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review 2019-01-17 19:57
Fawkes
Fawkes - Nadine Brandes

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Gorgeous cover (I admit the cover + the title are what drew me to the book in the first place), and also an interesting take on historical events by showing them under the colours (see what I did there) of magic rather than religion. In this alternate early 17th-century world, people are able to bond with a specific colour, and exert control over items of this colour through the wearing of a mask. The conflict arises from how people view the use of colours: Keepers (the ‘Protestants’) believe that a person should only master one colour and not give in to the ‘White Light’ that governs them all, lest greed devours them and twists their powers to nefarious ends; while Igniters (the ‘Catholics’) believe that listening to the White Light, and controlling more than one colour, is the way to go. Both factions are in conflict not only because of these views, but because of a plague that turns people to stone, with each camp blaming the other for the advent of this mysterious illness.

Enters our protagonist and point of view character, Thomas Fawkes, son of the (now) infamous Guy Fawkes, who’s been struck by this very Stone Plague and can’t wait until he gets a mask of his own, learns to master a colour, and hopefully manages to heal himself, or at least make sure the plague will stay dormant in him and never spread further than his eye. Of course, things don’t go as planned, and as he finds himself reunited with his father, the latter offers him a place in a plot meant to blow up the King and Parliament (as in, literally blow up, re: Guy Fawkes, Bonfire Night, and all that).

So. Very, very interesting premise, and I really loved reading about the London that is the backdrop in this novel—not least because I actually go very often in the areas depicted here, and I enjoy retracing in my mind the characters’ steps in streets that I know well enough. Little winks are found here and there, too, such as Emma’s favourite bakery on Pudding Lane, or a stroll to the Globe. It may not seem much, but it always makes me smile.

The story was a slow development, more focused on the characters than on a quick unfolding of the plot. I don’t know if the latter is a strong or a weak point, because I feel it hinges on the reader’s knowledge of the actual Gunpowder Plot: if you know about it, then I think what matters more is not its outcome, but the journey to it, so to speak. If you don’t know it, though, the novel may in turn feel weak in that regard, by not covering it enough. I didn’t mind this slow development, since it allowed for room for the side plot with Emma and the Baron’s household, and I liked Emma well enough. I still can’t decide whether her secret felt genuine or somewhat contrived, but in the end, it didn’t matter so much, because she was a kickass person, with goals of her own, and actually more interesting than Thomas.

As a side note: yes, there is romance here. Fortunately, no gratuitous kiss and sex scenes that don’t bring anything to the story and only waste pages. In spite of the blurb that mentions how Thomas will have to choose between the plot and his love (= usually, a sure recipe for catastrophe in YA, with characters basically forgetting the meaning of things like “priorities” or “sense of responsibility”), it is more subtle than that. Thomas at least also starts considering other people being involved, such as, well, the three hundred Members of Parliament meant to go up in flames along with the King. Casualties, and all that…

Bonus points for White Light, who we don’t see much of, but was overall engaging and somewhat funny in a quirky way. I just liked its interventions, period.

Where I had more trouble with the story was Thomas himself, who was mostly whiny and obsessed with getting his mask. All the time. You’d get to wonder why his father trusted him and invited him to be part of the plot in the first place. Often enough, he came as self-centered and constantly wavering in his beliefs. While I can totally understand that the prospect of his plague suddenly spreading left him in a state of constant, nagging fear, and therefore prone to focus on this more than on other people’s interests, the way he hesitated between which way to pursue (stay faithful to the plot, or listen to the White Light, or shouldn’t he listen to his father, but then are his father’s beliefs really his own as well, etc.) was a bit tedious to go through. Good thing Emma was here to set his sight straights, and by this, I don’t mean showing him the light (OK, OK, I should stop with the puns now), but making him aware that her circumstances are more complicated than he thinks, in his own ‘privileged’ way, even though his being plagued does contribute to a common understanding of being immediately rejected because of what one looks like.

Also, let’s be honest, Guy wasn’t exactly Father of the Year either, and the story didn’t focus much on developing his ties with Thomas. They were united through the plot, but that was pretty much all, when this could’ve been a wonderful opportunity to reunite them differently, in deeper ways, too. There just wasn’t enough about him, about his personality, and in turn, this lessened the impact of Thomas’ decisions when it came to him.

Another issue for me was the magic system. I got the broad lines, and the reason for the Keepers/Igniters divide, but apart from that, we weren’t shown how exactly this magic works. It is, I’m sure, more subtle than simply voicing an order to a specific colour, and there seems to be a whole undercurrent of rules to it, that aren’t really explained. For instance, why can the masks only be carved by the biological father or mother of a person, and not by an adoptive parent (or even by anyone else)?

