Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Wicked King by Holly Black: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Wicked King by Holly Black

The Wicked King, the second book in Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, is as brilliant as the first. It starts five months after the events at the end of the first book when Judy, the human raised in the faerie land, tricked her worst enemy, Prince Cardan, into becoming the king of the faerie to protect her little brother. By now she’s beginning to see the wisdom of her stepfather’s teaching that it’s easier to gain power than to keep it. She has more friends and allies than in the first book, but she can’t trust any of them, the least of all the king himself, who hates her for the geas she’s put on him that forces him to obey her commands. It doesn’t help her that she’s finding him increasingly alluring.

The threat to her little brother hasn’t passed, and there are enemy forces who want to either take the crown or declare a war, or both. As a human among the faerie, Judy don’t have the same powers as her enemies, so she has to rely on her own strengths, but those begin to dwindle as the enemies gain in strength. And then her sister’s wedding brings her brother back to faerie, and all her careful plans seem to come to nothing. The twist at the end is worthy of any scheming faerie. Waiting for the third book is going to be difficult.

Judy is in a better place in this second book than in the first. She has power and she doesn’t constantly have to fight the cruel faeries who love to see her humiliated. That doesn’t mean there are no gut-wrenching moments in this book, but they are fewer than in the first book. Judy is more sympathetic character in this book than the first though, so every set-back feels worse.

The book is marketed as suitable for middle-grade and young adult. With this I have to disagree. The characters may be in their late teens, but they have to deal with adult problems, power and war, and are treated as adults able to marry etc. There are no graphic sex scenes, but there is plenty of graphic violence, on top of which there are scenes of abuse, mental and physical. Just because this is fantasy written by a woman, doesn’t make it suitable for younger readers. This is book for adults with a young protagonist and should be treated as such.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones

Charley Davidson, Darynda Jones’ brilliant urban fantasy series of a grim reaper slash goddess comes to an end with the thirteenth book, and it does it well. Summoned to Thirteenth Grave managed to be both upbeat and very final; there is no room for wistful thinking that the series would return any time soon. Yet the ending managed to leave me happy instead of sad to see it go.

The story had high stakes of the world ending in only a few days, unless Charley manages to find a way to close the hell dimension she’s accidentally opened. Despite the tight time-frame, she nonetheless has time to investigate her mother’s death, which had taken place when Charley was born, a case of an abducted girl, and a mystery of a man who carves names to his body. All this is done with the customary Charley attention span, though her ADHD didn’t act up as badly as it used to do. Perhaps a century spent in her own hell dimension had cured her of the worst. The book was consequently thin on laugh-out-funny moments usually caused by her short attention span.

Since this was the last book, a lot of time was spent in tying up loose ends and saying goodbye to regular characters, many of whom were ghosts and who were now given their chance to pass through Charley to their final rest. Everything was made perhaps a little too tidy, but it created a few teary moments. There were a couple of unnecessary deaths too, which seemed to take place solely so that the characters could be mentioned in the book and be given an ending too.

All this meant that there was a lot going on in the book that had nothing to do with the ultimate battle. That took place at the very end, and was over before I could blink. The big twist that ended the battle was foreshadowed well, and worked as intended.

The same can’t be said about the two other big twists concerning Charley’s family. (This here is a RELATIVELY SPOILER FREE review. If you’ve already read the book, there’s a version with spoilers at the end of the review.) Both were sprung on the reader out of the blue, and failed to have any emotional impact they no doubt were supposed to have; at least this reader was both unamused and unmoved by them. Both twists were unnecessary too, and as the latter completely changed how I view a beloved character, I found it singularly upsetting twist for the author to make in the last book. It should’ve been dealt withor at least hinted atfor several books already to have a proper impact. Now it just came out as Deus ex machina, and not a very good one as that.

It wasn’t a perfect book, but it was a perfect ending. When the ending manages to leave you happy with how things turned out instead of sad or confused, it’s worth all the stars I can give.



