What I’ve Read: Throne of Glass

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is a Young Adult high fantasy

Brief Summary:

Celaena Sardothien is the world’s greatest assassin and while serving time within a salt mine, she is given the opportunity to fight in an upcoming competition to become the King’s Champion under the banner of Crown Prince Dorian. If she wins, she serves four years and gains her freedom. Accepting this, she goes to the capital and begins her training with the other 23 would-be Champions. They are given tests and then when four remain, they duel to discover the winner. But then the Champions begin to turn up murdered, and it is up to Celaena to discover what is going on before she becomes the next victim.

What Works:

Celaena really is an all-around fun protagonist. Not only is she this fearsome assassin, but she is also written as her age. She enjoys clothing, reading, fine dining, and she also is witty, funny, smart, vain, and loyal. It was really cool to see the different sides to this character, because most protagonists aren’t this layered. One minute she will be talking about missing a party, the next talking about snapping a guy’s neck. She even plays up her being this awesome assassin to other characters when they discover she is only a teenager. Really fun character.

One thing about Celaena I want to point out is that she wants to be the best and her frustration shows. I loved that because I think that is every teenager ever. She is told in the beginning to not stand out, not to cause the others to figure out who she is. But I loved that growing sense of aggravation from her. I loved knowing she hated every second of it. And then when she finally gave in, the shocking way in which she revealed herself was spot on.

I really liked how there were multiple threads/plots going on in this book. At first, I was just thinking it would be about the competition, but it was really good to have the other side plots as well. The story is fast-paced and goes from scene to scene really smoothly without missing any beats.

I know I have said this in my other reviews in the past, I typically enjoy multi-POVs. That said, even though this book has multiple POVs, it truly is Celaena’s story. I think by having the other POVs only have small paragraphs or just a few pages really worked for this story. It gave another visual of the scenes, but didn’t bog it down by having to go into too much of that character’s head.

What Doesn’t Work:

The ending with one of the sub-plots. I really liked the supernatural element to it all, and thought it was really fun and cool, but the way it ended didn’t hit for me. I didn’t understand how it came about and how it all worked out. It just fizzled without much bang.

The one POV of the King in the end. Without spoiling anything, I was let down, or maybe too obvious is a better choice of words. I wish that whole thing was saved for the second book.

The love triangle. I enjoy a good triangle, I mean that is what makes many a good story. But this one didn’t work for me, mainly because I don’t see a Crown Prince doing the things Dorian does. Also, I didn’t like that Celaena was so smitten by both so quickly. I get it, she is a teenager and all teenagers (male and female) go through pangs of lust (all that was handled really well, IMO), but I didn’t feel like that was in her character to go so swoony so quickly. I wish it was more a slow burn.

Rating:

4 out of 5

I really did like this book and Ms. Maas sure does spin a good tale. Celaena is one of the best all around protagonists I have read in a long time.

What I’ve Read: Crooked Kingdom

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, book two of the Six of Crows duology.

Brief Summary:

Picking up less than a week later from the previous book, Six of Crows, Kaz Brekker and his crew are coming up with a scheme to get Inej back from the doublecross at the end of the first book. The plan seems to go to hell when another doublecross happens. Each member of the crew are hounded by rival gangs, countries, and Grisha (oh and don’t worry, they rescued Inej in the process). With everyone seemingly against them, Kaz must come up with a scheme to defeat them all, while also saving their own hides.

What Works:

The pace of this book, like the last, is bang bang bang that it is hard to put down. I loved that it went directly into the plot and didn’t waste any effort. Ms. Bardugo has a gift for story-telling and it truly shows in these books.

I will admit, while I saw many of the twists coming, there were a couple I didn’t see. Without spoiling the book, the way in which the crew gets out of the final climax was very well done and interesting.

I am also glad there was a character death. These six go through a ton and get injured quite a bit, but after Inej gets cut multiple times and the other close encounters with death in this group, I almost started to think they were all going to be safe regardless of what happened. And when the one character died, I was glad for it because it showed that this world did have consequences.

The banter between the crew was very well done. I liked the silliness of it because you have to remember these are still teenagers, even if they are thugs and badasses.

What doesn’t work:

Unfortunately, this book suffers from the Ocean’s Twelve problem. There were far too many schemes and roles played by all the characters throughout that it just got cumbersome. And so many doublecrosses and subplots that it was just too much. I liked how the first book was focused, whereas this one was not.

Along that line of using Ocean’s Twelve, I didn’t like the addition of Wylan as a Point of View character (it seriously reminded me of Matt Damon’s character wanting more in the sequel…). I enjoyed having him be a main character but not being in his head, made it more interesting. Also, it was fun to have Jesper interact with him (they eventually get together) without knowing Wylan’s side of things. I think it took away from the other characters, especially Kaz and Inej.

Also, I didn’t need the little scene of Wylan and Jesper going to see Wylan’s supposed dead mother. I get why it was there, but it was meh to me. And then adding Jesper’s dad into the mix was not all that good.

