LGBT, Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Ace of Spades: by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Publish Date: June 1st, 2021
Number of Pages: 432 Pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre(s): YA Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, LGBT

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

I hate how they have the power to kill my future, kill me. They treat my Black skin like a gun or a grenade or a knife that is dangerous and lethal, when really it’s them. The guys at the top powering everything.

– Faridah Àbíké-Íyídé, “Ace of Spades”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Gossip Girl meets Get Out in Ace of Spades, a YA contemporary thriller by debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé about two students, Devon & Chiamaka, and their struggles against an anonymous bully.

When two Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the elite school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. After all, not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian, too.

Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by Aces begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them that turn their lives upside down and threaten every aspect of their carefully planned futures.

As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become incredibly deadly?

With heart-pounding suspense and relevant social commentary comes a high-octane thriller from debut author Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.

~~~

Ace of Spades is a whirlwind of a story once you really get into the thick of things…it’s about two black students who are being targeted by an anonymous online presence who goes by the name “Aces” at a prestigious private school. They have no idea why this faceless enemy is targeting them specifically, but what they do know is that they know all their dirty secrets and aren’t afraid to put it all out there for the world to see, thus putting their futures in grave danger…

This book has gotten a lot of praise and exposure on bookstagram and all over social media ever since it came out over the summer of 2021, and I’ll admit that the comparison of “Get Out” meets “Gossip Girl” really had me interested to see what the hype is all about. Plus, I’m a strong advocator for how representation matters and wanting to hear different voices in books and expanding my perspective of other people’s lives that are different than my own. I am a white CIS male, and while I know I will never fully understand the struggles of being black in America, especially a black queer male, but I can honestly say I felt like this book gave me a good idea! The social issues that are explored in this story are a definite highlight that a lot of us can definitely relate to in some way, shape, or form and the characters feel much more fleshed out and dynamic as more is revealed to their character and personal sense of morality.

While the initial set up and beginning of the book were good enough to draw you in, I felt the midpoint really dropped the ball and really slowed down for me…I mean, I really struggled to stay interested through a good chunk of it and even considered putting this book on my DNF stack on several occasions. Heck, I even tried bribing some of my coworkers at the bookstore to read it for me and just spoil it all for me! Not exactly a good thing for any book, lesbehonest…however, my curiosity to find out who was behind it all was what kept me going to be able to finish the story. It obviously won out in the end, and I can’t say it disappointed me either!

While the midpoint was slow, once I got to page 200 I think, that was when the mystery really began to get juicier and it was a much faster and engaging book. The whole situation begins to be revealed as something much bigger and sinister than anyone could imagine, and even I found myself with freakin’ chills running up my arms when certain things happen to the characters, like with certain students or even faculty members. I found the ending to be very satisfactory even if it also felt a little rushed, but I also think that’s okay because by then the authors message and lesson for the reader is loud and clear about issues like systematic racism, classism, and even the struggles of being a POC LGBT+ youth in America today.

Like I said, when you get further into the book where the plot becomes more significant and characterization moves to the passenger seat; sex, lies, murder, secrets, white supremacy, and the ongoing battle of taking down racism make this quite a wicked ride of a story that somehow even has some heartwarming softer moments of both family, friendship, and love that make this even a more well rounded story!

~~~

All you need to know is… I’m here to divide and conquer. Like all great tyrants do.”

– Faridah Àbíké-Íyídé, “Ace of Spades’

What I Liked:

  1. The Representation! One reason I picked this book up was because it’s not a bad thing to broaden your horizons and try to listen to different voices in literature. We all know the argument that representation matters, and I can say this book provides someone like me a great visual on what it’s like to be black and dealing with racism, and even to be black and queer and dealing with the system being against you just because of the color of your skin. It’s not the type of story I usually go for, and for that is why I wanted to try something new.
  2. The Character Development! Chiamaka and Devon both have such amazing character development as the story progresses and they deal with other issues besides a cyber bully. I especially liked Chiamaka’s chapters and her as a character in general because she,at start off as the typical queen b, Blair Waldorf HBIC, but she becomes so much more as you get closer to her.
  3. The Social Commentary/Theme! It’s been said already in this review, but I thought the author showed the struggles of dealing with racism, classism, and even homophobia all incredibly well, and it certainly helped someone who’s not facing the same struggles as they face to better understand it and hopefully learn from it as we move forward!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Extremely Slow Midpoint…I’m sorry, but that midpoint almost killed the book for me! I was just so bored, and I kept putting this book down for others because I just couldn’t get myself to read it most days. I almost put it in my DNF stack, but I hate doing that and really did want to find out who was behind it all.

Conclusion:

Overall, Ace of Spades was crazy and twisted YA thriller that also has an incredibly interesting take on systematic racism, white supremacy, and plenty of other social issues that are so incredibly important, ESPECIALLY with all that has happened in the last year and a half pertaining to those specific issues and what plenty of POC citizens still deal with today.

I will never fully know the struggle of being black in America, that is a privilege that I am aware of, but I wanted to read this as a way to help spread the message of how important it is for stories like this to be heard, and for writers of color who are willing to put this sort of material out there for us to read, to enjoy and hopefully also to learn and understand from their perspective. Those are their stories, and we should want to hear them!

I would’ve rated this book higher, but the slow midpoint is why I’m not giving it a higher rating. None of the social importance is really revealed until later in the story, and I really did struggle and almost not bother to finish this book, but let’s also take into consideration that this is also the author’s debut novel, which that in itself makes it an impressive story too! I also usually don’t read this type 0f story, so I’m sure there are plenty of others who will especially enjoy this one!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy

My Review: A Sky Beyond the Storm (An Ember in the Ashes #4): by Sabaa Tahir

Publish Date: December 1st, 2020
Number of Pages: 516 Pages
Publisher: Razorbill
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for this book and the whole series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!***

To see my full review of book #1 – An Ember In The Ashes – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #2 – A Torch Against The Night – Click HERE

To see my full review of book #3 – A Reaper At The Gates – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the whole series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

You are broken. But it is broken things that are the sharpest. The deadliest. It is broken things that are the most unexpected, and the most underestimated.”

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Sky Beyond The Storm”

Let me start off by saying OOWWWWWWWW, this book punches you right in the heart! It’s certainly been awhile since a book has made me as emotional as A Sky Beyond The Storm has, and that’s the case for multiple reasons: it’s the final book of one of my favorite book series, but also because Sabaa Tahir once again knows how to torture her characters in some of the most brutalistic ways that even though I know they’re fictional, my heart absolutely aches for all they go through. I think the last time I was affected by a book this much was when I read Kingdom of Ash, the final book of the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. Both hold a special place in my heart, and it was a little sad to see the story end.

A Sky Beyond the Storm was definitely one of my most anticipated books of 2020, but it wasn’t the easiest to get into this book as I’d hoped. With a lot weighing me down in my personal life at the time of this book’s release, I was in a bit of a reading slump—part of me feels like I still am—and it really showed with how slowly I was getting through this book at first. I think it was that along with how I also think the beginning of this book through a good chunk of the midpoint was just kind of slow. Not a whole lot was grabbing my interest, it’d been since June 2018 when the previous book came out, so it was a little distancing to reacquaint myself with the characters and the world and all that had happened before; a reread of the series would’ve been beneficial if only I’d had the time! However, strange as this may sound, but once a character sacrificed themselves for one of the main characters was when things really began to pick up.

