The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 5/5 stars

Passion. Destiny. Politics. War

Who shall be named Queen?

The Queen’s Rising was an unexpected delight with its royal ties, political wars and slow burn romance. The story follows orphaned Brienna, one of the girls at Magnalia House in Valenia studying one of the five passions: wit, knowledge, music, art and acting. She comes to the school as a favour of her grandfather’s and eventually chooses knowledge as her passion with Master Cartier as her teacher. Failing to find a patron on her seventeen summer solstice to take her on, Brienna is horrified at what will come next but all changes when she starts having visions from her ancestors about the infamous Stone of Eventide. The stone vanished centuries ago and with its recovery, the rightful heir to the Maevana (rival kingdom to Valenia) empire will come to power. With all hell breaking loose with its current King, and Valenia ties strained, Brienna has become the source of knowledge the people have been waiting for.

She is accepted from a disgraced patron who has plans to use her visions to locate the stone and after meeting the rightful heir to the throne through him, she is set to work using her visions. But all is not what it seems, as Brienna’s past comes into play and she is torn between following her new family or her old one…

I loved this book. I put it off for awhile as it seemed daunting and I find lots of fantasy books are too similar. This one had me captivated. The characters were likeable, the political warfare between Valenia and Maevana was so interesting, and the slow burn romance between Brienna and Cartier was really great. Everyone had secret identities so the twists just kept on coming.

My favourite points:

– The slow burn romance between Brienna and Cartier was so lovely to read. You didn’t know if they were going to get together as he’s technically her teacher and there’s at least a ten year age gap, but it felt suitable. Not creepy. He was so respectable and sweet to her and when I say it was a slow burn romance, it really was, which made it all the much sweeter.

– The politics were so interesting to read about. It wasn’t too technical and the rivalry between Valenia and Maevana was well explored. The magic element also added an extra layer to the story and I liked how this book set it all up for the sequel.

– The twists weren’t major but there were enough that caught me off guard and surprised me. Everyone had alter egos and I was hooked reading it all unfold. I definitely had moments where I was like, “What!” and I’m looking forward to seeing where the characters go next.

– The pacing of the book was done well. I was interested throughout the novel as there were enough plot points to keep my focus. I just wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It’s intriguing, passionate and magical and has a strong storyline to keep you interested. The set of characters were likeable and I’m excited for the sequel next year to come out.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Genre: YA Fantasy/Science Fiction

Rating: 4.75/5 stars

Good vs evil.

Superheroes vs villains.

Who wins in the end?

You may think you know the answer but Renegades will make you question it. Marissa Meyer writes a tale from the villain’s point of view and with all its multilayered characters and rich landscape you’ll find the lines get blurred and wonder…

Who put them there in the first place?

The story follows the Renegades, a group of superheroes who run Galton City and keep it safe from the Anarchists and other rogue superheroes. We see things from Nova’s (alias Nightmare) perspective as one of the Anarchists who wants to overthrow the Renegade Council and restore power to the people so that all people with superpowers can live freely. She’s the niece of Ace Anarchy, the founding member of the Anarchists, and with his death by the hands of Captain Chromium, the Renegade leader, she wants justice served. Leaving her group of misfits behind, Nova goes undercover as a newbie Renegade (new alias Insomnia) to learn how to destroy the structure from within and bring upon the destruction needed to ruin the Renegades. Introduce Adrian (alias Sketch), Captain Chromium’s son, who wants Nightmare’s blood for her deathly past schemes, and a secret project undergoing at Renegade headquarters, Nova has more to worry about than she first thinks.

Man, I loved this book. It was reminiscent of the Reckoner trilogy by Brandon Sanderson which I absolutely adored, and I found I struggled to put it down. The characters were just great and I appreciated the scope of the world. I had faith in Meyer’s writing and she delivered.

The characters I adored:

– Nova (Nightmare) was awesome. She has light and dark elements to her and even with the moral ambiguity, I still felt a warmth to her. I’m interested to see her character arc in the next book and for us to see her powers more.

– Adrian (Sketch) was just adorable. I’m appreciating that guys in books now are more varied. He was nerdy and cute but smart. He wasn’t arrogant or demeaning – he just saw the best in others. Also, his power was to sketch things and bring them to life. Seriously, how cool is that?

– The Sentinel was a new character that joined the cast, and I liked how he was really ambiguous. Is he good? Is he bad? No side claimed him but he added that extra layer of depth to the book.

– The Anarchists were just awesome. I liked Leroy (Cyanide) the best as I felt he spoke a lot of wisdom and was Nova’s closes ally, but Honey (Queen Bee) was also so quirky and unique. Winston (The Puppeteer) was that comic relief the book needed.