Mention in passing as well to language: sometimes, it veered into too modern territory (I mean 20/21st-century modern English specifically, not ‘but Shakespeare’s English was technically Modern English, too’ ;)). I think it was especially prevalent in Thomas’ discussions with White Light, and I found this jarring.

Conclusion: 3 stars, as I still liked the story overall, as well as the world depicted in it, despite the questions I still have about it. I was hoping for a stronger story, though.

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review 2019-01-13 20:16
Arrows of the Queen (Heralds of Valdemar #1; Valdemar #1)
Arrows of the Queen - Mercedes Lackey

This is the first book in the Valdemar series and it has a lot going for it, but it falls short of what I expect out of story. The good news is it's not another Tolkien ripoff trying to pass itself off as something original. The bad news is it's the first in a series, and I think even the first book Lackey wrote, and it shows. The other good news is that for a first book, this shows a lot of promise, and I'm willing to go along for the ride and see how Lackey improves as a writer over the course of the series, especially as I'll be reading this is publication order.

 

This book introduces us to the world of Valdemar, so named after its first ever king, and a young Herald by the name of Talia. She's the classic Hero archetype, pulled from the fringes of society from a miserable life to discover that she's something more than she dreamed possible, landing into a world of adventure. Eventually. After she gets trained and goes to school and all that boring stuff. ;) Along the way, she meets several friends, helps with a conspiracy to unseat the Queen, and gets a magical horse. 

 

I like Talia for the most part. She comes across a bit Mary Sue-ish at times, but that appears to be a hazard of the Heralds in general, since they're Chosen by their Companions, who somehow can sense the people who will have all the qualities necessary to be good Heralds: goody-two-shoes with some form of Gift and with hearts of gold no matter how awful their starts in life might have been. In other words, no one from Slytherin is getting onto this team. Not that they're perfect, and that saves Talia from being a true Mary Sue. She has faults and she pays for them, and she struggles to fit in and find her place in the Collegium. Her growth through the book was quite well-done.

 

Of the other characters we get the most page time with, I really liked Skif and Jadus. Skif was a street rat and still has many skills handy for sneaking about - and getting into trouble. Jadus becomes a mentor to Talia, and later to Skif. Elspeth, the queen's heir, is a horror child when we first meet her, and I can just imagine the tough love approach taken to tame her would be frowned upon by some. 

 

The world-building is sprinkled throughout the book and doesn't overwhelm at any point, but I would've liked to see more of the day-to-day goings on of the Collegium, more training sessions, more classes, more equestrian training, anything at all with the Council. The various other side characters also don't get as well developed as the ones I mentioned and are there mostly for support. There's also a lot of head hopping that I'm sure would annoy some readers, though it was never confusing whose head we were in at any point.

 

I also wanted more of the conspiracy.

Since most of the book was from Talia's POV, and she understandably isn't allowed into the inner workings of the kingdom, we miss nearly everything about this conspiracy. If Lackey was going to head hop anyway, I don't see why we couldn't get those scenes with the queen discussing them with her Council. Being left in the dark for this, when it drives so much of the plot, feels like a huge misstep. We don't even find out the name of the people who were arrested.

(spoiler show)
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review 2019-01-13 02:42
Pisces
Pisces - Rachel Medhurst

Pop Sugar 2019 Challenge prompts:

Book with a Zodiac or astrological word in the title

 

Holy shit, this is bad. No world-building. No depth of time (characters just drive and park, or walk, places in seconds without details). Just a whole lot of white, hetero drama, sudden plot changes and lack of details. The story just starts, which is fine, except a lot happens with no explanation or fleshing out. Events keep happening with little reason. It's like this was written by a high schooler who only ever read Middle Grade books. Everyone is white and gorgeous. And very, very straight. How are there 12 people in a house and not a LGBTQ.

 

Man, I'm just striking out today. DNF at 16%

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review 2019-01-09 18:32
The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

I don't know how to feel about this book. It had a good message and the topic is super important. But there was something off-putting about Starr and her attitude. I have an attitude, too, but I don't go around bottling and exploding on others. If she would have just told her classmates what happened, a lot of drama could have been avoided. But she just bottled and overflowed. Not cool. I also feel like she had a touch of PTSD. 

 

Also, stop talking about Tumbler. Omg. 

 

A good book but I don't think it's as amazing as so many say it is. 

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review 2018-12-25 00:19
Ghosted
Ghosted - Rosie Walsh

What a hot mess. Don't bother with this.

 

Woman acting like a child. Man acting like a child. Nothing but tropes and cliche "plot twists". I wanted to slap and stomp everyone in this book. 

 

DNFed at 130 pages. Skimmed the rest. 

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