastic, but at last she becomes more than bizarre homeschooling, her mother’s illness, and her quirky friends.  Events in Cello rather than in the World (what they refer to Earth as) are definitely where the story is at, and they drive events. But there’s a lot more crossover, not just a parking metre-based postal service, so the World side of things gets a lot more interesting.

There are things that you need to know about these books if you are considering giving them a go:

  • Moriarty’s prose is beautiful. It’s lyrical and strange at times, but always beautiful. I’m sad that she never truly described the Cello Wind (which is alluded to often but remains off camera, so to speak). It would have been glorious.
  • Her world-building is astonishingly detailed. As a result, sometimes the story feels like it’s dragging a little, but things are always happening — even if their significance doesn’t become clear till later. Which brings me to…
  • The plot twists. OMG. There are things resolved in the third book that were delicately foreshadowed in the first. And some of these twists blindsided me. I usually guess or at least suspect in the right direction of plot twists, but I was way off base on this one, several times.

If you have the patience to read three 500-page books, and love parallel world stories with a truly unique alternate world and intense, intellectual and quirky characters, then this is the series for you.


Review: ‘The Cracks in the Kingdom’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

Princess Ko’s been bluffing about the mysterious absence of her father, desperately trying to keep the government running on her own. But if she can’t get him back in a matter of weeks, the consequence may be a devastating war. So under the guise of a publicity stunt she gathers a group of teens — each with a special ability — from across the kingdom to crack the unsolvable case of the missing royals of Cello.

Chief among these is farm-boy heartthrob Elliot Baranski, more determined than ever to find his own father. And with the royal family trapped in the World with no memory of their former lives, Elliot’s value to the Alliance is clear: He’s the only one with a connection to the World, through his forbidden communications with Madeleine.

Through notes, letters, and late nights, Elliot and Madeleine must find a way to travel across worlds and bring missing loved ones home. The stakes are high, and the writing by turns hilarious and suspenseful, as only Jaclyn Moriarty can be.

This is the second book in The Colours of Madeline trilogy by Sydney writer Jaclyn Moriarty. I finished it last weekend, and it’s taken me a while to sit down to write a review — largely because it took me more than a month to read, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on why.

Other than general life busyness and the danger of reading hardcover books in bed when you’re tired (ow), the obvious reason is that all the books in this series are quite long (and also heavy — ow). This one is almost 500 pages, and maybe my attention span isn’t what it used to be, but it just seemed like a lot. If you’ve read the first book in the series (or my review of same), you will know that the series is a parallel world tale where one of the two main characters, Madeline, is in England while the other is a boy named Elliot who lives in a magical modern-day equivalent of Earth that is called Cello. Moriarty puts a lot of work into world-building as far as Cello goes. Like, a lot. There are extracts from guide books, for example, and newspaper clippings, as well as the letters that the blurb mentions. They are relevant to the story, but gosh there are a lot of them!

There were some parts of the story that dragged and — despite the name of the trilogy — they are almost all Madeline’s sections. She doesn’t have as much to do in the second story other than live her quirky life, post some letters, and be increasingly interested in Elliot, who is (apparently) forever unattainable.

Elliot on the other hand is a very interesting character, as are the other members of the Royal Youth Alliance, Ko, Kiera, Sergio and Samuel. I far enjoyed reading about their meetings and efforts to rescue the royal family. That’s where all the action in the book is. (Sorry, Madeline.)

I realise this review might seem lukewarm, but I really did enjoy most of it — hence the four stars! I went straight into the last book in the series, and I’m hoping I can get it done more quickly than this one. 😉


This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’ve been doing a round robin series of interviews. I was interviewed by the lovely Heather Bosevski; you can find it here. I on the other hand interviewed spec fic author Sharon M. Johnston, and you can find that one here