Poisoned Blade by Kate Elliott

poisoned blade

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book.

Spoilers for the first book ahead.

This is the second in a fantasy series that takes place in an imaginary world where a conquered people suffer under the foot of an oppressive ruling class. Jess is a child born of both worlds, with a Patron father and a Commoner mother. In the first book, her father is forced to abandon her mother as part of the political manoeuvrings of higher-ups. Jess is taken into the palace as a competitor in the Fives, the Empire’s favourite game that is a combination of acrobatics, strength, and strategy. The rest of Jess’ family is almost killed, but she manages to save them. She also makes friends with one of the realm’s princes who also loves the Fives and gets in touch with a fomenting rebellion.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first book and this second one isn’t that much more thrilling. Jess continues to try and survive at court, run her competitions, manage her conflicting family loyalties and try to understand the Empire’s history that lead to the subjugation of everyone living there. And therein lies the problem. These books have too much going on for the length of text. There are other novels that have all of this, but they are 500+ pages. This one is a normal YA length, so it does not have nearly enough room for all of these plot points to be properly explored. It feels like Jess is torn in too many directions and so there is no real room for world or character building. The only thing we have is hurried plot exposition.

Fans of books like “The Hunger Games” or the “Red Rising” series will like the competition aspect of the book, but it is not described in much detail or has as much riding on it.

Jess isn’t great as a character. She is generically brave and generically determined but I did not find her inner voice very dynamic or compelling. She was a very flat character for all that she is shown in quite a few different situations. None of the characters struck me as being especially memorable or realistic.

This book is very average. The world is kind of neat, but not enough to stand out in a crowd of very similar publications. I would find something else unless you are really bored.

Beheld by Alex Flinn

beheld

3 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book.

Alex Flinn has been really on and off for me. I really loved his first, Beastly, then the next couple were okay, then Cloaked and Towering came along and they were REALLY awful and this one is okay again. I don’t know why his writing is so inconsistent, but it is really annoying not knowing what I am going to get with this author, especially having read so much of his stuff.

This book focuses on the adventures of Kendra, the witch from Beastly who is effectively an immortal teenager who is involved in the lives of all of the classic fairy tale characters.. This is the fourth in the series that gives us some of her adventures, but this one reads like a book of short stories, whereas the other ones have focused on one fairytale retelling.

Because Kendra has been alive so long, the stories are set in varied time periods and geographic locations. Little Red Riding Hood is set during the witch hunts, Rumplestiltskin and East of the Sun and West of the Moon are in Europe in fairly generic time periods and the Ugly Duckling is contemporary. Little Red Riding Hood is definitely the most creative of the bunch. Little Red Riding Hood and Kendra are having to avoid being accused of witchcraft and the wolf is a shapeshifter. The middle two read more like very generic rewrites. The setting and time are close enough to the European origins that Flinn pretty much gave us the original stories with a slight twist on the characters and their motivations. The Ugly Duckling was a little cute, being in modern America, but was very predictable.

Intertwined throughout the story, probably to give it some semblance of structure, is Kendra chasing her love across time and the world. This was really unnecessary. I know something was supposed to tie all 4 stories together, but introducing us to a character briefly in the fist story and then expecting us to care about him when we catch up to him 4 stories later was a bit of a stretch. I barely remembered he was a thing.

This book was a cute little read, but overall it was very generic. Kendra doesn’t have much of a personality and the other characters went by too quickly to get to know at all. Some of the twists on the fairy tales were neat, but overall this wasn’t anything spectacular.

Silver Stars by Michael Grant

silver stars

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

I liked this instalment quite a bit more than the first one. In this second book, all three girls are in the thick of the war. Frangie is serving as a medic on the front lines, Rainy is working with intelligence to cut a deal with the mafia and Rio is kicking butt all over Europe and North Africa. We start really seeing the full impact of war, both physically and emotionally, on the girls and their comrades, and their characters really start to change and grow.

One of the interesting things about the writing style in these pieces is that there is a narrator who is assumed to be one of the characters, but we still do not know which of the girls it is. She speaks about everyone in the third person and still refuses to give her identity. Grant has made her vague enough that she could be anyone. Neat way to do a somewhat impartial narrator.

The best part of this read was watching the girls really start to realize the full cost of the war. The first book had a lot of training in it, and a lot of the character’s anxieties were around acceptance. Now they are all a lot more worried about straight up survival. Frangie is having to patch up worse wounds than she has ever encountered and still faces a lot of racism. Rainy is dealing with a less than competent supervisor who is sending her on a dangerous mission without a proper escape plan. Rio is starting to drift farther and farther away from her childhood friend, and wondering what her soldiering skills mean for herself and her femininity. All three of them are having to deal with death and the dying every day and it is starting to break them in different ways.

Despite proving competent, all of them are still having to deal with some sexism and racism, which I think holds true for the experiences of women in armies now, and minorities, even back then. Despite saving lives and distinguishing themselves, their fellow soldiers are still not willing to admit that the girls are proper soldiers, and all of them have their own ways of dealing with that, Rio by fighting harder, Rainy uses her smart mouth and Frangie with forgiveness (and Jenou with straight up sexiness). I like that all the girls seem to have different defence mechanisms and it is interesting to watch them in action.

This book really grew the characters and rounded them out as people. It was fast paced action combined with character growth and some interesting WWII history. Recommended for people who like history but want something a bit different.