Tag Archives: 3 stars

The Golden Enclaves (The Scholomance 3) by Naomi Novik

Stars: 3 out of 5

This book, even though it was a satisfactory conclusion to the trilogy, felt less well structured than the previous two. Also, it dragged. Hence the 3 star rating where the previous two books were solid 5 stars for me. 

I think my biggest problem is that this book spends too much time spinning its wheels. We pick up right after the awful events at the end of book 2. El is safe. El is back home with her mom, but El’s world has crumbled. She is traumatized by the events of the graduation. She doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. She is depressed. So she spends a lot of time mopping around. Granted, that was very true to El’s character, since she tends to overanalyze everything to death and circle around the drain, but it makes for rather boring reading. 

I also felt that the middle part of the book dragged and lost its focus a bit. Yes, we learned some big revelations, especially about the correlation between mawmouths and enclave creation, but it felt like we were retreading the same ground again and again after the attack on London. The whole middle part could easily have been condensed and made more fast-paced and exciting without loosing any of the impactful reveals and character development. This is the first time in this series that I was tempted to skip forward and just skim through the pages. 

I loved the confrontation at the gates of the Scholomance. It really felt like this was the culmination of all the threads so carefully set up in the previous books. This was the culmination of Orion’s story. Of the mawmouths and the enclaves, and of the Scholomance itself. I think it would have been a better book if the author had decided to end it right there and then. Unfortunately, she didn’t…

I understand that she wanted to leave her character for a happy-ish ending, but it felt rather forced and shoehorned into what was a rather bleak story at times. I liked how Orion’s arc was resolved at the gates of Scholomance. I would have been happy with him being bound to the school, because that’s what El and all of the wizards had asked of him and the school itself – stay and protect our children. The fact that suddenly he can travel freely everywhere he wants and still has his ability to “eat” mals even though El killed the mawmouth inside him… it feels like a cheep copout. It cheapens the sacrifices and hard decisions both had to make during the battle of Scholomance. 

I also wasn’t completely happy with the solution they found for the enclaves. It’s not sustainable in the long run. After all, El is not immortal. One day she will be gone and there will be nobody there to kill the mawmouths. And yes, people will always choose the path of least resistance if they can. Building Golden Enclaves is harder than normal ones and requires more mana investments from the builders. So give it a generation, and wizards will revert to building modern enclaves again. 

In order to get rid of that practice, there needs to be a huge shift in how people think. Unfortunately, I don’t think the ending of this book laid a good enough foundation for that. So this is a hollow victory, because nothing has really changed. Which is a little disappointing.

It was still a good read though. All in all, I liked El’s growth and emotional journey and the fact that she finally found a modicum of peace.

Savage Legion (Savage Rebellion 1) by Matt Wallace

Stars: 3 out of 5.

While I mostly liked this book, it didn’t wow me like some other fantasy books I read this year. 

I think the reason for that is that I had too many questions about the worldbuilding that were never answered. Crache is a fascinating concept, but if you start digging a little deeper into it, you realize that it doesn’t work. 

Try as I may, I couldn’t picture this country. Cities are mentioned, but never truly explored apart from the parts of one city where the Gens live and the Bottoms, where the poor, the beggars, the infirm, and the “useless” eke a pitiful existence. What about the people in the middle? What about the simple citizens? They are mentioned once in passing. How do they live? How do they make a living? If you have to form a Gen to do any kind of trade in Crache, then what do the simple citizens subsist on? Are they allowed to work? Or do they just exist on some kind of universal income and do nothing? 

The second problem for me was the whole concept of the Savage Legion. “Brutal. Efficient. Unstoppable.” is what the blurb says. I would have to disagree with the last two statements. There is no way an army assembled from the dregs of society, barely trained, equipped with broken weapons and almost no armor can be efficient. Yes, they can overwhelm some opponents with their sheer numbers, but there is a limit to that as well. The Roman Legions have proven that organization and training trump sheer numbers any day of the week. Legionnaires conquered most of Europe, even though their numbers were much smaller than the Visigoths that opposed them. But they were professional soldiers, skilled, trained, and better equipped. 

With the Savage Legion, we are talking about half-starved and often infirm people who had never fought a battle in their life before. Who are just thrown into the fray as cannon fodder. Any well organized army would make quick work of them.

Finally, the multiple POVs do this book a disservice, in my opinion. They are too distant from each other. I understand that the author wanted to show different aspects of Crache through the experiences of these three women, but as a result, all three stories feel broken and disjointed. As soon as we are immersed in one story and the tension is mounting to some kind of resolution, the next chapter switches to another story. Tension – killed. We try to pick up the thread of that story again and decide whether we care or not. And as soon as we start caring for that story again, the POV switches one more time.