Here’s the review of the twists for those who have already read the bookor those who never intend to read or just don’t care. The first twist concerns Charley’s sister Gemma. The two of them had a difficult relationship throughout the series, but they’d grown closer in the last couple of books. And then she dies. Only, the reader isn’t told about it until several chapters later when it’s suddenly sprung on them after been given to understand she’d survived the attack that killed her. All this time, Charley doesn’t seem to care.

To handle Gemma’s death like it never took place was immensely upsetting, and robbed me of a chance to mourn her properly. There are no hints of her fate, no foreshadowing, and in fact she’s treated by all characters like she’s still alive, because she appears as a ghost. And when the truth is finally revealed, Charlie’s reaction is lacklustre to say the least, even if we are given to understand that she’s in a bit of a denial. She—and with her the reader—grieves the passing of Rocket, her ghost friend, much more. Charley’s more interested in how Gemma can help her understand their mother’s death. But Gemma didn’t need to die for that. She was a psychiatrist; she could’ve been made to remember with her skills, not Charley’s. If the reader had been told the truth from the start, we could’ve grieved with Charley, and then found solace in the fact that Gemma could still help. Now it becomes more a means to an end. All in all, a severe let-down in a very good book.

The other major twist concerns Charley’s uncle Robert, who has been her stalwart companion throughout the series. Charley has helped him to solve crimes, and during the most of the series he was in the dark about how she did it. And now, we’re told that not only has he always known the truth, he was in her life solely because of what she is. Because, it turned out, out of the blue, Uncle Robert was an angel.

This annoyed me even more than Gemma’s death, mostly because I didn’t care for her much, whereas I loved Ubie. It’s of course nice that he had a greater role in Charley’s life than she believed, but the way it was handled, in the last book and mainly as Deus ex machina, so that he could fight in the last battle, was just lazy writing. And that’s not worst. I liked Uncle Ubie with his weaknesses, as a human who did his best even against greater odds in a world he didn’t quite understand. Now all that became a lie. The character I’d loved never existed. And that was truly upsetting.

There was a minor twist at the end too, but it was passed with barely a notice. Reyes tells at the beginning that they have three days to conquer the hell dimension until it takes over the world. But in three days, it barely covers the town where they live. The timeline is in fact for him, because he’s made a deal with Archangel Michael to get Charley out of the hell dimension. They have three days together and then he has to leave with Michael. It passes without notice. But this could have a proper emotional impact too, if both Charley and the reader had been made aware of it from the beginning. Now it made me feel like I’d been rooting for the wrong horse the whole time. The stakes would’ve been much higher if we all knew it was personal for Charley and Reyes, not just about saving the world. Which, in the end happened rather easily.

This ends my spoiler section of the review. Like I said, the book was still good, but it could’ve been better with some proper foreshadowing.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Vicious by V. E. Schwab: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Vicious by V. E. Schwab
Vicious (Villains 1) is an excellent book that works on every level: the premise, the story and its execution, and the characters. It’s deceptively simple, the narrative gives only the information the reader needs and nothing more, but grows more complicated towards the end. And the ending is satisfying.

The book is set in a vaguely American town, though it’s never explicitly stated that it takes place in America. The society is contemporary and like ours, with the exception of EOs: ExtraOrdinary people. They’re not a widely known phenomenon in that society, and the reader isn’t given any comprehensive explanations about them. Two college students, Victor and Eli, set out to study them, and they find a way to create EOs. They never ask if they should, they simply set out to do it.

Victor and Eli are friends, not because they necessarily like each other, but because in their college they are the only two people who they find affinity to. They are both damaged in some ways, mostly because of events that are alluded to but never clarified (Eli’s father flocked him, Victor’s parents neglected him), and both have brilliant minds. They are competitive and envious of one another’s successes, and the friendship doesn’t seem healthy. When Eli successfully becomes an EO and then denies Victor the chance, Victor goes behind Eli’s back to become one too. It leads to a spectacular falling-out between them. Ten years later, it’s time for payback.