Similar to A Reaper At The Gates, the back half of this book was when the stakes were at their highest and everything was coming together and PLENTY was happening. A lot of dark, horrible, traumatizing, heart wrenching things that I absolutely applaud the author for making me feel because once again that proves to me what an effective storyteller she is, or Kehanni as she puts it in this book! I know there’s the piece of advice to torture your characters as a writer, but man…Sabaa knows where to make it hurt the worst! My friend who also read the book said it was some Game of Thrones level torment and pain, and I can’t disagree with her on that.

Of course with this being the final book in the series, I’m trying to not only review this book in itself, but also kind pay homage to the whole series too, and I want to do that by giving the characters their own little spot and my honest thoughts about them below:

Laia:

Throughout the course of this entire series, it was astounding to see the amount of bravery a girl like her, who came from so little and had just as much, could show when face to face with the many dangers she had to confront. Laia’s tenacity and courageousness along with her ability to show her true self and be vulnerable and still feel like she was a young girl after everything she’s dealt with and suffered through, although I must say it also felt like she didn’t really grow as much as a character about halfway through the series. I could be totally off on that and may rediscover more things about her in the future whenever I plan to reread these books back to back, but for now these are my thoughts. In a way, her ending was perfect for her and how she is able to honor so many with how she’s able to move forward onto the next chapter.

Elias:

To be honest, Elias was a very conflicting character for me throughout. He was perhaps my favorite character (or at least top three), but I was also not the biggest fan of his whole story arc for the second half of the series. As soon as it became clear that he was to become the Soul Catcher, I found myself becoming less and less interested in his storyline and thought his chapters were boring when compared to Laia and Helene. He was a soldier born from violence and raised to become a master of death in his own right, but instead he longed for more and for a brighter future, and his willingness to put the needs of his loved ones way above his own needs was what made me love him as a character. I Still adore him, he’s def’s still on my book boyfriend list, and his storyline definitely picks up again for me in this final installment, I’d say he also had a great way to wrap up his story and end up in a good place as the story drew to a close.

Helene:

Arguably one of the greatest character growth storylines in all of fiction, I totally had Helene pegged wrong when I met her in the first novel. Back then, she seemed like just another pretty blonde who was elitist, shallow, selfish and not worth my time caring about because of how she looked down on people like Laia and the rest of the Scholars. As we learn in the ending of the first book, she gets the title of being the Blood Shrike to the Emperor, and from then on is when her character develops so beautifully, I want Helene to have the world and now I believe she truly deserved more than what she got. If anyone was put through the wringer in these books, Helene had lost so much and had seen some truly horrifying things that most people wouldn’t recover from, yet there she was in the middle of almost countless battles and holding her own against the powerful forces that work against her and her friends. Helene was proof that there can be so much more going on beneath the surface and how first impressions don’t mean almost anything. Her and Harper were perfect for each other!

The Nightbringer:

A truly magnificent villain for this series, but it didn’t always feel that way. Like Helene, his whole being felt rather one dimensional and was just evil for the sake of being evil. That dramatically changed when you learn so much more about him in the third book and witness more of his tragic backstory that lead him to being where he was and why he was doing all that he’d done. He’s still evil and needed to be stopped, but the best villains are always the ones that you still feel something for and can relate to what their reasoning behind their plot is. They’re the manifestation of our darkest thoughts and wishes and show us why we shouldn’t go as far as they do in order to achieve their wishes, but understanding them like that makes it all that much better of a story overall. I felt so bad for him as I discovered all that he’d been through, everything about him and the pain he’s endured just really makes my heart heavy.

The Commandant:

I’ve praised her plenty before and it’ll mostly be the same of that right here, but Keris is one of the best villains I’ve come across in literature if not all entertainment media like books, movies and tv shows. She was always so cold and calculating and made my skin crawl with her lethal calm and how little emotion she showed with every heinous act she performed, I said in one review that she’s scarier than Cersei Lannister and I stand by that statement! It was interesting to get inside her mind a little bit in this final book and—of course—have my heart go out to her and how her part in the story came to be. Looking at other reviews to see what others thought, I saw that others were pretty torn about it and wanted her to remain the cold and distant and cruel leader that she was. While I partially agree, the fact that I was still able to feel things like pity and sorrow for her after all she’d done before shows how great a storyteller the author is.

Cook:

A hidden in plain sight treasure of a character, I had no idea the significance she was going to play in this series when I first met her in the start of it all. She seemed like the typical old, grumpy, mentor-like character whom Laia was going to eventually bond with, but boy was I way off on that! Well not totally, but like a lot of things in these books, it was in a way that I was certainly not expecting. She was in and out of the story for quite some time, and with good reason, but I think her storyline also wrapped up nicely that played well into the type of person she was and how things came to be.

Harper:

Another character I didn’t really think much of at first, but once this soldier began to question the orders he was given, I caught a glimpse of something there that drew me in. The tension that built up between him and Helene starting in the third book definitely piqued my interest further until I couldn’t believe it, but I wanted more than anything for them to get together somehow, but knowing both of them and they way they are, it wasn’t going to be easy to get there. Loved him in this last book, it was obvious how perfect him and Helene were with how he’d wordlessly know how to help her best in certain situations, heck even sacrificing meeting his own half-brother sooner than he did shows the dedication and loyalty he had to her. I only wish Harper and Helene had more simpler and happier moments than what they got.

Musa:

LOVED HIM FROM THE START! I’m a sucker for characters like him: handsome, charming, sarcastic, roguish, deadly, and has all the hilariously snappy one-liners. He was a great addition that I didn’t know I needed for these books, I wish he’d shown up sooner! Even Musa experienced some major trauma and loss in this final book, but the glimpse of possibility for happiness we also see for him warms my heart for him!

As I wrap up this section of the review, it’s just still crazy to me that I randomly selected the first book off the Barnes & Noble shelf one day to keep my entertained for a long plane ride back in 2015 when it first came out. I didn’t look on Goodreads or Amazon, saw no reviews or knew about it beforehand, I just randomly snagged a copy and gave it a chance. Maybe I need to do that more often because nowadays it feels like I almost rely too much on those things in order to select what I might read next, but that’s just because there’s so many amazing looking stories out there that I want them all! How do you choose which ones to invest your valuable time on? Everyone has their own answer to that, but part of me feels like maybe it’s a good thing to just give a book a chance before taking out your phone and looking up it’s score before deciding to read it. Who knows, you might just find one of your favorite books that way!

Would that we all knew the cracked terrain of each other’s broken hearts. Perhaps then, we would not be so cruel to those who walk this lonely world with us.”

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Sky Beyond The Storm”

What It’s About:

The official blurb:

Prepare for the jaw-dropping finale of Sabaa Tahir’s beloved New York Times bestselling An Ember in the Ashes fantasy series, and discover: Who will survive the storm?

