ARC Review: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody


Daughter of the Burning CityDaughter of the Burning City
by Amanda Foody

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark and twisty story with a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. The world the author has created is incredibly detailed and I loved the combination of fantasy and murder mystery. There are a few pacing issues and I thought there was a little too much crammed in but it’s definitely an enjoyable read.


Synopsis

A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

Review

I’m a little bit torn on this one. There were parts that I absolutely loved and it’s wonderfully original and dark but there was something about it that didn’t quite work.

I loved the idea of this traveling carnival that’s as big as a city. I loved the diversity of those that live and work there, the different types of magic, the performers, vendors, guards and the thieves and assassins who all consider themselves equal. Most of all I loved the mystery and just how dark and twisted it was.

It’s called Gomorrah for a reason. There are prettymen and prettywomen (prostitutes), con artists, thieves and assassins. All visitors to the carnival do so at their own risk and literally within the first few pages one person is robbed and a seemingly central character murdered.

Sorina made for an interesting main character. The only illusion worker in Gomorrah she’s considered a bit of a freak and outsider in a city of freaks and outsiders. She has no eyes but can see via her illusions (something I still don’t quite understand). She has however used her illusion work to create a family of “freaks” and together they have quite a happy life until one of them is suddenly murdered. So begins the mystery of who is behind the murder but also how do you kill an illusion.

In many ways I did like Sorina. She’s quite a lonely character and just wants to be accepted. She wants the fairytale romance but doesn’t believe anyone will be interested in her. She does get a little annoying with the woe is me all of the time and being so easily influenced by others but she is only 16 so it’s largely forgivable.

I have to confess I found her family/illusions confusing in the beginning. I have a goldfish like memory and was extremely tired at the time so I suspect it may just have been me who couldn’t remember who was who and what they did (I think the physical book has drawings so that will make it easier). I also didn’t feel the connection between them. One is the baby of the family, the other like a grandpa, one the best friend/sister but while I knew this it didn’t feel real to me. Maybe because they are illusions but I suspect it was because there was more telling than showing, something I think the book was guilty of in quite a few places.

The author has created this big and complicated world with a whole city/carnival that moves from place to place across the continent. I think it was perhaps overly complicated particularly for one book. We have the city of Gomorrah to try and understand with its very distinct areas and layout and all of its people/magics. There are the different places they visit, the world as a whole, politics and religion. It’s a lot to cram into around 380 pages and led to a bit of info dumping, something I struggle with.

There are some wonderful descriptions of the carnival and times when you are in the moment but these were a little too fleeting. I wish it had been kept simpler allowing more time for character development and relationships to develop. I didn’t feel any of the connection between the characters and consequently a lot of the events had less of an impact (the murders for example).

The storyline is good and I loved the idea of a YA fantasy with a murder mystery. There were however some issues on timing and it felt a little disjointed at times. There were certain events that felt unnecessary and others that were rushed over and didn’t make sense.

There are plenty of twists and turns as you try to work out who is behind the murders and I did for the most part enjoy it. I just wish it had been a little simpler with a little less tell and a little more show.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

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Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Genre: YA Fantasy

Format: Hardback (purchased)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Terrible as it is to admit I’ve never actually read Daughter of Smoke and Bone so this was my very first Laini Taylor. With all of the good things I’d heard about her stories and her writing I was very excited but I have to confess my experience of reading Strange the Dreamer was mixed.

The story is wonderful. It’s about an orphan, Lazlo Strange, who follows his dreams and travels to the mysterious, and cursed, city of Weep. It’s full of magic, monstrous creatures, heroes and stories, basically all the things I love.

I absolutely adored Lazlo Strange, the Dreamer, who sees the best in everyone and everything and is happy to help others do great deeds rather than seeking glory for himself. He loves stories and fairytales and believes anything could be possible and he’s just so sweet. I think I fell a little in love with him.

The other characters are also wonderfully etched from Eril-Fane the Godslayer who is plagued by nightmares of past deeds, to Thyon Nero the golden boy considered a genius and Lazlo’s tormentor, to Minya the woman trapped in a child’s body who is so full of hate and anger. Each and every one was captivating in their own way.

The writing is beautiful but for me I found it a little too flowery for my taste. I’m generally not a fan of lots of description and imagery though so this is definitely a me issue. I also believe it could have been shorter without really losing much.

The ending was however stunning, edge of the seat reading so there is absolutely no question over whether or not I will read the sequel (I will).


Synopsis

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist (Flame in the Mist, #1)Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Genre: YA Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Source: NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A captivating fantasy set in feudal Japan with mythology, monsters, samurai and just the right amount of romance. There’s definitely a lot to like about this story and with a heroine who uses her knowledge and talents rather than special powers or fighting skills we have someone we can all relate to.


Synopsis (from GoodReads)

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.