The story is told in two levels: the countdown to the showdown, and the events that led to it in the past. Mostly, we follow the events through Victor’s eyes, and while the reader is ready to treat him as the main character to root for, he isn’t a good guy or a hero. Eli believes he’s a hero, but even the chapters in his point of view don’t manage to create sympathy for him. That both main characters are fairly unsympatheticthough Victor comes out bettermight make a rather unpleasant reading, but luckily there are a couple of side characters that bring warmth to the story, and show Victor in a better light too.

The showdown, Victor’s revenge, is built carefully in short chapters, creating tension and raising the stakes, so that the reader is more or less convinced that it won’t work and that Victor will lose. And while that is in some ways true, it’s also untrue. The ending is immensely satisfying.

Vicious is both a psychological study of unhealthy friendships and dangers of unchecked ego, and a thriller. It works on both levels. It might work even if it didn’t contain the supernatural element, but that’s needed at the showdown. It’s a complete, standalone book, and it doesn’t need a sequel. I can understand why it has taken the author years to write one. But now that it exists, I’ll definitely read it too.


At the end of my edition of the book was a short story called Warm Up, which is available separately too. It’s marketed as a prequel to Vicious, but it’s more of a vignette, a story of an EO and his encounter with Eli and the inevitable consequence of it. It doesn’t add anything to the Villains world, and it isn’t necessary to read it.

Warm Up by V. E. Schwab

Friday, January 11, 2019

Prisoner of Night by J.R. Ward: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Prisoner of Night by J.R.Ward
Prisoner of Night is a shorter paranormal romance set in Black Dagger Brotherhood universe, with no familiar characters, though short is relative. It was about 180 pages instead of the usual 600. The story has a fairly straightforward premise: Ahmare tries to save her brother from a torture chamber of a sadistic vampire crime lord, and for that she needs to infiltrate the bunker of another sadistic vampire to fetch something. In this, she is helped by Duran. He’s the son of the latter sadistic vampire, and has spent the past twenty years being tortured by the first. And he has a revenge of his own to deliver.

Had the story been as simple as that, rescue and revenge, it would’ve been fairly good. It was action-filled; brutal in parts and heart-breaking at times. The stakes were constantly high, not least because Ahmare knows that she won’t get her brother free unless she returns Duran to his torturer. However, this was first and foremost a love-story, and that didn’t work for me at all.

The shorter form of the story required instant love between the characters, which is in part explained by the biological tendency of vampire males in BDB universe to bond with their chosen mate. But Duran has grown up in a cult, watching his father rape and abuse his mother, so what does he know about love? Yet he doesn’t seem to have any problems with emotions. Then, barely past adolescence, he’s spent twenty years in captivity, being tortured constantly. He should be a PTSD mess that takes centuries to heal. But apart from a freak-out in the beginning, and another at the end, he functions fairly rationally throughout. Ms Ward has written tortured characters before in her BDB books, guiding them through their healing processes in fairly believable manner, with more needed than a good woman’s love to make things right. Zadist especially is such a character and after several books, he’s still healing.

Here, however, there is no room for healing before the couple is already having sex. The scene was troublesome in many respects, but mostly because everything was forced on Duran by Ahmare, who acts as if his reluctance to seduce her is because he’s being gentlemanly, not because there might be an underlying cause for itwhich then comes apparent at the climax of the scene. I’m not saying she abused him as such—though it came closebut the whole scene could’ve waited until Duran had recovered. That both of them expected to die on the mission didn’t really make the scene feel right.

For her part, Ahmare is depicted as a nurturing person forced into violence by circumstances, but she doesn’t really seem to suffer from the consequences of her actions, like beheading a person. She’s decisive when needs to be, and most of the time pushes the action on in her need to save her brother. And her nurturing nature doesn’t extend to Duran. All in all, the two made an odd pairing.

There were a couple of side characters who were also given their happy endings in the story. The most notable of these was Nexi, a Shadow who’s also fled the cult. A review mentioned how the scenes between her and Ahmare worked better emotionally than those with Duran, and suggested that they should’ve been made a pair in the end. At the very least, Ahmare should’ve shared the inner thoughts with him that she did with Nexi to make the connection between them more believable.

Duran gets to avenge his deaths in the end, and the epilogue paints a happily-ever-after he and Ahmare deserve. Nevertheless, the creepy parts of the story made me give only three stars of five to this story, probably to first ever that I’ve given to BDB series.


To recover, I read a twenty-page short story by Karen Chance that was free on her website with many other stories. If you’re a fan of her Cassandra Palmer and Dorina Basarab urban fantasy books, check them out. Updating Pritkin was a funny little story about trying to make everyone’s favourite war mage less scruffy, with pictures. The ending was a lesson to all and a win for Pritkin. However, as the story had barely any Pritkin in itthe scenes where he should’ve appeared were omitted, like so annoyingly in the books tooI only gave it three stars out of five. But it made me happy. And I’m definitely looking forward to Siren’s Song, which should be in his point of view completely.

Updating Pritkin by Karen Chance

Monday, January 07, 2019

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

The Invisible Library series truly matures in this fifth book, The Mortal Word. The story-line that began in the previous book about the peace conference between the fae and the dragons continues, with extremely high stakes. A murder has taken place, which threatens the negotiations, and Irene, with her friend Detective Vale, is called in to investigate. The plot is complicated, with multiple suspects who all seem plausible from the beginning. Even the Library is implicated, which causes Irene a great deal of worry. She has to use all her skills and ingenuity to bring clarity to the situation. Luckily, she has by now enough experience of both dragons and the fae to pull it off.

Irene has learned a lot during the course of the series and grown in strength. I’m not sure, however, that she has grown as a person all that much. The focus of the books has always been on the action, leaving character development to a backburner. For example the revelations concerning Irene’s parents were staggering to her, yet the one time they are present in the same world, she doesn’t even meet them. I found that a really odd turn of events.

Lack of character growth is especially true when it comes to side characters, Kai the most important among them. He is only described from Irene’s point of view, and the few chapters there have been in his point of view have concentrated on action. He still very much comes across the way Irene first pictured him, as an immature young man, and the attempts to give him some depth in the past couple of books haven’t really worked. I had hoped that now that he is no longer Irene’s apprentice, he would mature a little, but he was absent for much of the book, and so that didn’t happen. The few times Irene concerns herself with him and his feelings, she feels pity or fear for him, which I find to be the emotions of an older sister or a mother, or the teacher she was.

This reflects on the romantic relationship, too, that has been building between Irene and Kai. The reader is supposed to understand that the two are falling in loveor at least developing some sort of feelingsbut the one time that there was room for it in the book, the door closed before anything happened. And I don’t mean I required a description of the bedroom action. I wanted the romance that preceded it. Unfortunately the reader isn’t given access to it, which makes the entire romance feel unreal. I hope this improves in books to come.

Other minor characters, even the recurring ones, remain fairly two-dimensional too. The villains of the piece were given much more depth, which obviously improves them greatly. The fae especially are interesting with their affinity to stories and tendency to formulate themselves according to them. With impressive villains, the final battle is impressive too, and the solutions aren’t easy, especially since Irene has a tendency to handle everything herself. Maybe one day she’ll learn to delegate.

This book ends with a new chapter beginning in Irene’s life that promises to be interesting. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series to find out how that turns out.

The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Books I hope to read in 2019

It’s been five years since I’ve posted on this blog, and I think it’s time to revive it. I haven’t stopped reading, or reviewing books; I just published the reviews on my other blog, Susanna Writes. I’m not entirely sure writing two blogs is sensible, but I’m about to give it a goagainanyway. It’s one of those things that make sense at the beginning of a new year. So here goes.

