Spooktastic Reads: Monsters and Beasts

The prompt today for Spooktastic Reads, a Wyrd and Wonder mini event, is “monsters and beasts.” I’m always amazed at authors’ imaginations and the fauna they create. In celebration of this creativity, here’s a list of books that have some interesting and sometimes bone-chilling monsters and beasts.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Given this series brought me back to the world of reading, I have to include it here. There is a slew of unique monsters in these books. I promise no spoilers, but the Suriel, the Bone Carver, Bryaxis, and the Weaver are some of my favorites. If you know, you know.

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Top 5 Books Featuring Wyrd and Wonder Mascots

IMAGE CREDITS: tree wolf image by chic2view on 123RF.com. The gorgeous tree wolf is not royalty-free, but is licensed for use to promote Wyrd and Wonder online. You are welcome to use the banner on your Wyrd and Wonder posts, but please make no changes (except to resize if needed) and always credit the artist!

Wyrd and Wonder is a celebration of all things fantasy. The format of figurative consumption doesn’t matter. You can read, watch, game, puzzle, etc. anything fantasy! To learn more visit my introduction post, which includes links to the hosts and more information about this month-long appreciation of the fantasy genre.

Part of this celebration includes posting Top 5 lists according to various prompts, if you so choose. Those prompts are available on Imyril’s blog There’s Always Room For One More. This week’s prompt is a Top 5 list of books that feature Wyrd and Wonder mascots.

We’ve had five gorgeous mascots so far: dragon, phoenix, pegasus, raven and wolf. Share some favourite books that feature (one of) these beauties on the cover, as a character or as part of the world-building. Mix and match mascots or focus a top five on your favourite.

In no particular order, here are my top five to answer this prompt.

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Wyrd and Wonder: Woodland Creatures

IMAGE CREDITS: tree wolf image by chic2view on 123RF.com. The gorgeous tree wolf is not royalty-free, but is licensed for use to promote Wyrd and Wonder online. You are welcome to use the banner on your Wyrd and Wonder posts, but please make no changes (except to resize if needed) and always credit the artist!

Today’s Wyrd and Wonder prompt is woodland creatures. The idea is to share cover art featuring (were)wolves, stags/deer, unicorns, owls, the Fae or other woodland residents. Alternatively, you could share your favorite stories featuring woodland creatures; creatures you think of as being particularly fantastic (why?); or favorite woodland creature characters.

If you’re not sure what Wyrd and Wonder is, check out my introduction post for more information. Imyril, one of the hosts, also has a post with all of the prompts.

Without further ado, in no particular order here’s a short list of books whose covers contain woodland creatures. These are all books I’ve read and/or reviewed.

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Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Reading format: Paperback

Content warnings: death, violence, blood, implied sex

Rating: 3.5/5

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of Ruin and Rising on Bookshop.org!*

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

After the Darkling’s surprise attack at Os Alta, Alina awakes to a life underground in the White Chapel. She barely survived her attempt to defeat the Darkling. Her Grisha army is in shambles. And she’s stuck underground under the protection of her fervent followers and the Apparat. With no news from the outside world, Alina has no idea if Nikolai survived. But she must push on and find the firebird if she has any chance left of defeating the Darkling. Alina and her remaining friends embark on a quest to find the third amplifier, making both happy and shocking discoveries along the way. As she draws closer to fulfilling her destiny, she must make a choice between sacrifice or letting the darkness take over the world.

After reading Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, I was eager to finish the series and find out who wins and loses. As Alina regains her strength in the White Chapel, we see how many people synonymize her with hope. We also see how manipulative the Apparat is, though if you’ve made it this far, you probably already deduced that.

Fear not, we also more time spent with some of our favorite characters, Tamar and Tolya. Throughout the search for the firebird, Alina’s remaining Grisha army and friends become more like a family, albeit with obligatory gripes and grumbling. Zoya becomes more tolerable and I might almost say I’d be her friend. There’s even a female/female love side story to make you feel all warm and fuzzy. And finally, dependable, loyal Mal who will do anything for Alina, even if it means risking losing her to her power.

Like the previous two books, this story moves along at a good pace. I did feel like it became a little slow while they were looking for the firebird. But that’s probably to be expected since they’re trying to find a mythical creature. In all honesty, though (spoiler: don’t read this if you don’t want to know my reaction to the ending), I was a little disappointed with the ending. I felt like it happened too quickly. I also felt it didn’t quite live up to the grandiosity and intrigue of the rest of the story. The more I think about it the more I understand why Bardugo wrote this ending. But that doesn’t mean I have to be content with it. Keep reading if you want to know more, otherwise there are spoilers ahead.

Throughout the last two books, Alina struggled with wanting too much power (e.g., the amplifiers), but also not wanting to give it up because it’s entwined with her being. So I was surprised that the story ended with her losing all of her power. I didn’t mind that her power created many Sun Summoners in order to correct the imbalance created by Morozova. But I expected some of her power to remain. Unless I’m missing something, Alina’s powers aren’t from Morozova like Mal’s amplifier abilities are (because he’s a distant relative to Morozova). Thus, when Alina killed Mal, defeated the Darkling, and restored world balance, I expected some of her original powers to remain. So that was my first disappointment with the ending.

