Friday, May 24, 2019

THE SCARECROW QUEEN


Review of THE SCARECROW QUEEN by MELINDA SALISBURY
(third in THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER trilogy)

My adoration of this series grew exponentially with each book. This concluding novel broke my heart, but also amazed me for it for its capacity to affect my emotions. I adored this series and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a YA fantasy trilogy that stands out in the crowd.

First, let me warn that this review contains some spoilers for the first two books.

THE SCARECROW QUEEN opens with all of our main characters in precarious positions and the author isn’t any kinder to them throughout the book. Errin is being held prisoner by Aurek, as Leif secured her safety (or rather her life more than her well-being) by promising her hand in marriage to the Sleeping Prince. However, Aurek is beyond understanding any kind of love or affection (total psychopath) and really sees Errin as little more than an interesting toy. Which means disposable if no longer pleasing. Meanwhile, Twylla flees for her life, well aware that she might be the best and only shot for destroying Aurek. With this in mind, she tries to launch a rebellion, a seemingly impossible undertaking.

I have entirely mixed feelings about Leif’s role in this story, but cannot deny that Salisbury made me FEEL and feel intensely. His character isn’t at all who I thought him to be, and at times I felt frustrated by that, but on the other hand he’s not at all who Twylla thought him to be and I related so strongly with how she must feel about that. Unfortunately, Leif’s complicated character overshadowed the rest of the story for me. I skimmed a lot, hoping for more satisfying explanations regarding his motivations.

The book didn’t provide nearly as much closure as I wanted, and I both love and hate it for that. The hate part is more obvious; I feel tortured by the unanswered questions the author has left me to brood over. As for the love part, I also feel the open-ended nature taps into a genuine aspect of real life; sometimes we don’t ever get to understand why that person did what they did. Also, regardless of any yearning for anything more, I am impressed at how strongly Salisbury made me feel. There are several standout, dramatic scenes in this novel that I not only pictured so clearly as I read them, but continue to play over in my mind.

Friday, May 17, 2019

SPINNING SILVER


Review of SPINNING SILVER by NAOMI NOVIK

Miryem is the daughter of the local moneyleader, but her sweet, compassionate father never follows through on actually collecting the debts owed him. As they slide into crippling poverty, Miryem takes over, earning herself a reputation as a hardhearted woman who practically turns silver into gold. Unfortunately, the fairy king hears these rumors and takes them literally. He comes to Miryem with high demands, which in turn carry high rewards for success…and high prices for failure.

Then there’s Wanda, who comes to help Miryem’s increasingly well-off household with chores and, in so doing, earns herself a little peace from her abusive father. Our last heroine is Irina, whose father intends to marry her to a cruel tsar. Only Irina knows that the tsar is possessed by some kind of demon, and that their marriage will mean her death. Each of these women work alone, and sometimes together, to craft their own destiny.

I love all three heroines. They’re all strong and smart, but in their own unique ways. However, the story switches between their perspectives…all in first person. It was definitely confusing and sometimes took me several sentences of a new chapter to piece together whose viewpoint we’re in now.

SPINNING SILVER finds that sweet spot between fairy tale retelling and original story. It has that wonderful combination of familiar and fresh, not to mention that beautiful haunting sense of mysterious old magic. Even Novik’s name for the fey—Staryk—sounds so recognizable that I thought it must be from something I read before. Well, if it is, I can’t track it down now. I think she just nailed the balance of innovative familiarity. I would recommend this book even to those who claim to have already met their fairy tale retelling limit. SPINNING SILVER doesn’t read like any story you’ve read before.

Friday, May 10, 2019

THE LAST ANNIVERSARY


Review of THE LAST ANNIVERSARY by LIANE MORIARTY

First let me say that I liked this book. I like (often love, sometimes adore) all of Moriarty’s work. However, interestingly enough THE LAST ANNIVERSARY is both my least favorite so far as well as the one that best handled my pet peeve about her writing.

That pet peeve is that she always plants a piece of mystery bait early in the story to keep the reader hooked out of a desire for answers. I find this tension technique overdone and unnecessary, especially in Moriarty’s case since she writes such strong and intriguing characters. The withheld mystery in THE LAST ANNIVERSARY is regarding a local legend. A baby was discovered abandoned, the parents mysteriously gone with no explanation. However, it’s clear from an opening chapter that at least some people know the true story behind this mystery and, as is standard for a Moriarty novel, those secrets will not be revealed until the dramatic ending.

The withheld mystery didn’t bother me as much in this novel as it has in others, I suspect because Sophie doesn’t know either. While the book dips into other perspectives, I viewed Sophie as our protagonist and felt comfortable watching secrets unfold along with her. I think it frustrates me more when a character already knows something, but only ever thinks about it with vague, veiled wording meant to intrigue without explaining. Or even when someone else knows, but all it would take is simply asking them.

Moving away from my pet peeve point, though, what I adore about Moriarty’s writing is the nuanced characters and how all the relationships pop with believable chemistry. Yet I experienced that the least in this book so far. The characters felt a little flatter, less developed. I didn’t buy them as people I might meet, like I normally do with her characters. I struggled keeping track of everyone, as well as their relations to each other.

Having established that this one is opposite to my usual Mortiarty impressions, let me back up and explain the premise a bit more. Sophie is single when her one-that-got-away, and now married, ex approaches her with a bizarre situation. His aunt has passed away…and left her house to Sophie, much to the fury of other family members. Sophie loved that house, probably part of why the aunt left it to her. It’s on a small island infamous for the unsolved mystery. Generations back, the aunt’s family found that abandoned baby in a house they rented, with absolutely no sign of what happened to the parents.

Aside from the underdeveloped characters, I do have a few more criticisms with this one than I normally do with this author. I’m afraid I called almost every single twist in the entire book, including the main one about the original Munro Baby mystery. My frustration over this is lessened by the fact that there was one small twist near the end that I didn’t see coming and I was pleased to be taken by surprise by that one. 

Unfortunately, I will also say that the final explanation for the big Munro Baby mystery didn’t fully satisfy me. I have to suspend my disbelief far too much to be convinced, especially in proportion to how long that information is dramatically withheld. The explanation seems to rest entirely on the incompetency of others.

Honestly, I think this is fantastic book that fell a little short of the high bar I set for Moriarty’s work. The short chapters make it a fast read, and, as ever, Moriarty infuses everything with suspense and complicated relationships.

Friday, May 3, 2019

THE SLEEPING PRINCE


Review of THE SLEEPING PRINCE by MELINDA SALISBURY
(second in THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER trilogy)

This trilogy started very well with THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER
and I was excited to read the next book. Initially, I was disappointed that THE SLEEPING PRINCE opens in a new perspective, especially since the first novel ended on a slight cliffhanger. However, our new heroine Errin won me over as much as Twylla, arguably more so for being a little more relatable. (No poison skin or anything like that.)

Errin does connect to the first book. She is Leif’s sister. Leif left Errin and their mother for his job as a royal guard in a foreign country, supposedly to help his family financially, but Errin has not been feeling particularly helped. Whether his heart was in the right place or not, Errin’s brother abandoned her to handle both money issues and a mother with severe mental health problems. Now that The Sleeping Prince has awoken and is sweeping through every country, killing by the hundreds, Errin will need to figure out how to move her unpredictable mother away from their dangerous position on the border.

Errin is not entirely without help. She befriended a peculiar outlier named Silas. He wears a hood at all times and Errin has never seen his face. Their friendship is rocky; they clearly like each other, maybe more than like, but both have secrets from the other and a lot to lose if they misplace their trust. Despite all that, Silas is all Errin has right now.

I found Errin’s dream sequences odd and irrelevant, but—as with opening on a new character—trust the author. Salisbury knows what she’s doing, and by the end of the book any confusion or criticism I had smoothed out and made sense to me.

THE SLEEPING PRINCE builds to a powerful, unexpected, emotional (but, yes, cliffhanger) ending that left me desperate to start the next book immediately.
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