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 #coverlove

I’ve been having a science fiction moment with my reading at the moment, and I was in the mood for a military twist from a new-to-me author. I have a feeling ‘Ancillary Justice’ will scratch this itch. Has anyone else read this? What am I in for?

#bookporn #coverlove

‘Wool’ had been sitting on my shelf for sooo long now – which is surprising because I like a good dystopian and I’ve heard great things about this series. I went a head and bought the rest of the collection because I’m confident this will be a great read. Are there any new authors that you just knew you’d love and bought a whole series on a whim?

Book Review – ‘This Vicious Cure’ (#3 This Mortal Coil) by Emily Suvada

A beautiful conclusion to a possible future where biology and technology merge.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia

No. of pages: 440

Two factions at war.

A plague that can’t be stopped.

A cure that could destroy them all…

Cat’s hacking skills weren’t enough to keep her from losing everything – her identity, her past, and now her freedom.

Meanwhile, the person who’s stolen everything from her is close to realizing a hacker’s dream: the solution to humanity’s problems in gene form. Or so she thinks…

But now a new threat has emerged – a threat that could bring the world to the brink of a devastating war.

Both sides will stop at nothing to seize control of humanity’s future, and that the centre of this war is Cat, and a race against the clock save millions of lives . . .

This is hands down one of my most favourite science fiction series read to date. Emily Suvada manages to surprise the reader in each instalment. Face crack of the season for me.

This, as a conclusion, had all the plot points I was expecting, but the climactic ending took an emotive humanitarian route (and rightly so) which was a departure from the scrappy band of soldiers fighting for freedom. So half of me wanted an all stakes battle, blood and guts everywhere, casualties, and world at the brink of an apocalypse… and the other half understands that the underlying battle of this series was to be fought in a laboratory and none of that balls-to-the-wall gore can actually play out in that scenario. I think Suvada did justice to this trilogy at the end, but it did not end with that definitive thump I was craving.

We see character arcs galore in ‘This Vicious Cure.’ I loved how everyone has to face personal demons in order for the world to change. Hats off to you Suvada, you know how to structure a character driven story with a plot engorged with action.

The ending, though slightly sickly sweet (cure Disney theme music) really leaves the reader with a sense of hope and wonder. I actually appreciated it. It was also easy to see that the job of healing the world was not over, neither was the growing developments in science, technology, and biology… each character finds new drive and motivation in the changed climate.

I really gelled with Suvada’s writing style. She manages to leave enough space for you to get to fall for a character without bogging you down with too much plot (info dumping) which is prevalent in science fiction. While I have read a few novels around technology and biology merging, and the ramifications of advancing in this area, none of them explored it in detail as much as Suvada. This trope was a character in the storyline in its own right; it wasn’t a plot device. You could see that this biotechnology was the heart and soul of this trilogy, and not a by-the-way aspect to show some futuristic wonder in setting a scene.

In hindsight, I think there were a lot of characters to keep track of (especially in book 2) but by the time I started reading ‘This Vicious Cure’ I was used to the cast and it did not feel like a struggle to keep all the characters straight in my head. Even though the pacing was a little slower at the beginning of the novel, it was not noticeably so, and this final instalment flew by and kept me engaged throughout. I only put the book down because I needed to sleep.

I don’t want to talk about the characters too much because it will spoil too many plot points for the series, but many of the main cast get a lot more fleshed out, motivations come to the forefront, and we really get to see them test their mettle.

A massive recommendation from me. This is a great exploration into a dystopian world where genetic tampering and biotechnology have brought the world to its knees with a masterful plot and interesting, driven characters. This is definitely sitting in my top 10 list.

Overall feeling: Inspirational

© 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 – ‘This Cruel Design’ (#2 This Mortal Coil) by Emily Suvada

Human evolution and technology start to take on a new meaning to me…

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia

No. of pages: 435

In bunkers and strongholds across the world, people are celebrating. There’s a vaccine to the virus that has ravaged the planet for years.

But the vaccine isn’t working. The virus is evolving. Catarina – genehacker, reluctant warrior – must find the one person who can help: her estranged father, who is guilty of unimaginable crimes.

Time is ticking. She has three days before the shadowy gentech corporation Cartaxus will use lethal code to wipe out every person on the planet’s surface: kill the hosts, kill the virus.

Forced to question everything she knows and everyone she trusts, and with the end approaching, Cat discovers that the biggest threat of all may be buried in her own mind.

Such a fantastic book!! I have not read a science fiction series that I have been so engrossed in that is not based in space or alien planets ever. I bow to you Miss Suvada!

There is only a few teeny-tiny things that stopped me from giving this novel a perfect score. The first being I had difficulty getting my bearings at the start. I was about 50 pages in before everything clicked. Even though the story takes up right after the debut ended, there was no summary or re-cap and given the length of time between picking up ‘This Cruel Design’ since reading ‘This Mortal Coil,’ I was just floundering along trying to make sense of things and trigger memories – in a sense I was like Cat attempting to fill in gaps of memory.

I really think a foreward would have been helpful just to summarize and set the scene from ‘This Mortal Coil’ and then ‘This Cruel Design’ could have launched in earnest.

The other small aspect, was the novel had a bit of a slow start. ‘This Mortal Coil’ starts off with a bang, and I didn’t get that sense with ‘This Cruel Design.’ There is a lot of science and technology in this series. A true STEM geek-out (which I adore) but with having to get back into world building of a universe the reader was already familiar with felt counter intuitive.

Besides those niggling aspects, ‘This Cruel Design’ is an excellent read. I have not read a series that has continued to surprise and delight me multiple times with each instalment. I am so envious of Emily Suvada’s writing and ability to craft a plot and plot twists. She doesn’t drop obvious hints that have you sleuthing out the ending… she is a true master craftswoman. Add to that the science, theories, grounded in practical experience lends so much credence to the storyline. It may be isolating to some readers who don’t have a grasp on things like genetics, coding, and technology, but this was right up my alley. All those shows discussing the direction of human and technological evolution are like an appetiser to this series.

I felt we really got to see what Cat was made of in ‘This Cruel Design,’ like she became even more fully resolved. Plus the aspects of biology and technology she plays with is truly mind-bending. The relationship she had with Cole did feel slightly too fast. Not insta-love, but not a slow burn either, and did not feel quite organic.

The rest of the gifted children (genetically altered soldiers) while each a fully rounded characters – both endearing and annoying… there is always something holding me back from falling in love with them. Maybe it’s the military aspect with them withholding information; or the fact they may be controlled or manipulated to some extent, but that is a truly marvellous storytelling device. This is interwoven with the expansion on Cat and Jun Bei’s family through flashbacks, history and present day events.

I love the introduction of a counter-faction to Cartaxus; equal in diverging biology and technology.

A side note of things yet to come, like the Dax mystery, the Lachlan mystery, and Agnes (yaya) secrets – these should be the big ones in the final book of the trilogy. The pigeons still have a part to play – they’ve been mentioned far too much to not have any significance. I’m keen to find this out. Not to mention the final showdown between Cat and Jun Bei… I’m clenching my buttocks with excitement for that one. Oh, yeah, and the ending of Cartaxus and orientating the world towards a new freedom. No biggie.

Though the story concluded, you still get a sense that there is still a much bigger picture and fight to be had (sans abovementioned notes) – setting up ‘This Vicious Cure’ really well. Can’t wait to see what surprises are in store. What new twists Suvada has in store.

Overall feeling: Mind-blowing adventure galore!

© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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 #coverlove

I got the bind-up of this trilogy and it’s been suggested for fans of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ so we’ll have to see how this measures up – and no need to wait for a sequel, it’s all right there. My summer holidays are looking great right now for reading material!

#bookquotes

The surprise hit of this year was the debut of ‘This Mortal Coil‘ for me, and I can’t wait to finish the trilogy and let you know how the rest of the series stacks up. It’s all about technology, gene editing… and ‘The Cruel Design‘ looks to be dealing with a killer virus. Life imitating art much?

Book Review – ‘Rogue’ (#3 Croak) by Gina Damico

Moody Emo Grim.

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal

No. of pages: 326

Lex is a teenage Grim Reaper with the power to Damn souls, and it’s getting out of control. She’s a fugitive, on the run from the maniacal new mayor of Croak and the townspeople who want to see her pay the price for her misdeeds. Uncle Mort rounds up the Junior Grims to flee Croak once again, but this time they’re joined by Grotton, the most powerful Grim of all time. Their new mission is clear: Fix his mistakes, or the Afterlife will cease to exist, along with all the souls in it.

The gang heads for Necropolis, the labyrinth-like capital city of the Grimsphere. There, they discover that the Grimsphere needs a reboot. To do that, the portals to the Afterlife must be destroyed…but even that may not be enough to fix the damage. Things go from bad to worse, and when at last the fate of the Afterlife and all the souls of the Damned hang in the balance, it falls to Lex and her friends to make one final, impossible choice.

The whole Grimsphere is against Lex and the gang of Junior Grims with Uncle Mort in the lead. Expect death, Damning and running, screaming for your life.

The plot for ‘Rogue’ was a lot of fun, plenty of action and twists that I enjoyed. Though there was something about the tone and narrative style that was lacking in comparison to the first two novels. The witty banter, Dad jokes, and sarcastic asides felt juvenile and did not pack a punch. Plus there was this whole dynamic between Uncle Mort and Lex where the parental figure was keeping information and facts from the junior ‘for their own good,’ that whole just do as I say thing. It was repeated so many times it was frustrating. It was set up this way for latter reveals in the plot… but, um… girl that’s not a good way to do it. Such a heavily guided hand by the author, instead of letting the story unfold organically and let the characters grow.

I found myself putting this book down a lot. A lot. I’d get five to ten pages read and then need a rest. The pacing did not start pick up until after the halfway point. I did enjoy the story overall, but it felt a little scattered. The cast are on the run from place to place, and there was no thread to anchor the narrative. Character reactions were all over the place, motives kept changing, some scenes were just messy. I think there was just too much going on in some places. This was not the concluding novel that I was hoping for. The snarky humour was gone, so there wasn’t much to balance out all the loss and death that kept happening.

And even the afterward did not tie up and address the main characters in a way that put the full-stop after The End.

Lex felt like a sullen whiny teen – I don’t get a feeling that she had a great character arc, not in this novel, and not since the start of this series. She was so funny in the first book, but the humour did not translate to the finale. Also I appreciated the more intimate moments between Lex and Driggs, but again it felt manufactured. Almost like cut scene, make out, and snap back to the action.

A cute-ish read that I think would have been awesome from a stronger developmental edit. A mostly satisfying end to the series, but not one that ended in an exclamation point.

Overall feeling: satisfactory finish.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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 – ‘Savage Drift’ (#3 Monument 14) by Emmy Laybourne

Great concept for a dystopian. One of my favourites.

Genre: YA, Dystopia

No. of pages: 306

The survivors of the Monument 14 have finally made it to the safety of a Canadian refugee camp. Dean and Alex are cautiously starting to hope that a happy ending might be possible.

But for Josie, separated from the group and trapped in a brutal prison camp for exposed Type Os, things have gone from bad to worse. Traumatized by her experiences, she has given up all hope of rescue or safety.

Meanwhile, scared by the government’s unusual interest in her pregnancy, Astrid (with her two protectors, Dean and Jake in tow) joins Niko on his desperate quest to be reunited with his lost love Josie.

This didn’t have the same punch as the two prequels, though it is still a great book and wraps up everything nicely for the trilogy.

There was the same element of risk for the characters, but less action due to having to set up the premise, and the story being set in many different locations (and having to travel between these places). Told through alternating perspectives between Dean and Josie also cut the pacing a bit, just as you got interested in one characters plight, you head-jumped to the other character. In some places this worked, in others, not so much for me.

We meet a lot of new characters, while other, established characters are relegated to the background. I understand the practicality of this, but my heart wanted the group to keep together for the sake of the romantic in me.

The realism noted for this collection is lost a little with Josie’s storyline – there were some major plot holes that I felt were missed. Maybe an internment camp strike or retaliation in protest to the conditions and treatment? There was knowledge of the camps, but no action or pressure from the outside when reporters are obviously on scene trying to get information. The USAMRIID facility felt a bit wish-washy with its governance and performance. I’ve been on both a military base, and in a top security medical facility… a little research would have gone a long way in painting a more realistic and bleak picture for Josie. We could have seen more play with politics and Josie bringing to front her stubborn streak (and her O blood condition.)

I think I felt like the story in this finale floundered a little. It could be down to the protagonists being teens and naive of their options… but I feel we’ve seen them grow and mature through their ordeal and gain a great deal of street smarts and survival skills, and I’d have liked to see them put these skills to use to circumvent a lot to complete an arc and show how the disasters they’ve survived, force them to become independent and more equipped to face the new world than any adult.

Also the exposure to the compounds released from the NORAD facility has obviously changed those to whom were exposed permanently – there did not seem to be closure on this element. What does it mean for the future? What becomes of USAMRIID? It felt like there was the possibility of the series continuing, or at least a possibility of a companion series to delve into this aspect of the Monument 14 universe.

Dean seemed to be reactionary throughout this whole book. In the previous novels he was more proactive, organisational, and had leadership qualities. I don’t think he was given a chance to shine as a character in ‘Savage Drift’ which was a pity. Closer to the conclusion a lot of the tension was pulled apart too early which was another reason I wasn’t invested as I would otherwise.

Similarly Josie’s story (plot holes aside) had her just surviving. We had glimpses of her determination and survival instinct and care for the little ones in the internment camp – but then it went nowhere because she was pulled out of that situation and forced into another which meant her motivation was eliminated.

I wish ‘Savage Drift’ were two novels the first dealing with the characters having been separated, reuniting at the end facing the might of the military regime; and the second taking on the military rule and USAMRIID (with allies and rebels).

I didn’t know what to predict going into ‘Savage Drift,’ but upon completion they must have been high because, while I enjoyed the read, many of my expectations did not feel met. After the last page I was left with a feeling of ‘is that it?

Having read a number of other novels in-between ‘Savage Drift’ and its prequel ‘Sky on Fire’ I also felt the writing style a bit sparse and dry. It did not capture my imagination as the first two novels. Again, it reflects the demographic, dystopian world of the Monument 14, and head space of its tween protagonists – but I wanted it to be a bit more reflective and expressive of the wider world. It could have felt intimate given the way the novel is narrated, instead it fell flat for me.

Overall a lovely conclusion but I wanted more – an elevation over the established precedence of the first two novels.

Overall feeling: Not too shabby.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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.