I was also disappointed that Alina wanted to feign her death to live a quiet life with Mal. There’s nothing wrong with a quiet life. I guess after all she’s been through she should get to choose how she wants to live. From a reader’s perspective I had hoped she would, at the very least, stay in Os Alta and become an advisor to Nikolai. I also didn’t mind her ending up with Mal. Nikolai also would have been an good choice, but there was never the written tension between them like with Mal. But, so it is, it’s not my story. Overall, I did enjoy it, but I wish the ending was a little more interesting.

Unrelated to my unimportant complaints about the ending: the entire time I was reading this I couldn’t stop thinking about how many similarities there are to Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. Obviously Bardugo’s series came first. But let me explain. Just like the Darkling appears to Alina and Alina then learns how to appear to him, so do Kylo Ren and Rey. The Darkling remains corrupted up until his death and becomes a softie as Alina watches him die, so did Kylo Ren after he gifts Rey his life. Like Alina fades off to a quiet life with an implied name change, so does Rey. I’m sure these might just be common tropes, but these similarities kept jumping out at me.

If you want to discuss more, leave a comment. I’m always happy to chat with a fellow book lover.

Book Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Reading format: Paperback

Content warnings: death, violence, gore

Rating: 4/5

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of Siege and Storm on Bookshop.org!*

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

After Alina discovered the Darkling’s plan in Shadow and Bone, she and Mal decide to flee Ravka. But the Darkling has eyes everywhere. It isn’t long before they realize how difficult it is to thwart his search. Along the way Alina and Mal unexpectedly forge an alliance with an infamous privateer. Alina uses this new alliance to help her attain leadership of the Second Army. However, the new role of leader is heavy.

Alina dutifully works to achieve unity and respect from the Grisha army and plan the Darkling’s demise and destruction of the Fold. But try as she might to ignore it, she can’t deny the growing temptation of power and forbidden magic introduced to her by the Darkling. She can’t refute the similarities between herself and the Darkling, for they are the only ones of their kind. As Alina wrestles with the Darkling’s allure, she risks losing Mal who is grappling between wanting the friend he knew at Keramsov and accepting Alina as she is now. If Alina wants to save Ravka, she must decide between her desire for power or the love for her friends and country.

Siege and Storm is a page-turning, swashbuckling, and satisfying sequel to Shadow and Bone. I always comment on writing style and Bardugo’s writing is equal to that of the first installment. It’s engaging and descriptive without losing readers to superfluous details. There’s also comparatively more world-building in this book. Because this is a spoiler-free review, I won’t go into too much detail. That said, readers get to explore some new sites west and north of Ravka, and with new characters to boot!

The introduction of new characters is an absolute positive to this storyline in terms of dialogue and unexpected plot events. I always appreciate some witty banter, and the character privileged to wield these words is a delight to read about. (I promise you’ll know who I’m talking about once you read this book.) We also spend more time with some existing Grisha characters, like Zoya, David, and Baghra, as their roles grow.

Another thing I enjoyed about Siege and Storm is the vulnerability we see in Alina and Mal as things keep changing in and around them. We see their closeness and loyalty to each other as the book starts, trying to keep each other safe. But as Alina takes on new responsibilities as leader of the Grisha army, she must focus more of her attention on planning for war. This inevitably results in more of Alina’s time spent immersed in Grisha culture, which is something Mal can never fully understand. As Alina struggles to resist her desire for power, she feels like she can’t reveal this part of herself to Mal, so they begin to drift apart.

This is where my spoiler-free review stops. For some spoiler-y thoughts on Mal and Alina, continue reading.

After I read a book I usually look through some reviews to gauge general reactions. And it seemed to me that Mal’s treatment of Alina is a big point of discussion. As Alina becomes more engrossed in Grisha culture and struggles with the call of power, Mal observes all of this and tries to reason with her, to leave it all behind. He feels he’s losing the girl he knew all his life and that she’s turning into someone he doesn’t recognize.

Meanwhile, Alina doesn’t feel like she should have to tone down her power or give it up because it’s hers. It’s something she was born with. It’s something she wants. So as Alina is distracted with leading the Grisha, planning the battle, and unexpected visions of the Darkling, she withdraws from Mal because she feels that he’ll judge her even more. Mal, still loyal, can’t and won’t leave Alina. But he also has a hard time accepting the changes in her, and so embarks in physical self-destructive behavior.

Now, I agree that Alina shouldn’t have to tone down her power to appease someone. I also understand why Mal acted the way he did. I don’t necessarily agree with it nor was I impressed by it. But I think it would be a little too heroic if Bardugo wrote Mal as being fully accepting of and happy for Alina. He’s human and in my experience it’s only human to have a hard time with change. Plus throw in some jealousy from the competition (e.g., Nikolai and the Darkling), and it makes for some “Mal”content. See what I did there? I’m not writing this to excuse Mal, just to throw out some unqualified psychoanalysis of his and Alina’s feelings.