Book Review – ‘Ruin and Rising’ (#3 The Shadow and Bone Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

Culture, magic, and political infighting make this epic fantasy shine bright.

Genre: YA, Fantasy

No. of pages: 422

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

The finale for a trilogy set in a fantastical Russia where protagonist Alina is going to have to test all that she is capable of to defeat the evil power-hungry Darkling and his supernatural army. I’m not a huge fantasy reader, and it has taken me a while to get to read these novels, but I have to admit, the debut, ‘Shadow and Bone’ drew me in to the world of the Sun Summoner (Alina) and an army of preternaturally gifted soldiers (Grisha.) The world building in this series, from the landscape, to the magic system, and the political manoeuvring was done so expertly it’s easy to see why so many readers rave about this series.

I have to admit, I purchased all the books in this trilogy as they were released, but it took the airing of the television adaptation for me to quickly pick up the books and explore the world in written form before allowing myself to watch the show. And the television series is definitely one of my top five adaptations of all time. I hope subsequent seasons continue to live up to the high standard it has set for itself and don’t stray too far from the original source material. (As there has been some departure from the original concept, but it seems to be for the better.)

Admittedly ‘Rage and Ruin’ felt like it took a bit to warm up and get the story moving forward. It also felt a bit busy. There were a lot of elements and arcs, political movements that bogged down the pacing. It wasn’t until the last third of the book before the plot really took its stride.

There is a lot of carnage… but there did not feel like there were a lot of repercussions and dealing with the loss, instead pushing it aside to wrap up the trilogy nicely. I see this quite regularly in YA and fantasy, and I understand why – you don’t want to get side-tracked with heavy emotion and change the tone of the story; but, I think valuable character development and motivation can be overlooked because of this. And endings can be bittersweet, impactful, when you celebrate both victory and loss at the same time.

There was a good twist in the concluding pages, but besides that I didn’t get any surprises from the plot. The previous two novels were so good with swaying predictability in a way ‘Ruin and Rising’ didn’t. I also wanted some more exploration about the theme of power and corruption – it felt like it got built up and then magically went away. It has been such a strong theme throughout the trilogy, and I was left wanting a more resounding conclusion. As a result, the ending felt slightly (teensy-weensy) anticlimactic.

I don’t feel like Alina or love interest Mal had a lot of character development for ‘Ruin and Rising,’ but rather faced bigger challenges to pit against their morals, their connection, and their love for the country Ravka. All of the character development was done in the prequels, in this finale it was about putting all they have learned on the line – for themselves, and the rest of the country.

Leigh Bardugo can paint such a rich tapestry in world building and culture, creating political factions and armies, and builds a diverse cast of characters. Even though the novel is told in first-person narrative from Alina’s point of view, it is not hard to pick the voice of other characters without a label to identify them. I think that is a pretty amazing feat and shows just how honed Bardugo’s writing style and craft is.

I’d definitely recommend this trilogy and have already purchased the rest of the series set in this universe – Six of Crows  duology and the King of Scars series – as I have fallen in love with the mythology, the country, and the way Bardugo can craft a character driven story.

Overall feeling: quiet awe

© Casey Carlisle 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ (#2 Montague Siblings) by Mackenzie Lee

A delightful historical fiction that wrestles with society and feminism with immitigable humour.

Genre: Y/A, Historical Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 450

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

The tone of this series is so delightful that I was immediately engrossed: it’s funny, witty, and pits modern-day realities against the restricted opinions and views of a past cultural set.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ certainly did not suffer the middle book slump. In this sequel we follow Felicity (Monty’s sister – but don’t worry, we still get to see the rogue and is new boyfriend) and her dream of becoming a surgeon, despite the male gatekeepers of the institutions and the belief that women should stick to domesticated tasks. (Ugh! Seriously why is it always old white men that make it difficult for everyone else?) But Felicity will not take no for an answer; she will find a way to pursue her passion, even if it takes her down some dubious paths.

