Gambit by C.L. Denault

gambit

I received an ARC of this book.

3 out of 5 stars.

Willow has always lived in a poor village outside of the core cities, not allowed the technological luxuries of urban life, but surrounded by friends and family. Soldiers disrupt the peace by charging in, killing and beating some of the locals, and claiming Willow is actually the daughter of one of the most powerful houses in the core and that she has to leave everything behind to go start a new life. The manifestation of a new set of superpowers seems to confirm their story, but since the new life in the core will involve marriage to a  stranger and a 24/7 security detail, Willow is anything but happy. She has to get her new powers under control and learn to survive in a new, back bitingly political world.

I give the action/ science fiction parts of this book 4 out of 5 stars and the romance/ relationship parts 2 out of 5 stars.

Willow gaining superpowers and having to travel to a new city and start playing complicated political games is awesome. Having a social hierarchy based on superpowers is a fun idea and I would have loved to see more of that. A society partly made up of super powered demigods and partly made up of ordinary people is a neat premise, and added to that is the social structure being dependant on alliances and marriages between super-powered people in order to produce babies that will also have powers could make a fabulous world in which to hold a story. I want more of that world and more exploration into what kind of world you could build with that social fabric in place.

Willow as a character is, unfortunately, not very interesting and her romantic relationship with the rather cold and bloodthirsty Captain Reece who came to kidnap her back to her birth family is irritating. Reece is one of those love interests who is halfway to being physically abusive and most of Willow’s time is spent trying to figure out if she is in love with someone who mercilessly slaughtered someone from her hometown. This facet of the book just ruined it for me and it took up too much of the plot to be ignorable. Willow’s entire character seems to be hingeing on her relationship with Reece and her inability to control her own powers. I cannot find any other personality outside of those two things, and since she is attracted to someone I find morally repellant, I lost interest in her and her story. I just cannot sympathize with those female protagonists who want to fall in love with someone who is nasty as hell to everyone else as long as he is occasionally sweet to her. I would rather read about girls and women who have some self-respect and some backbone.

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Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer

rapture of the deep

Numbers 1-7 in the series

2-4 stars.

This series starts out as pretty interesting. Mary Faber is an orphan running wild on the streets of London until she signs on as a ship’s boy on a Royal Navy ship. She then proceeds to become an experienced sailor and has all sorts of adventures in the early 1800s. They have a light-hearted tone and lots of adventure. The first book in the series is very novel and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The next two were also very interesting, but by the fourth book in the series, they get a little more dull, and by the time you hit the 7th and 8th they are downright repetitive.

Every book has the same story arc:1) Mary Faber thinks her life is going fine  2) she is coerced against her will into an adventure and separated from her boyfriend 3) she is threatened with rape multiple times  4) she is threatened with death by hanging  5) she is rescued by her own cleverness with the help of her friends 6) she thinks her life is going fine again.

Meyer keeps recycling many of the same characters and uses rape as a action-instigator waaay too many times.The humour stays the same and none of the characters grow as people. The books start to feel like the exact same story, just thinly veiled with a different geographic location. By the 7th book I was bored and I did not get through the 8th. Mary Faber always gets into scrapes because of her impetuous nature, regrets it, and then goes off and does the exact same thing the next time. Her friends are all steadfast and the villains remain villainous. They are all sisyphus, doomed to roll the same boulder up the same hill forever.

I would very much recommend the first two or three, because they do start out charming and exciting. Meyer just never does anything to her formula that makes the later books anything but carbon copies of the first one.

Gilded by Christina Farley

gilded

2 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book.

This is one I did not manage to finish.

Jae Hwa Lee has just been moved from LA to Korea when her mother dies. Her grandfather keeps trying to get her sent back to America, and for good reason. The family is cursed and a Korean demigod kidnaps the eldest female of every generation. On top of that, she is struggling to keep up with her schoolwork and social life.

I think that the plot blurb I wrote above pretty much summarizes my dislike of this book. Jae Hwa Lee is involved in two narrative streams: fighting off a Korean demigod determined to make her his bride, and dealing with being an ordinary teenage who was just forced to move to another country. I don’t mind other books that have this pattern, but this one gave equal weight and time to both stories, and the one about the ordinary teenager is just too boring. Jae Hwa Lee complains about homework and her social obligations and her crush on a boy are dull. I don’t really care about anything happening on that front because of the impending doom on the other front. It is just so meaningless and trite compared to the mythology sections of the book.

The action/myth sections aren’t that much better. They happen to quickly without much description and you never really get caught up in the action because it goes by so quickly.

The author seems to rely on the fairly unique Korean setting to carry the novel and it really doesn’t. Jae Hwa Lee does not give me a good enough reason to care about her main character and the book does not explore Korean mythology in enough detail to hang the book on that.

Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine

of metal and wishes

4 out of 5 stars

This novel is an asian-style, dystopic rewrite of Phantom of the Opera. It is hard enough to find dystopias set in not-Europe-or-North-America, so that was already a draw, even without the plot being a re-imagining of one of my favourite musicals.

Wen has just lost her mother and has gone to live with her father as his assistant. He is a doctor who serves the workers in a cattle slaughtering plant and life, while not wonderful, is at least somewhat comfortable. The factory owners then decide to hire some Noors, a different race of men who are said to be beastly and awful. They way they are treated soon start to reveal more about Wen’s society than she may be comfortable knowing. There are also rumours about a wish-granting ghost who haunts the factory.

This is one of the very few books I have read over the last few years that was not on my to-read list (now sitting at 363 books. Eep!). I loved the cover and glanced over the blurb but did not really absorb much of it. As a result, it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out if this was historical fiction or dystopian fiction. That ends up being a testament to how realistically Sarah Fine can create a world. I could not tell it from the real one.

Wen’s position and struggles are also very close to what indentured servants and workers during the Industrial revolution would have faced and the descriptions of the working conditions and the day to day life trying to survive are shockingly lifelike.

The character of the Phantom is very sympathetic, with most of the blame for his actions falling on the inhumane conditions in which he grew up. His relationship is Wen is complicated but touching and I found myself really sympathizing with him, even as he continued to make really questionable decisions.

This book was so vivid and the premise and mixture of genres so unexpected that this book ends up being very unique and interesting. Anyone who is looking for something a little different in their dystopias should give this one a go.

An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

an inheritance of ashes

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

Hallie and her sister live on a tired farm in the middle of a country at war. Word comes back that a hero has ended the war by cutting out the heart of the invader’s God, but Hallie keeps finding twisted, unnatural creatures on the edges of the farm, and her brother has not returned yet. She and her sister are struggling to maintain the farm when Hallie hires a veteran to help them with the chores. She hopes that he can help them stem the flow of monsters before her brother will not have anything to go home to.

The most unusual thing about this book is that the main theme was not about the war or saving a farm from ruin, but about the psychological and emotional trauma of being an abuse victim. Both Hallie and her sister Marthe were abused by their father growing up, and a large part of this novel is dedicated to how they are relating to their pasts and to each other as a result of those shared experiences. As the pressures of running the farm and the war loom larger, cracks develop in their relationship that neither has the tools to fix. It is a very realistic look at how childhood trauma can impact future relationships for what is essentially a fantasy novel.

The writing and pacing are slower and very somber. If this book was a painting there would be a lot of greys and blacks. Everyone is tired, sad and distrustful. Everyone is sick of the war and watching mangled young veterans limp back from the front lines. The hero who won the war has vanished, and the defeat of the enemy has not stopped his foul creatures from coming. Though the ending does end up being happy, this is not book that should be read by someone in a bad mood, as it will only intensify it.

The most notable flaw in this book is that some of the description of scenery and actions are a little confusing. I wasn’t sure what I was reading a few times and that threw me for a loop. Other than that though, it was a personal and poignant fantasy novel, mostly concerned with the day-to-day cares of a small farming family.

The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins

the great hunt

2 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

A wild beast is terrorizing the kingdom and the king, in a final act of desperation, has decided to offer his daughter to whomever can slay the beast. Princess Aerity is not thrilled but understands her duty. When the hunters assemble, a young man catches her eye, but he is hiding a dark secret that may come between them.

“The Great Hunt” really read like a good short story that managed to get stretched out into a novel. It has very little plot for a full-length book. Most of the book were hunters hunting and girls falling in love with various men. The characters were not very memorable, none of them having much of a personality and the plot really drags on. A lot of time is taken with the various female characters wondering at their feelings towards the various male characters, but not in a way that is at all interesting. The rest is the various groups of hunters failing, but since they are very generic, it is hard to care.

This book just feels really thin and boring. Not enough happens, either internally or externally to the characters, that makes up for the space and ink used. It dragged on and fell very flat.

Future Perfect by Jen Larsen

future perfect

I received an ARC of this work.

2 out of 5 stars.

Ashley Perkins is a person most people would find pretty perfect. She is going to be valedictorian of her graduating class, she is involved in extra-curricular activities, she is well liked and has a good relationship with her boyfriend. She even finds time for a part-time job. Her eventual goal is to get into Harvard on scholarships. Ashely and her friends are totally okay with Ashely being overweight, but her high-achieving surgeon grandmother is not. Every year, she tries to bribe Ashley to lose weight. Shopping sprees and exotic trips and cars have all been offered if Ashley will just go on a diet. She has managed to refuse every year so far, but her grandmother is REALLY pulling out all the stops this year. If Ashely will get weight loss surgery, her grandmother will pay for all 4 years in Harvard. With her scholarship deadline looming, Ashely has to weigh exactly how much her sense of self worth is worth.

While amusing, the problem I found with this book is that it has way too many themes. It would have been great if it had been a book about Ashley’s self-esteem and her relationship with her grandmother, but it ends up being about that AND about Ashley’s relationship with her dysfunctional dad AND Ashley’s relationship with her transgendered friend AND that friend’s relationship with her parents. There was way too much going on in too little space. As a result the book really feels rushed and all of the characters are hazy and indistinct. If this was meant to be an issues book, then the author should have focused on the issue more closely. I appreciate wanting to speak to all these different types of relationships and experiences, but things got too tangled and squished together.

I also found the grandmother character a little unbelievable. I can completely see her being concerned that her granddaughter will be at a disadvantage because of her size, but recommending a fairly extreme surgery to a healthy girl when you yourself are a surgeon seems unrealistic. The grandmother should know the risks of surgery, especially a weight loss one, and not go recommending her granddaughter get cut open on an operating table for purely aesthetic reasons.

This book was a good, intriguing idea that was poorly executed. I wanted more of Ashley’s inner thoughts and feelings as she struggled with her decision, not moments of her day to day life that are irrelevant to the plot arch of the book. I am not sure I would recommend this to many readers.