Thursday, November 29, 2012

REVIEW: Eye of the Storm by John Goode

Eye of The Storm (Lords of Arcadia, #2) Eye of the Storm by John Goode
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Book 2 thrusted Kane out of Earth and into another world, turning the series from urban fantasy to pure fantasy. A couple scenes shined for me, but the rest of the story didn’t impress me.

The Characters

+++ the MC: Kane

I continue to think Kane as an idiot. He is frequently in danger, but he rarely seems to grasp the severity of the situation. In the rare moments when he does, he acts foolishly. I wouldn’t label Kane as TSTL (yet), but sometimes I am surprised that he is still alive.

Kane tends to whine and get distracted. He rarely thinks about anything else except his boyfriend, Hawk. I love YA and I love romance, but this YA romance heavily impressed me as teenage silliness. Kane is the star of the series, but in book 2 he wasn’t more than a momentarily empowered dude in distress who relies on luck to survive.

+++ the MC’s boyfriend: Hawk

Hawk was slightly better. He annoyed me in book 1, but he didn’t annoy me in book 2. Though, that is probably because he was comatose for most of book 2.

Honestly, I discerned no character growth for the couple. Even though I hardly liked either of them, I was disappointed that they were not in the spotlight of book 2. Half of it was about the bad guys, and I disliked them more than the couple.

+++ the bad guys

In book 1, I thought the villains were lame. In book 2, I still think they’re kind of lame but now I mostly think of them as impotent. I eye-rolled at their scenes and how they thought they were better than everyone else when they were not. Neither were convincing in their role, especially Puck as a shadow mastermind.

It didn’t make sense to me why Oberon didn’t execute Puck for his insolence in court, or why Puck didn’t kill Oberon when Oberon was knocked out, or why Oberon didn’t kill Puck after Oberon woke up. The two men hated each other enough to murder one another and knew it was only a matter of time, so why the delay? There didn’t seem to be any purpose for one man needing the other alive. I wish the book rid the two characters already.

+++ the two assassins

The two assassins confused me. First they were bad guys, then they were misunderstood guys. Later, it turned out they were romantically involved with each other. They were going to kill Hawk, but then they decided to save him. Whether they did it out of altruism or as some backup plan, I have no clue. What the series wanted to do with these characters, I have no idea.

I was surprised and tired by how much of the story was in their POV. It was only a couple of scenes, but it was way more than I care to read. When something tragic happened to them at the end, I wasn’t all that sad.

+++ the MC’s friends

I liked Ferra the Viking-inspired barbarian, but her character created a plot hole. Ferra belonged to an insular, xenophobic tribe that abhorred magic to the extent that they semi-ostracized their shamans. Shamans were a necessary evil for them. In a fight scene late in the book, Ferra used ice magic. But how could she when only the ones who could work in magic in her tribe were the shamans? Ferra wasn’t a shaman; she was a warrior, and warrior are not taught magic. Thus, the plot hole.

Fortunately, it didn’t ruin the character for me; I still liked Ferra. I also liked Molly the clockwork girl. She was like a breathe of fresh air; she was a unique character I have read about in a long time, and I read a lot. She was compelling enough to star in her own novel.

The Crystal Court could have been more imaginative. It was odd that the talking gems have social constructions like genders and patriarchy. Nonetheless, I liked the Ruber’s siblings. They could have annoyed me, but they managed to charm me with their personality. I was happy to see Ruber stayed outspoken and spunky in defiant of his overbearing father.

The Plot

+++ the plot lines

Two plot lines dominated the story: (1) Puck seek to take over fairyland (2) while Kane and his band of misfits try to rescue Hawk. It was amazingly fast-paced and had a bucketful of action. The plot alternated between multiple PoVs. Though it didn’t bother me, I would have preferred the story to stick with the good guys’ PoV.

+++ the ending

The ending was a cliffhanger, but not a strong one compared to book 1’s cliffhanger. The ending felt more like a natural end point, and though there were loose ends, I was satisfied by how much was resolved. Still, the ending was cheesy with its True Love’s Kiss scene; a Disney princess movie this book was not.

