Monday, July 29, 2013

REVIEW: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Stormdancer (The Lotus War, #1) Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pre-read Reaction

I ignore blurbs because
1) most of the times I don't know anything about the endorser,
2) it's always a couple of vague adjectives pieced together saying how great the book is,
3) sometime they're taken out of context and mean the opposite,
4) sometime they're by people back-scratching each other and may not have even read the book they're endorsing, and finally
5) they ruin the pretty cover-art...assuming the book has a pretty cover-art.
In short: book blurbs are unhelpful to me. Even the professionals and commenters at the New York Times on this opinion page agree blurbs don't do anything useful for readers.

And then I saw this cover. The UK cover looks nice but, as my friend Cas said, the USA cover looks badass.

I took closer look , and this what I saw:

Japanese steampunk? JAPANESE STEAMPUNK! Why yes please. I'm all in. Now that is a blurb I could get on board with.

Moreover, I actually know this Patrick dude because I read his Kingkiller Chronicle series (tangent: find it meh but fantasy fans seem to love it).

To view the badass cover in all its glory, click here for the image alone (courtesy of TheBookSmugglers's post). In an interview with the author, Kat from CuddleBuggery book-blog reveals self-made cover mockups — hilarity ensure.


I was uber excited for this book till negative reviews started coming in with horrifying criticisms of cultural appropriation. Uh oh. I stopped my happy dance of anticipation and I realized that my high expectations were too high. Red alert! Red alert! Disaster imminent. Expectations must be lowered. Expectations must be lowered.

I’m a nitpicky reader so high expectations spell certain doom for any book. Thus, I put off reading the book. Almost a year after its publication, in a fit of boredom, I finally read it.... And it wasn’t as bad as I thought, thankfully. It wasn’t good as I first hoped but it wasn’t as bad as I had come to think.

First off, the misuse of Japanese elements. It was bad alright. Honorifics, as the biggest example, weren’t used properly as suffixes and weren’t even used consistently as an established social practice. I could forgive the former and chalk them up as creative liberties, if somewhat gone wrong, but I struggled to forgive the latter because it’s such an amateur mistake. I was befuddled. Following one’s own world building should not be anything but a breeze.

+ the writing

That struggle was short-lived because the poor writing was the real problem for me. The misuse of Japanese elements, as bad as it was, was a mere symptom. The writing overdid the imagery. It was too much and too detailed that my eyeballs couldn’t help but glaze over, and when I tried to focus and read word for word I forgot immediately what was said. The sentence structure tried too hard to be flowery and thus was a mess of parallelism.

The writing crammed in everything Japanese-y it could cram for tawdry display. Japanese vocabulary was thrown without great care, translating into redundancy and pretentiousness. Heaven forbid that a reader should forget for more than a few seconds that this book is a JAPANESE-inspired fantasy. JAPANESE, I say!

Beyond the Japanese elements, some of the shifts in viewpoint were superfluous and bogged the pace, which was already bogged by the excessive exposition. I wished the narrative had kept closer to the heroine’s viewpoint. My patience was at its limit so I skimmed.

Thankfully, the writing in the second half was better. So much better that the book would have been better off doing away with the first few chapters. The Japanese elements were still misused, but less so. I wasn’t as annoyed as I was in the beginning. The writing no longer made it its number one priority to inundate the reader with all things Japanese.

Exposition was finally wrestled under control, allowing the plot to sustain action. In turn, the plot made distinctive steady progress and presented the goodies. Among the goodies was a strong heroine and political intrigue. The book began to entertain me.

+ the characters

I didn’t care for Yukiko in the beginning because of her flaw of sometimes letting her mouth run away in front of people who held the power to put her to death. Her flaw put her on the road of becoming labeled as TSTL. In addition, her father issues because of a tragic family past depressed me.

I finally started to like Yukiko when disaster struck and she faced it head on. I loved how she assertively she used Buruu, a thunder griffin who could have easily torn her apart, to save her ass. I loved how well practiced she was with her power to communicate with animals and how her power wasn’t an issue she had to deal with in the sense of survival and practical purposes. Fucking rare is a YA heroine who doesn’t have a complex about her power and knows how to properly use it. I liked how she never forgot her priorities, even when she was infatuated. For a while, I feared the romance would ruin the progress she made in character growth and to be a sensible person. I was glad it didn’t.