Picking up just a few months after A Reaper at the Gates left off…

The long-imprisoned jinn are on the attack, wreaking bloody havoc in villages and cities alike. But for the Nightbringer, vengeance on his human foes is just the beginning.

At his side, Commandant Keris Veturia declares herself Empress, and calls for the heads of any and all who defy her rule. At the top of the list? The Blood Shrike and her remaining family.

Laia of Serra, now allied with the Blood Shrike, struggles to recover from the loss of the two people most important to her. Determined to stop the approaching apocalypse, she throws herself into the destruction of the Nightbringer. In the process, she awakens an ancient power that could lead her to victory–or to an unimaginable doom.

And deep in the Waiting Place, the Soul Catcher seeks only to forget the life–and love–he left behind. Yet doing so means ignoring the trail of murder left by the Nightbringer and his jinn. To uphold his oath and protect the human world from the supernatural, the Soul Catcher must look beyond the borders of his own land. He must take on a mission that could save–or destroy–all that he knows.

What I Liked:

  1. The Ending For Each Character! Each character’s arc conclusion felt natural and made sense for them in where each of them have been and how things came to be. It may not be the brightest or happiest endings for some of them, but it was all fitting for each of them.
  2. The Depth of All The Characters! Sabaa Tahir is so effing amazing at making complex and well fleshed out characters. Each have so much depth so long as you pay attention, especially the villains. The author honestly writes some of the best villains you’ll ever read in any book EVER! The Nightbringer and the Commandant were so cold and cruel, but when the author sheds some light on their tragic backstories, it not only totally pierces your heart but almost makes you really understand where they’re coming from.
  3. The Themes! I’ve said it in past reviews for this series, but what really makes me appreciate it is how dark these books got when compared to other YA Fantasy series. The usual themes remained consistent in this title as with the previous books, but one that really stuck out that felt more new to me was the theme of mothers and daughters. It was amazing how this was shown in so many different ways in the final battle of all places, it’s truly a highlight of the whole book!
  4. How The Plot Progresses! It was the same thing in A Reaper At The Gates, but it amazes me how the author was able to tie everything together and how she uses prophecies but plays with the wording really well. They always end up coming true, but not always in the way you’d expect. Simply brilliant! *chef’s kiss*

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Magic System…To be honest, thinking back on the magic system throughout these four books, I wasn’t a big fan of it because to me it felt like it was just there and there wasn’t really a strict set of rules or guidelines to it at all. The series totally worked with it, but sometimes it felt like it was used out of convenience with the plot, but again, the overall story didn’t require a more tightly knit system.
  2. The Slower Start/Midpoint…It may be because I’ve been in a reading funk as of late, but this book was hard for me to initially get into. The beginning and most of the midpoint were just slow for me and there were days where I just couldn’t bring myself to want to open the pages to read on, but again, take this with a grain of salt because lately no books have been working for me as much as they have in the past.

Conclusion:

It should have been him dancing with you”

– Sabaa Tahir, “A Sky Beyond The Storm”

Overall, A Sky Beyond The Storm wasn’t the perfect book, but it was a highly satisfying way to wrap up one hell of a YA Fantasy series that should be given more props than it really does. A lot of heart wrenching scenes and words are spoken as to show how the author really knows how to hit the readers right in the emotional gut and keep your interest, even if the series hasn’t gone in the direction you’d hope it go in.

A slower beginning and midpoint are what makes this just a four star rating for me, but let it still be known that this ended up being a magnificent book and had a satisfying series ending that seems to be so rare in most of the media we consume lately; it left me feeling a mix of emotions like happiness with how everything wrapped up for most of the characters but also sadness of all they had to endure, and like I said earlier, that this series is now over.

One thing that is certain is that Sabaa Tahir can freakin’ write a story. Her storytelling skills are undeniable and is able to really emotionally invest a reader should they choose to stick with this story all the way through. No book or author is perfect, but if this is her first series that she’s written, lord knows what else she may come up with.

If it wasn’t obvious by now, I can’t recommend this series enough to anyone who’s looking for an epic adventure filled with danger, surprising twists, fatal decisions, burning romance, and magic. I’ve been having that definite book hangover after this one because of all the years I’ve spent with this series, and once again a truly amazing story has come to an end.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

New Adult Romance, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7): by Sarah J. Maas

Publish Date: October 23rd, 2018
Number of Pages: 984 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance, New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for this book and the whole series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!***

To see my review of book #1 – Throne of Glass – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Crown of Midnight – Click HERE

To see my review of book #0.5 – The Assassin’s Blade – Click HERE

To see my review of book #3 – Heir of Fire – Click HERE

To see my review of book #4 – Queen of Shadows – Click HERE

To see my review of book #5 – Empire of Storms – Click HERE

To see my review of book #6 – Tower of Dawn – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the whole series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars

Y’all… this series, seriously…

I could go on and on and on, and I kind of will in this review because fuck it, this is MY blog, but before I go into this book that’s the final installment of this series, I guess I’ll share my original Goodreads review from when I finished this book all the way back in the fall of 2018 when it was first released. Here’s a little book review throwback:

~~~

Not since Harry Potter has a series really grabbed me and emotionally invested me like this series has. I remember I discovered this series back in 2012 on Pinterest, of all places, and seeing so much fan art about it and seeing amazing digital art work with “Throne Of Glass” in the caption, not knowing what it was, but after awhile, my curiosity got the best of me and so I decided to look into it and give the book a try.

One of the best decisions I’d ever made.

I quickly loved this series so so much. I loved everything about it. I especially loved the characters. I loved the dynamic of Caleana with Dorian and Chaol at the very beginning, the original trio, and even the new characters every book, to Rowan, Aedion, Manon, Lysandra, Nesryn, Yrene and so many more. I felt so connected and familiar with each of them, and felt like I was friends with them. They were my definition of squad goals, at least within a book.

Sarah J. Maas has created such a vivid, creative, wonderful world with this story of a girl trying to win back her kingdom, and it’s so incredible to know that this series began when she was only 16. I am so happy for her that she was able to fulfill a dream of hers and see this series grow over the many years. While I know some people didn’t like this aspect, but it was incredible to see her prose grow and mature over time, and yes, that means the subject matter also matured. Throne of Glass felt more than a typical kind of Teen fantasy and later on, especially in Empire of Storms, more mature themes had shown up and I noticed how some people didn’t like that; some saying it’s not the best material that young girls should read. While I saw their points of view, I thought it was great to see her writing change over time, because the story had changed so much over time, and characters grew and changed over time and so did Sarah as a writer. A woman in her thirties will write something very different than when they themselves were a teenager. The series developed into a non typical teen fantasy series, and into an area between YA and Adult fantasy. I also think that pushing boundaries and having subject matter that parents might not want their kids to read means it must be a good story; they’re more shocking, interesting and thought provoking.

As any great book series, it had to come to an end at some point. It makes me remember when I first read the big battle at the end of the first book, knowing there’s some big villain that needs to be vanquished and thinking to myself, how in the world are they going to get to that point? What will happen from now until then? The book didn’t really pick up until surprisingly almost 200 pages in. It was understandable; Sarah had to catch us up on a lot of characters and their arcs because for some of them, it’d been two years since the last book they were in, plus there’s a lot of characters. I loved each and every one of their stories, and adored the parts where they reunite and/or meet for the very first time. So much that I wanted to see happen did in fact happen, and knowing that this was the final book, I let myself savor every word.

Long story short through the entire middle, I laughed, I cried, and I prepared myself for the eventual end.

The ending… there were many things that Sarah did that paid tribute back to the very first book, going back to her roots of the story that were so touching, so heartwarming, I’m so happy she did them. It made me emotional about how it’s all over now but it made them reflect on the beginning. The ending of course wasn’t perfect, some storylines I wish ended differently or got more attention, but who knows, ACOTAR was only supposed to be a trilogy, so fingers crossed.

I can’t say a single bad thing about this series overall. Any writer I hope wants to have their stories touch someone meaningfully, and Sarah, this one did, so much. It’s one of my inspirations of wanting to write my own books, even if they aren’t anywhere close to resembling her own. What a story it’s all been, so much that happened, so much time and energy put into it, and it honestly gave me a newfound passion for reading. The Throne of Glass series will forever be such a big part of me, as a writer and a reader.

You could rattle the stars. You could do anything, if only you dared”

Thank you Sarah J. Maas, sincerely from the bottom of my heart. Reading your books, meeting you and getting a picture with you when you came to Minnesota for your Tower of Dawn tour, I aspire to touch someone’s life one day like you’ve touched mine!

To the stars that listen, and the dreams that are answered”

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

~~~

Awwwwwwee look at me trying to be a huge, influential book reviewer on there while singing praise to my favorite author and trying to keep my emotions in check at how my favorite book series has come to an end. I’d at least like to think I’d learned to not use as many commas and that my grammar has overall improved tremendously since then as well! Honestly, not a whole lot has changed in my opinion of SJM since then, even though she’s only released House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) since then, which is also crazy to think about, but I’d say I’ve also come to notice more of the things in her writing that aren’t so great, whether it be from fellow fans or haters. The cool thing about it all is though is that I can say I still love her stories even though I do notice the little things that I do wish would change, but instead of bashing an author, simply go and find someone else who does include that kind of material, whatever it may be.

Celaena/Aelin is an absolute favorite of mine over the course of the series; her growth is done so well, and the emotions behind her words, her motives, her actions are so sharp and vulnerable that you truly feel them alongside her as she goes from assassin to long lost heir to queen attempting to regain her kingdom. In this book, she once again goes through the wringer and learns the valuable lesson of having to lean on those in her corner and how that’s not actually weakness, but a strength in itself. That’s only one of the lessons she’s taught me throughout this series, another is how to let those same people in. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with them in order to not only survive, but truly live. It’s better to have gone too far than to not have travelled at all.

Rowan is of course another favorite; how could he not be if you’ve made it this far? He’s stoic, hard around the edges, protective, honorable, and a fierce ally and friend and lover. It shows how much he’s changed since Aelin came into his life; not only because they’re mates but also because of how she’s made a Fae warrior prince like himself whose been around for many years to somehow see the world in a different way. She was literally like a sun that made him see the light in his long and arduous journey. Was I immediately sold on his and Aelin’s relationship? No…… The shit from allies to lovers could’ve been smoother in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t totally fall for the passion and love they have for each other by this point. To be honest, I didn’t see a whole lot of dynamic change from Rowan in this book, but he was more the rock and calming presence in order for Aelin to fulfill her destiny!

Dorian is my absolute favorite, hands down! I’ve loved him since the first chapter of the first book, and that love only grew more and more as the series went on. It was disappointing to see him kind of get the brush off and shift slightly to the background in some parts, especially once Rowan and Aedion came into the picture in Aelin’s life, and I do think he was done dirty a few times because of that, but maybe that’s also partly why I love him so much as a character! He’s grown so much since the tropey, handsome, charming, total ladies man prince and has become a just and wholesome King full of bravery and more courage than anyone else I can think of! Ladies and gentleman and non-binaries, if a man like him who actually likes to read for fun enters your life, YOU HOLD ONTO THAT PERSON!

Chaol is such a controversial character towards the series, it seems like you either love him or hate him with hardly anything in between. Believe it or not, I’ve always been a big fan of his, even when he had some moments in Queen of Shadows that truly made you want to truly slap that boy across the face, I do put blame on SJM for that by putting him into the bitter ex position that he’d been relegated to. I could understand some of the things he did and said up until that point, it was all in his character and how he was brought up with his upbringing, but even I can agree that he was an ASS-HAT to Aelin in some moments… Nonetheless, I felt like he truly also redeemed himself later on by the time this book comes around. I was so glad/overjoyed/relieved to see him get his own little redemption arc and (hopefully) present himself in a better light once the story was done!

Aedion was another character I wanted to take the time to address. I immediately loved him when he strutted into my life in Heir of Fire, even though it was unclear whether he was going to be hero or villain right off the bat. He’s pretty much a male version of Aelin, which is straight up fire, but I will say I wish we explored his bisexual confession a little more! This is one thing that I’m not a fan of in terms of SJM’s writing, but so far her only LGBT+ representation is when a character just says it to their character, and that’s it… She got better about it in her Crescent City book with a lot more side characters who’re queer, but I say it can always get better; doesn’t mean I’m gonna trash her for it! I hate how disappointed I was in Aedion in this book with how he is towards Lysandra, but I go more into that later!

Manon Blackbeak is a badass, plain and simple. She’s a stone cold bitch, and I love her for it, but I have to say I like her character more than I liked her storylines. I just found myself skimming more often whenever the chapters centered around her; I just found her chapters to be more boring. That definitely changed in Empire of Storms, and suddenly I think she’s the most interesting character out of the bunch in that book! I also never thought I’d be so obsessed with her and Dorian becoming a thing, but a certain scene below decks with some chains later, and now…

If there’s more characters you want me to give a little commentary on, feel free to say so and I’ll happily add them!

What It’s About:

This book continues shortly after the events of both Empire of Storms and Tower of Dawn, both of which were happening parallel to each other in terms of chronological events happening. Aelin has been taken away by Queen Maeve and Cairn, brought back to Wendlyn to be taken prisoner and held captive in that horrid iron coffin, and let’s not forget Fenrys whose also there in his wolf form.

Aedion and Lysandra are trying to keep up the ruse of Aelin being safe and sound as the allies the Terrasen Queen has brought together, but tension is insanely thick between Aedion and Lysandra as she puts Aelin’s face on in front of everyone but themselves and Aedion is a general scorned by their wicked betrayal of keeping him out of the loop and allowing Aelin to be captured in the first place, all while barely being able to keep the Valg King Erawan’s army at bay…

Rowan is following close behind Maeve in order to save his mate and wife (yes, remember she’s his wife now too), and it’s a race against time before she’s gone forever…

Dorian and Manon are travelling with the 13 to gather even more allies amongst the witches…

Chaol, Nesryn travel back from the Southern Continent with all their new allies and the recent news they’ve discovered about the Fae Queen…

With Aelin captured, friends and allies are scattered to different fates. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever. As destinies weave together at last, all must fight if Erilea is to have any hope of salvation.