In Conclusion

I rate Eye of the Storm 2-stars for it was okay. I didn’t mind how lacking the bad guys were, but I did mind the lack of character growth from Kane and Hawk. Their friends, some of whom were newly introduced, managed to outshine the couple. It should be the star of the series and his boyfriend that makes me like the book, not their cool, more interesting friends.

If you like this series, check out the Witch Eyes series:

Witch Eyes (Witch Eyes, #1)

Amazon GoodReads

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

REVIEW: Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder

Scent of Magic (Healer, #2) Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With book 2, the YA fantasy series continues to keep my undivided attention with its accessible writing and compelling plot. But just like what happened with book 1, as I read book 2, the story slowly diminished in credulity.

The Plot

The beginning was great. I didn’t recall much of book 1, but book 2 refreshed my memory in the first chapter. I really liked how the rehash was presented in the story: minimal, intermittently, at relevant time and place, and never once kept the plot from moving forward.

The middle of the book was not so great. Our heroes suffered a barrage of setbacks, and it was hard for me to watch.

The ending felt flat to me, and it wasn’t because of the lack of action. There was a lot of action. No, the issue I took was the amount of unnecessary drama that happened. If the characters acted on opportunities and followed through with their goals, then things would have happened much faster and the story would have been much stronger. This series seemed to fear to dish out death, and as a result things weren’t as consequential as they should have been.

When the book ended on a cliffhanger with one of the major characters in a fatal situation, I wasn’t as worried as I could have been. I didn’t go into an emotional explosion driving me to demand the next book now.

Plus, every time the story switched to another character’s PoV, it almost always ended on a cliffhanger that left the character in a fatal situation. The periodic cliffhangers irritated me at first, but I got used to them eventually. The book depended too much on cliffhangers as a vehicle to push the plot forward. This is the rest of the reason why the cliffhanger at the final chapter didn’t have much of an impact.

The Characters

+++ the heroine: Avry

The story alternated between Avry and Kerrick’s 1st person PoV like clockwork. I liked Avry for the first half of book 2. She took initiative and no matter how big the danger she willing went into it to save her loved ones.

But, for the last half of book 2, I found her mildly annoying and maddeningly stupid. I counted at least two opportunities she had to end the big bad guy, Tohon, once and for all, but she did nothing. I understand her Healer’s code not to kill, but it didn’t stop from her knocking people out with her healing power or, if she wanted to, maiming them or, better yet, doing something to rid Tohon’s of his abominable magic.

Moreover, if I recall correctly, in book 1 Avry also had opportunities to end Tohon’s evil ways and save the world. I know Avry was trying to show mercy but by not killing Tohon when she got chance she allowed him to kill more people, hence the sole reason I thought her maddeningly stupid.

The issues I had with Avry didn’t stop there with her contemptible belief of mercy, Avry lost sight of her goal when she infiltrated Estrid’s army. She was supposed to rescue Melina, but she never did. Avry cared deeply for her loved ones, especially for her antagonistic little sister, so I couldn’t believe her oversight.

Another issue that was incredulous was how long it took for someone to see through her disguise and identify her as Avry, the last healer in the kingdoms. If strangers easily suspected her, how come the people who met her in book 1 didn’t and readily accepted her cover identity? I could not believe how long and relatively effortless her disguise lasted.

+++ the heroine’s love interest: Kerrick

I preferred Kerrick’s PoV over Avry’s. He was less much frustrating and a stronger leading character compared to Avry. I only wished he was more clever and less fatalistic. By the middle of the book, Kerrick took the spotlight away from Avry instead of sharing it. That’s how much Avry annoyed me. I even managed to forgive Kerrick for his jerk attitude in book 1.

In Conclusion

I rate Scent of Magic 3-stars for I liked it. I wavered between 2 and 3 stars but ultimately rounded up to 3 stars because of the story’s momentum. As much as the cliffhangers annoyed me, they did keep me reading further and finish the book in one sitting. Still, it was the exception not the rule; Kerrick’s PoV compensated.