We still get that comedy that was introduced in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue,’ as well as a heavy dose of feminism. I found this to be a powerful combination, and the pacing of this novel did not lag despite its length.

Felicity herself is determined but still maintains decorum expected in polite society. She is increasingly frustrated at the limited imagination and belief that women can do anything that men can, and desperately tries to find like-minded souls to allow her to follow her passion. We never really explore Felicity’s sexuality in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue,’ but in ‘The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ Felicity begins to notice stirrings of attraction that contra societies rules. Felicity could be bisexual or lesbian, and the attitudes towards this attraction are handled with sensitivity.

Sim – Felicity’s partner in crime (literally) – has found freedom from societies trappings, but still has to fight for what she wants… by any means necessary. She is a thief, a spy, a pirate. But I see her more as a revolutionary. She is proud, practical and empowered. Again, existing outside of polite society Sim has a ‘found family’ that gives her the space to live her truth; be it in her sexuality, opportunity, or euntrenprenureship.

Johanna, another woman in Felicity’s orbit, remind me of the changing of the guard. She is taking her first steps from the old oppressive world of being property, or a domestic slave, into the future of equality and independence (but all within the constraints of the current era.)

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ was a delicious read. Yes, it is mostly predictable, but the narrative is full of hair-brained adventure that makes for some entertaining reading with loveable characters. Another strong recommendation from me, and I have already pre-ordered the next in the series ‘The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks.’

Overall feeling: A titillating tome!

© Casey Carlisle 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Clockwork Princess’ (#3 The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare

Steampunk magical zombies and so many men who just want to get married.

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

No. of pages: 567

A net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. Mortmain plans to use his Infernal Devices, an army of pitiless automatons, to destroy the Shadowhunters. He needs only one last item to complete his plan: he needs Tessa Gray.

Charlotte Branwell, head of the London Institute, is desperate to find Mortmain before he strikes. But when Mortmain abducts Tessa, the boys who lay equal claim to her heart, Jem and Will, will do anything to save her. For though Tessa and Jem are now engaged, Will is as much in love with her as ever.

As those who love Tessa rally to rescue her from Mortmain’s clutches, Tessa realizes that the only person who can save her is herself. But can a single girl, even one who can command the power of angels, face down an entire army?

This concluding novel of the Infernal Devices trilogy brought everything to a dramatic climax and Tessa, Will, and Jem are all tested to the extreme.

We start to see more of the Shadowhunter lore and lifestyle instead of that of the 1800’s London society. It’s full on magic and paranormal. And it was such a fun adventure, though, to be honest, with did feel like a weak ending to the trilogy… maybe because it’s continued on in other series in the Shadowhunter universe in some form or other, or that I was a little over the too-frequently used tropes that Cassandra Clare loves to employ in her writing.

The secondary cast members get to play a greater role in the narrative in ‘Clockwork Princess’ you can get the sense of a strong team forming when facing the treat of the clockwork zombies that are immune to the defences of the Cleve’s magic protecting the hub and home of the London faction of Shadowhunters. I really enjoyed following their individual stories, their character development to have a break from the angsty love triangle of Tessa, Will, and Jem.

The concluding chapters dealt some twists that I did not see coming – but some that I did not altogether appreciate. While these plot reveals can sometimes be masterful, I found a few to be all too convenient and a bit of a cop out. But that’s just my opinion. I think because I was craving a bit more personal tension and drama for our trio at the centre of the series.

I’m not sure if it’s all the propriety of 1700’s society, or the way the relationships were written, but I wasn’t as sold on the Tessa love story; not as much as I was in Clary’s from the Mortal Instruments series – maybe because if felt a little copy and paste tropes of the bad boy with a heart of gold, and an everyday girl with a one-of-a-kind special talent that can save the world. I was craving something a bit different, more original. But the rest of the story, and the Shadowhunter universe I was really enjoying.

Mortmain was a weird antagonist – always in the periphery, out of reach. Not quite in the Shadowhunter, or Downworlder world. And as a consequence not someone as I thought of as all that scary. He came across as more annoying than maleficent. Though I appreciated the whole circumventing magic and wards with the invention of his clockwork army. That was true genius.

Now I’ve tucked this trilogy under my belt, I’m eager to finish off the Mortal Instruments series (the second trilogy) to see what happens with this background now established. I’d still recommend this collection, even though the ending didn’t quite stick for me. The concept and element of The Infernal Devices was truly entrancing. But maybe for those who love the Shadowhunter world – it’s not something that can be enjoyed in isolation… each of these trilogies sets up groundwork for the following trilogy.

Cassandra Clare’s writing style is light and manages to draw out period details expertly, I was never pulled from the narrative apart from moments when I was eye-rolling from the overused tropes. ‘Clockwork Princess’ was mostly predictable, a few surprised, but on the whole a solid read.

Overall feeling: Lukewarm

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ (#1.5 Montague Siblings) by Mackenzie Lee

Awkward First Times.

Genre: Y/A, Historical Fiction, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 113

Monty’s epic grand tour may be over, but now that he and Percy are finally a couple, he realizes there is something more nerve-wracking than being chased across Europe: getting together with the person you love.

Will the romantic allure of Santorini make his first time with Percy magical, or will all the anticipation and build-up completely spoil the mood?

This was a cute novella dealing with Monty and Percy finally getting their ‘groove’ on despite many interruptions. ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ is a charming aside to the Montague Siblings series. It does not expand on the universe too much. We learn what happens with our characters between the first and second novels in this series and it gives resolution to a few small plot points.

Monty is still that bumbling self-absorbed rake we love, but his softer and loyal side are emerging, giving him a bit of substance. Percy is beginning to find security in his relationship with Monty. There is more sibling rivalry and sibling unity with Felicity helping out the love sick couple yet again.

Mackenzi Lee has an elegant and humorous writing style that matches perfectly with the tone of the story and which I enjoy getting lost in.

This is a quick read and a great addition to all MontyxPercy stans.

The plot itself is highly predictable, but all the obstacles that get in the way certainly make for a fun journey.

There is not much to add to this review, as ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ is a short novella, dealing with a singular topic. Fans of the series will not be disappointed with this addition to the franchise. Highly recommend.

Overall feeling: Adorkable.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Shadow and Bone’ (#1 The Shadow and Bone Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

A unique magical system set in historical Russia, this tale of a girl with special powers blasts competitors out of the water.

Genre: YA, Fantasy

No. of pages: 358

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal–and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked and Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed.

Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destroy the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart–and her country–in two.

I did the mad rush to quickly get the book read before the television series was released – and thankfully managed it so that I could indulge in the series. It was a great kick in the pants for some motivation because this book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for years!

Shadow and Bone’ definitely lived up to the hype I’ve heard all of these years. Fantasy had fallen out of favour with me a while back, which is why I let this sit for so long, but it has re-ignited my interest in the genre. Leigh Bardugo has created a fantastical world of powered individuals called the Grisha, a dark cloud cutting their country in half called the Fold created by a powerful Grisha known as the Darkling. With warring countries, and a battle for power between the royals, church, and the Grisha this Russian landscape proves a formidable one for protagonist Alina and her childhood best friend Mal.

There is a bit of an overused trope here – the orphan who has a secret formidable power to save the world – but it is done so well that I didn’t mind it in the least. Alina is intelligent and there is a slow burn of her coming into her confidence and expanding her knowledge about the Grisha. A country at war provides a dynamic backdrop as Alina and Mal travel into the Fold where Alina’s Sun Summoner power first shows itself under attack from the monsters in the shadows.

There is some admirable character development for Alina in ‘Shadow and Bone.’  Though Mal comes in and out of the narrative and seems to be the same reliable and loyal friend Alina has always known, so I didn’t see much growth for his character. We get a sense that Mal could be a love interest, as too do we see the leader of the Grisha, the Darkling. I really loved how Alina investigates the world of the Grisha and tries to hold her made family of her and Mal together. There are some great reveals in ‘Shadow and Bone’ that help set a cracking pace. I devoured this novel in two sittings and it felt effortless. Leigh Bardugo’s writing style is breezy and melodic setting a beautiful tone, and you don’t see the twists and turns coming until they are upon you.