The problem with multiple POVs in this book is also that none of the stories have a resolution. I understand that there is a sequel, but there should be at least some emotional pay off at the end of book 1. A reward for following the story so far, of sorts. Some kind of win for the protagonists. Here, the story just… stops. Well, all three stories just kind of stop in the middle. 

To me that is rather frustrating, and it doesn’t make me want to pick up the next book, even though I already have it on my kindle. But I might give it a go just to see if I get more answers to all my questions.

The Godstone by Violette Malan

Stars: 3 out of 5.

I loved the worldbuilding in this book. It’s different and interesting… and very confusing. The author drops us right into the world and doesn’t pause to explain anything, so in the beginning I was a little lost. I usually don’t mind that, because I like figuring things out and I assume that some explanation will be forthcoming eventually. I like when authors gradually introduce us to their worlds instead of doing a 10 page long infodump in the beginning. 

Here, however, the explanation never came. I still don’t know what the Modes really are. Are they different worlds stitched together? Are they different versions of the same world from alternate realities? Are they the same world from different times? The author never explains. 

We also don’t get any firm explanation on how the magic in this world works. Why did one Practitioner need a relative’s blood to open another dead practitioner’s vault when our protagonist was able to do that just by replicating that practitioners pattern? How is it that their clothes never change… yet that rules seems to go out of the window for the protagonist in the middle of the book? 

See, when the rules of the world and of the magic are not fully defined and explained, the reader is left floundering, trying to understand what’s going on. And a lot of time I felt like things happened or the protagonists were able to do things not because those things were possible, but because the author wanted it to be so. Because it was convenient for the plot. I don’t mind suspending my disbelief and getting immersed in a fantastical world, but that world has to make sense. The characters have to live within the established rules or there has to be a valid explanation as to why those rules were broken.

That’s most infuriating about Fenra. A lot of times the author says that some things are just not possible or have never been accomplished… only for Fenra to go and do them a few pages later. It’s hinted a few times that she is much more powerful than she lets people know, but it is never explained why she chooses to do that. Why the secrecy? Why pretend to be less than you are? Why fake an infirmity? See, if she had some powerful enemies or needed to hide from something, that would make sense. But the author never mentions that. In fact, as far as the White Court is concerned, nobody gives a flying fig about Fenra. So why is she wearing a figurative mask?

We get more explanation about Arlyn, but even then there are still so many unanswered questions about what he can and cannot do. How did he end up in the farthest Mode? If he lost his “magic”, how comes he can still see the changes in Modes as they travel to the City? How did he suddenly become this renown furniture maker? Was that a hobby when he was a Practitioner? 

The whole structure of the White Court is nebulous at best. We get no real explanation about its structure, hierarchy or anything else. We meet two apprentices and maybe 2-3 other masters, and lots of guards who are ordinary people. Even less is explained about the Red Court. That one doesn’t bring anything to the story at all. We are also told that there is tension in the City and that the common people don’t like the Practitioners, but we are not shown this. One little walk through the city and some unfriendly stares don’t show that dislike at all, at least to me. Also, no real explanation is given as to why they are suddenly disliked.

All in all, this was interesting enough for me to keep going, but it could have been so much better if the author had taken the time to set up and explain the rules of their world better before breaking them. And explain why they were breaking them. As it stands now, I don’t think I want to revisit this world again, even if there is a second book coming.

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Blood Binds the Pack (The Ghost Wolves 2) by Alex Wells

Stars: 3 out of 5

I am ashamed to say that it took me almost 2 years to finish this book. According to Goodreads, I started reading on August 20, 2020… Well, I finished it on July 30, 2022. It’s not the longest I had dragged a book on my currently reading list, but it comes close.

And you know what? I am not sure why it took me so long. I loved the first book. I devoured it in two days. I was fascinated by the world, the magic, the characters… Especially Hob and her band of ragtag Wolves and the Bone Collector.

And therein lies the problem, I think. I liked Hob. I wanted to follow her and maybe also find out what happened to Coyote and how he would cope with the changes. Unfortunately, I got very little of that in this book. In fact, I got almost zero on Coyote at all, which is really disappointing. I mean he is back with the Wolves and helping Hob, but we don’t dwell over the profound changes he underwent at the end of the last book or the consequences for him. It’s the same old Coyote, just with a lust for blood… That was disappointing. And I get that there is a bigger story there and that Coyote is only slightly important to it, but it was still disappointing.