If you loved book 1, you’ll love book 2. If you love this series, you should check out the Healing Wars series:

The Shifter (Healing Wars, #1)

Amazon GoodReads

Saturday, November 24, 2012

REVIEW: 40 Souls to Keep by Libby Drew

40 Souls to Keep 40 Souls to Keep by Libby Drew
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review & Spoilers

The mm-romance was well written, but the characters were plain, the plot had holes, and the ending was scant.

The Characters

+ Jase, the nomad protector

While much of the story was told in Lucas’s PoV, most of the character development occurred with Jase. However, it raised more questions than answers about him. I liked Jase’s mysterious persona in the beginning but by the middle of the book it irritated me. I did like his decisive use of mind-controlling ability, but he could have been more effective with it. For one thing, he would have captured the bad guys way faster if he was more clever with it.

+ Lucas, the social worker

I liked Lucas the best but his characterization was shallow. I can count with my hands facts about Lucas and still have a couple fingers left over. I liked Lucas’ relatively fast acceptance of Jase and his paranormal explanations, but I wished Lucas kept some hidden suspicion. Jase’s goal of protecting Macy may have coincided with Lucas’ goal but they both could have different ways to protect a person. For all Lucas knew, Jase could have locked both him and Macy in a cage until the danger passed.

Both Lucas and Jase were a one-note character: the protector. The paranormal part of Jase was only the big thing that distinguished him from Lucas. They never impressed me as palpable individuals as they should have.

+ Macy, the orphan girl

I didn’t like Macy. She was a paradox. One moment she’s sucking her thumb and acting like a typical scared kid, the next she show incredible empathy and gives sage advice like an experienced therapist or a caring grandmother. She’s supposed to be this innocent angel, but the girl slightly creeped me out like something out of those possession horror movies.

The Plot

+ the plot holes

How come Jase never made an attempt to discover and reclaim his identity? How come Jase believed Philip so easily? When Philip said there were others like Jase and that some of them were evil, alarms should have rang in both Jase and Lucas when Jase told him. How come Lucas never brought up these issues to Jase? I would have thought as a social worker Lucas would have a good danger radar and a keen sense of the truth or something similar because of what his job entails.

+ the pacing

The first two chapters took place in the past and were about Jase’s origin as some amnesiac with a “Jesus complex” (Lucas’s word). These chapters were a thinly veiled prologue. Afterward, the story picked up in the present beginning with Lucas’s PoV. In spite of these things, I liked the beginning. It was dark and kind of noir-like, and I didn’t have to wait long for the action scenes.

However, by the middle of the book, the pacing became an irritating paradox. The mystery development was not moving fast enough; by fast, I mean handing out slivers of the answer pie intermittently. The romance development was moving too fast; there wasn’t a proper build up to the emotional connection. I wouldn’t say the romance was insta-love but it did border the trope.

+ the romance

The romance was flat like a tabletop, devoid of chemistry. The story convinced me that the guys made great friends, but as lovers? Not really. When they first kissed, I was indifferent instead of joyful and titillated.

+ the ending

The plot did pick up in pace and substance for the last quarter of the book, but it wasn’t enough to save the story for me. The revelation of the villain disappointed me. For a long while, the villain’s identity eluded me. But then the clues given toward the end made it possible for me to figure out the villain’s identity a couple scenes before Lucas and Jase did. It annoyed me that the couple didn’t deduce the villain’s identity sooner than I did, and that when the villain revealed their motive, it emphasized the plot holes.

For that matter, it was annoying that the couple didn’t think to carry protection, e.g. gun or taser, while they were on the hunt for the bad guys. Jase’s mind-controlling ability, while powerful, doesn’t work if he’s silenced or knocked out or shot to death; the couple should have prepared for the contingencies, but they didn’t to the detriment of my belief in them as smart characters.

The epilogue was a shade of awful. Once Jase recovered his memory, he went back home and saw that his old boyfriend, after some dutiful mourning, got a new boyfriend during his disappearance and was unnaturally quick to accept the change. It was a very anti-climatic reunion, lacking the catharsis that I wanted. Jase’s recovery of his life was as not rewarding as his Jesus-like mission to save all 40 souls built it up to be. It was as if there was really no difference if Jase remained amnesiac.

It was a ridiculous HEA.

+ the loose ends

Many questions were never answered; the book is a standalone but I can see now, after finishing the book, that the book never intended to tie all the loose ends and give a satisfactory ending. We never know why there are amnesics with frightful paranormal abilities, half of them with a Jesus-complex and half with an Anti-Christ one, running around. Or why none appear to do anything to reclaim their identity and life, but instead are bent on pursuing their magical quest, or why they believed so readily the ex-amnesics who conveniently appeared out of nowhere to act momentarily as mentor.

What very little answers were given reeked of shallow world building, and I was greatly disappointed.

In Conclusion

I rate 40 Souls to Keep 2-stars for it was okay because I didn’t actively hate it. The great writing kept my attention, but it wasn’t enough to make me like the story.

Amazon GoodReads

Thursday, November 22, 2012

REVIEW: Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood & Starlight (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #2) Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers, Rant

"Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."

And the story sucked. The story was like a trash can full of children’s thrown-away arts and crafts topped with their snotty tissues and moldy, forgotten lunches.

The Writing

The writing was lyrical but it had the tendency to be verbose which induced skimming. I wish the book spent more time telling the story instead of waxing poetic. The writing wasn’t much of an issue for me in book 1 but here in book 2, exacerbated by other bigger issues, the writing quickly became a marsh to wade through.

Worse, the beginning of the story took a couple of chapters before reaching the heroine’s PoV. The plot capriciously alternated between the heroine, the heroine’s ex-boyfriend, the heroine’s best friend, and some random chimaera runaway slaves.

The Characters

+++ chimaera runaway slaves

The chimaeras’ scenes were short, but they still bogged the story. I think they were supposed to show an outsider’s PoV to the moral development of the Misbegotten, the ill-treated seraphim soldiers/bastard children of the seraphim emperor. Whatever the reason, I didn’t want to read about these random chimaeras.

+++ Karou’s human friends

Karou’s best friend, Zuzanna, and tag-along Mik were stupid and pitiful. Mostly stupid. These idiots should have been left in book 1, but instead they decided to chase after Karou, walking into the arms and claws of her monstrous, hostile chimaera compatriots. From the start, it was obvious to me that Karou’s human friends were cannon fodder waiting to happen, and I was half-right when they were later held hostage.

What really frustrated me about these characters was that they didn’t take Karou’s situation seriously or realize their own precarious place. Their attempt to inject levity into the story more than failed; it offended me.

+++ Karou’s ex-boyfriend: Akiva

The plot leaned heavily towards his PoV, and I didn’t like how it took the spotlight away from Karou, the star of the series.

Akiva was emo. For 2/3 of the story, he didn’t seem to do anything but brood, pine, and despair. Karou this, Karou that, Karou is dead again (he believes).

Then in the last third of the story, he suddenly went homicidal and unwittingly prompted another seraphim invasion. Akiva isn’t a megalomaniac dictator but based in book 1 and 2 and the various flashbacks between the two books, his action resulted the same kind of consequences that would be caused by one.

I disliked Akiva in book 1, and I continue to dislike him some more in book 2.

+++ the heroine: Karou

As if Akiva wasn’t bad enough, Karou was worse. Head-repeatedly-banging-on-desk worse. The biggest reason that kept me from hating book 1 was because of Karou. She was quirky, she was assertive, she was...kind of violent to be honest and I loved it. The girl didn’t hesitate to threaten and spill blood to get her way — not when her loved ones were on the line.

In book 2, there was none of that willfulness. She was weak, she was vacuous, she was irresolute and I hated it. I could understand Karou having weak moments after being blasted with multiple bombshells of revelation and memory-gain at the end of book 1, but this wasn’t a series of weak moment. It was a severe character regression, and it contributed to a hurricane-sized disaster of a book.

Moreover, when did Karou became a Resurrectionist? How was resurrection done? Were souls a physical object or something? I don’t recall the magical explanation in book 1 and none was rehashed in book 2. For a magical story, there was little talk about magic. Book 2 made me feel that there were logic holes in the story’s magic system.

+++ the 2nd Ex-boyfriend: Thiago

Karou threw her resurrection service and trust to Thiago, another suitor of hers. Whereas Akiva was emo, Thiago was a bastard and gave no semblance of a good reason to be trusted. Thus, it was no surprise that he betrayed her.

Throughout book 2, Thiago betrayed Karou many times but the twit kept residing at his place and didn’t do anything to fight back. Oh sure, she did make a few attempts but they were half-assed. I could understand being caught off-guard after he betrayed her for the first time (in book 2, present plot), but there was no excuse for Karou to keep falling for his betrayals — one predictable betrayal after another.

After the event of book 1 ending with Akiva’s confession of genocide (along with other instances of betrayal against her), Karou should have lost her capacity to trust. It was unnatural for Karou to remain trusting in book 2.

Karou danced to Thiago’s overt manipulations, and it was awful to watch. If she couldn’t come up with a good plan and actually fight back, the least she could have done was leave and stop resurrecting his allies/her haters. The story exemplified many times that Thiago needed her more than she needed him; Karou was the only living resurrectionist.

I kept waiting for Karou to end Thiago already because the Karou in book 1 would have done so the instant the bastard crossed her.

The Plot

+++ the rape

Lo and behold, towards the end Thiago attempted to rape Karou. Thank goodness she prevailed and finally, fucking finally, ended the bastard’s life. But holy fuck! The rape attempt astounded me. After the moment of shock, I got angry fast.

I expected better from the series. I expected the series to avoid and disdain rape as a plot device. Book 2 could have stopped there with the fuckity. But noooo. It fucking did not.

+++ the fuckity continues

At a later scene of the ending, Karou resurrected Ziri in Thiago’s body, her rapist’s body. Wait, what?! Enters a fucking ridiculous chapter of a flashback to explain why. The reasons given were abysmally contrived, as if they were pulled out at the last minute out of some godforsaken shithole.

Ziri was Karou’s third suitor, which officially made Karou in my eyes a Mary Sue. Ziri was the story’s one and only decent romantic interest, and the story fucked his character beyond comprehension!

Beyond comprehension!

In Conclusion

I rate Days of Blood and Starlight 1-star for I didn’t like. 2/3 of the story was dull and confusing; the last 1/3 was confusing, infuriating, and exasperating. There didn’t seem to be any sense in the story, and towards the ending twists and turns were thrown out haphazardly like mud. The rape part buried the book.

The series started off as a different, intriguing way to do angels and demons YA; I do like the dark fairy tale vibe. However, like most of its brethren this YA series became a Disaster with a capital D.

If you loved the first book, you’ll likely love this second book. If you’re tired of disastrous angels and demons YA, avoid.

Amazon GoodReads

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

REVIEW: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

Trapped (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #5)Trapped by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Trapped surprised me before I even set my eyes on the first page. The book was going to take place 12 years after the events of book 4 of the Iron Druid Chronicles. Book 4 didn't wow me as I hoped so I had a spoon of skepticism for book 5, Trapped. It became two spoonfuls of skepticism when I realized the big time leap.

Trapped proved me wrong and re-positioned the series back onto my list of top Urban Fantasy.

+ the characters

Atticus remains likable and capable as ever. I thought the best scenes in Trapped were the ones where Atticus showed off his cleverness. That always thrills me because there are never enough of them for my satisfaction.

Readers who love Oberon, Atticus's sidekick talking dog, will find this blasphemous but I don’t care for him. The news gets worse: I stopped liking him in book 4. Oberon continued to irk me in book 5. His dialogue seemed like filler and his humor forced.

