Review – Lauren Roberts – Powerless

Powerless
Lauren Roberts

Paedyn Gray is not only a thief, she’s also an Ordinary. Having no gift is a fate punishable with death and banishment of any hiding her. Paedyn has been trained as a psychic to cover her Ordinary-ness but also has a dab hand at fighting. She usually tries to stay out of trouble but unwittingly saves one of the Princes and finds herself battling for her life in the Purging Trials…

Sooo, it’s kind of like Hunger Games but a little less predictable because it’s not always obvious who needs to be the survivor, and who is going to win. I enjoyed the various powers that Kai got to play with, and I think more could have been done with it. Also, as if you’d fall for the illusionist twice…

The romance scenes were completely cringe-worthy. I found myself skipping over them and hoping I wasn’t missing important story details. Of course, #enemiestolovers trope is a thing, but can’t we have a book or two that is just epic battles? My dissatisfaction with this type of thing is entirely the fault of Fourth Wing. At least there’s no sex?

I don’t think this book is remarkable enough for me to recommend to other readers, but it’s also not terrible. Maybe when you’ve read as many books as I have, it’s all too predictable? That sounds very full of myself, but I’ve read A LOT of books recently that I just haven’t reviewed. This could be a book for you if you enjoy #friendstolovers, #lovetriangle and #awkwardlove. Just don’t go looking for any deeper meaning.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Secret Project #3

Yumi and the Nightmare Painter
Brandon Sanderson

Painter is a lone warrior, isolated from his past friends by a mistake that we don’t know exists. He protects the borders with his bamboo art, and survives from day to day. Yumi is a spirit whisperer, ritually required to do nothing for herself except make art to please the spirits. One exists in darkness, while the other exists on a hot planet. When a Connection is formed between the two, it seems like the spirits want something. But what is it?

I’ve already read this twice, and I don’t even have the physical copy yet. Something about the storyline, the art, and the awkward main characters appeals to me. This is another of Sanderson’s efforts at writing an unconventional romance/love story. Everytime someone complains about the lack of sex in his writing, I wonder to myself why that would be required for a good story. So many TV series seem to rely on people cheating on each other to make the story happen / fill in time!

Who do I like more? Yumi or Painter? I don’t know! I love Painter and the fact that he simply knows nothing about how the world works, but in a different way to Yumi not knowing it either. It’s also good to see Sanderson writing younger characters. Is it a comment on society that Painter seems to have no purpose? Personally, I wouldn’t want to survive as he does.

I’m still a little unclear on how the shroud works, and how/why there are individual sections. Why has it not covered everything? Also, how does Yumi go from the same day to multiple days and not be remade every day at the same town (I can’t give more detail here or I’ll spoil a major plot point)?

It’s no wonder also why I enjoy it when Sanderson says the inspiration was partially Final Fantasy X. That’s the first FF I ever played, and the only one I could kind-of win (but never finished). Why not have a crazy job to a real-world human, but a job that is typical in its story-world? I can see myself revisiting this novel as a comfort read quite often – a much easier read that The Way of Kings or the Mistborn novels.

I pre-bought this novel as part of Year of the Sanderson kickstarter. I’m still loving it, and am dreading 2024 – no more bonus books!

Review: AF Steadman – Skandar and the Unicorn Thief

Skandar and the Unicorn Thief
AF Steadman

So it turns out that unicorns are real! And, they’re limited to just a single island, everyone wants one, and they eat meat and small fluffy animals. Oh yes, and spirit unicorns are deadly unicorns that mean that if you are meant to be a spirit rider, you will fail your entrance exam to unicorn school no matter how hard you study. Skandar’s sister didn’t get a unicorn and it almost broke her – it’s up to Skandar to carry on their father’s unicorn wishes.

Seriously, if the whole island is covered with wild unicorns, how can there be any furry creatures left? There are so many plot holes. So many. Oh look, a book that will teach you everything! Oops, lost it. Wooh, got past one enemy and now assume that I’m invincible!Β I was very disappointed in the end of both books, particularly the second one. Has Skandar just conveniently forgotten about the other unicorn that he keeps running into?