It’s been my habit for the past couple of years to write a list of books that I hope to read at the beginning of the year. There are so many books being published, that it’s hard to keep track of them all. With a list, I’ll at least remember the most interesting ones. So far, I haven’t once read everything on the list, as I keep reading outside it, but it’s worked well otherwise. If you want to know what I read last year, here’s a post I wrote on my other blog (although, in hindsight, I should probably have published it on this one).

This year, I pledged to read sixty books in Goodreads Reading Challenge, meaning that I should read five books a month. For the past two years, I’ve read fifty-five books a year, so I’m not entirely hopeful that I’ll be able to do it, but it won’t be for the lack of reading if I don’t.

The list for 2019 has sixty-nine books. Fifteen are transfers from the previous list, eight of which were already on the list before that one. Only the books that I really think I want to read, even if I didn’t find time for them before, made it to this year’s list too. Thirteen books are published this year, and they mostly belong to ongoing series by my favourite authors. The rest are mostly books that I already own, but haven’t got around reading, or belong to series that I haven’t managed to catch up with yet. I even went through my Kindle to see what gems I had hidden there, and added them on the list.

My list is heavy on urban fantasy and fantasy: thirty UF books and nineteen fantasy books. That pretty much reflects my reading habits in general. Everything else is genre fiction too; it’s seldom that I read literary fiction these days. There are ten sci-fi books that I want to read, but only one contemporary romance, which is odd, considering that I write them myself, but those tend to be the books that I add on my list as I come across them. Here are some of the books that I’m especially eager to read this year, in no particular order.

Summoned to the Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones. This is the last book in her Charley Davidson UF series of a grim reaper that I absolutely love, so it’s with part eagerness and part dread that I wait for it to come out. The publication date is January 15, so not long to wait anymore. And then it will be over. Forever.

Vicious and Vengeful by V.E. Schwab. I love everything she writes, and I expect to find these two books exciting too. I got the first as a birthday present last year, but then waited to read it until I had the second book too, which I got for a Christmas present. So those go to the top of my reading pile.

Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh is the latest in her long Psy-Changeling paranormal romance series. There hasn’t been a weak book yet, so when it comes out in June, I’ll be reading it instantly. And she’ll probably publish other books this year too that aren’t on my list, and I’ll be reading all of them too. This one doesn’t have a cover yet.

The Savior by J.R. Ward is another auto-buy. It’s the book seventeen in her Black Dagger Brotherhood UF series of vampire warriors, and each book has been excellent. She’s publishing other books this year too, and all will go on my list. The first of those is Prisoner of Night, which is set in the same BDB world, and is published next week.

The Wicked King by Holly Black is the second book in her Folk of the Air series of fairies and humans living among them, and it’s published January 8. The first book was exciting, and I expect the follow up to live up to its predecessor.

Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone is a space opera published in June. I’d hoped there would be a new Craft Sequence book, because the next one can’t come fast enough, but I’m sure this will be great too. Another book by him that I’m waiting for, written with Amal El-Mohtar, is This is How You Lose the Time War that comes out in July. I’m not exactly sure what genre that one belongs to, but it has everything, spies, time-travel, and love.

Brave the Tempest by Karen Chance is the latest in Cassandra Palmer UF series. It’s been too long since the previous book and this one can’t come fast enough. Until then, I can return to her UF world with Siren’s Song, a shorter story, which doesn’t have a publication date yet, but should come out soon.

That’s just a small sample of what’s to come. I also look forward to reading Atlas Alone by Emma Newman, fourth book in her Planetfall series, Exit Strategy and Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells, which belong to her Murderbot Diaries series, and Raven Tower, the new Ann Leckie book. And, truly, all books on my list are those that I want to read. It’s just that occasionally I have to prioritise.

The first book of the year has been selected already too. That’s The Mortal Word by Genevieve Cogman. It’s the fifth book in her Invisible Library series, and so far it’s very good. I’ll write a review once I’m finished. Until then, let me know what you’ll be reading this year.