– The Renegade Council held the right stature and demeanour to not make a ‘superhero’ novel seem cringey. They wore capes and superhero costumes but it never felt cheesy or funny. I understood their perspective on things despite seeing things from the anti heroes perspective, and could see they were doing their best to build a safe society with rules.

Only issue:

– Nova’s powers as Insomnia were so similar to Nightmare’s that I just thought it was obvious that they were the same person. Like how did the Renegades not see that? Also, Adrian disappearing mid scenes and coming back as The Sentinel and no one batting an eye was strange too. I just think everyone would have noticed their alter egos.

Overall, I’m really glad I read this book. It was a riveting read with a great set of characters to set the scene. I’m excited for Archenemies to come out to see how the stakes can rise even higher!

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The stakes higher, the lies more bold, Legendary takes what you thought of Caraval and turns it on its head.

The story primarily focuses on Tella this time round, as she searches for her lost mother. Finding a cursed Deck of Destiny cards when she was younger has meant her fate has been written out and her future out of her hands. Each of the Fates on the cards shows her something different about herself, and she is convinced that she’s the reason her mother disappeared. All comes to a head when one of the Fates, the Jack of Hearts, appears in the flesh and promises her mother’s return if she enters and wins Caraval and brings its leader, Legend, to him to have the power to unlock all the Fates. But she’s also told she could destroy the Fates if she locates the Deck of Destiny again and gives it to Legend to end them. Does Tella win and free her mother while simultaneously unleashing all evilness into the world? Or does she locate the Deck of Destiny and give it to Legend to destroy the Fates but lose her mother? Emotions run high and moral dilemmas come into play as Tella must decide for the first time what her fate must be…

So Legendary was a definitive step up from Caraval for me. I wasn’t a big fan of Caraval, but found I warmed to Tella in this book. I enjoyed the magic element in the book but to be honest, still found something lacking. I’ll try and some it up here.

The good:

– Tella held her own. She still had that playful flirtatious thing going on which heavily bugged me in Caraval, but she had her wits this time round and made better decisions. She’s smarter than she appears.

– Jacks. He’s the villain but gosh I liked him. He’s layered, twisted, has a warped perception on things, but I just loved his scenes. I want more of him to see his character arc.

– The magic element was so enjoyable. I was only 20 pages in but felt myself enraptured in the magic of it. The world felt sprinkled with it and Garber’s writing aided in this. The different Fates were also a great addition to the series.

The bad:

– I still don’t know what it is about Dante, but I don’t like him. He’s untrustworthy and I found I just couldn’t make him a book boyfriend. I look forward to Finale to see where he goes.

– There was a lot of repetition with information being related multiple times. We were told the same facts over and over again just to make sure we understood which I can appreciate, but it was done a bit too heavily. It was sometimes two paragraphs in a row saying the same thing but phrased differently.

– There were too many outcomes for the plot and rules were broken to make new outcomes possible. I thought there were only a couple of options when it came to how Tella could save her mother, but clauses were found and new pathways opened up which made me think: anything could happen. But not in a good way. It felt like the easy option was made possible and to be honest, it’s the cheat way of writing a book to do this.

To sum it all up, I enjoyed Legendary for what it brought to the table, but am still feeling like I’m missing something. I look forward to reading Finale to see what happens and for it to hopefully improve the series like Legendary did. Hopefully it keeps going up.

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

A Little Mermaid retelling at heart, To Kill a Kingdom encompasses the essence of a beloved fairytale but for me, didn’t steer far enough to hold its own.

The story follows Lira, a siren, who takes the heart of a prince every year in her birthday month. She’s the daughter of The Sea Queen, who rules over their kingdom and holds the power in the ocean. Never meeting her mothers expectations, Lira is always disgraced in front of her, and one fateful day, is punished. Made into a human, her only way to get back in her mothers good graces is to cut the heart out of Prince Elian, a renowned siren killer. But he has plans of his own, and the lost human he picks up on his ship might hold the answers he’s looking for…

So I liked the book. It was dark, had interesting concepts, and to be honest, it was a great retelling. But I had this overwhelming feeling of meh when I finished it. Did I need to have read it? Why isn’t this living up to the hype for me? And I think I can pinpoint it: it felt generic. Already done. I’ll try and summarise these thoughts because there’s good and bad:

– Lira is a badass character. I’m appreciating that authors are writing more assertive characters these days and Lira fit into that category. She never holds back, fights her own battles, but also has the emotional scale for a character to relate. She should be more savage, but she has empathy, and it’s reassuring to read that. After all, a character should have a scope of emotions and portray them accurately.