Other reviewers have commented that it’s so unlikely that the whole world would want to believe in unicorns and watch a race once a year that determines the ruler of the magical island. I’m telling you, those people can’t be Australians! In Victoria, Australia we have The Melbourne Cup, which is horses racing around a track – ‘the race that stops the Nation’. We even get a public holiday to celebrate it! So to me, the notion that a race stopped everyone from doing anything was pretty straightforward.

I was given the first book for review, and bought the second book as a 14th birthday gift. The teenager hasn’t been raised on a diet of Harry Potter (thank goodness), she prefers Tamora Pierce, Garth Nix and other EXCELLENT books. She said that Skandar was better than Percy Jackson, the books looked attractive and there was a gift solved (the age-old gifting problem). If you grew up with Harry Potter or Percy Jackson as a child then Skandar is a weak shadow and not worth it if you are now an adult reader. It’s fine for middle-grade and teens, but I wouldn’t rate it that highly. 3-stars from me, for the right audience.

Simon & Schuster | 28 April 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Alexandra Rowland – A Taste of Gold and Iron

A Taste of Gold and Iron
Alexandra Rowland

Arasht is known for its pure currency that is determined by touchtasters. A plot with counterfeit coins could threaten the whole realm, and Kadou needs to solve it. Kadou is a bit of a mess, so it’s a good thing that he has a beefy bodyguard to keep him out of trouble. Will there ever be something more between them?

It took me ages to read this novel because 1) I thought it was the first in a series and I didn’t want to commit and 2) I didn’t notice that it had gay protagonists. Unfortunately the plot was lacking. I’m not sure why I kept reading it – maybe I got too attached to poor Kadou and his panic attacks? Then again, I hated Kadou’s ex- who was just a comical steriotype of a gay man calling everyone ‘darling’ and ‘sweetheart’. Evemer tries to be the hard counterpoint to the ex- but never really becomes a 3D character.

The plot of this novel was quite weak, and it was very easy to see where the book would end up. It was obvious who the villians were from the start, and it was clear that it didn’t actually matter if they were caught! I mean, there was a moment where they couldn’t trust anyone, but it was all good! They just pulled in a truth-seeker.

What I loved most was the use of another non-binary gender in a way that the author just created a new term. The author just rolled with it and didn’t give the reader a chance to be transphobic. The role of male partners was also curtailed by body-father (basically sperm donor) and women only giving another person law/love control over the offspring if they wanted to. Seliha is a bit dopey, but gets there in the end I guess.

This reminded me a bit of Ash PrincessΒ in the way that it had a (to me) traditional feel of bodyguard falling for a princess/prince/whoever. It was inevitable that they would fall in love, because why else would the book exist? I’m giving this a generous 4 stars since I did keep reading it, but the plot was just pathetic.

Pan Macmillan | 30 August 2022 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Rebecca Yarros – Fourth Wing

Fourth Wing
Rebecca Yarros

Violet has been training to become a scribe like her father, rather than a dragon rider like her older sister, decreased brother and cold mother. At the last moment, Violet must pass the parapet and become a rider – where not all the riders will be chosen by dragons… and not all would-be riders will survive.

Character development? Not really. Amazing world-building? Yup, maybe! Fun storyline where you can’t decide whether you want the protagonist to live or die? 100%! Although I had no real prediction as to how it was going to go down, the ending was highly satisfying.

I’m not sure they are grumpy enough dragons (or that there’s enough dragon time)! I mean, when we get to the final parade in front of them, I felt like they could have incinerated a couple more of the cadets. If they aren’t going to choose them all, why not put the others out of their misery?

Winner! Another main character with a physical disability that doesn’t let it get in the way of what she wants to do (see also: A Curse so Dark and Lonely). Damn, girl! I guessed the ending just a couple of pages out from the end of the book and was 100% paranoid that the book was going to end before I confirmed it.