This book comes highly recommended and I can see why – I definitely agree this is in the top of my favourite reads in the fantasy genre to date. The concept of the amplifiers, though interwoven seamlessly into the story was the least plausible for me in this magic system. The idea of groups of powered Grisha, and the variations within those groups is truly fascinating. I’m sure we’ll get to explore much more in the following sequels.

I had a wonderful experience with ‘Shadow and Bone’ and am keen to jump into book two, ‘Siege and Storm’ right away.

Overall feeling: Magical!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookporn

Oh how a single word labelling a person can cause so much trouble. Women tearing each other down, jealousy, feeling threatened, or plain old sexism. I’m glad to see many replacing this word with #GirlBoss.

Book Review – ‘Clockwork Prince’ (#2 The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare

Beautiful Victorian London, steampunk villains and paranormal creatures.

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

No. of pages: 502

In the magical underworld of Victorian London, Tessa Gray has found safety with the Shadowhunters. But that safety proves fleeting when it becomes clear that the mysterious Magister will stop at nothing to use Tessa’s powers for his own dark ends.

With the help of the handsome, tortured Will and the devoted Jem, Tessa discovers that the Magister’s war on the Shadowhunters is deeply personal and fueled by revenge. To unravel the secrets of the past, the trio journeys from mist-shrouded Yorkshire to a manor house that holds untold horrors. When they encounter a clockwork demon bearing a warning for Will, they realize that the Magister knows their every move—and that one of their own has betrayed them.

Tessa is drawn more and more to Jem, though her longing for Will continues to unsettle her. But something is changing in Will. Could finding the Magister free Will from his secrets and give Tessa answers about who she really is? As their search leads to deadly peril, Tessa learns that secrets and lies can corrupt even the purest heart.

A steampunk Shadowhunter tale with the bad boy, his well-behaved best friend, and a girl who may or may not be a warlock.

While I really enjoyed this story, the pacing suffered at times. There were also many reveals, but none that fully rocked me to the core – so as a consequence, ‘Clockwork Prince’ did not engage and wow me as much as pervious titles in this series. Plus the character trope of male characters being a rude pig for the good of a potential love interest is tiresome and not a trope I particularly enjoy.

Though we see Tessa becoming more ingratiated into her Shadowhunter family, and joining the fray as they police the Downworld and uncover mysteries, there did not feel like her character got much development. Plus all this priority of the 1800’s society and etiquette vs the Shadowhunters culture seem to clash, and the English customs felt to serve only as a plot device to set up a situation between Tessa, Jem, and Will.

As mentioned above, I was beginning to become tired of the bad boy image hiding a genuine gentle soul that Will embodies. I just don’t understand the need to be obnoxious to keep people at an arm’s length. There are other ways to do this without falling into this trope. But I guess it is a favoured character trait in YA. Though where the story ends in ‘Clockwork Prince,’ I am interested to see how Will develops in the final instalment in this trilogy as he has no excuses to be the way he has been anymore.

Jem felt as if he was more in the background and a bit of a plot device for ‘Clockwork Prince.’ Apart from the growing relationship between him and Tessa, there was little else to his story.

This love triangle – and its developing story – felt a little off in this middle novel. It seems like Cassandra Clare quickly moved the chess pieces where she needed them to be for the finale and then treaded water. I think that’s why I felt the pacing suffered in parts. There was no character driving the story forward, it was more about positioning plot points for ‘Clockwork Princess.’

We do get resolution to a major plot point which was very satisfactory, and a few minor ones which all went the way of sensibility and practicality instead of some elaborate backstory.

Overall I really enjoyed ‘Clockwork Prince,’ but it did lack a certain something. But that is the way of many middle books in trilogies… I’m excited for ‘Clockwork Princess’ knowing what is left to be resolved, and how it will ultimately tie back into The Mortal Instruments series; and in true Cassandra Clare style, will no doubt be epic with many twist and turns.

Overall feeling: Pretty great fare!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Clockwork Angel’ (#1 The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare

Getting back into the Shadowhunter universe.

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

No. of pages: 479

The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them…

This review comes from a re-read for me. I had read this initially about 7 years ago when it was first released but never wrote a review… and then abandoned the series when we moved states as the books were hidden away in moving boxes for an extended period of time. I think I initially had awarded it 5 stars. Now that I’m completing the series as a part of #BeatTheBacklist, I needed to re-read ‘Clockwork Angel’ to refresh and catch up to where I last left The Infernal Devices collection.

Clockwork Angel’ is a steampunk historical fantasy in the Shadowhunters universe, set as a sequel to the Mortal Instruments. I found this an easily engrossed read. I slipped into the past seamlessly and powered through this novel despite its 480 page length. It reminded me of all the things I enjoyed about The Mortal Instruments series all those years ago. I’m definitely excited to catch up on all the published novels in the Shadowhunter universe.

We follow Tessa Gray after her Aunt passes away and she is sent a ticket to travel to London to live with her last living relative, her brother Nathaniel. Upon arriving in England, she is secreted away by the Dark Sisters and forced into strange rituals that bring out her latent shape changing abilities Tessa did not know she had.

We meet Shadowhunters Will and Jem (James) who rescue Tessa from the Dark Sisters when they are investigating a murder involving Downworlders. From there Tessa is slowly introduced to all the elements of the Downworld and Shadowhunter alike, discovering that she is a part of this world too.

Tessa starts as a typical society lady, but soon notices that her deportment means little in the new magical world she has found herself in, and after having no-one to rely on but herself and her intuition, she has to find the strength to stand up for herself and carve her own path. I found Tessa endearing, if a little waifish at times – but that is a result of the society of the times, not of her character. And we see Tessa shed the older version of herself and become a strong and intelligent entity in her own right.

Will is a rakish teen, who’s good-looking and knows it. He’s rude and appears as being self-absorbed. I’m not a fan of intentionally rude love interests, so I’m not all that taken with Will. But we have only scratched the surface and I’m sure a tragic and involved backstory is going to be revealed in the next two sequels.

As too with Jem, a POC infected with demon poison which is slowly killing him. He’s all sorts of gentile, caring, and empathetic and I love the way both he and Tessa interact. Again, there is a backstory we’ve yet to uncover, which has me keen to jump into the sequel ‘Clockwork Prince’ as soon as possible.

We meet an early version of sorcerer Magnus Bane, and ancestors of the main characters from The Mortal Instruments. It had all the elements of magic that I loved about from the debut series, though I have to admit, I was hoping for more of this… and more action. But it’s just the introductory novel in this trilogy, so I’m confident that I’ll get my fix in the sequels.

Cassandra Clare’s writing style is eloquent and she painted the cold, damp, and drab atmosphere with aplomb. I was easily transported to 1870’s London. The pacing is what I’ve come to expect from her writing, she drops clues to keep us enticed every few pages, and does not neglect character development. If I was being really picky, I would say this was the tiniest bit waffly, but because I enjoy this universe so much, it did not bother me much.

I can’t say anything about the plot, because I had read this before, so there were no surprises… but I think on the initial reading the ending really got me. There’s a few twists and red herrings that make this an enjoyable read.

Happily recommend ‘Clockwork Angel’ to lovers of historical fiction, steampunk, fantasy, magic, and fans of the Shadowhunter universe.

Overall feeling: Felt like coming home after a long day.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookquotes

Death and grief are strange creatures, no to are the same, the experiences and repercussions are always different – and it is inevitable that we will experience both in our lifetimes. It is always such a romantic notion in books, but the reality is visceral, devastating, and breaks you into pieces.