What I’ve Read: Endsinger

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Endsinger by Jay Kristoff, book 3 of The Lotus War Trilogy

Brief Summary:

With betrayal on all sides, Yukiko, Buruu, and the rest of the fading group of rebels are holed up in the Fox Clan’s city, and worse things are about to force the world into one giant fight for mankind. As the rebels try to destroy the Lotus Guild’s Earthcrusher behemoth, the remaining forces of the shattered Shogun are bearing down on Yukiko’s group. As Kin reintegrates himself into the Guild, he uncovers more secretive backstory of the First Bloom and the Inquisitors. Hana and Yoshi come face-to-face with their demons, aka their gaijin past. And to top it all off, the Endsinger, creator of all life and death is trying to tear a hole in the world and release her “children.”

What Works:

I want to start off by saying I love Mr. Kristoff’s writing. I read Nevernight prior to The Lotus War and I instantly fell in love with Mia and Mr. Kristoff’s particular style. I thought Yukiko and Buruu’s relationship growth over the first book was excellent as a debut author, and there was an underlying joyousness in that book that bespoke of an author coming into his voice. Now in book two, I could still see that growth Mr. Kristoff was working toward, but it wasn’t until book 3 where you could sense he truly found his writing voice.

I understand that not everyone is a fan of more visceral writing/sentence structure.

For example, take this passage: The ascent was torturous, fumbling in the dark, fingers scrabbling against the pipeline’s greasy innards.

I freaking love this, but how we are trained in school, this is not remotely grammatically correct. It just feels choppy and wrong to our trained minds, and most authors tend to not veer away from the standard sentence structure. That is one thing I love about Mr. Kristoff’s style, he goes as far away from it as you can think of. You saw the early stages of it in book 1, the teenage years in book 2, but in book 3, the visceral style was fully matured.

And I loved every second of it (again, not everyone might agree).

As much as I didn’t enjoy it in book 2 as much, the fact that book 3 is an ensemble story really helped make this book great. There is so much going on in this book that it would be impossible to only have a handful of POVs. Aside from Yukiko remaining fun, I want to single out two POVs that really stood out:

– Hana became a truly awesome character. I like how she became a Stormdancer like Yukiko, but her arc wasn’t the same. She had her moments where she was still the flawed gutter child of mixed heritage and I thought that was excellent behavior/mannerism within the overall plot. Her interaction with Akihito from book 2 grew in this book and I was happy to see them come together. And with how that all went down, bravo Mr. Kristoff, bravo. Didn’t see that coming! But I also truly enjoyed her relationship with Kaiah, though due to constraints of plot, it didn’t get as much time to grow like Yukiko/Buruu, but I’m not disappointed at all.

– Kin, without spoilers, was hands down my favorite character in this entire series. The route he took in book 2 and the way in which it all played out in book 3 was great! It didn’t take long for things to become clear, but everything in his arc was cool and twisty. I loved how his interaction with his “What Will Be” dream and the Guild was fun to watch unfold.

One thing Mr. Kristoff knows how to do very well is to make a giant battle all seem helter-skelter as well as beating with emotional heart. The battle between the rebels, thunder tigers, Guild, gaijin, and other stray characters was close to 150 pages long. Yet, it didn’t feel that long because of all that was going on at the same time. There were four different subplots happening at this time: 1. war in the sky. 2. battle on the Earthcrusher. 3. Hana and the gaijin. 4. attack on the First Bloom (Guild HQ). Each one of these things are crucial to the overall success of the book, but none are short-changed at all. Just excellent weaving back and forth, keeping everything flowing and tense.

As much as I really didn’t like the whole Yukiko/Hiro love subplot thing from the first book to this one, the way in which it all came to a head was well-crafted and satisfying as a reader.

So the ending, whew, grab the Kleenexes and prepare for all the feels. Even after all the deaths along the way (of which there were a toooooon, and well written too, very emotional!) there was still one giant hurdle left for the survivors, and Yukiko in particular. Now without spoiling how it goes, the previous Stormdancer and his thunder tiger went into legend by sealing the fate of their world with their blood. And Yukiko and Buruu know that only a Stormdancer’s sacrifice will make the plan work. Honestly, I’m pretty good at picking up on plot threads and if I wasn’t, I never would have seen this coming, that is how subtle Mr. Kristoff was in setting up this conclusion (it’s definitely built in, you can see it if you try hard enough to find it). But the manner in which the finale played out was not something I expected, it came from a completely different point. That’s great writing there!