My Review

I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.

Yay!!! At long last we finally have a YA fantasy with a female main character we can relate to. Mariko may not have special snowflake super powers, be particularly blood thirsty or have incredible fighting skills which allow her to defeat all of her enemies and save the world in the blink of an eye but this story is all the better for it. She’s scared a lot of the time, she’s physically weaker than the boys but she’s smart and inventive and learns to use those abilities to hold her own and find her place.

There is a real girl power theme running throughout this book, which I loved, but unlike most YA fantasy stories this power doesn’t come from Mariko competing to show she’s just as strong or fierce but from realizing she has unique skills that make her just as valuable, something a lot of girls can relate and aspire to.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of action as this story is packed full of it. It begins with a young boy watching the execution of his father (which was brutal but gripping) and from there on in it doesn’t let up. I’ve seen a lot of reviews describing it as a Mulan retelling but while Mariko disguises herself as a boy and has to learn to fight that’s pretty much where the similarities end. There’s no noble purpose of trying to save her father by going off to war in his place but a slightly more selfish desire to find out who was behind an attack on her and also to find some freedom from the role she’s being pushed into.

There are a few twists and turns in the story and it definitely makes for some addictive reading. I have to confess there weren’t many twists that surprised me, I had an inkling around most of them, but it was still enjoyable following Mariko on her journey of discovery.

There is a bit of romance in this but it’s not too heavy and I really liked it as it has that hate to love thing going on. There’s a definite spark between Mariko and a certain bandit and one of the highlights of this book for me was the banter and teasing between them.

The other characters and the world the author creates were also fantastic. Ahdieh has a real talent for describing both people and places so that you can perfectly imagine them and they feel completely real.

With all these pluses this book could have been a five star read but it’s not quite perfect. It’s a little lacking in originality, Mariko does some downright silly things despite supposedly being clever and great at reading people and it felt like the magical elements were a bit light. I would have really liked to have a bit more explanation of the magic system in particular, although maybe the author’s leaving that till the next book in the series.

Overall it’s a great story and definitely one I’d recommend.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

ReleaseRelease by Patrick Ness

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really, really wanted to love this book. Ness is by far one of my favorite authors and while all of his books are very different they have all been great in their own way. That’s not to say that Release isn’t great (it is), I think it’s a simple case of this book not being for me.

Ness has said himself that he was making the most of his current popularity by taking a risk and writing the book he always wanted to write, the book he wishes had been around when he was a gay 16 year old looking for something he could relate to.

The story is based on Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Wolfe and Forever . . . by Judy Blume (neither of which I’ve read) and like Mrs Dalloway all of the events take place over the course of a day. Also just like Mrs Dalloway, the day begins with main character Adam Thorn going to get flowers and ends with a party but this is a day with a lot of changes and challenges for Adam. It’s a day of endings, heartbreak, confrontation, sex and love. There’s also a side story involving a spirit which eventually collides with Adam’s story.

For me Adam’s story was by far the more compelling. If I’m completely honest the whole ghost/spirit side left me completely confused and I ended up kind of skimming a lot of it as I wasn’t sure what was going on and kind of didn’t care. For this reason I probably would have enjoyed the book more had it just stuck with Adam but I suppose a normal YA contemporary probably wouldn’t be very Ness.

It’s definitely an action packed day for Adam and as always the author manages to write some truly memorable moments, the confrontation with his Preacher father being one. I’m not actually sure if I liked Adam. I found him a little on the mopey and miserable side. He does have good reason for this but I really didn’t like the way he treated certain people within the novel.

BFF Angela was for me a much more likeable and relateable character. She is the one who brings a lot of the much needed humor to the story and I kind of want her as my best friend.

The writing is as always wonderful (I would expect nothing less) and the author does create a strong cast of complex characters and brilliant dialogue. I did feel like it was maybe a little bit slow in places but I think my biggest problem was that I didn’t connect. I could definitely appreciate the writing and the story but I found it all too easy to put it down and go off and read something else.

I don’t think however that I’m the right audience for this story. I think others who are struggling with similar issues to those dealt with in the book or who can relate more to Adam will get so much more out of this book.

I definitely applaud Ness for creating the book that he wanted and for putting something new and unique out there for an audience desperately in need of it. It just wasn’t for me.


Synopsis (from GoodReads)

Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…

Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

Review: Hunted by Meagan Spooner

HuntedHunted by Meagan Spooner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love a good retelling and this is a great retelling.

It’s based on Beauty and the Beast and sticks pretty close to the original version but is a little darker with a Beauty who’s possibly even fiercer than the Beast. It’s surprisingly light on romance but absolutely full of magic and mystery and weaves in more than a few fairy tales and magical creatures.

I’ve read many, many retellings and this is definitely one of the best. I literally couldn’t put it down.


Synopsis

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?


Thoughts

“She moves like beauty, she whispers to us of wind and forest—and she tells us stories, such stories that we wake in the night, dreaming dreams of a life long past. she reminds us of what we used to be.

She reminds us of what we could be.”

Beauty and the Beast is probably one of the most common retellings (I can instantly think of half a dozen) but while this sticks fairly close to the original it does somehow manage to bring something new and different. Both Beauty and the Beast feel like completely new characters and there are a few key differences which add a richness and depth to the story I didn’t expect.

One of the main highlights for me was the setting, which is based on medieval Russia. Russia always seems to have the most extreme weather, with the coldest and most brutal winters and this really brought a feeling of isolation, wildness and magic to the story which really worked.

Yeva made for a wonderful Beauty and there was a lot about her that I could relate to. She longs for independence and freedom and feels guilty for wanting more than the privileged life she has. In many ways she actually doesn’t know what she wants so just has this unsatisfied and restless feeling. The only time she really feels calm is when she’s hunting, something considered unladylike.

Want is something she has in common with the Beast. He wants something and believes he needs a hunter to get it but doesn’t expect that hunter to be Yeva.

I absolutely loved the relationship between Yeva and the Beast. There’s very little in the way of romance between them especially in the beginning as Yeva wants nothing else but to kill the Beast and he will go to any means to get her to do what he needs her to. It’s a relationship full of distrust, threats and betrayal but occasionally there are moments when they realize they may have more in common than they thought.

What was also fantastic was the way the author managed to weave in other fairy tales and stories. When they are first getting to know each other Yeva tells the Beast stories (something that reminded me of A Thousand and One Nights) and these stories of magic, curses and fantastical creatures become an integral part of the story.

If I had one minor quibble with the story it was that I really didn’t like the hunting (I know it’s called Hunted). I’m not a vegetarian so I know it makes me a total hypocrite but I’m very squeamish about killing and skinning animals, something that features quite a lot. I found it difficult to reconcile the Yeva who took pleasure in killing rabbits and deer and the Yeva was devoted to her dogs. I know it was necessary to survive but it was just a little too brutal and bloodthirsty for me.

Despite this however I would definitely recommend you read this book whether like me you’re completely obsessed with retellings or if you simply want a great fantasy novel.

ARC Review: Legion by Julie Kagawa

Legion (Talon, #4)Legion by Julie Kagawa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Phew, I made it to the end. Kagawa is truly the master of the epic, edge of your seat finale. The ending of the previous book Soldier just about broke me and I thought this one might actually finish me off. She’s definitely not one of those authors who shies away from killing off her characters, something I both love and hate.

As this is the fourth book in the series and the previous book had such a big finish it’s almost impossible to write a review without spoilers so I’ll need to keep this short. The writing is as always excellent and there is plenty of action throughout as well as some real character development. Ember is really growing up and taking control rather than letting her impulses run wild.

This time the story focuses a lot more on Dante and we learn a lot more about his background and relationship with sister Ember. He’s one of the most interesting and complex characters in the book so I really enjoyed getting to know him better and gaining a more deeper understanding of his character and why he does what he does. I enjoyed the flashbacks to their childhood so much that I kind of wish there had been more of them but there was so much going on in the story that there probably wasn’t time.

The other characters from the previous books are more or less all present and correct and there is plenty of the banter between them that makes this such an enjoyable series. Jade, the eastern Dragon has a much bigger role to play (something I loved) but unfortunately Wes was pushed a little to the sidelines (something I didn’t love).

I will admit that I didn’t quite enjoy the story as much as in the previous book (there was a certain storyline that I’m just not buying) but I get the feeling that it’s building to the fifth and final installment which I think will be truly epic. I both can’t wait and am terrified to read it.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ARC. As always all views are my own.


Blurb (from GoodReads) –

*Contains spoilers for previous books in the series*

The legions are about to be unleashed, and no human, rogue dragon or former dragon slayer can stand against the coming horde. Book 4 of 5 in The Talon Saga from New York Times bestselling author Julie Kagawa.

Dragon hatchling Ember Hill was never prepared to find love at all–dragons do not suffer human emotions–let alone the love of a human and a former dragonslayer, at that. With ex-soldier Garret dying at her feet after sacrificing his freedom and his life to expose the deepest of betrayals, Ember knows only that nothing she was taught by dragon organization Talon is true. About humans, about rogue dragons, about herself and what she’s capable of doing and feeling.

In the face of great loss, Ember vows to stand with rogue dragon Riley against the dragon-slaying Order of St. George and her own twin brother Dante–the heir apparent to all of Talon, and the boy who will soon unleash the greatest threat and terror dragonkind has ever known.

Talon is poised to take over the world, and the abominations they have created will soon take to the skies, darkening the world with the promise of blood and death to those who refuse to yield.