A solid second book in The Raven Cycle, held back only by slow plot development

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I’ve surpassed my good reads target for 2017 and now I’m trying really hard to continue on with series I’ve started this year trying where I can to progress them and keep myself engaged before too much time passes and I lose touch with the characters and plotlines. I read The Raven Boys a few months ago and having heard really good things about the second book in the series it made sense to delve into The Dream Thieves and spend some more time with Blue and her Aglionby boys.

Book 2 is a direct continuation from The Raven Boys and picks up immediately from where we left our characters but what becomes clear about this book is that it is going to be focused on Ronan Lynch, the darkest and most dangerous of the group of Raven Boys. With the reveal at the end of The Raven Boys that Ronan was able to take things from his dreams and bring them into the real world, we were left wondering just how this would link into the story of Gansey’s search for Glendower the lost Welsh King.

To be honest this book didn’t progress Gansey’s search for Glendower by much. This book is really about Ronan exposing his secret to his friends and then exploring how it links to his past and his father’s death and coming to terms with how to use and control the power that he has. All of this is done against the ticking timebomb of people who are trying to find the mysterious Greywarren an object which is allegedly linked to the gift Ronan has.

Initially, I struggled to gel with the book, for the first few chapters I considered putting it down and coming back to it later but slowly I kept going and then bit by bit I realised I was working my way through it and actually fairly quickly. I became more engaged by Ronan’s story and actually one of the characters I probably wasn’t meant to like became my saviour, Kavinsky. Kavinsky was like a breath of fresh air. He was a little bit dangerous, lurking around on the sidelines and then suddenly he became a vital part of this book and any chapters which featured Ronan and Kavinsky shone for me. I am sure I was not meant to like him quite so much but against the lack of plot movement in this book he was a shaft of light.

I am still struggling a little with Adam’s character as the books progress, he has gone from being quite a stand up trustworthy guy to being dark and a little isolated from the other boys. His ongoing need to do everything alone and to raise himself from the circumstances of his birth is beginning to grate a little. Yes he does work towards redemption towards the end of this book but I found I didn’t enjoy reading about him as much this time around.

I am still in love with Gansey, he didn’t feature as strongly in this book as the search for Glendower took a back seat but he is still the father figure, the one watching out for everyone and I love that he and Blue are starting to draw together and any time they were together on the page was lovely. But can we just take a moment to talk about Noah, and that kiss! That was one of the really standout moments in this book for me.

I enjoyed this book but I couldn’t give it a 5 star rating because for me Ronan’s story was almost a standalone book that could have been read apart from the Glendower story. I’m hoping that book number 3 will return to the central story and will allow our characters to be more evenly featured in the narrative.

A promising start to the Three Dark Crowns series and a new author for me to try


Three Dark Crowns
 (Three Dark Crowns #1) by Kendare Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the recent release of the second book in this series I decided that I really needed to get myself organised and delve into Three Dark Crowns before I started hearing too many spoilers about the series online. I haven’t read any books by Kendare Blake before but reviews about Three Dark Crowns seem to be generally good and the plot sounded really intriguing so I was happy to give it a go.

This is a dark, fairytale in atmosphere story about 3 sisters, triplets, who are born Queens then separated and fostered to different homes based on their special talent. When they turn 16 they will each have the chance to fight for the throne, whoever wins will reign until their own triplets are born. The two losers will be killed at the hand of the victor.

The first chapters of the book are quite lengthy as we are introduced to each of the triplets in turn. Firstly we meet Queen Katherine, a poisoner, who is able to withstand any venom and can create deadly potions of her own. We meet the people raising her after 3 generations of poisoner Queens they have grown powerful and will do anything to put a 4th poisoner Queen on the throne. Katherine is not as strong as she looks though and is struggling to survive the demands placed upon her.

We then meet naturalist Queen Arisone, wild and carefree she has grown up surrounded by friends who have protected her and now she turns 16 she needs to face up to the fact that her gifts have not arrived as yet, she should be able to make flowers grow and fields bloom and animals do her bidding but she cannot and soon everyone will learn the truth.