One last thing I love about Mr. Kristoff’s style is that he knows how to leave scenes on a cliffhanger. There is a chapter toward the end of the major battle between all the factions (not the end battle though) where there are multiple POVs going through an emotional moment. And then, just when the characters are about to hit that crescendo, Mr. Kristoff ends that scene and moves onto another one. Now to do it once every chapter, I see that all the time, but this was at least three characters with very heightened emotional factors being dragged up the mountain top here, and when they are about to fall, BAM, next scene and we are left hanging to see if they survive or not (and because of all the death, you never truly know in this book). But what truly makes this part of the book great is that each cliffhanger ends with the exact same word: Squeeze. So much connotation in one single word. Just excellent stuff!

What doesn’t Work:

There really wasn’t a whole lot that I didn’t like about this story’s conclusion. Although, even though he turned out OK in the end, I still wasn’t a huge fan of Yoshi’s character. He was kinda funny though, but most of his scenes were just there.

Honestly, I really didn’t need the gaijin POV Aleksandar. I get that he was brought on to give a different perspective, but in the end, he really didn’t add anything we couldn’t have had with Hana or Piotr.

Rating:

5 out of 5

What I’ve Read: Kinslayer

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Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff, The Lotus War Book Two

Brief Summary:

Picking up from the epic showdown with the Shogun, Yukiko, along with her mind-melded thunder tiger buddy Buruu, is now seen as the poster child for open rebellion within the Shima Imperium. But Yukiko is still fuming about the death of some loved ones and her power of being able to enter the minds of animals is growing so bad that she falls to liquor to numb the onslaught. Told that there might be some ancient knowledge far to the north, she sets off to learn to control this power. Meanwhile, the rebellion is planning to infiltrate the heart of the empire as some characters thought killed in the first book have resurfaced, and a new link to the throne arises. But Yukiko’s actions have spurred other would-be insurgents into action. More twists and turns abound between warring factions and the ever-present Lotus Guild.

What works & What doesn’t work:

Normally I separate these two sections, but it was an odd thing while reading this book, many things that I really really liked, I also disliked for some reason or another, of which I’ll explain below.

Kinslayer becomes an ensemble book. I love ensemble books! Give me GoT, WoT, or any other epic fantasies where there are multiple Points of View characters and different arcs all going on at the same time. I love that this book became an ensemble cast, I really did, however, starting Book One as a limited POV cast and expanding greatly here has really diminished Yukiko as a character in my eyes. Stormdancer was in essence, all about Yukiko and Buruu’s connection. Yes, her father was a major POV, yes, Kin and Michi were POVs, but they were minor POVs. IT was ALL about Yukiko’s arc. And in this story, she is nearly pushed aside to grow the rest of the cast.

Yukiko’s storyline was great, she was angry, she was depressed, she had other things that I won’t spoil happening to her, but Godsdamn, her scenes were very short. I mean, her going north was a really damn good arc, but it was sporadic and limped to the finish. And then, she didn’t show up for 100 pages until the very end of the story!!!! Not exactly my favorite way for the main character…

I will say, making Kin and his arc a much bigger thread was a genus idea by Mr. Kristoff. I loved Kin’s character in the first book and he grew so dramatically in this book. The things he does and the actions he ultimately took were just epic and I didn’t see coming. I really loved it! I especially liked how he dealt with the inward hatred of him being a Guildsman amongst rebels. There was this real feeling of distrust, a fox in the chicken coop kind of feeling. It really made for some interesting character dynamics.

But to the detriment of the story, two siblings were introduced and given soooooooo much screen time. I liked the final outcome of their arc, but Izanagi’s balls I didn’t care for the vast majority of what they did. I liked Hana to an extent, but I could have completely done without Yoshi’s character POVs and thread. Hana had a purpose to the story, she rose to the forefront of the rebellion infiltrating the Imperium. But Yoshi’s story with the yakuza didn’t add anything to the overall plot other than to set up some gruesome scenes toward the end.