Years in the making, Sarah J. Maas’s New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series draws to an explosive conclusion as Aelin fights to save herself―and the promise of a better world.

What I Liked:

  1. The Final Battle! Just the fact that it’s the final book and that big final battle is finally here is reason enough to be excited! Remember when you read the first book for the first time and Aelin was still Celaena and she was facing off against Cain? You wondered what you were possibly getting yourself into, and what could possibly happen in this series as you kept going on with each book? It’s just crazy to think we’re finally here and the end is upon us!
  2. SJM’s Reunion of the Original Trio! The nostalgia was heavy in this book, and I was so happy to see SJM pay tribute to how this whole dang series started, and that was with Aelin (as Celaena), Chaol Westfall, and Dorian Havilliard! To have them all reunite and how she brought their dynamic back into the spotlight actually brought me to tears a few times! They feel like my actual friends, and they’ve been through so much together and on their own and to see them come back together and still have so much love and adoration for each other….ugh, SO MANY EMOTIONS!!
  3. Aelin Learns to Lean on Her Squad! One thing that even I was finding annoying with Aelin was how she had to keep all her plans inside her own mind and couldn’t share the entirety of them with anyone! Sure, the plans usually came together successfully up until this point, but c’mon girl… these people are your squad! Don’t keep them out in the cold, you’re not your cousin!!!! By this point, there was no way she was going to be able to get out of her predicament with Maeve and Cairn on her own, and it was great to see her finally learn to rely on her loved ones and allies in order to become victorious! It’s not weak to seek help from those who are willing to give it!
  4. Dorian Makes a Major Play! Once again, Dorian proves why I love him so much and becomes a major MVP when he shape-shifts and flies over to Morath, THEN his whole interaction with Maeve had me on the edge of me seat!
  5. All The Couples! I think I was complaining about this aspect of SJM’s writing before—that all her characters end up together when they don’t necessarily have to—BUT I can also say I care way too much about every couple by now to think this way, at least for this series… Aelin and Rowan, Aedion and Lysandra, Dorian and Manon, Chaol and Yrene, Lorcan and Elide, and even Nesryn and Sartaq; I just care about them all so much by this point! It’s hard to say some of these couples didn’t need to happen when I love them all so much!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Aedion’s Behavior Towards Lysandra…What a douche-nozzle he was in this book! Yeah, he felt betrayed by the two women who’re most important to him in his life, and sure they left him out of the loop with their plan, but seriously?! I was heartbroken by how much I was liking him less and less with every chapter that focused on him and Lysandra and the allies that Aelin brought to them. I was happy to see him redeem himself a little bit by the end, but I can tell it wasn’t enough for some readers, and not all was forgiven in terms of his behavior. I still can’t believe he even left Lysandra out in the snow when she was completely naked! I wanted to slap the sense into that hard head of his!
  2. More Characters Should’ve Died…Now hear me out because I can literally feel some of you readers deciding to have me cancelled for even saying this, but I seriously think SJM played it too safe and saved way too many characters in the end! The story would’ve been WAY more impactful if more main characters died in this epic final battle, and seriously it’s a nasty and brutal battle, it’d just be more realistic if more of the major players were to have been killed off. It would’ve been sad and depressing, yes, but it surely would’ve made such a more effective and memorable storyline with the emotional impact more deaths would evoke! What If Aedion and Lysandra died before they could reconcile? What if they literally died in each other’s arms while they confessed their love for each other? What if the same thing, but with Lorcan and Elide? What if the whole royal family of the Southern Continent died? The Ruks? What if Dorian died in his major sacrifice? I will admit, the character deaths we did receive were plenty tragic and I won’t spoil who it was for anyone who still doesn’t know, but I stand by my statement!
  3. The Ending Should’ve Been More Extensive…By this I mean it was wrapped up a little too neat and trim. I kinda wish there was a much bigger jump through time, and with more information on what happened to other characters besides just Aelin and Rowan. What happened to Chaol and Yrene? Aedion and Lysandra? Lorcan and Elide? Manon? Sartaq and Nesryn? What kind of King did Dorian truly turn out to be? I wanted more of these kinds of answers from SJM, but fingers crossed that she left it more open-ended so that if she ever wanted to, she could return to this world and continue their stories in some way!

Conclusion:

It’s like I said in my original Goodreads review: Before this series, only Harry Potter has been a book series that has made me give as much emotional and time investment as this series has over the course of my 27 years on earth. The Throne of Glass series holds such a special place in my heart, and I think that’s partly because I was with the series as the books were all being released, and I grew up alongside the books and the story at a very impactful time of my life from 2013-2018.

It was always alongside me in my journey through those years, and with that proves my attachment towards this series that I might not ever have with another series ever again if not for quite some time. In terms of Gen Z’rs and the TikTok generation: these books truly hit different!

I truly can’t recommend this book series enough for anyone looking for an epic fantasy series to try and read. I say it’s seriously got a little of everything needed in order to create an epic story: adventure, memorable characters, danger, romance, character growth, the battle of good vs. evil, action, mystique and lore, surprising twists, history, betrayal, many intertwining storylines, and so much more! My only concern is that for the more advanced readers, the first book is truly the weakest and only shows what feels like 1% of what the actual series is about! It’s filled with many recognizable tropes we’ve seen so many times before, but remember that it was published in 2012 when these ideas weren’t considered as cliché as they are now. I say give it a chance, see what happens, and you never know, you’ve be as in love with it as I am!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Ruin and Rising (Shadow and Bone #3): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: June 17th, 2014

Number of Pages: 420 Pages

Publisher: Henry Holt

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers for this title and the previous titles in this trilogy, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***

To see my review of book #1 – Shadow and Bone – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Siege and Storm – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the trilogy – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 2.75 Stars

Well…. I’ve completed this trilogy finally, and I’ve gotta admit how how down in the dumps I am feeling now. Not because it’s over, but more so that for me it was such a drag through such a large chunk of the story, and how bittersweet that whole ending was! For the first 60% approx, it was once again such a drag much like most of the second book, and it’s not that the ending was horrible and should’ve been changed, but it just leaves you with such a feeling of depression and hopelessness.

