A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy [A Review]

A Court of Thorns and Roses (Book 1),

A Court of Mist and Fury (Book 2),

A Court of Wings and Ruin (Book 3) 

A trilogy by Sarah J. Maas

  [Image courtesy of Goodreads]

Reading the first book was like reading Beauty and the Beast, Hunger Games and Twilight all in one story, and it’s enough to hook anyone who has loved those stories before.

What got me started was really because the trilogy was recently completed with the publication of the third book, and the fact that it was actually one of the YA bestsellers in a local bookstore. In fact, I even saw teenage girls reading the third book on my way to work (although I’m not sure the content is entirely suitable for young teens). 

Of course, this being a trilogy and being a Sarah J. Maas creation, “happily ever after” is never an option at the end of the first book.

The plot gets complicated in the second book, and fans of female power will love the way Maas portrays the emotional and physical strength of the protagonist Feyre, and the way she was able to make so many beautiful males fall for her. But the second book was my least favourite, because I think it focused too much on the romantic (and sexual) tensions between Feyre and Rhysand. I shall not say too much on this, so that I do not give the game away, only that I understand the need for Maas to describe a couple of the really passionate scenes, but not subsequent ones. In fact, the subsequent ones just grew to become tired and long-winded for me, because I was more interested in the political and tactical games that the Night Court had to play in order to save the world. Thankfully, the third book had more of the latter, although it got a tad too melodramatic for my liking at times.

VERDICT: Other than the fact that the protagonist was a nineteen-year-old who became a fighting machine in a matter of weeks, this series is not exactly YA material, especially for those below 16, mainly because of the raw manner in which Mass has depicted the sex scenes. Other than that, the story makes for page-turning, fast reading, and is perfect if you want some entertainment that should not be taken too seriously.

The Great Library series [A Review]

Ink and Bone (Book 1), Paper and Fire (Book 2) 

The Great Library series by Rachel Caine

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  [Image courtesy of rachelcaine.com]

Imagine a dystopian world in which real physical books were no longer in legal circulation and the only copies left were kept by one Great Library that was as powerful as the Church. Printing presses were never started, and people read “library-approved” books on “Blanks” that were replicas (think tablets and ebooks, although I don’t think Caine explicitly said they were in digital formats) of the originals kept by the library. Thousands more were left in the Great Library’s Black Archives to rot, because the knowledge in those books were too “dangerous” to be released to the public.

Yes, I can see the horror on your face.

If you’d like to read about how a group of young rebels was going to bring down the Great Library and save the world from such a horrible, book-less society, this is the series for you.

Ironically, I discovered Caine when I was browsing through the local library’s catalogue. I was hesitant at the first to start on this series, because the third book is due for publication only in July this year, but I was too intrigued by the premise and too eager to get my hands on a good fantasy series again that I decided to give it a shot, convincing myself that four months won’t be too long a wait for the next book. 

The story is fast-paced. The plot is simple. The characters are distinct and recognizable enough, although some readers might find them somewhat two-dimensional at times.

Without giving too much away, I think what drew me to the story was really the horrible prospect of having no access to any book that I want anymore, and this is one series that I really want the young protagonists to succeed. 

Now that I have finished the second book, the four months to the next book seem like forever.

VERDICT: This series read like young adult fiction at times because of the young characters, but the story holds enough intrigue and pace to interest adult readers too. If you’re sick of telling digital-fanatic people physical books are precious, these books might make you feel better.

The Rithmatist [A Review]

The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson

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  [Image courtesy of Amazon.com]

 

FINALLY!!!

After the last two disappointments, this book was like a life-saver.

Reading this book, I felt transported back to the same zone I was in when I started on the first few Harry Potter books many years ago. A school that trained young people to become rithmatists so that they could serve in the “army” that fought off the wild chalklings (think Hogwarts). A boy protagonist who lost his father to an “accident”, who yearned to become a rithmatist, and who had the knowledge but lacked the “power” (not exactly Harry Potter but similar enough). A budding love interest who flunked the basic rithmatics but had a unique talent (think Hermione, minus the A-plus student quality). A professor who was arrogant, aloof and shady (think Snape). You get the idea.

What wowed me was not just the fast-paced and page-turning style typical of a Brandon Sanderson book, but the numerous twists at the end. Plus, the logic and strategies behind the chalk-drawing battles just raised my awe-level for Sanderson and his ability to create novel magical systems.

I can’t wait to read the sequel, and Sanderson just wrote on his website last December that it will be here “soooooon”. I hope it’s really soon.

VERDICT: This is one book that fans of Harry Potter, and more importantly, fans of Sanderson, shouldn’t miss.

Perfect State [A Review]

Perfect State, by Brandon Sanderson

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  [Image courtesy of kobo.com]

 

Another novella, and it’s far from perfect.

After two hellish weeks swarmed by work and a sick kid, I was in desperate need of a good read and was confident a Brandon Sanderson would do the trick. I’ve read most of his epic series, and decided to give this short story a shot. 

I was disappointed.

The story had an interesting premise, but cramming the ideas into a thin novella hardly did it justice. I would have loved to read something with the ideas (and characters) more developed. For one, the reason that the protagonist’s nemesis became a nemesis simply because the former walked away from a fight seemed rather weak. And I couldn’t feel enough from the conversation between the protagonist Kai and his date to believe that the meeting would change Kai’s perspectives and mindset so drastically.

But then I’m not a fan of novellas, so I come with my own biases.

Arghhh….. I need a really good book! NOW!

VERDICT: This novella is definitely not for folks who like their fantasy stories in the good old epic format.

Your Name [A Review]

Your Name, by Makoto Shinkai

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   [Image courtesy of Animebooks.com]

 

I have no idea how to categorize this book. Contained within this not-too-long story, are stuff like young love, soul-switching, time travel, science fiction, cultural myths and legends, even friendship.

The book was originally written in Japanese, and was written in conjunction with an animation produced by the same creator. I read the version that was translated in Chinese, because I couldn’t find anything in English. Maybe this was better, because most of the time, I find that Japanese novels read better when they have been translated in the Chinese language than in English, and especially if the translation was done by a native Taiwanese. This might have to do with culture and history. (Having said that, I’ve yet to try Murakami in Chinese, and I’m not sure I’m ready to, given my average Chinese proficiency and how Murakami books tend to mess with my brain. Yes, I’m afraid I may not survive such a read.)

Anyway, back to the book. It tells of how two young people – one living in the countryside and one living in Tokyo – switched souls one day and experienced a life-changing event together (I cannot say more without giving away the twist in the second half of the book).

I’ve heard loads about how good the animated production is, but I saw this book at the bookstore before I had had the chance to watch the animation, and I’m really glad, because it left a lot to my imagination to conjure up the beautiful scenery and emotions described in the book. I couldn’t put it down.

I hope the English version comes out soon, so more people can enjoy this beautiful story. The only grouse I have is that the book title sounds kind of funny and corny in English, but it’s actually okay in Chinese.

VERDICT: If you can read Chinese or Japanese, I’d suggest you read the book first before watching the animation. Otherwise, watch the Japanese animation with English subtitles.

Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children Trilogy [A Review]

Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children Trilogy, by Ransom Riggs

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[Image courtesy of Goodreads.com]

 

I read the first two books a couple of years back, but when the third book finally came out in 2015, I didn’t get a copy immediately, even though I had enjoyed the first two very much. I think it had to do with the fact that while I could remember the overall story line and most of the characters, I couldn’t remember the details, and I was sure it would affect my experience with the third book. Yet, if I were to reread the first two books first, they would probably not be as interesting because I could remember the key events and the “mysteries” that made me turn the pages were no longer mysteries. I wasn’t sure I would have the stamina to get to the third book. This is exactly why I dislike reading series that have not been completed.

Well, the good thing here is that this series has only three books, and over the new year holidays, I decided I had forgotten enough of the first two books’ details to make them an interesting read again. And so here I am. Finally. And as a result, my thoughts here deal with the series as a whole, instead of just the third book.

First, I think Riggs has created an interesting premise. The peculiar children not only had unique “skills”, but also distinct characters that helped to make them three-dimensional and believable. And through the protagonist’s first-person narration, Riggs has also tried to describe moral dilemmas that added shades of grey to the situations encountered by the children, unlike the clear black and white lines between good and evil sometimes used in young adult fiction.

Second, sometimes I felt like I was reading the Narnia Chronicles and His Dark Materials at the same time, with something extra thrown in. I think it was because the story had heroes (and heroines) who were children, and yet was interesting enough to engage adults too. And I guess the British way the children acted also helped. Plus, the way Riggs was able to subtly use British and American English in the dialogues probably helped to shape how I imagined the characters.

Third, I don’t know how Riggs managed to fit the photos in, but they were all so apt! I would certainly like to know whether he looked for the right photos to fit in with his story, or whether he used the photos as inspiration for his characters and story.

And finally, the ending was hilarious.

VERDICT: This is probably one of the best young adult fantasy series I’ve read so far, besides the classics (think His Dark Materials) that I love. Go try it!

The Grace of Kings [A Review]

The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu

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   [Image courtesy of Goodreads]

I feel cheated.

Maybe it’s because of the raving reviews, or maybe it’s because of my own expectations after The Paper Menagerie. I just don’t feel good after reading this book.

Okay, the world that Ken Liu “created” in the story had all the elements one needs in an epic fantasy series – heroes (both male and female), believable characters, sufficient motivation, strange beasts, lots of battle scenes, meddlesome gods. Yet, I can’t help feel that it was but a clever adaptation of the Chinese history before, during and after the Qin dynasty.

Many of the characters, including the protagonists, were replicas of notable figures during that era (think Liu Bang vs Xiang Yu). Even the events, war tactics, battle tricks and political developments described in the story had the same key elements as the stories from that time. I couldn’t help wondering, halfway through the book, whether I was reading an original fantasy story, or an English (albeit entertaining) translation-cum-adaptation of a historical account of the escapades of two famous characters in Chinese history.

To be fair, Ken Liu tried to pump in new ideas of his own, like the use of airships, the enlightened attitude towards women and a behind-the-scene involvement of Gods. But they were not done well, especially the Gods bit. I couldn’t see how the Gods fitted in. Sure, they were treating the developments in the human realm like a game, to see whose champion would eventually emerge as the final King, and there were instances whereby one God would cheat and interfere with events. But if I were to remove all the parts containing the Gods bits, it wouldn’t have dismantled the story. In fact, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

I was so excited about this trilogy before. Now, I don’t think I’ll even move on to Book Two.

VERDICT: If you’re familiar with Chinese history and prefer to read original stories, don’t bother with this book.