Granuaile, Atticus's apprentice, was bratty for the first third of the story. When she revealed the reason for her brattiness, I got infuriated fast. She couldn't have raised the issue earlier? Before she decided to become a druid, forced to fake her death, and tag along with Atticus who make enemies of gods one after another. Really? Fortunately, Gran got over herself (or things would have gotten ugly). Towards the end, she partly made up for it by actively fighting instead being on the sideline and protected as usual. I’m glad she stood up to Atticus and made her own choices. She’s finally coming out of that loved-ones-as-potential-hostages shell.

Perun the Slavic god of thunder and lightning returned as Atticus's guest sidekick. Talk about a blast of an entrance! I liked Perun and his humor way better than Oberon. Everything he said and did had me cracking up. I was disappointed that his appearances were short and tapered off in the middle of the story.

Ex-sidekick turned traitor, Leif made a brief appearance and remained despicably opportunistic. I was a little disappointed that this loose end wasn't wrapped up in Trapped.

+ the plot

The middle of the story mildly bogged but the plot compensated with a great amount of action at the beginning and ending. Compared to book 4, the pacing in Trapped was more consistent.

The plot paused for a total of three times so one of the supporting characters could narrate their personal story. I’m still not comfortable by this series’ unique way of doing exposition/flashback. The third pause, the dwarf’s story, dragged. Though to be fair, it was cautioned upon before the dwarf began. Nevertheless, I skimmed and was relieved that the dwarf’s story preluded the climax.

If the scenes showcasing Atticus’ cleverness were the best part of Trapped, then the worst part was the romance. I wished the romance between Atticus and Gran was done away with. The love was utterly contrived, the passion nonexistence. It was uncomfortable and ridiculous watching the two profess their feelings for one another. I mean, there was more chemistry between Morrígan and Atticus than Gran and Atticus. And Morrígan would likely kill Atticus during sex being that she’s the Celtic goddess of death and war and has a fetish for blood... and maybe necrophilia. Yes, the romance is that bad when Atticus is better suited for a psychopath goddess than a nice, trusted friend who will definitely not kill him during sex.

For the first time in the series, the ending was a cliffhanger. Moreover, we never found out who in the Celtic pantheon was the traitor. I don’t like cliffhangers but the one here didn't raised my ire; reading the excerpt for next book, Hunted, mollified me. Nonetheless, I hope this won’t be habitual for the series.

In Conclusion

I rate Trapped 3-stars for I liked it. I had issues with the book here and here but none that I considered major. I definitely enjoyed Trapped more than book 4. If you’re looking for another wish-fulfillment Urban Fantasy series, I recommend Imperium.

*For further reviews of the series, click here for my review of the sequel, book 6, Hunted.

Goodreads | Amazon

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

REVIEW: Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard

Katya's World Katya's World by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review

Katya’s World is a candy of hard science-fiction. It has themes, ironies, and allegories. I could easily imagine reading this in high school and discussing the book’s literary value in English class. I would have definitely preferred reading this over Ender's Game, which I liked but not as much as KW. Yes, KW was better than Ender's Game. That’s my opinion so believe it.

Now, I love romance, but I was delighted by its absolute absence in KW. Very atypical for a YA, KW had no dreaded love triangle and no distracting eye candies. It was all about “holy fuck, I’m thrust into a situation beyond belief and now I gotta help save my planet from an apocalyptic war!!!” Yes, the triple exclamation points are necessary.

What few interludes the story has are short. Disaster after disaster occurred; I literally bounced my legs out of excitement as I read KW on my bed.

An Eyebrows-raising Beginning

The prologue was complete world building. The info-dumping was a lazy way to begin the story but I honestly liked it. I didn’t have to gather slivers of information and complete the world building puzzle as the plot happened. The prologue laid it all out for me: how far is this in the future, why begin colonizing planets, where is this story is taking place, etc. KW allowed me to sit back, relax, and enjoy the cinematic-like action.

Rare is the hard sci-fi I read that isn’t stuffed with dizzying expositions. I wouldn’t have wanted KW’s beginning to change in any way.

However, there was one thing...
A colonisation project was mounted. In common with all such projects, the colonists were all taken from a single ethnicity. Previous experience had shown that, in the stressful environment of a new world where disasters may occur at any time, people look for others to blame and ethnic differences were frequently where fracture lines formed.
All my brain cells commented and overloaded my capacity to form a coherent opinion. However for the sake of enjoying KW, I went along with it...hesitantly. Pretty quickly, I saw a literary message building itself. One that said to me, “Yeah, I know. It’s full of crap. And here’s why. I’m going to tell you the ‘why’ using the story’s plot.” (YMMV.)

The Characters

+++ the heroine

Katya Kuriakoya was awesome! Her self-aware detached personality may alienate readers but I loved it. I loved everything about her. I found her courageous, resilient, and pragmatic. She got dangerous and morally ambivalent things done. No matter what the odds were — and the odds were invariably high, she strived to survive. This was a tough girl through and through.

+++ the others

I liked every characters, including the cowardice, power-abusing Officer Suhkalev. I didn’t expect much from this very minor character other than as a villainous cannon fodder.

Every characters on were on different sides, and it was hard for me to choose a side. They were all strong and determined. One moment I’m on that character’s side, and the next I’m on the previously-a-bad-guy-now-maybe-a-good-guy’s side. Everyone was right to an extent and wrong to another. KW is not a black and white novel. You will feel a lot inner turmoil as you determine which side is the right side.

Or maybe there is no right side because in the end I settled for being on Kayta’s side and hoped everyone survive despite being enemies. As I said before, the characters were likable. Not everyone survives; every death saddened me. This book didn’t hesitate to pull the spectrum of human emotions from me.

Also worth mentioning is the handling of female characters. There were no damsels in distress or sexualized kickass heroines. KW was dystopian, but gender was not part of its scope (not that I personally discerned).

+++ the Leviathan

It was mysterious. It was frightening. It was indomitable. It was also a very well named villain. Speaking of names, I loved how a few of the names in KW derived from mythology.
She spoke the names softly like a prayer. “Kraken. Scylla. Leviathan.
Once the story was revealed Leviathan, it became scarier. I thought, “Oh Mother of All Tentacle Aliens, how the hell are they going to defeat this?!”

The Plot

KW was flooded with action and doused with twists. The plot was unpredictable, fast-paced, and utterly epic. Honestly, near the end I wanted the novel to ease off the action with a long interlude because it was too much of a headrush to handle in one sitting of a read.

The PoV

KW was told in Katya’s 1st person PoV, but towards the end it was occasionally interjected with others’ PoV. Usually this would annoy me but it felt natural to the story and kept my interest. It also helped greatly that the times it switched to a supporting character’s PoV it was to introduce a twist. And woah were there many twists. Nonetheless, I hope Katya remains the star throughout the series.

The Ending

The ending was one of those things-are-just-beginning-cue-dooming-theme-music kind. I didn’t mind that, but what I did mind was the flat resolution. Talk about a big disappointment. It strongly felt like the story’s engine of adrenaline sputtered out. And no, KW being the first part of a series did not mollify me.

In Conclusion

I rate KW 3-stars for I liked it. I loved everything about the KW except for open ending. I recommend the book for those who like YA science fiction to be actual science fiction instead of a facade for romance.

Amazon GoodReads

Thursday, November 1, 2012

REVIEW: The Last Concubine by Catt Ford

The Last Concubine The Last Concubine by Catt Ford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

The story has a couple of flaws, and depending on readers' pet peeves the flaws can be overlooked or maddening. I managed to overlook all of them but one. And that one flaw cost this book a star.

Cultural Accuracy, the lack thereof

The book was written in an apparent Western PoV because of the egocentric way the character acted and thought. The characters didn't seriously consider the potential consequences of their action about how it might affect friends, family, and the kingdom at large. To explain it another way, the characters acted more like American-born Chinese than ancient Chinese people.

The book did get the courtly etiquette correctly, but there seemed to be a belief that genuflecting is for public display. No. People of lower position have to genuflect at every occasion, even when it is private and to their loved ones. It is especially important when their loved ones are rulers and royals. Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei were too intimate with each other too quickly.

In another example, the fact that Lan'xiu was a man and not a woman with a working reproductive system whose purpose is to pump out children was glossed over. For a HEA, they used the opportunity of Lan'xiu's bloody injury from a battle by reporting it as a miscarriage that resulted in permanent infertility. The infertility cover-up was good but it lacked the seriousness and, in fact, should have brought more troubles than it solved. It didn't matter that Hüi Wei had many children already. This was a family-oriented culture. Infertility shouldn't have been dismissed as a trivial thing.

In spite of these examples and a few more, the cultural inaccuracies were within my tolerance. YMMV.

The Transgender Issue, the lack thereof

I loved Lan'xiu. I loved how his being a transgender was largely a non-issue, in the sense that there was no angst, bigotry, and preachy talk about gender identity. I expected Lan'xiu to resent his mother for raising him as a girl so his half brother, Lord Wu Min, wouldn't kill him as a potential male rival to his half brother's inheritance. Turned out Lan'xiu loved his mother and liked being a women.

I also loved Hüi Wei's quick acceptance of Lan'xiu, mostly because that meant I didn't have to wait for smut to appear.

The only thing that bothered me about Lan'xiu was the shallow characterization of him as an Oracle. The story said he was Oracle in the beginning and didn't mention it again till near the end when Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei went to war against Wu Min. The Oracle part of the story reeked of Deus Ex Machina.

Technically Polygamy, Truly Monogamy

Lan'xiu became Hüi Wei's seventh wife which meant Hüi Wei had six other wives. In ancient China, polygamy was the norm. In a way this made the romance a menage, but it wasn't. Far from it.

Hüi Wei treated his 1st wife, the "official" wife, as a best friend much to her sadness because she really loved him. As for the other five wives, he married them out of obligation; he treated four as friendly acquaintances and one as a political burden.

Before Lan'xiu became his seventh wife, Hüi Wei didn't have sexual relations with any of the six wives for years. Though it wasn't required of the story, the romance was kept strictly between Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei.

By law, Hüi Wei had seven wives. By practice, by true love Hüi Wei had one wife: Lan'xiu.

Gay For You, Or Maybe Just Gay

Since Hüi Wei didn't have any sexual interest in his wives for years, I wasn't convinced that Hüi Wei went GFY for Lan'xiu. When Hüi Wei discovered the protagonist was male and promptly shagged him that night, my hunch that Hüi Wei was a slow-blooming gay became definite.

The hunch solidified when Hüi Wei admitted to his best friend, Lord Jiang, that he liked the gay sex.

Honestly, it did not matter to me that he was gay or GFY. However, I liked to believe Hüi Wei was gay because that meant there was zero chance he would ever be interested in his other wives who would vie for his attention and make the romance a true ménage.

The Sexual Content: I wanted more

Lan'xiu was submissive, Hüi Wei was dominant; they made clothes-ripping passionate love. I was disappointed when the smut tapered off towards the end of the story. I was hoping for a sex scene at the ending but instead got a HEA narrated explicitly, much my distaste.

There was a HEA, yet...

The story was told in 3rd PoV with Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei's as the dominant PoVs. However, the story began and ended with some italicized paragraphs of 3rd person omniscient narrative to set the tone of the book as a (pseudo) historical. I was fine with the beginning narrative, but I was infuriated by the ending narrative.

The HEA told me what happened to the couple after they won against the bad guy. It told me in explicit details what happened to every character in the story, how they lived and died, the worst being how Lan'xiu and Hüi Wei lived their life and died. Yes, the couple had a long fulfilling life, love everlasting and all, but the mentioning of their death spoiled the romance for me. TM-fucking-I.

I really wished the HEA was left to the imagination, instead of being explicitly spelled out.

In Conclusion

I rate The Last Concubine 3-stars for I liked it.

I recommend the book to readers who prefer contemporary romance and generally avoid historical ones, and readers who want a decent plot with some D/s smut. I do not recommend the book to readers who prefer historical romance and insist on accuracy.

For similar smutty reads, try:
Fall of a State Over the Mountain of the Moon  A Tale of a Samurai Consort

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