If you’re sensitive to, well, erotica, this might not be the book for you. Violet definitely spends a fair bit of time thinking about sex, and then it gets worse as you progress through the book! The first half is relatively safe though

For once it’s not a group of 15-16 year olds fighting it out, it’s actual adults. I really appreciated that aspect and it made the violence seem slightly less out of place? I think that the way young children are killed off in something like The Hunger Games very dystopian. It’s an uncomfortable thought to know that although that’s a fantasty world, in the real world children are dying right now anyway.

I couldn’t stop reading it and after some time has passed and the second book is published, I will be all there for a reread.

Hachette | 9 May 2023 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Mercedes Lackey – The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley

The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley
Mercedes Lackey

Annie’s got an eye to shoot and a brilliant husband who doesn’t care that his wife out shoots him! In her past she’s haunted by a hungry childhood in which she encountered a He-wolf who tried to take her magic for himself. After realising that magic is real, Annie has to make a decision – to train as a magician or go back to her regular life.

It’s obvious that Lackey has been paying attention to the media in terms of trying to get more obvious acknowledgement of poverty into the spotlight. There are hundreds of people who go hungry every day, including those who starve to death. I really like it when my favourite authors try to bring visibility to these issues.

However, this was a disappointing novel. It unfortunately followed the format of many of the most recent Elemental MastersΒ by Lackey in that a lot of time was spent on the minutiae of life as a travelling circus performer and very little on the magic side of things. The handful of encounters with ‘baddies’ were unsatisfying and average. I also think I picked up a handful of plot holes.

Three stars from me. I’m unimpressed by this latest offering and I won’t be purchasing it for my shelf. Lackey, please go back to writing your original ideas rather than trying to take existing historical figures and trying to write magic into them.

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Beyond

Beyond
Mercedes Lackey

Duke Valdemar has always loved his land and his people. Forever watching out for the Emperor and his spies, Valdemar plans for the future – an escape to the West where the Empire does not yet reach. When he is summoned to the capital, it is up to him to deflect the Emperor’s interest from his home dutchy, and trust that the Plan can take place without him.

I liked Duke Valdemar and I didn’t have any objections to the second perspective of his sister-in-law. The opening pages make it seem as if Delia will have a big role to play, but as yet, she hasn’t achieved anything major during the novel. The Duke on the other hand has his nose poked in everywhere, and is devious to boot! His compassion and humility could read as trite, but his approach to life is always consistent.

This is the first Lackey novel I have read for a while. After reading the Collegium Chronicles, The Herald Spy and Family Spies (so bad, I didn’t even review it) I felt burnt out and disappointed. Lackey seemed to be pumping out weaker novels that didn’t follow her original pattern of duology/trilogy and were poorly edited, written and unnecessarily wordy. Thankfully, Beyond breaks that pattern in being a well-written first novel. I hope it is a trilogy and not a pentology.

The second book in the series is due to be published this year, and I await it with bated breath and the hope that it is equally as good as this one. We will see. 4 stars for this novel.

Review: Vanessa Len – Only a Monster

Only a Monster
Vanessa Len

Joan loves summers with her Gran and mom’s family, and this year she has a great job too – working in a tourist attraction with the attractive Nick. When Joan loses part of a day, she becomes aware of the family secret – she’s a time-traveler and monster to boot. But are monsters the bad guys in this story? Joan is going to have to work out what she wants most in the world.

Part of the struggle in this novel is that I wasn’t sure whose side I was on. Ok, it’s terrible that humans are losing part of their lives to monsters when they time travel. But also, how cool is that?? It could only be more awesome if they could take a regular human with them.

I like the way that the author addresses the paradoxes of time travel. It’s normal for people to go back to change the past, and it’s interesting to see how different monsters cope with the inability to change their past. Just like Joan, I feel certain that there must be a way around things!

Other reviewers have suggested that there is a love triangle enemies/friends sort of romance going on. I’d say that that cheapens the storyline for me. It’s not about the boys that Joan is interested in, it’s about the love she has for her family – both monster and other.