I did wish, however, that she showed more caution. For instance, she shouldn’t have let her guard down when she and her fellow survivors found refuge in a secret village. Just the pure fact that it was a secret village was suspicious enough. Fortunately, her efforts to face and resolve her father issues and her tragic past with all the earth-shattering revelations compensated for her deficiency in caution.

I loved how the bad guys’ enemies weren’t particularly good guys and had their own selfish agenda too. There was never any glossing over the fact that they were eco-terrorists and that their methods were violent. It made the political intrigue deliciously realistic.

I really liked how comparable the characters were to real life. You got your corrupted government, your evil corporation, your revolutionaries/terrorists (depending on which side you looked from). I did not miss how Lotus was symbolism for fossil fuels and that there were environmental themes at work. Oooh. Me likee. I don’t come across many books where environmental themes are in the front, especially with steampunk as the vehicle. I think this is my first.

In Conclusion

I rate Stormdancer 3-stars for I liked it. As a Japanese-inspired fantasy, it failed. Terribly. The book cried for competent editing; Twilight was less problematic. Hard to believe that this book had two professional editors from big publishing houses. However, as an entertaining story, albeit approached with low expectations, it passed. The second half of the book miraculously rescued the story.

Strong heroine. Political intrigue. Environmental themes. Meaningful steampunk. Symbolism with real life matters. Good balance between drama and action. No derailing romance. A satisfying ending in face of the fact that it is a series. I was so entertained that I forgave the book for all its transgressions.

If you enjoyed this book, check out the Year of the Dragon series, another Japanese-inspired YA fantasy with gorgeous cover arts.

Goodreads | Amazon

Friday, July 19, 2013

REVIEW: Freakling by Lana Krumwiede

Freakling Freakling by Lana Krumwiede
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This dystopian Middle Grade book would have been an easy 3-stars were it not for a few big things.

+ the weak hero

I did not like Taemon. I could tolerate his lack of self-confidence, but his refusal to listen to his common sense pushed my limit. When you live in a society where psychic power is everything and you lose your own, common sense dictates that you should avoid everything that would pull attention to you. That means no participating in sport events where psychic power is the way you play the sport, especially when nobody forced you to participate, and no going to school where you’re being tested on the active use of your psychic power, especially when you could have easily been homeschooled. Where was the parenting?

The biggest thing of all, no doing anything your evil older brother says or going anywhere alone with him, especially when you can detect his evil intent from a mile and a galaxy away. Taemon wasn’t stupid; he was astute. But he made so many bad decisions that I found it hard to believe the kid was still alive by the end of Part 1 of the book. The kid was lucky that the villains were not more wicked.

However, what really grated on my nerves was his Guilt Complex. Not only was it annoying, it presented the character as a Jesus type of hero. Dafuq? I knew from the blurb that Taemon was going to be the Chosen One, but not in a Jesus-y way. Fortunately, this crap arose only intermittently. Any more frequently and I would have wanted to gouge someone’s eyes out.

+ the anti-intellectualism bent

The idea that knowledge was dangerous and thus should be kept secret because of the great possibility humanity would use it for evil (see chapter 14) was unchallenged, and I didn’t like it. Nevermind the equally great possibility that humanity could use the knowledge for the greater good because cynicism, which made little sense given how easy the villagers confessed the secret to Taemon, an outsider. Readers know Taemon is a good person (Jesus!) but from the villagers’ POV he could have been a spy for all they know, considering when they were made aware of his sibling status to one of the villains.

I hated how the good guys were incompetent in their handling of the “forbidden knowledge.” They ended up costing a lot of savable lives. The book was yet another dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction with an anti-intellectualism bent. And the fact that the setting was in a religious context, I did not care to explore what the bent could mean and go farther on the path of critical thinking because I was sure it would make me more annoyed and mad. Admittedly, there’s a chance that subversive goals are at work but I seriously doubt it.

+ the forgettable characters

Characters were flat and forgettable, especially during Part 2 when the cast expanded to include non-psychic villagers who among them I only remembered a spunky girl. I remembered Amma because she had traits of a kickass heroine and more right to be the main character than Taemon did. Other than her, I did not remember any other character introduced after Part 1. The characters I did remember, I had nothing but complaints.

Taemon’s family were halfway to being window dressing to the point that the author should have just went ahead and made Taemon a complete cliché by making him an orphan with a mysterious past. The book dismissed his mother and father after Part 1, never to be heard from again, and became another case of the Disappearing Parent Syndrome.

As for Taemon’s brother, the dude was outright evil: power-hungry, narcissistic, and jealous. There was little explanation for why Yens became evil other than bad parenting (read: no parenting) and Uncle Fierre who spoiled him. Okay, so maybe that is all the explanation needed but the character felt like he was just born evil rather than a case of bad nurturing in the sense that someone needed to be evil aside from the evil mastermind. In sum, what little can be called family dynamics were so awkwardly done that, to reiterate, the book would have better off making Taemon an orphan with a mysterious past.

I did appreciate that Taemon was given a break in the form of a best friend, Moke. For all the characterization of Taemon as a special snowflake, less than average Moke was more interesting. If Amma had first place in having the most rights to be the main character, Moke had second place, which is why it really sucked what happened to him at the end. So much for that break.

As for the main villain, Elder Naseph was your typical corrupted priest who wanted the world as his oyster because being high priest is not enough. All the characters were either good or evil. Character development was the book’s weakest point.

In Conclusion

I rate Freakling 2-stars for it was okay. A thing I did like was like the religion and how it was based on nature with Mother Nature as the divine power, the True Son as her Jesus, and how psychic power was the privilege bestowed on her chosen people. However, I wish more creative liberties were taken because the religion felt like a clone of Christianity.

In regard to the plot, Part 1 was too long which made for a slow beginning, and frustrating because of the hero. Part 2 was meh, and with no sign of character growth on the hero I skimmed. Part 3 was where good action happened but I ceased to care back in Part 2. Overall, in another writer’s hand, the book could have been way better.

Goodreads | Amazon

Thursday, July 18, 2013

REVIEW: Carniepunk: Parlor Tricks by Jennifer Estep

Carniepunk: Parlor TricksCarniepunk: Parlor Tricks by Jennifer Estep
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short story was a delightful interlude in the Elemental Assassin series, one of my favorite-adjacent urban fantasy series. Unlike the many other short stories in the series that are flashbacks and, to be honest, rather dull backstory building, this one took place in the present and had a fair amount of action. It was more than I thought it was going to have. Nothing that happened in the story had an impact on the series at large or would necessitate a read if you’re a follower of the series; it was only a slice of life story of a not-so-retired assassin, the series’ star Gin Blanco.

In this short story, Gin helped her younger cop sister, Bria, search for a lost girl at a transient carnival where the victim was last seen. I liked the story fine up until the bad guys ambushed our heroines and they almost got killed. I would have preferred Gin and Bria to discover the truth and the bad guys through their investigation. Our kickass heroines were lucky the bad guys didn’t kill them immediately. The Evil Gloating was cheesy but I admit it made the following asskicking gratifying.

The asskicking was my favorite part of the story, and I was ecstatic that Gin took no hesitation to magic up and magically whup their asses. Of course, she still used her special knives, her trademark weapon of assassination, but her super magic was what saved the day. I couldn’t believe this short story seemed to display more magic asskicking from Gin than most of the main books. I’ve been hankering for this kind of action because the series is unfaithfully stingy with it. I was happy to receive a good lengthy one in this short story.

In Conclusion

I rate Carniepunk: Parlor Tricks 3-stars for I liked it. This is a short story from the Carniepunk urban fantasy anthology. You can get the individual short story for free as an ebook on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Be advised that half of the ebook is the actual short story, “Parlor Tricks,” and the other half are excerpts of the other short stories offered in Carniepunk anthology. The free short story: good promotion. The excerpts taking up half of the ebook: bad promotion; publishers, don’t do this.

Anyway, if you’re looking for an urban fantasy appetizer as in-between read, this short story comes recommended. It’s simple: search for missing girl. It’s classic: good guys beat bad guys. It’s free.

Goodreads | Amazon

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

REVIEW: The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond

The Woken Gods The Woken Gods by Gwenda Bond
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ancient gods, a secret society, and the end of the world; I expected to be wowed. I was not wowed.

The book described how bad things were (really bad) and how high the stakes were (really high) but I scarcely felt it. Despite all the danger and how any moment they could die, or at least get maimed, if they did not tread carefully, I was never scared for Kyra and her friends like I should have been.

+ the characters

The most I ever felt in the book was some sympathy for Kyra’s situation and annoyance with her father and mother (mostly with her father since it was mostly his fault) for contributing to her predicament. I understood her parents’ reasons but keeping Kyra in the dark was a giant mistake and put her in greater danger. Given her feisty attitude, her father should have known she would go rescue him come hell or high water instead of leaving town like he asked her to. While her parents didn’t make smart decisions, the silver lining was that they were present and had an important role given Young Adult fictions’ proclivity for the Disappearing Parent Syndrome.

In regard to the heroine, I didn’t really care for her. Nothing about Kyra was annoying or proclaimed her a special snowflake, but simultaneously nothing about her was remarkable. I could not decide if she was courageous or foolish, but I did like how determined and decisive she was. Other than that, the girl was bland as can be. Without her equally courageous (or foolish) friends and some luck, Kyra would have achieved very little if anything. I did not have much faith in her.

One of the few things I did like about the book was how her friends, Tam and Bree, stuck by her every step of the way as much as possible. With Tam, I loved how quickly and firmly the book resolved the issue of his failed romance with Kyra and turned their pre-plot breakup into an amicable one with no lingering feelings. I almost thought there was going to be a love triangle between Kyra, Tam, and Oz but the idea was stomped out before any stupid romantic issue could arise. Not to say the book did not have a love triangle; it just didn’t include Kyra. Thank heavens. Furthermore, the romantic interests between Oz and Kyra was low-key. So low-key I can’t firmly call it a romance, and I liked it that way because I needed Kyra and Oz to attend to priorities.

While Tam and Oz and even Justin, Oz’s friend and a secondary character, were useful, Bree was not equally so. I didn’t like how she was treated like a third wheel and at best a cheerleader for Kyra. Attempts to make her relevant and an individual fell a couple steps short of success.

However, she was nowhere near a great disappointment that was Bronson, a leader of the Society, and the gods, supernatural sovereigns the Society protect humanity against. Bronson’s motives and desperation weren’t pushed far enough to a convincing point. The gods, except for Enki and his cohort, were not as awe inspiring and terrifying as they should have been. They were GODS yet their presence was that of the ubiquitous vampires and werewolves from a typical Young Adult paranormal — ordinary.

+ the world building

Enter another issue, one with the world building. I found the world building too simple to be believable. I found it ludicrous that the fear of permanent death is what stopped the gods from ruling the world like they used to and forced them to make peace with the humans and that somehow all of the gods were in agreement. Also ludicrous was how trainees of the Society like Oz and Justin could go head to head against the gods and how relics, as powerful as the objects may be, were all that was necessary to fight them.

Immortal beings with mighty magic and centuries of experience versus mere mortals with relics that have limited functions, the book did a very poor job of persuasion that humans were a sufficient threat to the these supernatural sovereigns. If I wasn’t a staunch reader of Urban Fantasy and seen similar world buildings (e.g. the Kate Daniels series & the Iron Druid Chronicles), I wouldn’t have accepted this world building as plausible. In sum, the world building didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

I did like that the world building strayed from popular mythologies like Greek and Celtic and aimed towards more obscure ones like African (by Legba) and Sumerian (by Enki). The world building had issues but staleness wasn’t one of them.

+ the plot

The issue of plausibility also gushed into the plot. When Kyra joined the Society they never kept her under close watch and regarded her with great suspicion considering recent events where both parties knew that their interests and goals contradicted each other and oh yeah, the tiny little fact that her father betrayed them. It should have been obvious to them, especially to Bronson, that she only joined to infiltrate and betray them too. Yet I saw members of the Society telling her their secrets and hiding place of their relics as if revealing classified information was a weekly function next to Casual Friday.

The Society did not properly act like a secret society and a global NGO with rules and bureaucracy. In another example, I struggled to understand why Bronson was allowed to lead the hunt for Kyra’s father and continued to dictate the Society’s agenda when the betrayer was a member of his own family. No matter how high and influential Bronson’s position was in the Society, there was no way he could have completely avoided incrimination and political implications. The Society should have benched Bronson and conducted an internal investigation like a competent NGO. I was hard pressed to believe that this was the same organization that mightily restrained the gods from taking over the world.

Good thing the book read fast because this was not a good book to have long moments that would allow the reader to ponder and test for foundation problems.

In Conclusion

I rate The Woken Gods 2-stars for it was okay. Pros: the book read fast, avoided YA cliche, which is easier said than done, and strived for mythological freshness. Cons: the book suffered emotional impotence, mediocre characters, and plausibility issues. The book aimed for awesomeness but ended up being dismally average. That said, the book is definitely worth a read. If readers check their expectations the book can be considerably entertaining.

Goodreads | Amazon

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

REVIEW: The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

The Exodus Towers (Dire Earth Cycle, #2) The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

+ the plot

The first half of the book wore me out. Too many bad things were happening to our heroes for me to deal. The book depended too much on external conflicts to drive the plot much to its detriment. It left little room for me to connect with the characters, i.e. to give a damn for their continual breathing. My weariness would have been mitigated if the prose were not written in a marsh of details that often detracted from the action. I did not need to know every single micro-movement or scenery; less was more. Rare was a scene that I did not skim to get to the point.

In addition, I wished the heroes made smarter decisions. For the example, the book started off with Skyler chancing upon another immune. Instead of properly engaging the new character, he surreptitiously watched her dance like an idiot until his radio, which he forgot to put on silent, blared and alerted her of his presence and soon he was taking gunfire. I will be honest; I half-wanted Skyler to die then.

The last half of the book was better. The external conflicts finally eased up some, and I was allowed to connect to the characters, well, if only to a little extent because the characters were still kind of annoying.

+ the characters

Tania made great strides in the character growth department, no longer the helpless victim. However, she still had a long way to go. Despite being the leader of the new colony, she would often look to others to make a decision and acted more like a figurehead than anything.

As for Skyler, the guy was a natural leader yet he continued to evade taking a strong leadership role. I hated how it was only when things were dire or people were pressuring him did he ever accede to the role. He needed to get over the fact that he couldn’t save everyone and take every bad thing that happened under his command so seriously when some of them are just unavoidable.

Samantha, one of my few favorite characters, had a bigger role in book 2. Yaaay! But to my great dismay she did not assert herself like she did in book 1. Damn it! Apparently, without Skyler she could not properly function as a kickass heroine. She could have acted on her own and gone head-to-head against the main villain but chose not to because she didn’t really know what she was fighting for. At first, it was for her freedom and to rescue Kelly but when things changed and those goals were not her goals anymore she languished. Her character was relegated as the vehicle to learn about the main villain and his secret evil plans. The series skewered one of the few good things it had going on.

In regard to the villains, I did not like that the two new villains were religious nuts and cult leaders. One was enough. Two swatted the book a couple steps down on the ladder of creativity and marred the book with an anti-religious slant. Gabriel and Grillo took the spotlight away from book 1’s main villain. It was convenient that Blackfield was languishing in the meantime instead of maintaining that level of doing everything he could to kill our heroes like he did the entire book 1. Awfully convenient. I was thankful that at least one of the cult leaders was done away by the middle of the book, but it was little consolation in the face of the fact that the other became the main villain of book 2 and cemented the anti-religious slant.

On one hand, I was glad the series finally put forth a capable main villain, unlike Blackfield whose lack of intelligence suited him as at best a minor villain. I said it in my review of book 1 and I will say it again here in my review of book 2: I’m surprised the dude is still alive. On the other hand, I got used to Blackfield and I wished the series stuck to him as the main villain throughout book 2. Some character development on Blackfield towards the end of book 2 markedly elevated his credibility as a boss villain, which bemused me because this should have occurred early in book 1. I guess better late than never.

+ the ending

The ending was a cliffhanger but I didn’t take issue with it. I took issue with the contrived twist that preceded it that left Tania and Skyler in a seemingly hopeless situation as usual to my exhaustion. That betrayal came at no surprise and could have been easily avoidable. The character’s association with Blackfield was a giant red flag; the only bigger red flag would be a floating sign that pointed to the character and said “traitor” in all caps and red text and bitchslapped the surrounding characters to attention.

In Conclusion

I rate The Exodus Towers 2-stars for it was okay. It was definitely better than book 1, but it was still far from good enough to level up the series to a 3-stars for me. Regardless, readers who enjoyed book 1 will continue to enjoy book 2.

Goodreads | Amazon

Friday, July 12, 2013

REVIEW: The Bone Triangle by B.V. Larson

The Bone Triangle (Unspeakable Things, #2) The Bone Triangle by B.V. Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite the attention-grabbing fight scene, the beginning was awful because the explanation of what had happened during book 1 made me vastly irritated with the hero. I struggled to remember why I ever liked Quentin.

+ the characters

Deep in debts, Quentin took little effort to find a job. It never occurred to him that if there was no paranormal job, e.g. monsters that needed slaying, then he should have looked at the normal ones, e.g. flipping burgers. The one job he did have, a job that provided him with residence and staved off homelessness, he did not take seriously. Worse, because of the job’s precarious nature, he foolishly risked his survival and almost got killed. He took for granted that if the antagonists genuinely wanted to kill him, they could have simply bombed the place to ashes with him in it as opposed to mind controlling a person (or an alien or an alien monster) to assassinate him.

Quentin seemed to have a Loser Complex. Now, I could tolerate the bum act, but the stupid act really pushed the limit. Every chapter in the beginning of the book presented at least one headdesk example of his stupidity. What kind of a person gets into a car with a stranger or walks into a dangerous place with hundreds in cash on hand? A dumbass, that is who.

Thankfully, the stupid act tapered off by the middle of the book, and I finally remembered why I liked Quentin. When shit needed to be done, no matter how perilous it was, Quentin got it done without hesitating to use the power that his magical artifacts provided him. He was not one of those clichéd Urban Fantasy protagonists who had issues with power. Granted, he suffered little to no side effects from using the artifacts, even multiple artifacts. One artifact was hazardous enough for the other people who used them. Nevertheless, the psychological risks of dependency and hubris still remained.

As for the secondary characters, Jacqueline did not annoy me as much as I thought she would because she was a spoiled rich girl. To my surprise, I actually ended up liking her. Hell, the fact that she was not a damsel in distress and had some sense to avoid danger, even though she was mischievous, put her several steps above the two women in book 1 who were Quentin’s love interests. Speaking of whom, I was glad the love triangle crap from book 1 was completely done away, with those two characters gone, and that the new romance with Jacqueline, if it can even be called that, was casual. No damsels in distress, no love triangle crap, no unnecessary drama; these things alone undoubtedly made book 2 better than book 1.

Detective McKesson, I still did not know what the deal was up with him. The “foe or friend” schtick got old; one moment, he’s a foe and maybe trying to kill Quentin, the next he’s a friend and Quentin rescues him and willfully puts his life in the detective’s hand. Goddamn it, make up your mind. The schtick I could tolerate with Rostok because Rostok was a crime lord and his motives were not that particularly mysterious because of who he was. Speaking of bad guys, I liked how they continued to show character development, especially with attempts to make them understandable and somewhat relatable. One of the things I love about the series is how it never cops out in making a single character, be they human or otherwise, flatly evil. Everyone had their reasons for doing what they did; a heinous act from one character’s POV is a desperate act for survival from another character’s POV.

+ the plot

Due to Quentin’s lack of priorities, the plot zigzagged between various conflicts. However, I did not mind because the pace was fast and the transition smooth which respectively kept me from being bored and befuddled. Every seemingly disparate conflict converged to a neat package at the end and with some twists thrown in to keep things from being dismally predictable. I loved how things were hardly ever as they seemed.

I loved that Quentin still kept his search for his identity a priority and that the loose end of his amnesia was finally resolved. The way things ended in book 1, I thought there was little chance the loose end would ever be resolved, at least not so incredibly soon in the series.

In Conclusion

I rate The Bone Triangle 3-stars for I liked it. If you are looking for a different Urban Fantasy, one where the ubiquitous vampires and werewolves are not the norm but instead aliens and crime lords, check out this series. The Unspeakable Things series is Roswell crossed with the Urban Fantasy genre — highly intriguing.

Goodreads | Amazon

Monday, July 8, 2013

REVIEW: Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher

Knightley Academy (Knightley Academy, #1) Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Characters were complete cliché. You had your Cinderella character in Henry, your new money character in Adam, your token person of color character in Rohan, and your tomboy girl in Frankie. If you were rich, aristocratic, white, and male, you were a bad guy and hated Henry and his friends because they dared to be different and strayed from their social status. Sure, not all were bad guys, but they were few and far between, aberrations basically. The one bad guy who was not one-dimensional was the evil mastermind. What did he was wrong, but I totally understood why he turned into an extremist. Barring that villain, character development was not deep.

The world building oversimplified and exaggerated the turn of the century setting and its social changes. The pointing out of how people back then were awfully bigoted could not have been more shoved in the readers’ face. I would have minded this less if the pointing out did not feel kind of meaningless and worked against the complexity the book tried to build.

However, while these things were problematic, they did not frustrate me. What frustrated me was the plot, the unaddressed issue of bullying, and the naive politicians.

+ the issues

Despite their attempts, Henry and his friends never successfully wrestled control of the situation and beat the bad guys like I hoped. The plot threw one setback after another at our heroes like there was no tomorrow which made for a steadily depressing read. When they finally discovered the identity of the evil mastermind at the climax — disappointingly by a convenient accident as opposed to an investigation — they were backed into a corner. Only by the grace of fortune and oily mercy of another villain did our adolescent heroes prevail.

On the second issue, characters never confronted the issue of bullying like they should have, especially when they regularly made a big deal about of the Code of Chivalry, Knightley Academy's code of conduct, where disobedience meant expulsion. Valmont and Theobold, the bullies, never faced the consequences like I wanted. I did not like the lack of challenge to the insinuation, however unintended, that keeping silent about bullying was more important than speaking out about bullying, that speaking out was equated as the dishonorable act of tattle-telling.

Oddly enough, the plot and the unaddressed issue of bullying brought the book to a high level of realism. In other words, if this happened in real life, it would have all too believable because kids don’t go around fighting evil masterminds and issues of bullying are rarely addressed, let alone resolved. However, I would have preferred things to be less realistic in lieu for an entertaining book.

Plus, I didn’t think the book intended to be so realistic given how cliché the characters were and how some of them acted inherently paradoxically of their role. To elaborate, the elderly aristocratic politicians who served as members of Knightley Academy’s school board were unbelievably naive. I could not believe these men needed heavy persuasion that Northlands, their rival nation, might dare to defy the peace treaty and reignite the old war. Politicians, naive — WTF? If anything, their first reaction should have been the very opposite, i.e. a quick belief in the treachery of their enemies.

In Conclusion

I rate Knightley Academy 2-stars for it was okay. The book was not entertaining as it could have been. The book played the heroes like a cat to a mouse. While the book is a couple steps above a decent read, I still do not recommend it because the trilogy seems to be on an indefinite hiatus. Book 3 should have been released already a few years ago.

Goodreads | Amazon

Monday, July 1, 2013

REVIEW: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1) The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Great fantasy. It was one of the best Young Adult fantasies I have read this year. Unfortunately, a couple of things kept me from rating the book as high as I would have liked.

My Dislikes

+ the world building

First, the world building could have been conveyed more clearly. At first I thought it was complete fantasy, but once I realized it was in an alternative history setting, I thought it was in England, i.e. UK. It was not until the middle of the book that I finally goddamn realized it was actually New England, i.e. America. In another instance, when our heroes had to travel outside of the Academy to investigate another kidnapping and homicide, I could not grasp the train-like transportation they took.

Also ambiguous was the political structure. I still have no idea what a knight-senator is exactly. I thought it was the equivalent of an American senator but once they started talking about the incident being a potential international issue I began to think that maybe a knight-senator was an ambassador of some sort, maybe England.

Then, there was the Rithmatic “non-religion.” The plot glossed over religious conflicts, probably because it didn't want to bog down the pacing. I was okay with that, but I was not okay with how murky the revelation of the Rithmatic secrets remained. The ritual to become a Rithmatist, talk about bizarre! I did not know what to make of it. I was also confused by how Master was God but also used in reference to the Rithmatist priests, i.e. they called the priest Master so-and-so.

On a different issue of the world building, I did not like how the bad guys were complete bad guys with no redeemable traits. For one thing, they lived there first. It was the same old issue: natives versus colonists. What the bad guys did was wrong, very wrong, human sacrifices and genocide, but I understood the reasons that drove them to an evil extreme. I wish the sides were not made out to be black and white; the human characters had their faults too.

+ the hero

Second, the hero chafed my nerves with his passion for Rithmatics. I really liked that he had great ambitions, but I did not like the methods he used to accomplish them. Joel was a poor student on a full scholarship ride in a prestigious university; the fact that he would jeopardize this huge privilege by not doing his homework, relying on exams to pass, and worst of all, intentionally failing a class just to gamble on a chance to get into a remedial Rithmatist class astounded me. Not only was it majorly reckless, it was a kick in the suspension-of-disbelief’s knee that Joel was a poor student.

I did not like how he was so into his passion that he showed little understanding for why people did not share his passion, why one in particular, Melody, would not want to be a Rithmatist, hate it in fact. He showed so little understanding of people and overall the world, that he came off as an oblivious geek stereotype.

+ the ending

Third, the biggest issue I had was with the ending because it was two steps short of satisfactory. At the last minute, the ending revealed another villain and another meter of the apocalyptic conspiracy that could have been saved for book 2. Instead, the ending cut in the celebratory mood and left a small cliffhanger. Grrr, cliffhanger; I shake my fist at you.

Not only that, the ending also highlighted a plot weak spot that started cracking in the middle of the book. Readers learn that the villains could not distinguish between a Rithmatist and a non-Rithmatist and that was why they tried to kill Joel because they thought he was one. How could people who successfully assumed the identities of the people they killed and possessed to the point no one knew they were fakes not correctly identify their enemies? Yeesh. This somewhat undermined the bad guys’ role as an infiltrator.

My Likes

+ the world building

The world building had issues but I liked how parts of it was contradictorily vivid and how overall every part brought a high level of complexity. Though it did not outright say what time period the book was set in, the social issues strongly suggested to me it was a couple years after the turn of the century. Women's rights, class struggles, racial tension; though some were more in the background than the others, the nods to the social issues delighted me. I liked how the consequences of the events our heroes were embroiled in were appropriately far-reaching.

I loved how America was made as a nation of islands. It was a very intriguing and creative concept. I liked how one of the superpowers was Jo Seun, a superpower that conquered half of the Old World, was a Korean inspiration. It was different from the usual Chinese and Japanese inspirations. Point for Asian influence and another point for a lesser-used Asian culture.

One of the best things about the book was the magic system, Rithmatics. While I thought the book explained Rithmatics well in the text, the book had illustrations to clarify any potential confusion. In addition to the in-text illustrations, a page of illustration preceded every chapter, and each page explained a concept in-depth. I loved how the book partially served as a spell book. Rithmatics was well thought out and explained. It was one of the most creative magic systems I have read.

+ the characters

I did take issue with the hero but I warmed up to him by the end. When Professor Fitch called Joel out for his act of bullying against Melody (I loved that bullying was immediately confronted), I think that was when Joel’s character growth started. In a later event, when Joel showed Melody his late father's workshop... it suddenly occurred to me that Joel's obsession for Rithmatics may have been a form of grieving. The guy was not ready to fully face the reality that his father was gone which explained his obliviousness and recklessness. No wonder he jarred in his role as a poor student because grief made him act uncharacteristically. I was happy when he finally got in touch with reality and realized that his mom was working her ass off to pay debts, his horrible-horrible mistake in risking his education, the politics of being a Rithmatist, etc.

As for the other characters, I did not take issue with any of them. Professor Fitch was pitiful but not frustratingly so. It would have been too easy for the plot to make him as one of its victims, but I was glad he was not pigeonholed into the role.

Melody, I was very amused by her melodrama; everything bad or remotely unpleasant was “tragic” with her. As Joel’s inevitable sidekick, she balanced him out with her brightness to his seriousness. Her unicorn chalkings ruled! Not only did she provide some comic relief, but she provided instances of delicious character growth, both hers and Joel’s.

In Conclusion

I rate The Rithmatist 3-stars for I liked it. I devoured the book less than a handful of hours. It was my first Fantasy by this author and I could plainly see why some readers would consider him as a master writer of Fantasy.

Buddy read and discussion with Georgina.

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