The book is divided between three main POVs (with the inclusion of a couple unimportant ones here and there). We follow Mag, Shige, and Hob. Unfortunately, I couldn’t care less for Mag even in the first book, and she gets a lion’s share of page time in this one. Shige isn’t much more interesting to me either. Listening to him whining about his upbringing and his fate and not doing anything to change it gets old fast. And listening to him dwelling in his jealousy for his brother who had actually left is even more irritating. As far as I’m concerned, he could have died in that desert and I wouldn’t have shed a tear.

So this leaves only one POV I was excited to read… and Hob gets very little coverage. Of the three narrators, we stay with her the least until the final battle. I would be excited every time I got to Hob’s narratives, but they would end up way too quickly and I would have to slog through Mag’s troubles with the miners or Shige’s ineffective meddling with TransRift while he was becoming the Weatherman’s puppet… and my interest would disappear to the point where I would put the book down for a few months. And that’s why it took me two years to read 416 pages.

I still think it’s a decent book. I just wish we had learned a bit more about this strange world and that the characters I liked had a bit more screen time. But if you like Mag or Shige, you should breeze through this book pretty quickly and enjoy it.

Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes

Stars: 3 out of 5

This book had so much promise! Ghost ship in space! Damaged protagonist! Horror of the psychological and other kind! I couldn’t wait to start it. And for the first three quarters of the book it was really great. I honestly thought that this would be one of the best horror books I’d read in 2022… then the ending botched it all, at least for me.

Then again, I am not a fan of evil corporations doing evil things because they are evil. It’s been done to death by now in books, movies, and video games. Let the corporations rest. Find another villain for your stories. Thanks.

Also, this story was truly frightening as long as we didn’t know what really happened to the Aurora. I was terrified for our characters when they first boarded the ship and started exploring. The obvious signs of violence and the fact that we didn’t know what had cause everyone to go mad was really scary. The ending killed that, in my opinion. As soon as I knew what was behind everything, I didn’t care anymore. As I said, it’s one thing to watch a group of hapless people battle against an unknown entity, and another to see them battle against a corrupt space corporation. I’ve seen the second scenario too many times before.

I loved Claire though. She is a very relatable protagonist. I couldn’t help but root for her the more I learned about her past trauma. And since she has psychological issues of her own, she makes the perfect unreliable narrator here – we never know what is just in her head and what is affecting everybody else. And she doesn’t know it either, which adds to the angst. 

Unfortunately, the other characters were a lot less defined. In fact, most of them were just placeholders: the self-assured jerk, the innocent young girl, the nerdy hacker, the evil corporation goon, the entitled rich guy. I honestly couldn’t care less about any of them. 

I was also not sold on the burgeoning love story. I think it was shoe-horned into the main story just to make the reader care more about the characters. Well, it did the opposite to me. The whole courtship felt so forced that it turned me away from the characters. I think I rolled my eyes every time they interacted. It wasn’t needed. Claire had enough motivation trying to save her team without adding a love interest into the mix. 

Finally, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. It felt a little bit too convenient and didn’t fit with the rest of the story. I understand that the author wanted to give a HEA to the characters and an emotional payoff for the reader, but to me it felt flat. 

All in all, it was a good read for most part. I mean, I finished it in one day. But it could have been so much better. 

Folklorn by Mi Young Hur

Stars: 3 out of 5

I have mixed feelings about this book and a lot of difficulty putting them in to a structured review. So I apologize in advance if this looks more like a stream of consciousness on paper than a review.

First of all, this book appealed to me because I am also an immigrant, not once, but twice. And when my parents immigrated the first time, I was only five years old. So a lot of the themes raised in this book are achingly familiar. The sense of disconnect from your original culture and the difficulty assimilating into the new one. That state of in-betweenness, where you don’t quite understand where you belong, and you don’t have any real role models. Where your family rules and traditions often clash with what you learn in school. Where both cultures seem foreign at times.

Though I must admit that I didn’t get quite as much grief for being different as the protagonist did, because I was still a white girl in a predominantly Caucasian country, even if I had a funny accent and an unpronounceable last name. 

I also don’t come from a culture where familiar bonds and filial piety are taken to such an extreme. The amount of abuse and manipulation the protagonist takes from her parents, and from her brother, even to a lesser degree, is just staggering. Yet she keeps coming back to them despite (and sometimes because) of that abuse. This is toxic and destructive for the soul and psychological wellbeing of everyone involved. And as a non-Korean I couldn’t’ really understand why Elsa was willing to forgive all that abuse.

