Ruin and Rising

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So, I’ve finished reading the Grisha Trilogy.

I’m so sad it’s over.

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If you remember my reviews of the first two books, then you already know that I loved them. This final book didn’t disappoint me in any way.

The first book was a sunny dream of opportunity and happiness compared to this book. It basically tore out my heart and ate it. Terrible things continuously happened with no seeming end in sight.

My heart broke continuously for Ravka, for Alina and Mal, for Nikolai, and even for the Darkling. The beauty of Bardugo’s writing was that she made me care about everyone she introduced me to. I felt for the Stag and the Whip in the previous books, and for the unnamed peasants that are killed to prove a point. It’s a mark of skill that she’s able to make her reader care for even the most reprehensible character: the Darkling.

We learn more of him in this book. It humanizes him to an almost uncomfortable degree. How could a man, even one with such power, come to such an end? Well, you’ll damn well find out.

The reader sees more of Genya, Baghra, and Nikolai, which I was very happy with. Character development was at an all-time high, bringing out new facets of Zoya and Sergei, Tolya and Tamar, and characters we didn’t see much of in the previous books. More is learned of Baghra’s past – and man did I read those parts breathlessly.

The cult of Sankta Alina is rather strongly featured and is interesting – as are Alina’s feelings about it. Ravka is broken, at war with itself while trying to keep outside forces at bay as well. Alina must dig deeper than she thinks herself capable of to try and salvage something of her country and its people.

I found the development of Alina’s character to be very satisfying. In any other character, the self-doubt and constant questioning of motives would be annoying – but here, they simply weren’t. As I mentioned in previous reviews, Alina’s voice seemed so real to me that I couldn’t find her a nuisance, or foolish. In any case, I thought choices were very realistic for someone put in so many impossible situations. Even to the end, she isn’t perfect – never the Sankta that the Apparat wished for. While I always suspected she would come to a tragic end, the way that Bardugo handled it was absolutely flawless.

I find myself at a loss to discuss just why exactly I loved this book so much. I spoke about it to someone when I finished it, and there was a lot of hand flailing and eye-widening to get my point across.

Was the plot well paced? Yes. Was it unpredictable? Yes. Were the characters interesting? Yes. Was the world-building on point? Yes. Was the ending satisfying? Yes.

Plenty of books have those factors and I don’t love them.

Really, it all boils down to this: I felt so much.

I laughed with Alina, and cried with her. I felt her confusion, her conflict, her desire. I felt sympathy for the Darkling and for Baghra, and Mal, and Nikolai. I wished fervently with Baghra (and Alina) that the Darkling could be redeemed. I felt Alina’s stricken pity and understanding as Morozova’s legacy is revealed – and her pain as it was truly understood.

Any books that can make me feel so deeply with and about their characters deserve my love.

Ruin and Rising was, in my opinion, an excellent ending to a fantastic series. While I’m sad to be finished, I’m incredibly pleased that Bardugo has written another series in the same world. Sadly not in Ravka, but you can’t have everything. Even still, her short stories (available on Tor.com) give even more insight into the culture of Ravka for those left wanting more.

I can’t wait to pick up Six of Crows, but I think I should have a cool-down period first.

Have you read the Grisha Trilogy? Did you love it, hate it, or not really care either way? What other books made you feel deeply with and for their characters? Let me know in the comments below!

The Bone Witch

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Whenever I browse NetGalley, there are always books that are most requested. Generally, I avoid them, but sometimes I figure the hype might be warranted and request one myself. I took that chance with The Bone Witch, based in part on its beautiful cover, and in part on the description.

It didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

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The Bone Witch had a really interesting premise. Our young protagonist, Tea, accidentally raises her brother from the dead. As such she’s revealed to be an asha, more specifically a ‘bone witch’, women who are (mostly) reviled for being able to wield dark runes to raise and compel the dead. The book is essentially the story of Tea’s training to become a full asha.

What is an asha, you ask? Best as I could tell, they’re essentially Geisha with magic. They place much importance on training and reputation, and are skilled entertainers, politicians, and magic wielders. Even though men can also wield magic, they’re not allowed to become asha. Instead men become deathseekers – taken from their families at young ages to be trained as soldiers.

While I think that the premise was super cool, I didn’t find the story as compelling as I would have liked. It opens in the present, from the perspective of a Bard who has sought out a Dark Asha on a desolate beach filled with the skeletons of massive creatures.

The other perspective is Tea’s narrative as she tells her story to the Bard. Though this could have been an effective device, the two stories never came to a head. The present Tea is a much different person from the girl seen in training in the past. She was impatient and impetuous just like any other teen, but I thought that because of the disparity of the two storylines I could never reconcile her present behavior with her past. It seemed very out of character.

Despite the length of the novel, the reader never gets to find out what caused the change in her as the two stories never converge.

Talk about disappointing.

(Yes, I am aware that this is the first in a series. That doesn’t mean that everything should remain unresolved in the first book. If there’s no payoff, why keep reading?)

The novel is fairly slow paced, which I know annoyed a lot of reviewers. I wasn’t bothered by that so much as I was the two storyline gimmick never bearing fruit.

It bears mentioning that this book suffers from Mary Sue Syndrome. Tea is always somehow an exception to the rules who is strangely good at things. No, making her bad at singing doesn’t cancel this.

The world building was pretty simple, with offhand mentions of other kingdoms and the general qualities of their inhabitants. It mostly seemed like rudimentary copying of real world nations, only with less description, more stereotyping, and a dash of the supernatural. A device I did love was that of the heartsglass. The people of this world literally wear a manifestation of their hearts around their necks, which is a unique thing I’ve never seen in another story.

The development of supporting characters and side plots was very basic. Some of them were very interesting but remained unexplored. My favourite was about Likh, a beautiful boy who wishes to become an asha rather than a deathseeker. His storyline is continued further than I expected but is ultimately unresolved. Others include Fox’s acquaintance with an unexpected woman, Mykaela’s health, Junior Heartsforger, and Kance and Kalen. Also – the Oracle. What exactly is her purpose? Is there only one? There was also never any mention of Tea’s blood family after she leaves them, which seemed strange to me.

Ultimately, I loved the concept of this book. I found it a likeable enough read. I don’t think that the execution was as successful as it could have been. If it had been, I could have easily likened it to Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, or the Grisha Trilogy. A young heroine learns her place in the world and changes it while doing so.

As it is, it just wasn’t quite up to snuff. I hope the next book can redeem it.

Have you read The Bone Witch? Are you gearing up to read it? Let me know in the comments below!

T5W: Gateway Books to Young Adult

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Top 5 Wednesday is a book meme created by Gingerreadslainey, and hosted here if you’re interested in participating!

This week’s theme is ‘gateway books to your favourite genre’, and I really had to think about it. I’m a fairly eclectic reader, enjoying everything from memoirs, to scifi, to a great contemporary read. I took a good look at my shelf and my favourites, and I had to conclude that I do seem to read and enjoy a lot of young adult reads.

So today I present to you, 5 gateway books to young adult reads! Just as complex and intelligent as books aimed at adults, I find they’re too often overlooked. I’ve mentioned some of these in other posts, but that’s because they’re fantastic and should be read!

The barometer I’ve used here is my dad. Some of these are books that I’ve gotten him to read and some of them are books that I think he would read. He now sometimes pursues YA on his own! If my dad can get behind Young Adult books, so can you.

eragonEragon, by Christopher Paolini

While this first book was made into an absolutely terrible film, and is quite honestly a bit of a simplistic Tolkien mirror, it’s the first of a quartet that is honestly worth your time. They contain a protagonist that grows in mind and spirit, a fantasy storyline that is fairly fast-paced, and a cast of interesting characters. I sped through them, and so did my dad.

For fans of classic fantasy, a la Tolkien and Eddings, just in an ‘easy reading’ sort of way.

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Cardenders-game

A science fiction novel that’s been adapted into a well-received movie, this book is actually the beginning of an excellent series, and the jumping-off point for a second. While this book wasn’t written with the intention of being YA, it has been marketed as such for a while, and has certainly been enjoyed by children of all ages. I read it for the first time at 12, and then again at 16.

Definitely for fans of science fiction interested in exploring complex moral issues.

stolen-coverStolen, by Lucy Christopher

A very intense novel, the entire thing is a letter from a captive to her kidnapper. You’ll either love this book or you’ll hate it. The author is very gifted with storytelling, and basically explores Stockholm Syndrome from the inside. A book I haven’t read in ages but that has stayed with me for years.

For fans of contemporary thrillers and psychologically challenging books.

Sabriel, by Garth Nixabhorsen-1

The first book in a series, it has incredibly extensive world building. With different types of magic systems, and a protagonist who must learn a legacy of binding the dead, it’s certainly a page turner. It involves very interesting necromancy, and an antagonist who moves the story along at a rapid pace.

For fans of high fantasy and cool magic systems.

white-catWhite Cat, by Holly Black

One of my favourite teen authors, this is another book that you’ll either love or hate. The protagonist is an ungifted guy in a family of curse workers – people with various magical gifts. He starts having bizarre dreams about a white cat trying to tell him something, and must try to figure it out while navigating strange family secrets.

For fans of the paranormal, this is Supernatural meets the mafia.

There were other books that I would add to this list, but most of them speak for themselves, so I’ll add them here as honourable mentions. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, His Dark Materials, and anything written by Tamora Pierce are all well known and worth reading.

I hope that if you’re not familiar with Young Adult novels, I’ve helped to open a new door for you!

Have you read any YA novels that have convinced you that it’s a genre to look for? What is your favourite genre of books, and a gateway book you’d recommend for it?