And then there was Michi. Man she really is a cool femme fatale character, but her temptation of love was not my favorite. Again, her climax to her story was really damn sweet and a bit unexpected, but the drive there was meh. At least there was some great emotional moments at the end for her.

The less said about Hiro, the better…

I really did like the introduction of the “round-eye” gaijin in Yukiko’s arc. It was interesting to see another people out there that was only alluded to. And, again, this part of the story was really fun and full of twists and turns for Yukiko and Buruu, very character defining. I mean, we got more thunder tigers!!!

The climax was amazing. It was such a slow build to the attack on the heart city of the Imperium, and when we finally got to witness it, it was a thing to behold. While I love epic battle scenes in books, I like the more intimate (or back-stabb-y???) moments against the battle backdrop. For example, Michi’s conclusion takes place during this epic invasion, but her scenes are concise and have huuuuuuuuge emotional impact to her character as a whole. To me, that is perfection on paper when an author can hit an emotional response to all the destruction going on around these characters.

But I temper the entire thing because of the introduction of so many one-off POVs that it sometimes felt erratic (I mean war is erratic, but this was a bit much).

On the whole, I really like the set-up and execution of the story, but things got muddied for me in the process.

Rating:

3 out of 5

What I’ve Read: Stormdancer

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Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

Brief Summary:

In a world based off of feudal Japan and mixed with the steampunk vibe, the child of the Shogun’s greatest hunter embarks on a journey to find a fabled “thunder tiger” on the whim of said Shogun. As the hunters track down the thunder tiger, it attacks their airship and causes it to crash, but that is only after the father slices off the griffin’s wings, rendering it unable to fly. Now, the heroine, Yukiko, has a gift where she can meld minds with animals. As the ship is crashing, she mind melds with the griffin and they save each other from death (even though the thunder tiger hates her). Because this world is based on honor, the hunter faces death for losing the thunder tiger, as well as rogue ronin are attempting to overthrow the Shogun. And lest we forget, there are the Guildsmen, the purveyors of the source of power in this world have their own schemes.

What works:

Buruu the thunder tiger is awesome. Mr. Kristoff created this wonderful mythical creature that is not only deep, but also very humorous. Yukiko and Buruu’s connection is really a joy to read and Buruu is very witty for an “animal.” I really enjoyed reading their growth and reliance on one another to survive. It was organic and natural, but also had that layer of respect to each other. I dig it.

I loved the Japanese steampunk world Mr. Kristoff created. Sure, I don’t know enough about Japanese culture (and many internet trolls say that of the author…), but it wasn’t overtly jarring to read. Yeah, some of the terms needed to be Googled (thankfully there is also a dictionary in the back of the book of Japanese terms), but I thought it was cohesive enough, and detailed enough to get a true understanding of the world. I liked the Mr. Kristoff went all out with his Japanese world, using terms, clothing, myths, legends, titles. I like seeing something different like that. Really made the story stronger.

I really enjoyed the vibe given from the chi (the source of power), as it is both energizing the world, but also used as a drug. Very cool stuff. I definitely loved the Guildsmen. These people wear suits of metal (called their skin) and are basically robots. I thought it was a cool idea to have the character of Kin learn his history isn’t exactly the correct path.

The writing is very fast-paced (a staple of Kristoff’s) and easy to read. The action was action-y and the dialogue neat. Though there were some flow-y prose in certain points of the story, but I enjoy that (I know others might not)

But the best thing is obviously Yukiko. I love me some hardnosed badass chicas. Yukiko has a temper, but also grounded in every which way. She’s smart, witty, loyal, and overall, just a fun character. Obviously her connection with Buruu is amazing, but I also found her connection (or early lack-there-of) with her father to be a true reflection of the setting and the world they inhabit. It started as one thing and then ended completely different, far away from what I would have expected to see. Very well done.

What doesn’t work:

Personal preference alert: I hate hate hate hate hate hate 3rd person omniscient POV. I just can’t do it. I dislike going back and forth between characters in consecutive paragraphs. I much prefer a set POV for each scene. Granted, Mr. Kristoff did a great job of maintaining voice of characters when switching to and from, but I just can’t get into it.

Even though this is Adult with YA crossover, one thing I really didn’t like was the “green-eyed samurai” love interest for Yukiko. It felt shoehorned into the story and I could have done without it, or at least made it a slower burn.

One thing I can also agree with some of the other reviews out there is that it takes quite a long time to get the story off the ground. It takes about 100 pages before we meet the thunder tiger. Now I understand the need to set the story up, but I think some of the earlier chapters could have been tightened to get to the best part of the story and that is Yukiko and Buruu.

Rating:

4 out of 5

What I’ve Read: Nevernight

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Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Brief Summary:

In a world of three suns where only true darkness happens every two years, a young girl – a child of a failed rebellion – makes her first kill in order to join the fabled Red Church – an assassin school. Once she gets to the school, she trains to become a member of the church. Mia, the girl, also possesses a mysterious companion – a non-cat shadow that allows her to use the power of the Dark. She has three reasons to succeed – three deaths responsible for her father’s hanging. Along the way a plot of capture the leaders of the Red Church unfolds and only Mia can stop it.

What works:

Let’s start with the beginning – it is f*cking brilliant! The first chapter starts as a flashback, but really only a short time before the actual start of the chapter. Let’s just say that I have never read a better first chapter. The bottom line, for Mia to join the Red Church, she has to kill someone. Now, normally, this might be trite, but the way Mr. Kristoff does it is ingenious. The flashback is how Mia decides to lose her virginity because she doesn’t know if she will live the attempted murder. The poetic way in which the sexual scene plays out is the exact same wording as when she murders the hangman of her father. Like literally the exact same pacing & sentence structure (with very few word changes) to invoke a complete different meaning. The reader knows what is happening, but to see it written to mean two different things is amazing. It was such an awesome opening that I don’t know how a better one can start.
She drew a breath, perhaps to speak (but what would she say?) and then there was pain, pain, O, Daughters it hurt. He was inside her – it was inside her – so hard and real she couldn’t help but cry out, biting her lip to muffle the flood.
– He drew a sucking breathing, perhaps to speak (but what could he say?) and she could see it in his eyes – pain, pain, O, Daughters, it hurt. It was inside him – she was inside him – stabbing hard as he tried to cry out, her hand over his mouth to muffle the flood.

Mia Corvere is such a great protagonist. She is not the best at everything, not big, not strong. But she is clever, smart, witty, hilarious, stubborn and downright fun. Normally I don’t like school/training novels, but Mia made it all worthwhile. She really was a great character to follow. Her interaction with the non-cat shadow (named Mister Kindly no less!) was such good banter, and her relationship with Tric was fun too. Best part about Mia is that she doesn’t let the story come to her, she actively plots the course of the story, even in the school setting.

I really loved the world. It has basis in ancient Rome – which is my personal favorite. I love all the background information and worldbuilding Mr. Kristoff does. It is just a really cool world. I also liked the minimal magic systems within it. Yes, Mia has a power, and there are two other cool magic systems, but none of these take the front of the plot. They are really only good additions to the story.

In case you didn’t get it above, I love the vivid wording and age level of this story. Sure most of the characters are teenagers, this world is as dark and gritty as they come. The writing is realistic and doesn’t hold back. Everything is written with great detail. I mean, there are two sex scenes after the first chapter and boy oh boy were they detailed. Dude could seriously write some graphic scenes. But that isn’t just with the sex, but also the violence and the dialogue. Assassins are not roses and gumdrops so I am extremely happy with how dark it all is. One other thing to note on the writing, there are tons upon tons of metaphors and turns of phrase. I can see how some might not like it, but I sure do.

What doesn’t work:

The footnotes. At first, I really enjoyed the footnotes. The narrator was quirky and witty. But then they just basically became info dumps and I ended up skipping them altogether.

For the most part, this story was 3rd person limited POV (nearly all from Mia’s), but there were times when it went into 3rd person omniscient. I hate that when the author bleeds into other characters’ heads without warning then back to another. It gets confusing at times and I’m just not a fan.

This is minor, but I didn’t like how quickly the end plot point was figured out. There weren’t enough hints leading up to it that it kinda felt somewhat “meh” when the conclusion was determined. Almost unearned. Also, the one death that happened at the end was way too undervalued. I just wasn’t a fan how it went down.

Rating:

4 out of 5. I really liked this book overall and think it has the makings of a great trilogy. Excited to get the next installment