Another thing that worked so well in the first book was the use of flashbacks and backstory, but in this book it didn’t work for me. I thought all of them were just filler and not needed. Especially when adding Wylan as a POV.

Rating:

3 out of 5

While I certainly enjoyed the book overall, I just felt let down after how good the first book was. I think there was just too much going on in this book that some parts suffered where they could have really shined. I was very satisfied with the conclusion and I am glad that it is only a duology instead of more books coming, I think it ended perfectly.

What I’ve Watched: The VVitch

The_Witch_posterThe VVitch via Prime.

Brief Summary:

Taking place in the early 1600s, a Puritan family is ousted from their community due to their faith. Taking up residence near a foreboding forest, the family settles and builds a farm, though the crops are failing. When Thomasin, the oldest daughter, is playing with the newborn child, it is abruptly taken from her without her understanding how. The child, taken by a strange older naked woman murders the child. Thomasin is accused by her mother and twin younger siblings of witchcraft. Her family being tormented by the eerie world around them pushes their faith to the test. And their survival in a harsh land.

What works:

Holy eff this movie is creepy in all the right ways! This isn’t a standard horror movie at all. There are maybe only one or two actual moments of jump. It is a slow burn, and it is the world the characters live in that makes it scary. I truly loved this form of story, the cheap thrills grow old after a while.

The biggest thing that makes it creepy is the music. I mean seriously, this music is so eerie that it was a power unto itself. The guy created a hodgepodge of instruments together and called it the Apprehension Engine. (for real, check it out online) The music is so profound and dark that each scene is magnified because of it. And the slow burn of the story goes hand in hand with the music.

One really cool tidbit (and could really turn off casual viewers) is that the characters speak in the literal language of the time. They say “thee” and “thine” as well as an array of other phrases that aren’t commonplace anymore. It really made me pay closer attention to the world than I would have if they used modern English. I thought it was brilliant. It was also great the director only used natural light, which made the night scenes all the more frightening.

Anna Taylor-Joy was amazing as Thomasin. There was an air of the unknown in her performance, but it was so grounded that it made her believable. She is devout in her faith, but everything happening to and around her family shakes that belief. While I loved the father and mother (both Game of Thrones alums), it was Thomasin’s movie.

Add in the fact that the witches were so damned creepy, it was excellent.

What didn’t work:

Nothing. And I mean that. This movie was flawless.

Rating:

5 out of 5

I don’t know how this movie didn’t get more press or attention. It was absolutely scary on every level. I don’t get scared all the easy from movies, but this one definitely had me on the edge. The world was so perfect that after 5 minutes I forgot it was a different time period altogether. And the ending was just so creepy and vivid. I loved this movie!

What I’ve read: Six of Crows

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a Young Adult fantasy novel set in a world where magic is the crux of conflict and gangs run the streets.

Brief Summary:

The Grisha are magic users and while they have their own separate powers, a new drug makes them more powerful than ever. A country who hates Grisha imprisons the creator of this drug in an impenetrable fortress. A merchant seeks out the most accomplished thief in his city – Kaz Brekker – to pull off the job of getting him out. Kaz forms a team of rejects to complete this job: an acrobat turned thief, a sharpshooter wisecracker, an explosives guy, a Grisha and a former prisoner who knows the fortress intimately. Twists and double-crosses occur, because obviously, and the crew get into the fortress only to realize the creator was already dead, but his son lives and he can recreate the formula for the drug. And they get out, live happily ever after…not exactly, leaving with a cliffhanger for the next book.

What works:

The world of this story is awesome. From Ketterdam & the Barrel to Fjerda, the lands are excellently description and real. Ms. Bardugo goes to great lengths making these lands feel lived in and would sport these types of characters. Also the fact that Fjerda and the Grisha are bitter rivals is a great story in itself.

The one thing that sets this apart for me is the multiple view points. I am fairly new to the YA scene, but most of the YA I have read seems to only have one, maybe two, points of view. I love the sprawling epics with many POVs, so this book feels at home for me. There are five main POVs here out of the six crew members and I can say each is different from the next. Kaz is his own man, Inej has her own demons, Nina & Matthias complement/contradict each other perfectly and Jesper is a fun character in his own right.

On top of that, I love how using these characters make the pace of the book much smoother. In most adult fantasy with many POV, the plots of those characters are not always together, so we are going to many different locations when changing POV. Not with Six of Crows. There is only one single plot here and each character plays a part in the heist. I love it! You get to see things happen in almost real time, from each character. Reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven in a way.

While the heist is cool, (and a bit easy, but that is YA so it’s fine with me) the true perfection of this book is the characters of Nina and Matthias. The doomed tragic lovers scenario. (or are they?) I loved their backstory and I loved how they both hated/needed one another. But it was great tension because you never really knew if they would turn on each other or listen to their heart. I thought they were spectacularly written and developed.

A cool technique I liked here was that we got to see flashbacks of these characters in the course of the story, showing who they were and how they got there. But it wasn’t distracting at all. I thought Ms. Bardugo did an excellent job of making it fall within the confines of the plot without slowing down the pace.

What didn’t work:

In my opinion there aren’t any glaring issues. I really loved this book. However, and this is purely my own preferences here, but two things stuck out to me.

  1. Though I know this is YA, there were quite a few scenes of adult behavior, which I loved. That said, some things just felt off to me, especially when characters said they wanted waffles or an omelet. Or that they wanted to drink a cup of coffee. I wish Ms. Bardugo would have just stuck with a bit more adult here instead.
  2. ┬áKaz Brekker’s back story and subsequent love interest. I loved the other character’s backstories, but I felt it would have served the story better without showing Kaz’s. Kaz is defined by his history, but doesn’t show it to anyone in the Barrel, which is why he is such a badass. I wish I didn’t know why he became the Bastard of the Barrel. I would have liked the secrecy. Also, I know that YA stories tend to have love interests, and this story had Nina/Matthias, it didn’t need to add Kaz into the mix. While I get it, I didn’t need it.

Rating:

5 out of 5

This book was awesome. It read great, fast and always moving. There were no sections where it dragged on and there really wasn’t much filler. The world was well managed and the characters are great, each of them important players in the story, bringing depth.

What I’ve Read: The Lies of Locke Lamora

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The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Book one of the Gentlemen Bastards

Brief Summary:

In a scummy world of thieves and gangs, Locke Lamora is the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards. The Gentlemen Bastards are thieves of the top order, truly only stealing a huge amount of money but not really spending it. They excel at disguises and deep plots, with Locke coming up with most of them. When the big bad gang leader of the gangs is threatened by an anonymous murderer, Locke’s latest scheme is put on hold. With dozens of double-crosses and deaths, Locke and his crew must fight for their lives without getting caught. People die, a cool magic system comes in, a very complex scheme is shown and potentially thwarted and eventually the Gentlemen Bastards are ousted as thieves. But not before the murderer is finally taken down.

What works:

The thing I can say I like most about this novel by debut author Scott Lynch is the characters themselves. Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards are great for different reasons. While Locke has the charm and gift of gab, he is more than that. Jean is the muscle, but his sincere friendship is a nice change of pace. The Sanza brothers are hilarious with their banter and Bug is a fun character as well. Then throw in the other side characters, this world is rich with different forms of people. Especially the Barangias sisters.

I also really like the structure of the novel. Each chapter is broken down into sub-chapters which is cool. There is an overarching theme for each chapter, but then there might be four, five, or six sub-chapters getting there. I liked that. The other fun part of this story is the Interludes. These interludes are still chapters but are flashback scenes of when the young Locke joins the Gentlemen Bastards and how the training went. It is a cool system to change up the story a bit.

At first I disliked it, but then after reading the whole story, I realized I liked the fact that Mr. Lynch killed off people he put so much information into building. Without spoiling it, Mr. Lynch goes into great detail about certain characters and then just brutally killed some of them, most off-screen with little fan-fare. When it first happened, I was surprised, but then after some thought, I loved it. This world is brutal and people wouldn’t live that long in it without the potential for getting offed.

Another thing I liked about this world was the context used to build it. When I say this, I mean the culture used. Most fantasy writers tend to use a simple medieval terminology to describe things, but Mr. Lynch decided to go with a more Spanish theme. For example, instead of baron or baroness, he used the terms Don and Dona. I thought that was awesome. Even the names were very Spanish or even Italian styled. It was a cool change of pace.

What doesn’t work:

While I really loved how much depth Mr. Lynch went into to show how awesome at fooling people the Gentlemen Bastards were, the first 200 pages were hard for me to get through without getting a bit bored. Yes the Interludes and the banter of the gang were great, but the actual plot of the whole book doesn’t really pick up until the murderer character is discussed around page 200ish. While important to have, I thought it could have been trimmed down a bit.

Even though I loved the Interludes, there were some that I felt weren’t necessary. They were mostly history lessons of the city itself and not about Locke and his gang. These were short, usually no more than a couple pages, but I skimmed most of them anyway. I also wish there was an Interlude of how the first leader of the gang died (I assume of old age since he was old at the start of the book, but it still would have been nice to see)

The climax was a bit of a let down. Sure what happened to Locke and Jean was awesome, especially how they got there, but the total climax felt too easy for such a complex plot to get to. I also didn’t like the addition of the Spider character coming in. Not a fan of that one.

Speaking of characters, the point of view in the chapters were sometimes confusing. I don’t like it when more than one character is given a point of view in the space of a paragraph. I prefer to have one set POV for the entire chapter or sub-chapter. Just a personal preference.

Rating:

4 out of 5

This book was really good. I truly enjoyed it, but it did start off slow for me. The Gentlemen Bastards were a great cast of characters to follow and I can see why everyone loves this book. Quite an enjoyable read.