Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep: review

4/5 stars on Goodreads

Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep
After the previous book, I struggled to find a book that could hold my interest. I started a couple of books that I had to put down, but I’ll maybe finish them later when my mood is more suitable for them. The one that won in the end was Kill the Queen (Crown of Shards 1) by Jennifer Estep.

Kill the Queen is epic fantasy that reads like urban fantasy. It’s told in the first person point of view, the heroine is a sassy woman in her late twenties set apart from others because of her different magical abilities, and she kicks ass. The story itself is pure epic fantasy: the entire royal family is massacred, and the sole survivor, Evie, goes into hiding to learn the necessary skills to avenge everyone and claim her place on the throne. To achieve that, she joins a gladiator troupe where she finds true friends that she hasn’t had in the court.

The book isn’t necessarily remarkable, and it doesn’t stand out among the similar books. The lone orphan betrayed by the one person she thought was her friend is a trope well-tried before. The medieval world is familiar, even if this one was mixed with things like indoors plumbing and fast communication. The peoples populating the world were too similar to ours—the people of the north had Nordic names and the dragon shifter was Chinese. But the writing style is catchy and I found myself reading late in the night, eager to find out what would happen next. The story was concise and got to the point satisfyingly fast, and the ending was good. The story doesn’t need a follow-up, but there were a couple of questions left open, and I’ll definitely read the next book too to find out what will happen.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

It’s not often that I pick a random book I see an ad for, read the sample chapters, and like them so much that I purchase the book and just keep reading. And this even though I knew it’s a retelling of a fairy tale, which seldom are worth reading. It’s also told in first person present tense that I don’t really like, with alternating point of view chapters, but I was able to overlook that too. A Curse So Dark and Lonely is therefore quite unique.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is based on the story of the Beauty and the Beast, which has been retold so often that one would think there’s no point in doing it again. But Brigid Kemmerer has only taken the premise from the original story: a prince with a curse that can only be broken by someone falling in love with him. Everything else is new.

Rhen, the prince, is perfectly handsome young man for most of the time. The beast only emerges every three months or so, by which time the woman brought to his castle for the purpose should’ve fallen in love with him. Why that never happens eludes him. Once the beast emerges, it rages for a while, killing everyone, and then everything restarts from the beginning, with the exception of the dead who remain dead. After hundreds of cycles, Rhen’s stopped wooing women in his own world. Instead, the women are kidnapped from a parallel reality—our world—to which his personal guard Grey has been given access by the same enchantress who’s placed the curse on Rhen.

Harper, the heroine, isn’t the bookish beauty of the original story. She lives in Washington DC of our reality, and comes from a broken home: her father has left, leaving the family on the mercy of his violent debtors that her brother tries to appease, and her mother is dying of cancer. Most importantly, however, Harper herself isn’t outwardly perfect. She has cerebral palsy, which in her case affects her mobility, and she has a pronounced limp.

Harper is accidentally brought into Rhen’s world by Grey, when she tries to prevent him from kidnapping a new woman. The start isn’t therefore auspicious. And even after the situation is explained to her, she has no intention of falling for her kidnapper, which is refreshing. To make the matters direr, Rhen is told by the enchantress, that this will be his last season. If he doesn’t find a woman to love him, he’ll remain a beast forever.

Stakes so set against him, Rhen doesn’t even try to woo Harper. Instead, he allows her to drag him out of his castle where he finds that his people are suffering and the kingdom is about to be taken over by the enemy Queen. From then on, the story is fairly traditional fantasy, with the parallel reality twist and a ticking clock towards the final emergence of the beast.

I absolutely loved this book. Harper was a wonderful character, resilient and compassionate, and growing stronger than she’s believed herself to be. She’s constantly torn between wanting to help Rhen’s people and returning home to see her mother before she dies. Rhen is less likeable, calculating and arrogant. It’s never even occurred to him that he would have to learn to love the women in return for them to fall for him, and his failures baffle him. But he’s torn by his actions as the beast too, which make him more sympathetic. As a potential couple, however, the two aren’t really a good match, and the reader doesn’t have a great hope that the curse will be broken in time. Rhen’s guard Grey makes a much better romantic hero, and I at least couldn’t help rooting for him, despite knowing what the stakes were.

With the enemy army approaching, the story comes to a point. The ending is satisfying, with a twist that allows the story to continue in the next book. I’ll definitely be reading that one too. The book is marketed for middle grade and young adult audiences, but there’s some graphic violence, and I wouldn’t recommend it to younger readers.