Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

traitor-to-the-throne

3 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book.

This may contain spoilers for Rebel of the Sands.

There has been a recent uptick in the number of YA fantasies set in an historical middle eastern setting. This is wonderful because now we can add Djinns into the mix of magical creatures we get to read about, and not everything is automatically medieval Europe. I love the diversity these books add to the mix of YA fantasy.

In the first book, Amani, a sharpshooting and adventurous young lady, is desperate to get out of her dusty and boring hometown before she gets married off. When a stranger stumbles into town, closely pursued by the army, she grabs the chance and escapes. At the end of the book it is revealed that he is a prince who is helping his brother plan a rebellion against their father, and that Amani herself is part Djinn.

In this second instalment, Amani is captured by the crown and taken to the palace as a prisoner. Instead of a desert, she must now navigate the corrupt world of the harem. Jealousies run high amongst those closest to the sultan and Amani having Djinn powers does not fully grant her immunity.

I liked this book more than the first one. In Rebel of the Sands Amani does not really have any long term plans besides ditching her hometown. In this book she has purpose and direction, which gives her character more life. It also gives the book a little more direction. The first one felt like the plot was just random stuff happening to this poor girl and she had little to no say in where she was going and what she was doing. At least in this volume she has a clear goal.

Despite being vaguely desert-themed, this world was not the best in terms of fleshed-out detail. Most fantasy worlds do not hit so close to reality and I was hoping for a bit more deviation, either in terms of food or religion or clothing or something, but the world rang a bit flat. I like the non-European setting, but it definitely could use more creativity.

 

The Wish Granter by C.J. Redline

wish-granter

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this work.

This is a rewrite of the fairytale Rumplestilstkin, but it took most of the book for that to be apparent. Could have just been me though.

Princess Ari, up until a couple of days ago, was the bastard daughter of the king. This worked for her, since it meant running wild with her best friend, baking, and not being called on her un-princess like behaviour. Then the entire proper royal family is murdered, her twin is King and she is now the heir apparent. She and her brother are only alive because her brother has made a deal with the devil. The Wish Granter appears to the desperate and offers them their hearts’ desire, in return for their souls, to be collected at a later date. The now King Thad traded his soul for the kingship, praying that will be enough to keep his twin safe. Thad has his soul for the next ten years, as long as he does not interfere with the Wish Granter’s shady business dealings and drug manufacturing. Ari has to watch the powerful Fae gain a toehold, then foothold in her brother and her kingdom and decides to fight back.

I love Ari as a heroine. She is a little plump, loves baking, hates being a proper princess and can talk her way out of anything. She is vibrant, friendly and completely someone I would want as a best friend. Her character was well constructed and real, and a spunky, interesting heroine. Sebastian, the love interest, is also a great character. He comes from a  broken home, with a drug addicted mother and and abusive father, but he is working to rise above it. He is strong and loyal to his friends.

This is an amazing interpretation of this fairy tale. The Wish Granter is vicious and conniving in a way that forces the protagonists to be clever and on their toes. They are trying to figure out how to legally wrangle themselves out of a contract, as well as possibly assassinate a Fae, so it is a two-pronged attack, which is something a lot of books don’t have at this level. They tend to be “kill the bad guy”, not “maybe litigate your way out of trouble?”. We get some back story on Rumplestiltskin but the fairy tale is twisted around in a complex and amazing new way.

The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

lost-kingdom-of-bamarre

4 out of 5

I received an ARC of this work

The Latki and Bamarre share a kingdom, with the Latki ruling and the Bamarre working as a permanently subjugated underclass. Peregrine is a girl stuck between worlds. She was born to a Bamarre family but a Latki Lady stole her from her family (apparently Perry’s father had been stealing food from a garden). Raised as Latki, when her heritage is revealed she must choose her side and the world she wants to be a part of.

Like the companion book, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, the shadows of the original fairy tale are very slight. Perry’s magical hair and her brief tower imprisonment make a slight appearance, but this novel is much more than just a rewrite of Rapunzel. Aside from a few nods to other fairy tale (magical tablecloths and seven-league boots), this work has a much larger scope. Rapunzel is a story about one girl breaking free of her imprisonment. The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre is a story about an entire people breaking free from slavery and oppression.

Perry grows up as part of the ruling class, valuing physical strength, bravery and believing conquest through arms is right. She genuinely loves her Latki mother and father and never really bothers to question their place in the world. When she finds out she is Bamarre she has to worry immediately about whether her parents will still love her. She has to acclimatize to being Bamarre when she is reunited with her birth parents and for a while she never feels accepted by either side. She likes poetry too much to be a true Latki, but she is too forceful to truly be Bamarre. Her identity is completely in question and she is torn.

This is a very strong addition to Gail Carson Levine’s bibliography. The story has some great themes about identity and belonging and is a wonderful read.

Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau

dividing-eden

4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

Carys and Andreus are twin royalty to the Eden throne. Since their father and elder brother are healthy, they will not be taking the throne anytime soon. They are both okay with that as one suffers from a chronic condition that looks a lot like asthma (and the kingdom is at war, which means kings have to appear strong) and the other has a crippling poppy addiction. Then the king and heir apparent are killed and the queen goes crazy. Carys and Andreus are now in direct competition for the throne. The Elder ministers set up a series of tasks to test the willingness of the new heirs to do whatever it takes to seize power. The twins, who have always been loyal to each other, now find themselves fighting for their lives and the good of their kingdom.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. This is the second time Joelle Charbonneau has written a series that is concerned with life and death competition between characters and she does both the political maneuvering and emotional responses very well. Her books are well-paced and hard to put down.

It was fascinating watching both Cerys and Andreus change throughout the competition. They start out being virtually the only person the other can trust, but within days of the trials starting, they are at each other’s throats. The ministers and courtiers all start manipulating the twins and each other in a desperate grab for influence and no one knows whom they can trust.

This book is very quickly paced and exciting. The relationships are complex and the plot keeps you guessing. Definitely a must-read.

 

 

Wintersong by S Jae-Jones

wintersong

3 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this work.

This novel is a European style fairy tale. Elizabeth’s family are impoverished inn-keepers. Her parents were once famous performers, but they have fallen on hard times. All of their hopes lie on the shoulders of their son who is a virtuoso on the violin. Elizabeth and her sister are put on the sideline as all of their parents’ energies are directed towards their son. Elizabeth pour herself into her musical composition while Cathe becomes a die-hard flirt. Cathe soon attracts the eye of the Goblin King, a magical figure who needs a human bride. Elizabeth trades herself for her sister’s freedom, but being the Goblin Queen drains the life out of humans, so Elizabeth has only a limited time to escape before the role completely consumes her.

I took this to be a very teen novel from the description, but there are enough explicit sex scenes that I would more hand it to 20-somethings. Teen novels usually cut to black or use more euphemisms. Some older teens might like this, but maybe don’t give this to grade 6 and 7 kids unless you know their tastes.

Woven throughout this novel are many musical references. Elizabeth’s music is the only thing that keeps her sane as she tries to hold her family together and then navigate the underground Goblin Kingdom. The prose reflects this preoccupation with the art, with the writing style being very artistic.

I enjoyed the first part of the story, with Elizabeth trying to rescue her sister and keep her family together, but as soon as she marries the Goblin King, most of the story is just their relationship. Elizabeth is trying to discover the King’s personality but he seems to have 3 or 4 of them. She is kind of attracted to him, kind of repulsed, and most of the story turns into a will-she won’t she style dilemma, which I found pretty dull.

Despite it being fairly explicit, I just did not buy the romance angle, and that was a large part of the book. Elizabeth had a pre-existing relationship with the Goblin King as a child, forgot that he really existed, and now is head over heels in love with him. He is demanding complete surrender of every part of her before he is willing to sleep with her (a move I found super creepy and Elizabeth takes to mean she has to give him her music). Parts of their relationship seem abusive and this character that I had come to admire just started seeming rather stupid. Trade your life for your sister’s if you must, but throwing yourself at the guy who seduced her with magic is maybe not the best move.

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg.

categorical

4 out of 5 stars.

As a tiny break, this is not a book I received an ARC of, and it is actually a slightly older one from 2014, but I love it so much I have to blog about it.

Candice is a junior high student with autism. She is functional, but understanding some human behaviour is difficult. Her parents are pretty good at explaining things but she could definitely use a friend her own age. Enter Douglas. He is convinced he is from another universe (he has an explanation that uses the word “quantum” a lot) but he is willing to be friends until he can get back to his own dimension. He makes daily attempts by jumping out of the tree in his backyard every day at noon. Besides this he is a pretty good friend. Candice also has a fish called Earth Pig Fish. She is worried that her fish thinks she is God and is trying to make him an atheist.

That last sentence pretty much gives you the tone of the book. It is completely and absolutely hilarious. The narrative voice is spot on and really conveys the confusion and bluntness of the character. She tries to jump off of a dock in order to repair her family (they would save her from drowning and celebrate by all being friends again) but she flails around and is eventually saved by the inflatable breasts that Douglas gave her for her birthday.  This book is so full of character and humour.

Candice is so realistic and relatable and this book is a huge amount of fun. I love the tangles and misunderstandings that come from her unique perspective on the human condition and I am going out to read something else from this author.

Gilded Cages by Vic James

gilded-cage

4 out of 5 stars.

I received an ARC of this book.

This was an absolutely wonderful read that I did not anticipate liking nearly this much, but I did! And it was awesome!

Britain is ruled by the small, elite group of people who have fairly generic, not really well defined magic powers. They used to do cool, awesome things like build magnificent buildings and heal people, but now they seem to just spend a lot of time sitting on their asses and playing politics. This would not be completely terrible but they have decided that any unSkilled person (most of the population) have to spend a decade of their lives as slaves to the state. By slave we mean the full-on, no rights whatsoever legal nonentity. Given the relative power of the Skilled, most people have been somewhat loathe to bring up the unfairness of this arrangement, but things are coming to a boil. The Chancellor has been blackmailed into bringing up the possibility of abolishing slavery before the government and this might be just the opportunity a small group of rebels could use to overthrow the system.

This is one of the most multiple POV novels I have ever read. It does not switch between 2-3 different voices, but 5+. This could be either very thoughtful and helpful to the flow of the story, or end up annoying as hell. Here it turns out to be the former (thank goodness). The story unfold over two geographically separate areas (a slave camp and a manor), so we need at least that many POVs. The author has added in viewpoints from most of the major characters, and instead of getting confusing, it really makes this progress nicely. You can see everyone’s internal logic for their actions and get to know all of the characters very intimately.

The world is an uncanny mix of severe dystopian for most of the book, contrasted with a  VERY normal looking home life for everyone before their slavedays. The first couple of chapters with Luke, Abi and the rest of their family before they decide to get their slavery out of the way read a lot like contemporary fiction with a slight twist. Once they are in the system, the tone of the world switches very quickly and severely. This really brought the reality of people working in those types of conditions across our world into focus for me. This type of slavery does not just happen in books, but there are real humans in this sort of situation right now.

I really enjoyed this book more than I thought I would for not having heard of the author before. I cannot wait for more from Vic James.