I’d read the second book, Siege and Storm, back in late March/early April of 2020 when the Coronavirus Pandemic was in full effect and I’d been put on furlough on work until further notice. The unknown of what was going to happen along with all the craziness that this year alone had filled me with relentless anxiety and a vast array of emotions. I’d noticed my ability to sit down and read a book had become a major challenge. I just couldn’t sit down and concentrate! I was partially wondering if maybe it was a mix of that versus what I was reading at the time—I even couldn’t care enough to read on in V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful—either way, I’d noticed I was in a reading rut. If books by Leigh Bardugo and V.E. Schwab couldn’t hold my attention, certainly there’s something way out of whack going on there…

After reading this third and final installment to her Shadow and Bone Trilogy, I can with much less doubt say it wasn’t me. I struggled to keep my interest all through Siege and Storm and now Ruin and Rising, and part of it was because I’d read her Six of Crows books first, which were much more action-packed, there was many more memorable characters, they had a more original plot, and the author had much more experience under her belt by the time she wrote them. For me, I’ve noticed that it’s not a good idea for me as a reader to go backwards with any author’s books; I have to start with the beginning or I can’t enjoy the earlier work. It’s usually just not as strong of material, and you especially notice that with this trilogy. Compared to her more recent titles, these books just felt so much more “safe” and were with clichés and tropes many YA Fantasy fans are very familiar with because I’m sure Publishers want to play it safe as well by selecting stories filled with criteria that has worked so well in the past. I get it, doesn’t mean I’m entirely happy about it.

I can, however, say that despite this trilogies lack of keeping my interest, Leigh Bardugo did showcase some incredible character work with her main cast of characters, which in this case was Alina Starkov, Mal Oretsev, Nikolai Lantsov, and of course The Darkling. One of the biggest draws of these books was the love pyramid that pertained to these four characters. Each male was presented as a potential love interest to our protagonist, and it’s been one of the biggest debate topics of the whole Grishaverse fandom: which guy should Alina have ended up with?

For Mal, he’s the childhood friend whom Alina has\d been hopelessly in love with for as long as they’ve been together since their days at the orphanage. They both grew up together, and he became more handsome and popular with other cadets of the first army while she more or less stayed the same and felt like she was being pushed further and further into the background, but that all changes when she discovers that she has remarkable abilities and is the first Grisha “Sun Summoner” anyone has seen in a very long time; she may possibly even be the first one ever in existence. Anyways, as the plot thickens and both Nikolai and The Darkling makes their presence and interest known, Mal begins to feel inferior and left behind, which is so ironic how the tables turned there. He begins to be short-tempered with Alina, pushes her away and just wishes everything could go back to “normal” or the way it was before she become a holy saint-like figure to the people of Ravka….

…Well honey, maybe we’d feel sorry for you if you’d actually noticed her before! I personallu didn’t mind Mal throughout, but it’s funny how he’s the character in all the Grishaverse that gets the most criticism and hate from the fandom. Poor Mal… at least he got better in this book, in my opinion that is.

Next there’s Nikolai Lantsov: privateer, Sturmhond, and even Crown Prince to the royal throne. Charming, Daring, and even slightly obnoxious in his abundance of self-confidence; Nikolai is literally like a “golden boy” who any woman would kill to be with, right? WRONG! Alina didn’t fall for his charm, even when he admitted to having actual feelings for her, but she just couldn’t see past the fact that with him came a marriage proposal that may or may not have been purely just as a power-play to secure his spot on the throne and the adoration of his people as well.

The Darkling is a bit more of wild card compared to the other two, plus there’s the nice twist that he’s the villain of the trilogy. I still couldn’t ever really tell if his potential romantic feelings for Alina were 100% genuine, but one thing for certain was that they would’ve made an incredible power couple. Two of the most powerful Grisha to ever exist side by side, either as enemies or lovers or both, and I was definitely behind all the fellow fans shipping them to get together. It added so much to his character to see the scenes between just him and Alina and when he slipped some vulnerability into his demeanor that only she ever saw, those tiny moments said so much! Plus, it was obvious he still loved his mother despite everything, but unfortunately whatever his actual feelings were had to also be twisted and tainted by his dark greed for power, plus his need to control and manipulate everyone including Alina so it all worked out on his terms.

The Darkling and Alina for sure had the most depth to their characters out of everyone in these books. The Darkling is one of those villains that you feel are incredibly justified in his journey for power and all that he’s willing to do in order to get there. I only wish he was showcased even more in the books; it felt like he was hardly there in Siege and Storm and maybe that’s what made it such a slow read for me… I think Leigh Bardugo would’ve had this series be even more successful if she showcased The Darkling more and went even further with the darkness surrounding him. Alina had spectacular growth as the protagonist throughout; she started off as this timid orphan but really came into her own and gained a powerful voice as time went on. She second-guessed herself a lot, she focused on the boys when she maybe shouldn’t have been, she made mistakes; all of which made her such a realistic character in my eyes! She definitely held her own amongst all the other powerful male characters. She faced the constant battle of whether she needed to harden her heart in order to defeat the darkling, but is that the right idea? It was a wonderful theme and inner conflict she faced of whether she needed to lower herself to his level in order to defeat him, but maybe will ultimately discover that’s not the case.

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

What I Liked:

  1. The Darkling! I’ve been saying this ever since I started this trilogy, but the Darkling is easily my favorite character besides Nikolai Lantsov taking second place. It’s funny because he’s the villain of the whole dang story, but I’m starting to enjoy those kinds of characters more, especially if they’re incredibly complex and you can actually see where they’re coming from in terms of malicious intentions; those are the best crafted villains in my humble opinion. He started off as just another carbon copy of the “park prince,” broody, bad-boy character trope that is basically another Prince Cardan Greenbriar, Kylo Ren, Jericho Barrons, Rhysand, etc… but as the story developed, even in the first book, The Darkling began to stand apart from them all as more and more was slowly revealed about his background along with his evil plans to take over his world. I only wish we saw more of him or even got to hear from his perspective in these books. I was incredibly heartbroken with the conclusion for how things ended with him, even though it had to be done, but man oh man… my heart aches for him!
  2. Alina’s Development! Alina was a phenomenal protagonist who really grew as this story developed over the three books. I wasn’t really behind her at first because she was simply another cliché orphan-turned-“chosen one” character trope who was demure, shy, timid, and pathetically, secretly in love with her golden boy BFF. As she came into her abilities and has had to make some tough decisions, she’s really become a big contender of the game with her constant inner struggle of how far will she go in order to gain power. Should she become cold and detached like the Darkling, or is it really weakness to show compassion and love for those she cares about? That, along with dealing with quite a few misogynistic older men AND three possible love interests (one of which is her enemy), the girl really becomes a memorable character that anyone can route for! Unfortunately, similar to the Darkling, I was not a fan of how her storyline turned out…
  3. Nikolai’s Transformation! So, anyone who’s a fan of Leigh Bardugo may know by now that Nikolai was originally supposed to die in earlier drafts of these books, but she ended up loving his character so much that she changed her mind, which was a smart decision since he’s one of her best characters of all in all her books, not that I’m biased or anything… anyways, this book was rough on him, and it was certainly an interesting development for him that leaves him with many scars, both external and beneath the surface… funny thing I say that considering he gets his own spin-off duology with the first book titled “King of Scars.” It makes perfect sense considering how things are left with him in this trilogy: totally bittersweet, but at least this character’s storyline was left more open-ended than others in order for there to be further explored!
  4. A Lot More Twists & Gruesome Deaths! Shadow and Bone was littered with cliché YA Fantasy tropes, Siege & Storm was just boring for me, but Ruin & Rising was filled with more plot twists and absolutely disturbing scenes of torture and death that actually made me happy to read, because it’s THIS stuff is what makes Leigh Bardugo stand out from other authors! She’s got a dark and twisty mind—I’m obsessed with it—and you get to see more of it in this book than the others. The deaths are absolutely brutalistic and somewhat disturbing, and it was great to start to see what I know the author excels at when the previous two books felt too “safe” to what I’m used to from her. Remember; I’ve read the Six of Crows books, and even Ninth House before I started reading this trilogy.
  5. Mal Gets Better In This Book! I will continue until the day I am no longer on this planet to say that I am a part of the fandom that actually likes Mal. He gets so much hate from the Grishaverse fandom, even more so than any villain she’s crafted, and I get where it comes from, I do… But I also see the growth he goes through and find it incredibly endearing about him too. He had to kind of hit his own sort of rock bottom in order to rise back up, and I believe his rock bottom was him in the later scenes of Siege and Storm. He was stuck in the past and wanted things to go back to the way they were with how the dynamic worked with him and Alina in his favor, and he somewhat had a temper tantrum at how that wouldn’t happen, plus I will admit that the pedestal Alina put him on absolutely crumbled when compared to The Darkling and Nikolai Lantsov becoming potential love interests and major competition. He couldn’t handle it, but I still think he redeemed himself a little bit in this book with how he handled everything, and you further see how all major decisions he makes is because of his devotion to Alina. There’s no denying he cared about her, whether you believe he really had romantic feelings since the beginning and just didn’t do anything about it until now.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I Was So Bored…Similar to what was the entirety of Siege and Storm, the first half of this book was so incredibly hard to get through because I just had such low interest in most of what was happening. There were too many characters by this point that I just didn’t really care about, the storyline was just too methodically slow for me, and it was just a huge drag. Once more plot twists occured and there were some brutal deaths that made the book feel more like what I expect from the author, then it got a little better at least!
  2. I Wish The Darkling Showed Up More…I’m only really saying this because I may be biased, but I think these books would’ve been much more successful if The Darkling was a more central character, or at least showed up more than he a;ready did. Maybe that was part of the allure of him, but he’s such a marvelous, complex character and there was so much potential for these books to get darker and more sinister like I know Leigh Bardugo is able to do, but I get that these were her first published books so she wasn’t able to be as artistically free as she is now.
  3. The Surprise Twist with Mal…After its reveal and thinking back about certain scenes that are pointed out, this wasn’t something entirely out of left field that the author slipped in for pure shock value, but was so subtle in how the clues were placed throughout that only a select bunch of readers would’ve caught the foreshadowing. Plus, with the backstory of how Morozova brought his daughter back to life with his merzost power, he never ended up finding the firebird because his power was used up by then. Without giving too much else away, it certainly was explained well enough to make sense, I was still just….mehh about it either way. I found the backstory with Morozova the much more interesting aspect about it.
  4. That Bittersweet Ending…I can say that with how everything concluded certainly made sense, I guess… I don’t know, I was just kind of disappointed with most of it even though the harsh reality is that there’s really nothing that would’ve made a better ending for everyone. My heart breaks for The Darkling, and of course I wish things could’ve ended up differently, but as we’ve seen with him with all that he’s done and how he operates, he’d reached the point of no return/redemption. Alina and Mal also had a fitting ending for them, I guess… I’m not personally a fan, but I guess it works for them and what they wanted in the end. Nikolai probably had the best conclusion even though his was more open-ended, but it helps that I know he has his own set of books that take place later on past Six of Crows.

Conclusion:

Overall, it was an okay-on the verge of liking it for me with how this trilogy ended up. I didn’t enjoy these books as much as Six of Crows, but part of me knew that’d be the case because I know what kind of reader I am, and I’m just someone that will hardly ever enjoy an author’s earlier work when I’ve read something that was published later on in their career first. I just notice more smaller things, like their writing maybe isn’t as captivating and/or less experienced, plus it feels more “safe” when I know their later work has much more creative freedom and is much more complex. I just can’t go backwards with author’s work, you know?

Like I said, I knew this going in that I was potentially not going to enjoy this trilogy as much, but I was so disappointed in how it was so hard to read a set of books by Leigh Bardugo—who with the Six of Crows books alone had her become one of my favorite authors—and NOT love it. By SoC, she’s a much more established author and is allowed to go further with her storylines, her characters, and the overall mood of her content. Shadow and Bone was just filled with too many familiar tropes we’ve seen everywhere in YA Fantasy, while Six of Crows has a much more diverse cast, and went so much further in terms of the mental health and inner turmoil the characters all faced; it’s just so weird how a spin-off might be better than the original series!

I still recommend these books for anyone who loves YA Fantasy with a strong female lead. I know my review may seem like I’m less than thrilled about them than I’d hoped, but when compared to the many other titles that are out there within the genre, Leigh’s stories are much stronger and more memorable than, say… The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. Not to knock that series, but in my opinion, Bardugo just creates a better/deeper/richer story. At least with the many clichés that fill up the first book, she does veer away in big ways as the story develops.

Now that I have this trilogy under my belt, I can now move forward with the other Grishaverse stories that I still haven’t touched, plus be more prepared for the eventual, much anticipated release of the upcoming Netflix show premiering in fall/winter of 2020! Alina’s storyline is going to be a central storyline, so I had to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy before for context. I may even reread the Six of Crows duology too and maybe catch a lot more references and details that went over my head the first time I read them, and there’s even King of Scars, the next installment of the Grishaverse, and the first book in the Nikolai duology! I love that Leigh is continuing more stories within this rich and detailed world she’s created for us, and I always look forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Legendary (Caraval #2): by Stephanie Garber

Publish Date: May 29th, 2018

Number of Pages: 451 Pages

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers from the previous book in this trilogy, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***

Too see my review of book #1 – Caraval – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

This was why love was so dangerous. Love turned the world into a garden, so beguiling it was easy to forget that rose petals were as ephemeral as feelings, eventually they would wilt and die, leaving nothing but the thorns.

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

A much lighter and whimsical tale amongst the many that fall under the YA Fantasy genre, Legendary utterly sweeps you away, takes you on an enchanting quest, much like the previous book in this trilogy, Caraval. Both are filled with exotic locations, mysterious twists and turns at every street corner, gorgeous men with devilish smirks full of secrets, magical gowns that can transform based off the emotions of whomever is wearing them, and dazzling lights of the stars and streets as those who play the game and enter a hunt for the hope of something more.

Caraval was a fun summer read that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but there were definitely some things I had to say that I think could’ve made it better. I wanted more danger, more mischief and dark aesthetics; the stakes needed to be raised in order to add even more the excitement of this annual game. For me, Legendary seemed to have added all that to enhance the whole reading experience of these books! It was obvious that Stephanie Garber, the author, had decided to focus more on the storytelling aspect and less on the imagery and how it was described.

