Book Review: Granted by Kendra Thomas

Author: Kendra Thomas
Publisher: Independent Book Publishers Association
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
Pages: 270
Type: Paperback

Official Synopsis
Sabeara Aigoviel, princess of Aveladon, wants nothing more than for her heart to glow. The Stone-Hearted power that is received at the age of eighteen is her ultimate wish. With a grim curse looming over the realm and a neighboring kingdom’s conspiring plans, contentions arise. Moments of danger summon evil forces, sending Sabeara into a whirlwind of adventure, captivity, and even love.

Rescued by a handsome stranger in a brown cloak, they navigate the kingdoms to bring her safely home. When her rescuer arrives betrothed to her beloved older sister weeks later, it is all she can do to erase their memories. Will Sabeara be able to defeat the curse on the Stone-Hearted race? And will she be able to forget the memories of her epic ventures with her cloaked rescuer?

My Review
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

Granted by Kendra Thomas is a very character-driven young adult fantasy about a princess who stumbles across the existence of a curse threatening her kingdom. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with character-driven (over plot-driven) books and I’ve read plenty of great character-driven stories. However, I picked up this book up because its summary intimates an intriguing magic system and adventure prompted by a looming curse. I was also looking forward to a little YA fantasy romance.

Unfortunately, the magic system, at least in this first book of a trilogy, is somewhat underdeveloped. At the age of 18, the Stone-Hearted people receive their power from a magical tree that houses spirits and magic. Each person’s power is different as is the magnitude of said power, which is indicated by the color of their glowing stone heart.

The author sets up a perfect opportunity to tell us more about this system in that Sabeara’s sister, who’s just turned 18, is about to receive her power. But the door to learn more is literally (in the story) shut and we only learn snippets about it as Sabeara meets new people and learns what they can do with their power. I feel like it was a missed opportunity to tell the reader more about how a Stone-Hearted person receives their power. I can only hope that Thomas elaborates more on this in the next book.

Thomas does, however, spend more time developing Sabeara’s character than she does with the magic system. Sabeara’s mother died when she was young. In his grief, Sabeara’s father, the king of Aveladon, loses sight of the importance of running the kingdom and giving his daughters the attention they deserve. As a result, Sabeara doesn’t feel like he’s been a good father and loses some of her respect for him from his poor governance. This sort of situation is a breeding ground for complicated feelings. Thomas does explore this, but the way Sabeara navigates these emotions fell a bit flat for me. Sure, volatility, glares, and disrespect from Sabeara are to be expected, but the way Thomas writes these actions make Sabeara seem more juvenile than she actually is.

With respect to the promised YA romance, it is a bit trope-y. Guy rescues girl and they end up liking each other. I’m totally fine with that trope. I have absolutely no problem with it and even concede I have a soft spot for it. However, the flirting dialogue was cheesy and forced. There are a lot of sarcastic “sweethearts” (think Han Solo from Star Wars, but not witty). There’s a lot of smirking and a lot of the author describing words and emotions as “sarcastic.” I think the most interesting part of the romance is when [semi-spoiler!] we find out he has a hidden identity, which causes some family drama later in the story.

Thomas also misses an opportunity to tell us more about the curse. She describes Sabeara spending hours reading about the kings involved in this old curse. But as a reader we learn almost nothing from Sabeara or her conversations with others who know about the curse.

The writing in Granted isn’t bad, but in my opinion needs improvement. I feel there’s an overabundance of passive voice for a first person narrative. I also feel that there are unnecessary descriptions of rather mundane topics. The example that sticks out to me is the description of clothes. I don’t need to know what each character decides to wear each day; it’s not important to the plot. I constantly felt like the author used a thesaurus to insert synonyms into sentences. There are many sentences whose structures seem “off” (and I know I’m not perfect, either!), though for the most part I did understand what Thomas tries to impart to the reader. For example:

“The roof gave the resemblance of a tower to my prison…”
“An outside wind drafted into my bastille, causing me to be wracked with more shivers.”
“Unable to control the excitement within me, I fell onto the bed of roses and sunk into their soft contents.”

Overall, I feel like this story needs more copy editing. The magic system and the history of the curse provide a good backbone upon which the author can elaborate. I hope the next book(s) delve more into these story elements. Personally, I probably will not continue this series.

Rating: 2.25/5
Content warnings: kidnapping
Reading format: Kindle e-book

Blog Tour: Ark of the Apocalypse by Tobin Marks

Author: Tobin Marks
Publisher: Boyle & Dalton
Publish Date: March 24, 2021
Pages: 426
Type: Paperback
Amazon Link: Ark of the Apocalypse*

*This is not my affiliate link and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using this link.

About Ark of the Apocalypse
Earth is on the verge of becoming a dead planet.

The polar ice caps melted long ago, and it’s been decades since the last raindrop fell. Ocean levels rise a dozen meters, and forest fires rage on a global scale. Eleven billion people dying of thirst wage water wars against each other as extinction looms.

Humanity needs a new planet. As Earth deteriorates, the nation states desperately work together to build a mechanism for recolonization. And so the Magellan II is born, the first starship capable of interstellar travel.

The future of the human race is tasked to ten thousand colonists-now homeless but for the vastness of space and the decks of Magellan II. A distant planet offers hope of survival, but it’s a strange, watery world inhabited by giant reptiles.

Humanity is starting over, but survival isn’t guaranteed.

My Review
Thank you to Blackthorn Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Before the temperatures started rising and water became scarce, a seemingly unassuming family lived in Crimea. Anatoly Yanbeyev’s life obsession is to finish a curious family medallion while his wife, Tatyana, practices medicine as World War II rages on. One evening the Yanbeyev family suddenly find themselves torn from their home on charges of subversion. Eventually they’re transferred to eastern Siberia where they open a clinic on the remote Kamchatka Peninsula.

As times goes on, the Yanbeyev family business grows and their family prospers. While Siberia becomes more hospitable, the rest of humanity suffers. Political tensions are at an all time high with the everpresent threat of nuclear proliferation. As the world’s superpowers try to avoid another world war, there’s someone behind the scenes pulling the strings and writing the script for humanity’s future.

The Ark of the Apocalypse is a story that spans many decades, wars, and several generations. In Japan, a doctor works on a secret project for the Nazis that the United States believes is a weapons program. We learn early on in the story that certain Yanbeyev family members have visions that help them plan for the future, one generation at a time. As we hop through the decades, the United States and Russia play a game of thrones with China and India. Meanwhile, the Yanbeyevs work to ensure their family survives what’s ahead.

The first 40% or so of this book focuses on political and military strategizing, almost to the point of feeling like a political thriller. To be fully transparent, I expected more science fiction/fantasy through this point. Thus, I felt that the content during this portion was a bit of a mismatch from the book description and cover. I don’t usually gravitate towards heavy political/military content; so, I personally felt this portion of the book was a bit slow. However, though I’m no political/military strategist, Marks describes the tense interactions between heads of state with ease. The author avoids providing so much detail that might bog down a reader who’s not familiar with war strategy and weaponry specifics.

The science fiction aspect of the story comes more into play in the last half of the book. As the situation on Earth becomes more dire, the need for technological advances in off-world travel become increasingly important. Sacrifices must be made to ensure the survival of the human race. I’m not the right person to say whether the tech mechanisms described by Marks are feasible. However, the author certainly seems quite familiar with what could be possible (both with weapons and travel tech). Perhaps this may be related to his time spent observing NASA and NOAA projects.

This is a post-apocalyptic book, so I think we can all agree where the future of Earth is heading. I was genuinely surprised, though, at the events following the Magellan II’s departure from Earth. Specifically, without introducing any spoilers, the concept of fate and choice intrigued me. I quite enjoyed reading about the preparations for interstellar travel and what it’s like after they make it to a distant planet. At this point specific characters have the spotlight rather than world events, which as a readers allows one to connect more with the story.

My only critique is an editorial one. Within the digital copy that I received, there are punctuation errors, accidental word repetition, some instances of incorrect verb tenses, misspelling of some words, and consistent incorrect dialogue formatting (e.g., no commas, misplaced commas, misplaced periods). This didn’t detract from my overall positive experience of reading Ark of the Apocalypse. But as detail-oriented person I often spot these types of things. That said, I think the writing is succinct, yet provides enough detail to allow the reader to envision and world-build in one’s head. Overall, the pacing is good. As a reader, we don’t have an omniscient point of view. This leaves questions hanging and keeps pages turning as we seek to find out what will happen to Earth and the human race.

Overall, I recommend this book to those who enjoy reading post-apocalyptic science fiction, particularly if you’re also keen to read about the political decisions that lead to the demise of a civilization. If you’re interested in reading Ark of the Apocalypse, you can find it on Amazon.

Rating: 4/5
Content warnings: battle scenes, death
Reading format: e-book

About the Author
Marks is a world traveler who grew up in a household of rocket scientists. As a boy he had a front row seat observing many NASA and NOAA projects. He writes science fiction novels from his home in north west Baja, and you can usually find him on Twitter @tobinmarks.







Book Review: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Author: Shelley Parker-Chan
Publisher: Tor Books
Publish Date: July 20, 2021
Pages: 416
Type: Hardback

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of She Who Became the Sun on Bookshop.org!*

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Official Synopsis
She Who Became the Sun reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor.

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

“I refuse to be nothing…”

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.

When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.

My Review
After seeing glowing reactions and reviews to She Who Became the Sun on Twitter, this became a highly anticipated read for me. I think it’s safe to say (in my very subjective opinion) that Shelley Parker-Chan’s book lives up to the hype. Parker-Chan’s writing is phenomenal and really made me feel like I was in ancient China watching events unfold. I’m not sure I’d categorize Parker-Chan’s writing style as lyrical (e.g., The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue), but it’s full and rich with detail.

The story mainly unfolds through two points of view: Zhu Chongba and Ouyang, a general for the Great Khan’s army. Occasionally Ma Xiuying, daughter of a general for the Red Turban rebels, offers a third point of view. Parker-Chan does a great job defining each character’s worries, fears, and ambitions. If I had to pick a favorite it would either be Ma Xiuying’s or Ouyang’s stories.

Ma is very keen and able to accurately assess people’s characters. Though she understands the politics going on around her, she feels acutely for those caught in the middle of the political game–those whose lives end up forfeit for someone else’s desire for power. I often find myself thinking similarly about modern politics, so I completely empathize with her feelings. Ouyang plays the long game driven by revenge. I can’t say what drives him without spoilers. However, this makes his story and interactions with those around him incredibly complex emotionally. I admire his focus and outward stoicism, the latter of which starts to crumble once his fate actively goes into motion. Initially, the will to survive drives Zhu and she wills her brother’s identity to subsume her own. After Zhu and Ouyang cross paths at the monastery, her fate of greatness launches, transforming her drive to survive into one of ascension.

Zhu’s storyline, in my opinion, is most interesting the first and last third of the book. I think I’m in the minority here, but the middle portion of the book lagged a bit for me regarding Zhu’s storyline. I was more interested in Ouyang and Ma. Even though Zhu is the main character, her storyline overall felt the most detached. Ouyang’s and Ma’s emotions and thoughts come across clearly. I felt more aloof about Zhu’s even though I understood her motivations. However, that’s my overall impression; there are definitely poignant scenes where Zhu slows down for a moment, allowing time for self-reflection and questioning of her identity and fate.

The concept of fate plays a huge role in She Who Became the Sun. I wouldn’t say I’m a big believer in fate. So I found it intriguing how invested Zhu and Ouyang are in their own. I love how Parker-Chan wove the activation of Zhu’s and Ouyang’s fates on the actions of the other. This sets Zhu on the path to greatness and Ouyang to revenge.

From the moment Ouyang visits Zhu’s monastery she feels a strange pull towards him, a like connecting like, for neither is as they appear outwardly. Zhu has taken on her brother’s identity and appears male. Ouyang, made a eunuch in his youth, is described at first glance as woman and at second glance as someone with a “…hard, haughty superiority that was somehow unmistakably that of a young man.” Thus, they’re able to visit spaces they otherwise wouldn’t be able to in their society. This brings another level of complexity to the story: the exploration of gender and gender roles, which Biblio Nerd Reflections does a wonderful job of summarizing.

The fantastical aspects of this novel involve ghosts, the manifestation of light, and the ability to feel the intertwining of fates. Though we eventually learn why certain people can see the ghosts of the dead, I would have loved if that had been explored more. It added an eerie element to the story, but the ghosts are more of a background element. The exception, in my opinion, is an important scene involving the Prince of Radiance.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book. I wasn’t able to completely connect with Zhu, which is why my rating isn’t a 5 of 5. But no doubt there are other readers out there who will. She Who Became the Sun is a shining work of fantasy fiction that weaves together the concepts of fate and gender and how once can influence the other.

Rating: 4.25/5
Content warnings: murder, bodily injury, hunger/starvation, death, sex
Reading format: Library hardback

Book Review: The Wicked King by Holly Black

This review contains spoilers The Cruel Prince, the first book in Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air trilogy.

Author: Holly Black
Publisher:
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: January 8, 2019
Pages: 336
Type: Hardback

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Official Synopsis
You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring. The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.

My Review
At the end of The Cruel Prince, Jude bound Cardan to her before making him the High King of Elfhame. Taken by surprise, Cardan refuses to play the role of a good High King and instead spends his time living in gluttony and revelry. Thus, Jude, now the High King’s Seneschal, becomes the power behind the throne and makes decisions for the good of Elfhame behind the scenes. But not everyone wants to see Cardan wear the crown. There are some who’d rather see it on another Greenbriar head, and some who’d rather wear it themselves. So Jude balances her silent rule with her duties as spymaster to keep the High King safe. Only a few months into Cardan’s rule, Jude learns that someone close to her will betray her. Working against time, she seeks to identify the traitor while also trying to understand her complicated feelings for the wicked king.

This book is the second installment of Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series. I enjoyed the first book a lot and, now that Elfhame is a firmly established setting, there’s more room for plotting and scheming. The Wicked King reminded me a lot of a “game of thrones,” but told from the viewpoint of one character, Jude.

In The Cruel Prince Jude uncovered Madoc’s plot to rule as High King as regent to Oak, Jude’s younger brother. Though Jude won that battle, Madoc is a redcap and battle is his nature and he will not fly the flag of surrender. Jude now knows that Madoc won’t underestimate her again, and she must constantly gather information to stay one step ahead of him.

Though Jude begrudgingly secured the loyalty of some courts, discontentment still simmers, particularly in the Undersea, ruled by the powerful and influential Queen Orlagh. Cardan’s ghastly behavior creates further dissatisfaction among those who’ve pledged their loyalty to the crown. And Locke’s appointment as Master of Revels does little to improve Cardan’s reputation and threatens to jeopardize Jude’s silent rule. Disapproving of Cardan’s behavior, confused by her feelings for him, and worn down by her responsibilities, Jude avoids the High King as much as possible, but can only do so for so long.

Once again, Jude’s tenacity and fortitude impress me. Cardan is unspurprisingly frustrating, but the slow burn is there and I’m here for it. The story mostly focuses on the political chess game, but there some moments allow us a glimpse into what makes Cardan do what he does. There are a couple of scenes which “humanized” the Bomb and the Roach into characters who are more than just spies. Though still minor characters, there is more page time with Vivi and Heather, Vivi’s girlfriend. I think most of us agree that Taryn’s and Locke’s relationship is toxic, but I feel similarly about Vivi and Heather.

(Mild spoiler ahead.) I don’t think their relationship is nearly as toxic as Taryn’s and Locke’s. But Vivi, who seems to have a vivid understanding of right and wrong where Madoc is concerned, seems strangely unable to be truthful with Heather. Since this story is from Jude’s point of view we don’t know exactly why Vivi isn’t forthcoming with Heather, but I hope she finds it within herself to be honest in the next book. (End mild spoiler.)

The character who betrays Jude surprised me. There are a couple of betrayals, one of which I expected, and the other, not so much. Not to mention the ending of this book shocked me and, if you follow me on Twitter, you got to see my reaction after I finished it. I was so mad! I truly hope these characters redeem themselves in the final installment of this trilogy.

Rating: 4.25/5
Content warnings: murder
Reading format: Paperback

Book Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

At seven years old, Jude Duarte’s parents are murdered. She abruptly finds herself carried off with her two sisters to live in Elfhame with her parents’ murderer. After ten years, Jude no longer has a desire to return to the human world. Despite the fact that it’s a dangerous place to live for humans, she realizes she wants to rise and find her place in the High Court of Faerie. But Jude’s proud and headstrong personality attracts the attention of Prince Cardan, the youngest and most cruel son of the High King, and his friends. They’re used to getting their way and make life hell for those who don’t conform to their demands. To win a place at Court, Jude must plot, scheme, and decide who to trust as she navigates through young love, betrayal, and threats against her life.

This book has been on my radar for a while, ever since I picked up the A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACoTaR) series, and it didn’t disappoint. I feel like the blurb on the back of the book doesn’t do the plot justice. This is an urban fantasy in which Jude and her sisters, Vivienne and Taryn, are whisked away from their home in Maine and brought to live in the land of the fey. They spend the next ten years living with their parents’ murderer, Madoc, whom they learn to call father.

Naturally, this evokes a lot of complicated emotions in Jude, her twin Taryn, and Vivi, which we see manifested in how they try (or not) to acclimate to their new home. Vivi wants nothing more than to return to the human world and isn’t shy about letting Madoc know it. Taryn wishes to stay in Elfhame and so works to please everyone in order to find her place. Jude also wishes to stay, but refuses to acquiesce to the notion that humans have no business at the High Court, which she quickly finds makes her life more difficult.

This book also has a lot more court intrigue and political scheming than I expected. Whispers of the High King wishing to pass on his crown to one of his heirs tests other courts’ ties of loyalty and breeds plots abound to ascend to the throne. There were definitely a couple of moments in the book that surprised me. One particular character’s life choice and betrayal definitely frustrated me. I suspected this person’s betrayal for a while, and hoped it wouldn’t come to pass; but it still upset me for Jude when the truth came to light.

Though The Cruel Prince is the first book in a trilogy, I think Black did a great job with the world-building. Rather than describing every little aspect of Elfhame, we learn about it through Jude’s interactions with others and her surroundings. I feel like this kept the pace moving without bogging the reader down with long descriptions of the different beings or settings in Elfhame.

I also enjoyed Black’s writing style. It’s to the point, but not dry. I recall encountering a few words that I don’t think I’d ever seen before. Kudos to introducing me to new vocabulary! If you read my reviews on the ACoTaR series, then you know the author’s writing style frustrated me at times (even though she’s great at portraying complicated emotions). So I also feel I should mention when the writing style is enjoyable, if that’s an aspect you as a reader like to know.

Overall, I highly recommend this book, particularly if you enjoy reading about a strong female protagonist, scheming, and stories set in a world with elves. Though romance is not a central component of the plot, what does manifest is slow-burning, which I personally prefer.

Reading format: Paperback
Content Warnings: murder, blood, violence
Rating: 4.25/5

Product Details
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: January 2, 2018
Pages: 384
Type: Hardback

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of The Cruel Prince on Bookshop.org!*

*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.