Finally, we meet Queen Mirabella, the Elementalist who can command the elements, the wind, fire, water and the earth. Mirabella is strong and word has spread of her strength. The priestesses of the temples have led her tuition and they will stop at nothing to oust the poisoners from the throne and see the true Queen ascend to her rightful place, even if they need to rig the outcome.

This book was wonderful, it is full of really great characters in the lives of each of the Queens who we come to love. Particularly wonderful is the world of Arisone and her best friend Jules, the strongest naturalist in the community who will do anything to protect her friend and help her to become the new Queen. The characters in the story are really well crafted and it is so easy to become invested in them all and they are all quite distinct so although there are lots of them across each of the three queens courts you don’t get confused.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere in the book, the question of whether the sisters will come to fulfil the prophecy and kill each other or who is the rightful queen. The book asks you to question which one is your favourite but as the book goes on you find each girl has her own attributes that would make her a good Queen but if I had to say which one I was rooting for secretly I’d have to say Arisone but then the cliff-hanger at the end of this book was wonderful and left me quite shocked and desperate to see how this will progress as we move into book 2. It helped to make sense of some of the story in Three Dark Crowns but sets up wonderfully for us to continue the story.

I loved my first experience of Kendare Blake’s writing, I really enjoyed the style in which the book was written. The narrative was exicting and the plot moved along nicely with plenty of action without skimping on the relationships within. I would highly recommend this book and I know I won’t be able to hold off long before picking up the sequel, One Dark Throne.

A collection of Shadowhunter short stories proves a good read between series’

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So well have I done with all the Shadowhunter world books this year that the only 2 I have left to read are the collections of novella’s in Tales from The Shadowhunter Academy and The Bane Chronicles. Keen to try and reach my achievement of reading them all by the end of 2017 I decided to push on and read Tales from The Shadowhunter Academy, the book that would ultimately complete my Good Reads 2017 challenge of reading 52 books this year.

This book picks up with Simon after the end of City of Heavenly Fire so if you haven’t read the mortal instruments series it’s probably best you do that first to avoid any spoilers as this collection is full of references to both The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments. It also looks forward into the books that came after this one, The Dark Artifices and offers a brief glimpse at some of the new characters who Clare is going to be building her new adventures around in the Shadowhunter world so we meet Emma and Julian and Mark & Helen Blackthorn.

Set inside the school for Shadowhunters we follow Simon as he trains to become a Shadowhunter himself and the different people he meets during his journey and the friends he makes and trials he faces. Popping in and out of the school we find lots of familiar faces who are either just dropping by to see Simon such as Isabelle, Clary and Jace or we have some guest teachers who drop by to share their stories from the Shadowhunter world in the case of Magnus Bane, Tessa Grey and Robert Lightwood.

There are lots of cautionary tales in here for new Shadowhunters that give us extra glimpses into the world we’ve learned about through the previous series’ and it’s nice to revisit stories that have been touched on but never fully explored in the past. They are also great at highlighting the political and social inequalities in the Shadowhunter world, the prejudices they inflict on others and their harsh rules that they often live by and hide behind. As we have moved into The Dark Artifices this has become more important to Clare’s storytelling and so this book was another great chance to explore stories that make you think about whether at its core there is something corrupt in the whole world.

I am not a lover of short stories which is effectively what this book is, all be it strung together cohesively into a sort of story. I sometimes find myself losing focus with them but I didn’t find this an issue with this book. It was because of the way the stories were drawn together and fed on from each other that I think helped with this. It didn’t feel so much like jumping from one time period to another without reason or hearing about tales individually from each other, they were all linked with clever storytelling and strong moral teachings from each one.

I have given this a 4 out of 5, but honestly, I’d probably lean more towards a 3.5 however this is because held up against the other Shadowhunter novels it is one that you really could take or leave and not impact your understanding of the others. It was a good read but it was really a filler book to get us from The Mortal Instruments to The Dark Artifice through the use of the short stories that had been written about the world.