I’m sure it’s an added bonus for many readers that this time around, there’s less focus on Scarlett and more on her younger sister, Tella. Scarlett was our protagonist in Caraval, and the goal of the game was for her to find and rescue her sister, who’d been kidnapped as soon as she’d stepped foot on the island town where the game of Caraval was played. Not too many readers seemed to have liked Scarlett as the protagonist; she made some not-so-smart decisions, was cautious and sheltered, and was constantly the damsel in distress who needed the mysterious Julian to come and rescue her…It’s hard to get behind a character like that when there are so many stories out there now that have strong, fierce females who don’t need no man to help them out whenever things get rough. Tella is the complete opposite of Scarlett; she’s much more impulsive and daring, she’s more charismatic, and seems much more adventurous and courageous. I have to say she did make for a much more interesting story this second time around.

There was a much larger sense of worldbuilding in this book too that has to do with a larger story involving much mythology and lore that the author hadn’t included in the previous book. It involves the sister’s long lost mother, a deck of cards, and these ancient & immortal beings called “The Fates” that used to rule the world long ago, but have disappeared until recently. This had such a huge impact on the story and added so much to the overall depth of much more intricately crafted plot, and helped raise the stakes a large amount that the previous book needed.

I’m very curious if the author had all this planned out before she wrote the first book, or if all these new features were thought up afterwards as a way to keep the story going somehow. How much did she truly know before the first book?

Much like the last book, there were also a vast array of riddles and twists that I’m sure quite a bit of readers didn’t see coming, but there was also a fair amount of foreshadowing that I also think more seasoned readers would be able to catch so long as they’re paying attention. Some are more surprising than others, of course, but they get seriously much more juicy around the climax of the story. It all leads to a very cliffhanger-like ending that will make you want to get your hands on the third and final book ASAP!

I also love the theme that these books have become so consistent with; the whole play on what’s reality and what’s all just a part of the game. Everyone has secrets, everyone has their own motives behind their actions, and some are so much easier to read than others, and it’s actually so much fun to see how things play out, like, who are really allies? Who’s really an enemy? What are their true feelings for that character? Who the EFF is Legend already? The author asks so many questions about so many aspects of the story, it almost drives you completely insane at how much is going on behind the scenes and the rate in which they reveal themselves to Tella and you, the reader. I saw a comparison to HBO’s Sci-Fi thriller, “Westworld”, and it’s actually so true how the show and these books have such a similar theme driving the story. The whole idea of a park that draws people in, the cast of “actors” that enhance the experience, the story the audience experiences is entirely based on their choices, and there’s the scavenger hunt to find the ultimate prize at the end of the maze. It all raises some interesting points on the mysteries of the world and the human condition.

One thing I didn’t particularly like was how the romance building between Tella and Dante felt too similar to how it was built up between Scarlett and Julian in the second book. It was still enticing and a well drawn out slow-burn, but it lacked originality and just felt repetitive. I’m not sure if it’s the only setup the author is able to do in the romance department, but I hope for future stories that she can switch it up a lot better.

I’m happy to say these books are becoming a perfect choice for anyone who’s looking for a circus/theatre/performing arts-like story. Like Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, these books have the unpredictability and angst of “The Phantom of the Opera,” mixed with the over-the-top campiness of “Moulin Rouge.”

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

A heart to protect.

A debt to repay.

A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister, Scarlett, from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice, but now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever…

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . the games have only just begun...

She loved the feeling of doing something bold enough to make her future hold its breath while she closed her eyes and reveled in the sensation that she’d made a choice with the power to alter the course of her life.”

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

What I Liked:

  1. Donatella Is Now The Protagonist! The most consistent complaint anyone had about Caraval was how a lot of fellow readers found they didn’t like Scarlett Dragna. She made bad decisions, she constantly got into trouble and needed a man to get her out of it, I’m sure the list goes on for more readers, but you get the point. Tella is the exact opposite of Scarlett, and she is much more courageous and impulsive, and it seems like a lot more readers prefer her over her older protective sister. Personally, I liked them both and didn’t mind as much, but I have to agree I did love seeing more of Tella this time around.
  2. The Stakes Have Been Raised! There was definitely a higher dose of danger this time around that the books really needed, and it was nice to see how the lines between performance and reality continued to become even more murky, the plots became more sinister, and even more mystery shrouded the carnival event with people’s lives and the fate of the world on the line this time around. The question “Is this really still just a game?” was asked a lot throughout the story, and I love how the author crafted so much mystery and left so much up in the air. It also helps that there’s a for sure villain this time around too: You’ll meet Jacks, who has some seriously twisted thoughts inside his blond, bleeding silvery-blue eyed head. I’m not going to give too much away, but read the book and see for yourself!
  3. The Theme: What Is Reality? With the added danger I mentioned before, it also goes into what I also mentioned of whether this is all still just a game, or if now it’s real. You’re constantly questioning the motives of so many characters and all that’s going on behind the scenes, I liked the comparison I saw somewhere with someone comparing this story to “Westworld.” Now, some may think that’s a reach, but let’s think about it: the theme of “what is reality?” There’s the idea of a park where people go and become someone else, they let the game take them over, there’s actors surrounding you playing roles to only enliven the atmosphere, and then there’s the hunt to win the heightened scavenger hunt to find the prize at the end of the game or the maze.
  4. More Mythology/Lore: The Fates! Another aspect of the story that made this so much more impressive of a story was how the author added these ominous figures known as “The Fates.” Spoiler Alert as I explain who they were:…………. ………………… …………….. Centuries ago, they were these immortal beings who ruled the world and were agents of chaos, but were banished into a deck of cards by a powerful witch. There’s much more to it, like who each one is and a list of magical objects too, but that’s the main gist of it, and I don’t want to ruin the full experience of you reading it for yourself. It all does nothing but add to the story and continue to heighten the drama of how the story develops.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I’ve Seen This Before…I do love Dante; he was in Caraval but was a minor character. He was the pompous, hot, mean guy, so I was happy to see him receive much more attention this time around. I also thought he was a great love interest for Tella, but I noticed with him and Tella that it basically just felt like a total repeat of the whole dynamic between Julian and Scarlett in the previous book. It seems like Stephanie may only be able to write YA versions of alphaholes with a Mr. Darcy kind of vibe in her dashing male love interests, and I was hoping for maybe something with more original between Dante and Tella.

Conclusion:

Everything that I said needed to be added to Caraval happened in this book; Legendary was like a new and improved version on it with so a much more intricately drawn plot filled with much more sinister plots, daring twists, enchanting magic, and of course scorching romance!

If you enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, you’ll definitely love this sequel too. It’s not grimmdark, epically high fantasy, or anything too serious. These books are just a more fun. light-hearted, whimsical tale that can still entertain and enthrall all the same! I’d say just about everything about Legendary was bigger and better, all except for whether I can’t decide whether Dante or Julian is the better love interest.

Like I said earlier, I wonder if Stephanie Garber had everything all planned out in advance before she wrote the first book, or if she came up with it all later on or as she was working. I must say, she really does know how to expertly weave an intriguing story together with just about everything I love in a story: mystery and lore, unexpected twists, mysteries galore, second guessing everyone and everything, and of course scorching romance. You can bet I am going to for sure be reading what is sure to be an epic conclusion with Finale being the next title.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell