Vivid Writing and Complex Characters in The Winner’s Trilogy

The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkoski made me sleep-deprived for three whole days, that’s how badly I wanted—no, needed—to finish those three books. Each book was fast moving, beautifully developed, and highly addictive. I’ve been on a high fantasy kick, and this trilogy has only made my love for the genre greater.

The premise is this: A general’s daughter buys a slave and finds that the price she paid for his life is much higher than she ever could have imagined (it basically turns her whole world upside down). This trilogy delves into intriguing strategy and deadly politics, and is overall slightly reminiscent of Kristin Cashore and Rae Carson’s respective novels.

I loved the characters, the world, the plot, the intricate details Rutkoski wove throughout the trilogy and the themes she incorporated into her stories.

Throughout the trilogy, Rutkoski used themes such as: the value of human life,  being true to one’s self, independence, the meaning of loyalty and love, and the importance of familial relationships.

The first book especially focused on the value of human life and the importance of equality within relationships. The relationships displayed in Winner’s Curse were complicated, and yet quite tangible. I fell in love with the main characters, and I hated the villains.  Rutkoski drew me in to her world with these complex and vibrant characters who cultivated beautiful and sometimes problematic relationships in a world reminiscent of ancient Greece and Rome.

The second book, Winner’s Crime, was, perhaps, my least favorite, if only because my hands were stiff from clutching the book for so long. The tension within this middle installment filled my mind and body through to the end, making it almost impossible to put down. I loved the change of scenery and the depth that Rutkoski continued to give her characters and world they live in.

The final installment in Winners trilogy, Winner’s Kiss, was beautifully done as well. Rutkoski masterfully wrote fast-paced action sequences that cut between parallel plots in the best, and most intense, way possible.

I don’t want to say too much about the last two books and give anything away, but I will say that I would highly recommend this trilogy.

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Weight and Religion in High Fantasy with Rae Carson

Rae Carson has a talent for creating interesting main characters. In The Girl of Fire and Thorns I was impressed by her creation and development of a dynamic character who, in a world so different from our own, struggles with something so relatable as body weight.

Problems with weight loss/gain topic is quite common within contemporary YA literature but I don’t think I have ever encountered it within the high fantasy YA genre. However, this topic fits within another, more general theme, that is perhaps more common: feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Carson did an excellent job in the first installment of this trilogy of creating a believable and relatable main character, Elisa. While she struggles with her physical appearance and health, mentally she is at the top of her game.

Not only did Carson tackle body image issues, she also delved into the ever-controversial topic of religion and faith. Throughout the first installment, Elisa is devoutly religious, but as the story progresses, she is plagued with doubts about the religion she grew up with, and her faith in her God is tested.

I really enjoyed Carson’s courageous effort to create a book that addressed so many controversial topics. It could easily have turned into an offensive mess if done carelessly. But Carson was very tactful and thoughtful in her development of themes and storylines. I really enjoyed this book,. I felt is was very original and excellently executed.

If you are looking for a thought-provoking high fantasy book, I would definitely recommend The Girl of Fire and Thorns. As for myself, I am looking forward to starting the second novel in the trilogy, The Crown of Embers.

Third-Person Omniscient in “Underland” and “Unenchanted” by Chanda Hahn

Homeless and alone, fifteen year old Kira finds herself kidnapped from her cardboard home and enslaved to an underground group of monsters, doomed to spend the rest of her life doing the bidding of hideous snake people, vampires, witches, and zombies. After failed escape attempts, Kira is forced to participate in “the games”—a chance to make a name for herself and possibly earn her freedom.

This fantasy YA book was an intriguing read if you can get past the first couple chapters (they drag). While the excess of back story interludes initially weighed down the narrative, the payoff was surprisingly rewarding as it differentiated her character from that of other popular YA novels such as Katniss from Hunger Games and Mare from Red Queen. While it was nice to have a different kind of character, Kira oscillated inconsistently between being brave and vengeful, and frightened and sappy. The inconsistencies drove me a little crazy, and took me out of the story.

I enjoyed that this book was set in similar world as our own — that Kira comes from the world we already know and love. This gave me a shared perspective with Kira as I experienced the new world of Underland through her eyes.