I think my biggest issue with this book is how passive Elsa is with her grief. Yes, we all have different copping mechanisms, but Elsa’s seems to be retreating into herself and not doing anything until the situation resolves itself or something prompts her into action. She compulsively reviews her mother’s stories and takes her father’s abuse in stride. Oh, and she self-medicates with her brother’s anti-psychotic drugs. 

I don’t know if reluctance to seek professional help is another cultural thing, but Elsa is smart, she should see the classic symptoms of depression. Why not reach out to seek help? I bet she has an excellent health plan through the university. For fear of how others would see her? For fear of appearing weak to other people’s eyes? 

I think this is where Elsa and I are fundamentally different. Where I assimilated into my adoptive culture better I guess. Because I understand her reluctance. In my native culture talking about mental health is also still a stigma and a taboo. There is no such thing as depression. You just need to go for a walk and have a good night’s sleep and get over it. And if that’s not working, you aren’t trying hard enough. Yeah… no wonder Russians drink so much… Anyway, even though I understand that reluctance, I don’t share it, because I grew up in a culture where mental health is just as important than physical health and seeking professional help for both is considered normal…

Those differences aside, I still think this is a fascinating story of family abuse, loss and cultural stigma and the exploration of Korean myths and spiritual believes was extremely well done.

PS: I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Exodus Towers (Dire Earth Cycle 2) by Jason M Hough

Stars: 3 out of 5

I am not too sure about this series, to tell the truth. My husband read all the books and loved them, and I am… struggling. 

I mean the premise is wonderful and the worldbuilding is cool, but there is just something missing for me. 

I think it’s just because all the characters are so cookie cutter. The main guys is all good and heroic. The villains are very black and white and villainous just for the sake of it, it seems. The female characters… with the exception of Samantha, they have no personality. They are just there to incite our protagonist towards a particular set of actions or a decision. Neither of them have any agency on their own. I was willing to overlook that in the first book, because it had the thankless task of establishing the world and setting up the protagonist. Plus, it was this author’s debut novel. It is however getting a lot harder to let that slide in this book. 

It doesn’t help that the story doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry. I had the impression that some episodes were added just because the author thought they would be cool, but they didn’t really advance the main story. Case in point, the attempted invasion of the camp by immunes. Yes, that was a heart-ponding conflict for the 100 pages it lasted, but it ultimately didn’t advance the story. The leader was killed, most immunes ran away, and the settlers were left to rebuild their community. What was the purpose of that? It has no impact that I could see on the main plot. It did make the book seem endless and meandering though.

As a result, the book didn’t accomplish half of what it set out to do, even after 540-some pages. Samantha’s story arc is barely started. We only recovered one out of five artifacts that fell on Earth in the first book. When I finished reading, I felt like this book was a half-finished tapestry with loose treads flapping in the wind. 

All in all, I don’t know if I will continue with the series. I mean, I still want to know why the builders did this to Earth and humanity, but I am starting to care less and less about the characters. I might check out the next book, just because I’ve already bought it, but if it doesn’t improve after that, I will call it quits.

The Empire’s Ruin (Ashes of the Unhewn Throne 1) by Brian Staveley

Stars: 3 out of 5

This was an okay book, but nothing special. I mean, it kept me engaged enough to plod through 600+ pages, but it never got me engaged enough to be truly invested in the story. 

The world is interesting, and I really wanted to read more about it. I also realized that this was a sequel to an existing trilogy, but I don’t think you need to have read the previous books to understand the world. From what I could gather, this story follows a different set of characters anyway.

So why did I give this only three stars? I had two problems with it. 

The first one is the pacing. There is no sense of urgency, no real stakes for our characters. Gwenna is sent to the butt end of the world to recover kettral eggs, but there is no timeline on this. We are told that the empire is falling apart and that restoring the kettral is crucial in saving it, but nowhere in the book are we given an indication that the fall is imminent. We are TOLD that it’s the case, but we aren’t SHOWN. It’s hard to be invested in a quest when the stakes aren’t known. Gwenna could take years to get those eggs back, and the empire might still stand. Who knows? The readers certainly don’t. 

Same problem with Ruc’s storyline. We are told at the beginning of the book that this supernatural badass “First” is coming with an army and he will subjugate this city… then we don’t hear from him at all until the very end of the book. Again, we are TOLD. We are shown a dead messenger who didn’t even try to resist and some kind of bat creature who, supposedly, killed several people before it was captured. We are TOLD that, but we don’t see that happening. So again, the stakes are unclear. The urgency is minimal. Especially since we spent the entire book in one place – the Arena. The characters kept talking about escaping, but never really actively doing anything about it (apart from almost at the very end). So there is this big army coming, and we keep hearing that Ruc and Bien need to escape the city… yet they are still in the Arena every time the narrative comes back to them.

As for Akiil’s storyline, I still have no clue why it was even necessary to include it, apart from that one little seed at the end. Other than that, he was my least favorite of the characters, so reading through his POVs was a slog. One of the reasons is that I can’t understand his motivation. I figured out Gwenna and was onboard for her slow descent into depression and cheered when she finally clawed her way out of it. I was mildly sympathetic to Ruc’s efforts to suppress his violent tendencies, but Akiil? I still have no clue what motivates him. It honestly felt like he was making bad choices just for the sake of making bad choices. And that whole ark with the Captain and Skinny Gwenn? I’m not even sure what the point of that was…

So all in all, I was engaged enough to finish this book, but I’m not sure if I am invested enough to pick up the next one, or to go back and read the original trilogy.

PS: I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Shadow Shinjuku by Ryu Takeshi

 Stars: 3 out of 5

I have a hard time formulating my thoughts about this book. I liked it enough to stick around till the end, but it didn’t leave a big enough impact to consider it a really good book. 

There is one aspect I really loved, and that’s Tokyo as a whole and Shinjuku in particular. The author does a really good job describing the city, the atmosphere, the sights, the people who live in it. So much so that the city feels like its own entity and an integral part of the story. As an avid traveler who had been cooped up way to long because of Covid, I loved the chance to travel to a different place at least in my mind. And since I had visited Tokyo in 2018, some of the places described were familiar, like old friends.

Unfortunately, you need more than the atmosphere and a good description of the setting to make a good book. You also need a good story and engaging characters. In my opinion, this book is lacking in both those aspects. 

The story itself is not so bad. It’s about finding a purpose in life and a place where you belong. About family, both found and inherited. However, it starts really slow and meanders around aimlessly for over half of the book, just like Sato does. In fact, it doesn’t really pick up pace until about 60% into the book when the stuff with Kiki happens and Sato finally decides to do something apart from procrastinating.

And that is my second gripe with this book. Sato was just too passive a character to qualify for the role of a protagonist. As I mentioned, he spends over half the book just floating with the current, not engaged with the world at all, just observing it from the shadows. And I understand why the author wrote him this way and fully appreciate his transformation by the end of the book, but it really makes for a boring character to follow.

Also, since Sato doesn’t particularly care about any members of his “found family” for half the book, I found it hard to care for them as well. The bonds haven’t been established or properly showcased beforehand, so when bad things start to happen to them, there isn’t this sense of urgency and outrage that I should be feeling. In fact, I empathized with the dog more than I did with any other characters in this book, so that says something.

All in all, this was an interesting story and a good glimpse into a different culture. It would have been better if Sato had been more involved with the world around him from the get go.

PS: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Goblin by Josh Malerman

 

Stars: 3 out of 5

This was a meh kind of book. It’s a series of short stories book ended by the story of a delivery driver bringing something terrifying to the city of Goblin. The short stories are related only by the location where they happen – the city of Goblin on the same particularly rainy day and night. 

I think that was one of the reasons the book was kinda meh to me. Yes, Goblin in itself is an interesting, if rather unhappy place. A place for the spirits. A place where humans were never supposed to settle and thrive. The short stories illustrate the eeriness of Goblin perfectly. Problem is, they don’t do much more than that. 

I read a book mostly for the characters and then for the worldbuilding. I notice that I tend to lose interest if I don’t have anybody to root for. If I don’t have a tour guide through the world the author is showing me. And that’s what happened here. Goblin is a fascinating place. Unfortunately, the people who live there are a lot less so.

We read stories of several different people who are not connected to each other, so it’s already hard to figure out why we should follow these characters or even care. Those stories are also not connected at all to the prolog, where a delivery driver is bringing something to Goblin. Something horrible… Well, Goblin already has plenty of horrible things. There is the Goblin police, the Witch of the North Woods, the owls, etc. So by the time that horrible thing finally reaches Goblin, it’s rather anticlimactic. It’s just another monster to add to a city already full of them. What’s the point?

Also, none of the stories we read about have any real resolutions, apart from the story of the man who was afraid of the ghosts. That one, we see to it’s logical conclusion. The rest of them leave is suspended in the air, without an explanation or a conclusion to them. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to say.  And the arrival of this great terrible thing in the end isn’t enough to satisfyingly end any of those stories. 

In conclusion, it was an okay book to pass the time with, but I probably won’t remember what it is about in a month or so. This is the third book by this author I’ve read and found rather underwhelming, so I think I’m just not the intended audience here. A lot of people love these books, so your mileage might vary. 

PS: I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.