Let me give it to you straight – this is the first book in a series. Before you go and give up hope, I can tell you that the ending of this novel is entirely satisfactory, and didn’t leave me hanging at all. I am really looking forward to getting to reread it in preparation of the next novel in the planned trilogy. 5 stars from me.

Allen & Unwin | 1 February 2022 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Juliet Marillier – A Song of Flight

A Song of Flight
Juliet Marillier

The Prince has gone missing, and the best candidates for the team to find him are Liobhan and Dau – but as they are romantically entangled they cannot both go on the search journey. Thus begins a novel of conflicted beliefs, truths and perspectives that culminates in the solution to the Crow Folk problem that emerged in A Dance with Fate.

I was disappointed in this novel. There were too many characters, and not enough depth for each one. I wanted to know more about Helga’s story. I wanted to know less about Galen and more about the “original three” characters of Brocc, Liobhan and Dau. Things seemed to take forever, and then I just wasn’t satisfied with the ending.

I didn’t need the Prince’s storyline. Brocc could have done it equally well. Also, why did Brocc suddenly decide to throw caution to the wind? I understand his love for Niamh clouds a lot of his judgement but is he truely so clueless as to his own powers? He seriously has no other options, and can’t walk in the Otherworld?

Liobhan, despite really being my favourate character in this trilogy, didn’t really show up. I didn’t see a completion of her character development. I definitely saw a deepening of the love she had for and of Dau, but that was mainly covered in The Harp of Kings. I also didn’t see much of a display of her warrior skills, which was something I enjoyed in earlier novels in the trilogy as it wasn’t an aspect of the first set of novels.

I will of course go back and reread these – they are Juliet Marillier afterall – but I believe that the Blackthorn and Grimm trilogy is superior to the Warrior Bard novels. 5 stars, but I was so sad about the ending πŸ™ Oh! And I was generously sent two copies of this by Pan Macmillan, but neither arrived, so I bought it for myself as an early Christmas present.

Review: Alicia Jasinska – The Midnight Girls

The Midnight Girls
Alicia Jasinska

Marynka has never been good enough for her Jaga. She’s always been too short, too slow and altogether unimpressive. The thing that keeps her going is her rivalry with Zosia. They clash frequently, looking to steal the hearts of princes for power. Finally a prince appears that has a pure heart, and they ride together to go to the capital – both with only one thing on their mind. Instead the girls find themselves falling for each other and they can’t let the other win.

First, the book title. There is only one Midnight girl. There’s also a Morning girl and a Midday girl. Technically they are all ‘monsters’, but to me they were more minions of their Jagas (witches). There’s a whole lot of alliteration going on there. Then again look at that glorious saturated colour in the cover.

Ok, my major question about this novel is – where are all the Princes coming from? It seems like Wack-a-Mole, as soon as a new prince appears one of the girls is after his heart. If all the princes keep getting killed, where are the new princes coming from? I can imagine them getting married and having their parents abdicate the throne sooner so that they can become king and survive, but I don’t think that’s quite how this works.

The implication is that there were many servants before Zosia and Marynka – what happened to them? Did they all get eaten by the Jagas? I need a little more detail! What is going to happen next? The original Jagas are sisters, what happens when one dies? How long have they actually been living for? How did they get to be witches? I’d read a prequel of that!

Can I get a drool about the delicious Polish delicacies showcased here? Maybe you are thinking at this point that I hated the novel – I didn’t! I actually really enjoyed it and kept thinking about it when I had to put it down to life. I loved the way that both protagonists refused to admit they were in love, rather than the usual trope of the main characters falling in insta-love at first sight. There was the backstory that at least showed their previous relationship.

I’m so sorry. I would have given this 4 stars, except once again Jasinska disappoints with the ending. Lesbian protagonists in a whole where being queer isn’t even mentioned (because it’s so normal)? Sign me up. But I don’t think I’ll be reading more from this author – The Dark Tide has the same ending problem, so I can’t expect it to change.

Penguin Random House | 30th November 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback