A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

torch “Skies,” Afya says. “I thought you told me you loved stories. Have you ever heard a story of an adventurer with a sane plan?”

“Well….no.”

“And why do you think that is?”

I am at a loss. “Because….ah, because–”

She chuckles again. “Because sane plans never work, girl,” she says. “Only the mad ones do.”

~p. 388

Note: Spoilers ahead

A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. It continues the story of Elias and Laia, right as they’re beginning to escape the city of Serra and on their way to get to Kauf prison to free Laia’s brother Darin.
But on the way, they will meet with many unexpected guests. As with any good adventure story, friendships are tested, true identities are revealed, and destinies are made and challenged.
I have to say that I enjoyed the sequel to Ember every bit as much as I did the first book. Tahir’s writing is enjoyable and at times very beautiful. My only complaint is that it could be a little tighter. One of the characters which seemed completely nonessential (Keenan) turns out to be one of the core antagonists. But the love story between him an Laia seemed really extraneous and so the big reveal just wasn’t as devastating to me as it could have been with some tighter writing. In the first novel I seriously thought his only purpose was to be a secondary love interest for Laia–since there was already a triangle between Elias/Laia/Helene.
Speaking of Helene, I am actually very interested in her story arc. I think her story is the one I’m most looking forward to continuing to read in the next installment. I’m also intrigued by Avitas Harper–her former torturer and spy for the Commandant turned ally to Helene. And I’m also curious to see how all the new magical powers everyone has will play out.
Overall, I think I’ve found yet another YA fantasy series that I will be following. I’ve lost count of how many of these I’m supposed to be keeping up with–a very good problem to have, I’d say!

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

crooked Note: This review contains slight spoilers.

Inej almost felt sorry for her. Dunyasha really believed she was the Lantsov heir, and maybe she was. But wasn’t that what every girl dreamed? That she’d wake and find herself a princess? Or blessed with magical powers and a grand destiny? Maybe there were people who lived those lives. Maybe this girl was one of them. But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway. p. 460

Crooked Kingdom is the sequel to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Friends, let me just tell you now that I love these books. Both of them. Crooked Kingdom did not disappoint, though I thought perhaps the construction of Six of Crows was a little stronger. Sometimes the pacing of Kingdom seemed to slow in just a few too many places. Matthias also appears to have completely changed his attitude toward Grisha. I do understand that he had a life changing experience at the Ice Court, and that he knows he loves Nina. But sometimes it seemed a little too easy. I did appreciate the guest appearance of Sturmhond and some of the other characters from the Grisha series. In places, the writing is breathtakingly beautiful. And of course, I still love that this is a series about a group of misfits taking on the rich and the powerful. I think Bardugo has created some wonderful, complex, memorable characters in Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Wylan, Nina, and Matthias. I certainly enjoyed the series and enjoyed the romances of Jesper and Wylan, Nina and Matthias, and Inej and Kaz. Each one non-traditional in some aspect.

I definitely recommend this series! No mourners, no funerals.

 

 

 

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

emberintheashes “You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes. That is your destiny.” ~Sabaa Tahir, pp. 400-401

Note: does contain spoilers

 

I thoroughly enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes. I thought Tahir’s fantasy world was original and well-crafted and even more important–it was interesting. Her world of Martials (very similar to the Roman Empire) and Scholars (based on Sufis) and the Scholar resistance to Martial dominance all makes for a fascinating background to the central story–the story of one Martial (a Mask, or fully trained warrior from an illustrious family, no less) who hates the ways of the Empire and it is the story of a Scholar girl who is willing to become a slave and spy in order to bargain with the Scholar Resistance in order to save her brother. Elias and Laia have a lot to learn about each other, about trust, and how two very different people can be more alike than they know.

I was particularly interested in Elias’ story, of the tension with Helene and his mother’s own hatred of him. The chapters go back and forth between Laia and Elias’ points of view, which makes for some nice tension throughout the novel. One thing that bothered me–just a bit–was how Laia’s parentage was revealed to the Resistance. At the moment when they are ready to kill her–she reveals that she is the daughter of two of the most famous Resistance fighters. Perhaps I’m being persnickety, but that is just REALLY convenient.

However, overall I enjoyed the story, was fascinated by the world that Tahir built, and would definitely be willing to read the sequel.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Note: this review does contain spoilers. 

Since reading the very last Harry Potter book, I was happy with the way the series came to a close, but I was also a little disappointed that we would never get the next chapter. In this script, that is exactly what we get. The play opens with the very last scene that is in the seventh novel and goes on from there. Time is played with from the very beginning and it’s no wonder that the story revolves around an illicit time turner. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is very much a story in the tradition of the series–full of adventure, friendship, the strength of love battling against the strength of evil. However, the familiar characters that we know (Ron, Hermione, and Harry) are much more nuanced as adults. I like that the central conflict stems from the fact that Harry is just struggling (and failing) to be a good father. I don’t want to give too much away, but I have to say I really loved one of our main protagonists: Scorpius Malfoy. What can I say? He made my nerdy heart sing. In any case, I will just have to say that I enjoyed the story and the script very much. I wish it was not impossible for me to see the play, but I am glad that they did at least release the script!

 

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The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

darkestpartoftheforest
My love for Holly Black’s books began when I was in high school and read Tithe for the very first time. Tithe is a dark, gritty, and grim fairy tale set in modern day New Jersey. It is a compulsively readable book that I could just not put down (even when I wanted to).
Over the years, I’ve read Black’s other books (White Cat, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Valiant, etc.) and loved them all. In this book, she returns to fairies. The Darkest Part of the Forest is in some way a dark, fairy tale epic. It’s about a brother and sister living in a secluded, small town that is surrounded by fairies and the fairy world. Oh sure, it’s a little bit dangerous (fairies are tricksters and have a different sense of morality than human beings), but nothing has really harmed the townspeople (just a couple of tourists each year go missing or are found not alive)…until now. Can Hazel step up to the plate and be the champion, the knight that she’s always dreamed of being? Can Ben, with all his magical musical ability, face the truth about his feelings and save both his sister and the person he has loved the longest?

In the Darkest Part of the Forest, Ben and Hazel will no longer find the Horned Boy in the glass coffin–tourist attraction and main character in all of their favorite stories. In the darkest part of the forest, our heroes will find adventure, their heart’s desire (though it always comes at a price), sorrow, pain, and the truth about their world and the harsh realities of their peculiar childhood.

I particularly enjoyed the way Black weaves many different fairy tales into the world of this novel.

I recommend to anyone who is a fan of Holly Black or is looking for a good YA fantasy novel.

You might also be interested to see my review of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

 

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The Oxford Inheritance by Ann A. McDonald

Oxford“Too soon, the next set of visitors arrived. These weren’t quite so temporary. They came bearing crisp new textbooks and fat induction packets, shined shoes and wide eyes, weighed down as much by their own hopeful expectations as the brand-new possessions they pulled behind them in overstuffed cases. Summer was over and it was time for a new generation of students to take their place in the hallowed roll call of Oxford’s great academic legacy.” ~p. 4

The Oxford Inheritance by A.A. McDonald is your quintessential summer murder mystery/academia/dark magic read. Everyone has those, right? Well I certainly do. This book met all of my own personal requirements for a great novel.

The following, by the way, are my criteria for a great contemporary novel:

  • Set in England: check.
  • Professors in tweed: check.
  • ¬†Tough-as-nails yet brilliant heroine with a shady past: check.
  • Complicated love triangle: check.
  • A supernatural twist: check.

I wouldn’t say The Oxford Inheritance is going to turn your world upside down. The writing is decent: fast-paced and intriguing (as a supernatural mystery/thriller should be). There were definitely a couple of weak spots. Cassie’s cop friend Charlie being one of them–I felt that he accepted Cassie’s story way too quickly. Unless he already believed in the supernatural or had had an experience with it before (which was never explored), I just found his acceptance to be a bit too quick and easy.

I did like that the ending wasn’t quite neat and tidy. Cassie gets what she wants, but there’s a price and no doubt about it. However, since the tagline of the novel is “Privilege has a dark price” it didn’t come as too much of a shock.

I would recommend this for anyone looking for a good, intriguing mystery with a bit of supernatural thrown in. I certainly enjoyed that the setting is Oxford and you as a reader get to slip into the Oxford world (the author is an alumna).

All in all, I’m glad to have added this to my bookshelf!

 

 

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The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

therook Myfanwy Thomas (pronounced “Miffany” to rhyme with Tiffany, instead of the traditional Welsh pronunciation) wakes up surrounded by dead people wearing gloves with no idea who she is or what has happened. Her only clues are the letters her predecessor, the Myfanwy Thomas who inhabited her body before the complete amnesia, has left her. Pre-amnesia Myfanwy has also left her a high ranking position in Britain’s most top secret government agencies: The Checquy. The Checquy deals with supernatural threats and also acquires supernaturally gifted individuals for their various positions. They are given titles that correspond to chess pieces. Post-amnesia Myfanwy now has to pretend like nothing has happened and resume her post as a Rook with only the knowledge Myfanwy has left her in the letters, all the while continuing the investigation into which other high-level operative betrayed her and took her memory and her personality.

Personally, this book is 110% my cup of tea. It meets all of my requirements for an excellent fantasy novel. Intriguing main character? Check. Magical powers? Check. Girl power? Double check. Set in London? Check. Secret organizations that deal with magical threats? Check. Vampires? Check.

Besides being insanely fun to read and fast-paced in action, I really came to admire what O’Malley was doing in interspersing old Myfanwy’s letters into new Myfanwy’s story. It provided a break with the traditional, linear story of new Myfanwy and also some first person, epistolary narrative to break up the close third person. It also really made me like pre-amnesia Myfanwy just as much as the present heroine, post-amnesia Myfanwy. Come to think of it, it is actually quite brilliant that O’Malley managed to have two different heroines in one body–the perfect opposition for one of the bad guys, who is one consciousness in several bodies!

There are many cases of this quiet brilliance throughout the novel. I say quiet because I didn’t notice all the of the awesome things he is doing plot-wise and with the narration and dialogue and structure because I just had so much fun reading it! There are, of course, tons of jokes and references to other fantasy and supernatural series that complete nerds like me will totally enjoy. Perhaps the only flaw I found was that sometimes the dialogue is clever at the price of being realistic. But for me, that was just part of the charm of O’Malley’s style.

Anyway: the case is closed. I thought this book was brilliant and I recommend it to anyone who likes a little supernatural mystery to go with their afternoon tea.

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