However, Hahn’s use of third person omniscient surprised me. By jumping from Kira’s perspective to other characters’ perspectives for short periods of time, the reader ends up knowing quite a bit more than Kira. I worried that Kira’s lack of knowledge (or my excess of information) would make me frustrated, but I was pleasantly surprised. While third person omniscient still bothers me a little bit, Hahn did a decent job.

I recently read another of Hahn’s books titled Unenchanted in which she again uses third person omniscient, but much less frequently, and it bothered me much more in that book. She changed perspectives just enough that I noticed it, but not enough that it felt consistent or useful. I think that because Hahn used third person omniscient more frequently in Underland, it felt more purposeful.

Unenchanted‘s premise is that the main character has inherited her family’s curse: that she will relive all of the Grimm fairy tales until she dies or until the fairytales run out. I enjoyed this premise and the book, but I felt it fell short of what it could have been. The book felt childish at times with the main character wavering between mature and inexperienced, naive, and ignorant.

Overall, Unenchanted was a fun read because of the premises but it was not intellectually stimulating, and it felt a bit overdone (cliche’s galore). This was a clean book, but it’s not one I’m rushing to reread or recommend. Unfortunately, while the original ideas behind Unenchanted and Underland were good, they were not executed well, and both books felt inconsistent with character and relationship development.

My recommendation: if you have some extra time to burn, pass on this book, and try a different one.

Welcome to “The Night Circus”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has given me withdrawal. Since finishing it, I find myself pining after a story that has sadly ended. I know I should move on, but instead I spend keep thinking of all the nuances of the story, the characters, the writing.

The Night Circus is a beautifully crafted story of a circus, two magicians, romance, and fate. Written in first, second, and limited third person, The Night Circus brings the circus to life through the written word, with complex characters and a mysterious story line.

I loved the gorgeous prose. Each chapter and section of prose was carefully and purposely placed, bread crumbs that when added together create a beautiful and delicious cake (I know that’s not how it really works, but just roll with it). If you are in a rush to read, then it may seem a bit slow at first. But if you are in the mood to savor each lengthy, yet beautiful description with little thought for plot, this is the book for you. If you aren’t in the mood for a slow book, but you still want to read The Night Circus, then read the first third of it as quickly as you can, and enjoy the wonderfulness that is this book.

A large part of what makes this book so awesome is the characters. Morgenstern has done an excellent job of creating complex and realistic characters, many that we love, some that we hate, but all that we believe. The main characters Marco and Celia have unconventional childhoods, and we see how their upbringing affects the rest of their lives, allowing us to also understand their actions. Each side character is detailed in such a way as to allow us to get a good grasp of who they really are and how they are important in the story. Because each character, no matter how small their role, is incredibly important to the storyline. If a character is included, they are important.

I absolutely loved this book. While I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, the journey was incredible enough that it made up for it, and I can’t say that much for a lot of books. Normally the ending makes or breaks a book for me.

The magic in this story is contagious, it refuses to stay contained within the pages it was written. I find myself thinking about the world of The Night Circus, wishing I could visit. If you are looking for a beautiful work of art with gorgeous descriptions, you will definitely enjoy this book.

**FYI: For those who are more sensitive to language, there is one strong swear word in the first chapter, but after that it is completely clean of swearing.**

 

Revenge and Choice in “A Creature of Moonlight”

Rebecca Hahn’s A Creature of Moonlight is a beautifully written tale of a young girl finding and making her home and her destiny. In a world where everything is chosen for young women, many have been drawn to the magical forests in an attempt to escape their seemingly inevitable destinies. Once these young women enter the forest, they are never seen or heard from again.

This is the case for all except one. Marni’s mother came back from the forest, pregnant, but otherwise unharmed. But when her brother discovers her pregnancy, he tracks her down and her young child. He kills her, and threatens to kill Marni too, but she is saved by her Grandfather, the king, who trades his kingdom for her life.

After growing up near the forests, Marni is being pulled between two worlds: that of the magical forest where her father, a dragon, lives, and that of the kingdom to which she is the sole heir.

Hahn does an excellent job of telling this original fairytale through a feminist lens, focusing on a woman’s right to choose her own destiny, and the importance of that choice.

