Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★☆

This will be a semi short/messy review since I already did a proper one for Six of Crows here.

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LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL BOOK. LOOK AT IT.

This was super enjoyable; I read it in the car, at work, till two in the morning, in the bathroom, while stuffing Chipotle into my face, etc. (None of those things at the same time, though, just to be clear.) BUUUTTTTTT, for the sake of honesty, it didn’t blow me away, even though I’ll say I loved the duology as a whole and Bardugo is a god damn genius when it comes to crafting characters.

To begin, there was a loooooot of deus ex machina going on here. I mean truly every scene where the odds were totally beyond their scope, where everything was hopeless, one of the characters would find this new power inside them and it would work! perfectly! each time! For instance, [SPOILERS BELOW]

  • Jesper learned that one of the reasons he might be such a good shot is because he’s a Fabrikator. Cool idea, and I’d assumed from the beginning that that’s why he was a sharpshooter, but then he went on to make an impossible shot where the bullet actually curved in midair around a corner and hit the person in the chest. SO YEAH it was cool, but like… too cool and too convenient. I have a problem with that.
  • Nina learns that after using jurda parem, she can’t control her powers like she used to. Then, against impossible odds, she finds she’s able to control dead bodies. Which was super gross to begin with, but she uses these CORPSES to not only defeat her enemies but then miraculously carry a net out under Inej right when she falls off a grain silo (this probably sounds super weird if you haven’t read the book, lmao). I’ve read other reviews for Six of Crows that mention the total lack of morals that these characters have, and I hadn’t had a problem with it because that’s the story, and I’ve read Game of Thrones which is a hundred times worse. People are sick and self-serving for the most part (can you tell I’m an optimist?), so these lawless characters didn’t make me grimace. But this… using dead people as props and controlling them… I had been gobbling up the pages and then that happened and I was like

It threw me off to such an extent that I wondered if I could recover from it and still enjoy the book. There are other instances too, but those are two that really annoyed me. And I mean, it wasn’t TOTALLY terrible because inklings of these abilities were sprinkled through earlier on in the story, but it was still just cringe-worthy in my opinion.

Other than that, the book was good but long and rambling in a lot of ways. It didn’t have a clear plot like Six of Crows; it was more a jumble of a bunch of Kaz’s failed plans and then the gang recovering from the previous heist and doing something else to get their money back. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun to read, but it seemed like the book was a lot longer than it really needed to be and like the author couldn’t come up with one central heist to cover the length. It was a lot of back and forth, and that constant planning, executing, OOPS WE’VE BEEN BACKSTABBED or OOPS IT’S A TRAP, failing, replanning got dull after a while, to the point where I was skimming the more politic-driven scenes to get to the parts I cared about, aka the action and the kissing. (I’m not too ashamed.)

Last but not least, perhaps my BIGGEST issue was (pretty major spoiler ahead so don’t click unless you’ve read the book) Matthias’ death. It was, to put it shortly, completely random, out of place, and wholly unnecessary. It added absolutely nothing to the plot, it was brought on by a random character that was never explained or even reintroduced or ANYTHING, and it was just hard to read because of how forced it was. I have this very strong feeling that Matthias was killed off because someone, probably an editor or something, was like, “Listen, your readers are probably expecting one of these guys to die in the end, so we’ve gotta kill someone off. Who’s your least favorite?” The problem is that he was killed off in the most random way possible, like the heist was done, everything was falling into place, but NOPE: [insert random character death here]. I HATED IT. HATED IT.

Honestly though, the terribleness of those few things was BY FAR made up for by the adorable romances between Wylan/Jesper and Kaz/Inej, the wonderful character development, and the exquisite world-building. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are some of the most believably invented characters I’ve come across lately. I’ve been so fed up with YA books lately; it’s all so boring and manufactured. But this wasn’t at all. I couldn’t contain the ~~feels~~. Also, Wylan and Jesper honestly overtook Kaz and Inej as my favorite pairing in this, and I ended up liking Wylan even more than Kaz.

Okay, enough fangirling. GO READ THIS DUOLOGY. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.

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Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★★

God. Damn. I love Leigh Bardugo so much.

I went into this book with such impossibly high expectations. I mean, a band of ragtag orphans, thieves, and cutthroats; an impossible heist (even the word ‘heist’ gets me riled); elemental magic and mayhem and unrequited love—it’s literally my book wishlist all wrapped up in one. How could I not love it?

Even the books themselves are freaking gorgeous. They have dyed black and red edges. I cry.

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And with my employee discount, I nabbed a beautiful boxset at B&N for $20. Can’t say no to that!

So to recap: everything I’ve ever wanted in a fantasy book + unending media hype + one of my favorite authors + books as beautiful on the outside as they are potentially on the inside = insanely high expectations.

So the fact that I, though seemingly impossible to please, came out of this book glowing with the perfection of it all, is noteworthy.

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Art by @kevinwada

Bardugo has crafted an awesome, diverse cast of characters that you can’t help but root for. Each character has a defining characteristic, something that makes them memorable instantly. Bardugo splits the story up masterfully between them all, with each chapter told from one of their POVs (except Wylan, for some reason). This is a storytelling technique few authors can pull off, so it could’ve ended badly, but those defining characteristics I mention aren’t abused and they never feel gimmicky, so the characters don’t come across as caricatures. Each of them is wonderfully fleshed out, with vivid pasts and individual problems they need to solve.

Did I mention that Kaz Brekker is the newest addition to my “book boyfriends” list as well as my “favorite characters ever” list? I mean… look at him. I have a type, ladies and gentlemen, and apparently it’s pale, emotionally-stunted pickpockets.

 

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Six of Crows never never got stale, and it never failed to surprise. Every time I thought, “That’s it, they’re done for,” Bardugo pulled out another risky maneuver or cunning plan. When you read enough YA fantasy, plot twists can start to get a lot less twisty; you realize that half of these books have “twists” that are the same across the board. Not so with Bardugo. She just has a way of making everything fresh and exciting, the same way she did with the original Grisha trilogy.

I can’t wait to read the next book in this duology, and I highly, highly recommend Six of Crows to anyone with a book wishlist like mine. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnson

★☆☆☆☆

Ithousand-nights can count on one 6-fingered hand the number of 1-star ratings I’ve given (at least of the books I’ve rated):

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman (although I may need to reread this now that I’m in the intended demographic)
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Choke by Chuck Palahnuik
  • The Maze Runner
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • Fifty Shades trilogy (which were mindless, stupid fun to read but awful in general)

And now this.

I considered giving it two, because it wasn’t awful, it was just ridiculously boring, but I really need to start being more harsh in my critiques and not rewarding mediocrity.

Basically, the story is a reimagining of A Thousand and One Nights, and centers around a girl (who is never given a name) who takes her sister’s place and weds an evil king. The king marries one bride from each village and they all die, normally after one night. But the girl lives and keeps on living, because she tells beautiful stories to her captor. Inspirational, right? It might have been, except literally this entire story is a slow, drawn out monologue on the boring parts of this character’s life, and she never actually got around to telling any of these beautiful, entrancing stories. To summarize, here are some things this character does:

  • Weaves things
  • Has dreams and visions that come true. Repeatedly. (The novelty of this wore off after the first time.)
  • Talks about her village
  • Remembers things about her village
  • Worries about her sister
  • Has her hair done
  • Talks about goats
  • Does some random, unexplained but super helpful magic (??)
  • Weaves some more

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And of course, there’s some intrigue mixed in to keep you reading: How did Lo-Melkhiin become possessed by this demon? Will he ever be free? How will the girl escape from him?

Listen, I love me some magical realism. It’s my thing. But if that magic isn’t ever explained, or if it has a really flimsy explanation, I’m instantly turned off. The girl gets her powers from the prayers of her people, who believe her to have become a smallgod. So when she weaves a tale, the tale comes true. It’s an interesting premise, but the execution was so slow and boring that I could not hold my interest for long. It took me like two weeks to finish this, which is ridiculous for a short, easy-to-digest YA book.

The girl is a good heroine, of course. She’s brave, she’s strong, she’s calm in the face of danger and fear, she sacrifices herself to save those she loves. And I think these qualities are some of the reasons this book has so many fans. But is a strong female character really enough to carry a book? I don’t think so. If it had been flipped and the protagonist were a young man, I have a feeling this book would have bored a lot of its readers. Simply the presence of a strong female character seems to be enough for some people, but it wasn’t for me. I was bored to tears.

Another issue for me is that I had figured a vast majority of my issues with this book would be explained in the sequel (which I’m not going to read), but apparently the sequel is set generations in the future. So all of those questions I had are probably never going to be answered. Maybe I missed something vital in the reading of this, but it was just incomprehensible for me.

Anyway, on to the next one. My next book for 2017 is The New Policeman by Kate Thompson! Check back for my review of that soon.

 

 

 

 

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

★★★☆☆

Long overdue!! I finished this in MAY and I never got around to writing a review. (And this isn’t even the longest overdue review I have to do. Augh.)adsom.jpg

This was one of those books that I just couldn’t wait to get my hands on. Every time I saw a picture of the (ridiculously gorgeous) cover design or fan art of the characters, I was in love with the promise of it. I read the blurb on Amazon after swaying between “I need it right now” and “I need to save money, damn it!!” But after one page I immediately decided to drop some money for a hardcover.

Blurb: 

Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.



The good:

  • The cover designs are beautiful for both the US and UK versions of these books, and I seriously want to collect them all.

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    Holland and the Dane twins. Art by Victoria Ying.

  • Kell was a fantastic main character, and I found him very sympathetic and easy to root for. His character design was easy to imagine (and easier to fan girl over, because who doesn’t love a man in a well-made coat?).
  • Holland was the same. I love the concept of him being bound to his duty by an enchantment, and it made me feel understanding of even his most evil actions.
  • The world-building was well-done, although I think I’ll need to read the sequels to get more of a sense of the history. The language and magic were super cool.

Annnndddd the parts I didn’t like so much:

Unlike every other reviewer, I couldn’t stand Lila. I found her overbearing and irritating, like a squeaky, angry mouse hell-bent on proving something to everyone. I think that was the point. She was tom-boyish and brash and said those super-quotable one-liners like, “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.” Unfortunately I’ve always hated super-quotable lines (except for like everything Dumbledore says), because they feel cheesy and make me scrunch up my face like
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NOBODY TALKS LIKE THAT IRL!!

 


 

Caution: Spoilers below!

Biggest let down: I found the ending very dull. There were a lot of interesting scenarios set up, but they all fell a bit flat. For instance, Holland dies. Or at least we’re led to believe he dies. Athos and Kell fight, and then Athos summons a huge serpent to kill Kell but the serpent kills Athos instead. (????) I found myself going “Uh… What? Why?” Then, in what I thought would be a great plot twist, Astros knocks Lila out and assumes her body and face to trick Kell, but Kell immediately knows it’s her and kills her. So every one of the antagonists is all of a sudden dead. Where’s the drama there? And the ease with which they were defeated was totally anti-climactic.

Smaller let down: I really, really wish there hadn’t been any romance, ESPECIALLY between Kell and Lila. They had zero chemistry and their kiss just made me roll my eyes. Augh. And I wanted some gayness!! C’mon!!!