A fulfilling conclusion to Ahdieh’s Arabian adventure in The Rose & The Dagger

The Rose & the Dagger (The Wrath & The Dawn #2) by Renee Ahdieh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This year I’ve tried hard to really focus on completing series when I’ve started them. I’ve so far managed to blitz through around 6 sets this year and I was keen to complete The Wrath & The Dawn duology by Renee Ahdieh as well. Having really enjoyed the first book I was really keen to see how they would continue the wonderful Arabian story in The Rose & The Dagger.

The second book picks up very quickly after the end of The Wrath & The Dawn with Khalid trying to rebuild his broken city of Rey and Shazi having been taken to safety by Tariq to a settlement in the desert where she has been reunited with her sister and father. Tariq is still working with his uncle and the head of the desert tribes to try and overthrow Shazi’s husband who is still greatly misunderstood for killing his brides each night after their weddings. Shazi has been the only one to survive and Tariq is disappointed that his true love has fallen in love with another.

I found the first 100 pages of this book a little slow to get going, the chapters would flit between Khalid and Shaharzad and we really miss them being together and the sparks that would fly when they were. The initial chapters though are forgotten once the action does get going. We have so much going on, lots of new characters and romances and relationships and some really jaw-dropping OMG moments that keep you glued. Once the action was underway I flew through the last chapters, scared to take my eyes off the page in case I missed anything. There is magic, betrayal, true love, grief and loss and it makes for a wonderful end to this duology.

Again the atmosphere of the world Ahdieh builds jumps off the page in spades. Whilst there are lots of unfamiliar words for the different clothes, weapons and cultural references to the Arabian world in which this book is set it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment. Instead, it brings a really exotic flavour and a world in which I could spend all day.

I couldn’t recommend this book, or the duology as a whole any higher. It’s been a really fun journey and because these books have quite a different setting I have a feeling they will linger with me for some time to come.

A magical book full of Eastern Promise and beautiful romance

The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath & The Dawn #1) by Renee Ahdieh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was young I always loved the fairy tale Aladdin because the setting of the Far Eastern world seemed so exotic and colourful and full of life. I loved the Disney adaptation and think that to this day it remains one of my favourite Disney musicals of all time. To find a book set in this wonderful fairy tale setting is exciting and to then find it is loosely based on the tales of Scheherazade’s A Thousand And One Nights is even more so.

The Wrath And The Dawn is the first book in Renee Ahdieh’s Wrath & The Dawn duology and follows Shaharzad, a 16-year-old girl who chooses to marry the King. Under normal circumstances, this would be every young girl’s dream but this King has been taking a new bride every night and his brides always meet the same fate, killed as the dawn rises the day after their marriage. Shahrazad’s best friend Shiva is one of the brides that Khalid has killed and Shazi marries him for one reason, to kill him and gain her revenge for the death of her friend.

Shazi begins to realise that this King whom everyone hates is hiding a secret, the real reason why he is killing these young women and as she begins to get to know him she finds herself doing the unthinkable and falling in love with the man she had set out to kill. There begins a love that encompasses them both but which could put their whole kingdom in jeopardy.

This book was just wonderful right from the outset. There are lots of new words and descriptions for the old Eastern weapons and dress but once you become familiar with them you are transported to this beautiful world full of spice and colour and beauty. Ahdieh manages to bring this to life and really pulls you into the atmosphere of the novel and it feels like true escapism. If I put the book down I couldn’t wait to get back to it so I could enjoy being in that world for a while instead of Scotland in what has been a cold, wet, windy summer.

We meet a wonderful cast of characters, Jalal the cousin of Khalid and Captain of his Guard, Despina the handmaiden of Shazi who is initially sent to spy on her but who becomes her close friend and confidante. Tariq, the childhood friend and love of Shazi who sets out to rescue her from the palace the fate that has befallen all the other brides of the Caliph. Ahdieh spins a wonderful tale, we know that Khalid hides a secret but we aren’t given this too early on in the novel so this means that the relationship built between Shazi and Khalid feels built upon their real feelings for each other despite the uncertainty Shazi faces about her future.