(Warning! Some minor spoilers lie ahead). Continue reading “Revenge and Choice in “A Creature of Moonlight””

Jason Bourne meets Twilight in “The Chemist”

Browsing the Overdrive book selection, I was very surprised to discover that there was a new book out by Stephanie Meyer. When a copy finally became available through the digital library, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Any expectations I may have subconsciously held were subsequently blown away when I entered the world of The Chemist, a novel of espionage, murder, attempted murder, torture, romance, and changing identities. While there were some prominent similarities between this novel and Meyer’s other novels, it was also very different from her other books, largely because Meyer decided to break into with the spy-thriller genre.

I was very impressed with Meyer’s extensive research into science, medicine, torture, and other spy-know-how. While I know very little about chemistry and medicine, I completely bought into the main character’s abilities to survive as she is hunted by the government and the thugs the government employs.

But as the main character, Alex, begins to fight back, the pacing of the book seemed off to me. While the gruesome descriptions that characterized the action sequences were hot and fast, and filled with beautiful suspense. But they were broken up by long periods of nothing which seemed to drag on pointlessly. The only purpose I could see for these slow periods was for the romance.

For those who read Stephanie Meyer’s books for the romance, you will not be disappointed. Romance plays a huge part in this book, at times battling with the plot line for the main focus of this book. It was steamy, and engaging, and I enjoyed the originality of the premise. But the romance story line within The Chemist also had its faults.

Personally, I found that the male love interest, Daniel, was unrealistic and stretched my suspension of disbelief too far (those of you who have already read it, you know what I’m talking about). Meyer seemed to fall into the same potholes with Daniel as she did with Edward in Twilight. Daniel is kind to the point where he has absolutely no sense of self-preservation, and he exists solely to complete the main character. His character flaws, that he is too innocent and kind, and good-looking are hardly flaws.

While this book definitely had flaws that will hold it back from being in my top fifty favorite books, it was a really fun read. I loved feeling my adrenaline kick in alongside the main character’s. Meyer did an excellent job stringing the reader along with thick suspense and I had trouble putting it down most of the time. However, the flaws made it hard for me to mentally stay in the story a couple times near the beginning and middle.

If you are a fan of Meyer’s previous work and you love Jason Bourne movies, this may be a good book for you. Personally, I did really enjoy it, but it had enough issues that I won’t be reading this again.

Reading “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore

An emotionally inaccessible young woman with a deadly gift – the ability to kill quickly, easily, and with a single blow – learns the meaning of humanity in this 400+ page fantasy debut novel. Kristin Cashore writes beautifully in the first installment of the Graceling Realm trilogy, Graceling, in which she creates a world where certain people are born with “graces” or special abilities. These people are ostracized from society and such is the world that our protagonist, Katsa, is born into. The niece of a king, Katsa’s deadly abilities lead her to lose herself to rage and fear. The king uses her to do his dirty work, and Katsa, not quite understanding the extent of her power, blindly obeys, hating herself and her uncle for her cruel assignments. However, when a stranger opens Katsa’s eyes to her ability to control her emotions and actions, and choose  for herself what she will and will not do, Katsa becomes a new woman on a quest to redeem her former actions.

This book explores themes of humanity, suggesting that humanity shows itself when we control our base impulses and emotions, and is lost when control is forsaken. I really enjoyed the exploration of this theme through not only Katsa, but also through the villains and some side characters.

The romance within Graceling easily sucks the reader in, loving Katsa and Po throughout as they learn to trust, and to accept what cannot be changed. While the romance was a highlight of this book, it was targeted toward an older audience, containing some suggestive scenes.

The plot, while somewhat straightforward at the beginning, continually surprised me. This was partly due to the pacing of the book, which was unconventional. Cashore portioned out the novel so that an unusual amount of time was spent on specific actions. For example, a longer amount of time was spent on a scene where the main characters are preparing to face the villain, and when the face-off finally happens, it is surprisingly fast, and simple, not the usual climax. Surprisingly, the book does not suffer for this unusual pacing, rather it helps shape the tone of the book. Instead of focusing on the action of the novel, the pacing helps to shift the focus towards the ideology, characters, and relationships within the novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The world Cashore created felt fresh and exciting to me, and the storyline always had me guessing. I would recommend this book, with the advisory that there are some suggestive scenes that might influence some people’s decision of whether it.