– Prince Elian. He’s where I had issues. I’m never one to fall in love with a prince in a book and here’s why – they’re all the same. Arrogant, has everything at their whim, in constant doubt over their loyalty to the crown and wanting ‘a life of their own’. Reminding you of anyone? Dorian, Nikolai or Maxon? Elian just was so generic. I empathised with him but I’ve read him in a bunch of characters before! I want something different!

– The world was interesting. I’d like to give other underwater tales a go as the scope or worldbuilding just enlargens! Finding out about sirens, mermaids and all their folklore was interesting and seeing how it fared against the humans was as well. The human kingdoms and their mythology added to the story, and I appreciated seeing a taste of the cultures that separated them. More if this would’ve been nice but in a standalone, I was happy.

So overall, their were highs and lows. I appreciated the world that was built and the set of characters introduced, but would have liked more originality. This story could have had the essence of The Little Mermaid, but still create a new sense of wonder which I was looking for. A halfway book for me, I’m left wanting more.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 2.75/5 stars

With an abusive male crushing the main character’s spirit at every turn, The Cruel Prince definitely lived up to its title.

I am sad to say that The Cruel Prince didn’t meet the hype for me. From only a couple chapters in, I could point out its flaws and see the gaping gaps no one looked at fixing before publishing it.

Here are my main problems:

1. We have a set of very unlikeable characters. I’m all for morally corrupt characters as they’re interesting to read about, but man, this book’s characters had no redemptive qualities. This made it hard as a reader to connect or root for a character.

2. The word building was shabby. It did interest me, but wasn’t adequately depicted in some areas, whilst bombarding me with too much information in other areas – like its vast population of different faeries. Too many characters equates to a reader not being able to attach themselves to significant characters.

3. Jude as a main POV was questionable. She was constantly abused and made to feel inadequate, leading her down a dark path. She accepted scraps and I felt this wasn’t highlighted enough as a bad character arc.

4. Prince Cardan has to be the worst love interest to ever have been written. I honestly can’t believe Holly Black thought it was okay to write an arrogant, abusive and spoilt male lead and try and make him appealing. He’s disgusting. He sneers, humiliates and abuses Jude, making her question her worth. They eventually develop feelings and he feels shame in it as it’s against his better judgement. Ugh! The passage where he talks about wanting to hurt her over and over again is enough of a sign that this guy should be locked up.

5. It’d be wrong not to mention Locke. Almost as bad as a perpetrator, a bystander of abuse who somewhat revels in the occasional taunting deserves just as much flack as Cardan. Locke stood by as Jude was hurt and had the sheer audacity to romance her – which she sadly fell for. His character was mind boggling at best as he never really liked Jude, and I felt disgusted once again that he was made to look charming like Cardan.

6. The scene that undoubtedly shook me was when Jude was drugged with Faerie fruit. In real life, someone drugged by a group of people and made to do inappropriate things, and then to develop romantic feelings for their perpetrators, is seen as horrific. But in a fantasy world, no one cares or notices this.

Overall, despite my interest in the storyline, I was unhappy that the abuse was normalised and that as a reader, we were meant to find Jude’s and Cardan’s relationship reasonable. Abuse is never okay and unfortunately, this book left a sour taste in my mouth.

The Wood by Chelsea Bobulski

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Why hasn’t this book received more attention?!?!?

The Wood by Chelsea Bobukski completely shattered by expectations of it. I hadn’t seen it around anywhere except for Goodreads, but was so surprised at how enjoyable it was to read.

The story follows Winter, a teenager who lives as the sole guardian of the wood near her house after her father goes missing. The wood is like no other, as there are portals to other times and dimensions in history throughout it. Its in her blood to stay on the distinct paths and guard the wood from outsiders, with her often steering travellers who accidentally fall through a portal into her wood, back to where they came from. All hell breaks loose when an 18th century man called Henry enters her wood looking for his parents, and a link is established between these two teenagers. Relationships and order are tested, and the Council who control the Woods are brought into the whirlwind of questions…

My highlights:

– I reaaaallly appreciated the dynamic of the world created. Realism meets fantasy is sometimes hard to portray, but I felt it meshed really well in this book. I also loved the personification of the wood when things became sinister. It was a living thing. The shadows became monsters and I loved the imagery of a black tar like substance oozing off the leaves.

– Winter was a well balanced character. Her grief for her father was managed well, and her wit lightened the book.

– Henry was a joy to read. Obviously unknowledgable in anything modern, I liked reading about him discovering what a TV is, how electricity works and other tidbits of modern society.

– The relationship wasn’t angsty. YA books can be a bit intense but I found this one handled quite maturely. They developed feelings, but were wise to the situation that they wouldn’t really have a solid chance at being together as they were from different time periods. Yes to mature teenagers!

Overall, I was one happy gal with this book. I appreciated the light and dark within the book, and the character dynamic. Pick this one up!