The ending leaves things wide open as we don’t arrive at a neat conclusion but instead we have a cliffhanger that will lead us into book 2, The Rose & The Dagger which I cannot wait to read. I find duologies are often really nice as 2 books is a good number that means you get to spend a good long time with characters that you love without having to commit to lots and lots of novels. I am excited to add this to my completed duology list of 2017.

This is absolutely one of my 5 star reads this month as it’s a book that was entierly different in setting from lots of books available and a unique take on old fairy tales.

A mystical tale of a magical carnival filled with intrigue and adventure

Caraval (Caraval #1)by Stephanie Garber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a debut novel and the first book in what is rumoured to be a new series of novels. Written by Stephanie Garber, Caraval is a magical novel with a mysterious and fantastical setting which has set the Young Adult world alight this year. I had to, therefore, give it a try and see if all the hype around this book lived up to the reality.

SSet on the fantasy Isle of Trisda, we meet sisters Scarlett and Donatella. Brought up by their father the governor of the Isle of Trisda we become aware that is is a calculating and cruel man who controls his daughters by punishing them physically when they disobey him, but adds his own twist to this by punishing Donatella when Scarlett steps out of line and vice versa, meaning the sisters know that if they disobey their father their sibling will feel the physical pain of his displeasure. Scarlett has had a marriage arranged by her father to a mysterious Count whom she has never met and her marriage is due to take place within a few weeks but she has never met her future husband.

Scarlett has been writing her whole life to a magical and mysterious figure called Master Legend who runs a magical game called Caraval. Caraval is a festival to which you have to be invited and if invited you are allowed to participate or simply watch the game in progress. The game takes place over 5 nights and you follow a series of clues, almost like a scavenger hunt, which will lead you to a prize beyond your wildest dreams. Scarlet and Donatella have been dreaming of going to Caraval since they were children and suddenly a few weeks before her wedding, they receive invitations from Master Legend himself to attend as his special guests.

With the help of a young sailor called Julian, Scarlett and Donatella run away to Caraval which is being held on Master Legend’s private island. When they get there, however, Tella is kidnapped and Scarlett quickly learns that the item everyone participating in the game needs to find that year is her sister. All the clues will lead them to Tella. The prize at the end will the granting of one wish by Master Legend. Scarlett and Julian must, therefore, work together to try and reach Tella first but the mystery of Caraval is that whilst you must take it seriously you must never be so swept away that you forget it is just a game.

Garber has created a really fantastical world in Caraval, it is magical but has a certain darkness to it. Things are mysterious but you never know whether you can quite trust them to be real. The characters themselves are often hiding secrets and you are never sure which of the people are actors within the show and which are genuine participants. Behind it all, we learn that whilst Caraval is just a game a young girl died there a few years before when she became too swept away and people warn that Caraval can drive you mad. Master Legend himself is said to wear a different face each game and finds it fun to make girls fall madly in love with him.

I loved the writing within this book, Garber uses really good descriptions to set her world of Caraval, using lots of food related descriptions of the world around her such as the sand looking like spun sugar or the sky appearing a buttery texture. She makes it feel full of mystique and her characters are described really well and she focuses a great deal on the elaborate costumes and places that Scarlett visits. You lose yourself in the wonderful world you are reading about.

I found the first half of the book to be a little slow as it took a time to build up the actual setting for the book and therefore most of the action was packed into the second half. I also found myself getting frustrated with the lead character as she became too bogged down in the romantic entanglements she found herself in and lost focus on the game of Caraval itself and the actual goal she had, which was to find her sister. I would have preferred less romantic focus and more action and twists and turns in the game of Caraval instead.

The ending of the book frustrated me a little as well as we build up lots and lots of tension and emotion in events at the end of the book which are then negated a few chapters later as just being “part of the game”. It felt like the toils and turmoil Scarlett endured were suddenly worth less than we had invested in them as a reader. It was nice to have resolution but a little of it felt too easy.

The ending is clearly setting up for the next book in the series but it’s unclear as yet whether this will be one book, making this a Duology or whether we can expect several more books to take this to a full blown series. I will absolutely read the second book as we have too many unanswered questions and relationships that I would like to spend more time immersed within and we still have much to learn about Master Legend himself which I feel is going to be an ongoing theme to a climax later in the writers story. In fact on reflection this book appeared to be a great deal about creating the setting and the stage for the books that will follow and it has certainly done that and created many many fans along the way.

 

I delve into a brand new series and love it!

The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle #1) by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been doing really well knocking out lots of series I’ve been planning on reading this year and having now completed all of the Cassandra Clare novels I was looking for an intriguing new series to pick up as we move into the second half of 2017 and I had heard such wonderful things about Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle that it didn’t take me long to delve into The Raven Boys.

This book was one I wasn’t quite sure how I would get on with, sometimes as I’m an older adult reader of Young Adult fiction I sometimes do find some novels just don’t quite grasp me due to the writing style and content but I have to be honest that The Raven Boys was a book I flew through in a few days and did enjoy very much. It’s difficult not to be intrigued when the very first thing we learn in the narrative is that one of our lead characters Blue has been told that if and when she kisses her true love he will die.

This revelation leads us to a major discovery about this book which is that the paranormal and psychic worlds will play a large part in this series as Blue has been raised in a house full of psychic women and is indeed about to take part in the St Marks’ Day ritual at her local ruined church where she and her mother go annually to see the spirits of those who will die within the next 12 months. Blue herself is unable to see the undead, instead she is an amplifier for the powers of those who can, however on the night of St Marks’ she sees the spirit of a young boy named Gansey, a pupil of the local private school Aglionby. Her aunt informs her that if she is able to see him this means one of either two things, either he is her true love or she killed him.

With this revelation under her belt it is then somewhat worrying when Gansey stumbles into her life seeking a psychic reading from her mother in order to help him find the local ley lines which will lead him to the body of a dead Welsh king who Gansey hopes to raise from the dead with the help of his friends Adam, Ronan and Noah, the members of the books title The Raven Boys.

This book is full of twists and turns, all of them based in the supernatural and the mystery surrounding the ley line in their town of Henrietta and it’s a gripping journey that you slip through without really realising how quickly the chapters are flying by. It is also helped by the sheer range of characters within and their different personalities. I loved Gansey who is seen as others as being the ultimate privelleged rich boy with his whole future ahead of him but instead he is the father figure to his friends, their rock and the one who has everyone’s backs. In return they give him unquestioning loyalty and support him in his strange search for a dead Welsh king of whom they otherwise would not have known.

I also loved the character of Adam, the obligatory scholarship kid who has struggled his whole life to attend the school which will give him the opportunity to escape his lot in a small town life and run from his abusive father who beats him badly. I found it nice that despite the author moving immediately to bring Blue and Gansey together she allows a relationship to develop between Blue and Adam which leaves us wondering just how if Blue’s true love is Gansey this will leave Adam feeling as the series moves on.

For me though one of the most intriguing characters was Ronan, the bad boy of the group, the one who is struggling to remain in school due to non attendance and bad grades who is at odds with his family. It is clear Ronan has just lost his father and is struggling to come to terms with this and it is clear that we have not fully uncovered the secrets in his story and there is going to be lots more to explore as the series progresses through the remaining 3 novels. I especially loved that Ronan, whilst often sullen and withdrawn is the one who ultimately stands up for Adam and helps him escape the abuse he is suffering at home.

All in all this novel really was hugely enjoyable, the ending did leave me with lots of questions about why characters made the decisions they did. The last sentence left me thinking if I’d just totally missed a page as it literally leaves you hanging on a sentence which is going to take lots of explaining but I’m sure is linked to the title of the second book in the series. I am definitely excited to dive into book 2, The Dream Thieves and would give this one a 4 out of 5 stars.