2018 Writers’ League of Texas Conference

Earlier this month was the annual Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference in Austin, TX. Below is a picture of my badge as well as a nice little ribbon (which I will get to in the meat of this blogging remembrance)

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A little backstory first: I moved to Texas a couple of years ago when my lovely wife got a job offer she couldn’t turn down in the great city of Austin (seriously, it is a sweet ass city with lots to do, but good gracious, it is hot as sin down here, and being from Chicago, I was not prepared for this temperature change…). Anyway, I had started writing what would become a series called The Mistlands Tragedies many years ago (of which if you follow this blog, you’ve seen the many changes it has undergone), but it wasn’t until we moved to Texas that I really found the push I needed.

You see, up until I moved to Texas, I was a man alone with this writing thing, no fellow writers, no critique partners, no one but my brain and my fingers to work with. And then I found the WLT. Now the WLT is simply amazing for bringing writers together and creating that community. I won’t bore you with all the rah-rah-rah stuff or the bloody tears of joy (wait, what? jk!) but the best thing is, each year, the WLT has a conference where honest-to-goodness professional book industry peeps show up and listen to us writers ramble about their stories!!!

I went last year and, as my first ever writers’ conference experience, I would say it was a smashing success. I gained experience and knowledge I never would have on my own. I met a great writing friend, Amanda, and just had a great time overall.

This year, while still great, was a different experience for me, and most of that comes down to where I am as a writer this year as opposed to last.

First, the ribbon at the bottom of my badge. So each year, the WLT has a manuscript contest. You submit the first ten pages of your MS and a synopsis. Then the WLT has panels of judges based on the category you submit to (mine was Science Fiction/Fantasy, obvi). Then these judges will read each submission and then come up with a list of finalists and a winner. Then we all get recognized at the conference for our awesome work!

So I’ll be frank: I wasn’t expecting anything from the contest. Last year I submitted and obviously didn’t get anything. This year, I was in the midst of drastic rewrites/editing of what is now the first book in the Tragedies. I was still working through things, but my overall plot was plotted, the characters characterized and vibe the vibing (I don’t think that’s how it is spelled, but I’m going with it). I submitted the first ten pages, which I had polished so many times it shone like newly shined black Sunday Church shoes, and the synopsis like a good little follower of rules. And then sent it off to the Gods. Little did I expect I would be named a finalist. I mean, as a writer who has been rejected (rightly so) by many agents in the query trenches, this was like the world had opened anew for me. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes into this Valhalla of bliss. I couldn’t have been more happy or motivated to keep on writing.

But here is the thing, with growth as a writer, you tend to level up (I mean that is the nature of the world) and that also pertained to the WLT conference.

Last year, I learned a ton from the panels offered by the conference, this year, very little. I’m not here to say the panels this year were worthless, but more to say that I am past the 101 class level of the book industry, past the very basic overview of things, past the cursory ideas tossed out there. I’ve been querying for ages now. I know how to structure a query letter or synopsis (not saying I’m great at either, but I know what needs to go in them). I know the basics of what happens with an agent, with an editor, with a publisher. I’ve either been to those panels before, or have done extensive research on my own.

The panels this year were very similar (if not the exact same in some cases) to the ones last year. And for newbie writers, those things are great. But for me, I needed more detail, more in depth discussions on craft and business. I needed more knowledge from the agents/editors, and unfortunately, I didn’t get that very much this year. I’m at that point where I feel my story is so nearly polished (per my critique partners) that I’m nearing the point of no return with agents. If I do the query right, I should be getting some hits. So I need some 400 level courses and panels about the industry AFTER the query process. And the conference didn’t have those available (minus a good portion of the book contract panel, which was quite eye-opening).

One thing I also want to touch on is the agent pitch. I talked about the pitching in my post about the DFWCon I went to last month, and, at the WLT conference, I also had a pitch session. I had a glowing response to my pitches at DFWCon and the WLT was not as glowing to very nearly the same exact pitch. But here is the thing, all the agents said to query them (which is the great thing, better to get requests from a conference than to try the slushpile), but getting to that point of them telling me to submit was markedely different between them all. Now, that is no knock toward the agents from either conference, but I do think it adequately sums up the industry: THIS STUFF IS SUBJECTIVE AS HELL!!!! Not every agent (and more importantly, readers) will be interested in the same stuff, even in their preferred genre! And that is perfectly acceptable. Yes, it’s weird when it happens in person (in that microcosm of the 10 minute pitch session where you are trying to sell your story to a very important person), as opposed to anonymous email queries, but it is a great learning experience nonetheless.

Even if the panels were a bit lower level than I would have liked, and my pitch session was not as strong as I would have wanted it to be, the conference on the whole was still a good experience. I got to spend time with others like me, introverts working on stories that are near and dear to their hearts (although, I seriously got tired of hearing people say they are writing memoir – but that is just not my particular brand of whiskey). I got to spend the entire weekend talking/plotting/idea generating/shooting the shit with my good buddy (and critique partner) Dewey.

And I think that is the most important thing to take away from conferences: it is all about the writing journey, and take those with you that are also on the same quest!

Meeting a Role Model

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Good God, yes that is me meeting the great Terry Brooks! (squuuuuuueeeeeeee)

Let me explain this total fanboy behavior. When I was twelve years old, my preteen brain was just getting into reading for enjoyment. My parents are huge readers (I mean like a book or two a week) and I’m a product of nurture. My middle school also had a program called Accelerated Reader where if you read books, you got points based on the reading level, and those points added up to buy useless toys and knick-knacks (you know, useless shit that kids want – Pogs were big back then and we could buy frickin’ Pogs!!!), not to mention we got pizza parties too from it! But for someone like me, addicted to books via the reading blood coursing through my veins, my reading level was much higher than someone of my age normally would be and this is where I was introduced to two authors that forever changed my life: Richard Adams’ Watership Down & Terry Brooks The Sword of Shannara.

I’ve always been drawn to science fiction and fantasy movies and tv shows (shit, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adorned everything in my room that wasn’t Ghostbusters…), so naturally I preferred this type of story. I hadn’t yet read Lord of the Rings (only read The Hobbit at that point), but I latched onto Shannara with the deathlike grip of the Skull Bearers. I devoured his books (he had just finished the Heritage of Shannara series and about to launch the impeccable Voyage of Jerle Shannara series) and this led me to find LotR and others as I aged into high school. His books were the launching pad of my love for fantasy stories.

But not only was Mr. Brooks responsible for my reading genre love, he also gave me the nudge of writing. I hate math, I won’t lie. I suck at math like there is no tomorrow. Hell, even though I’m good at science (and studied archaeology) and actually work in the scientific field, I really didn’t enjoy it like I did with English and Literature. I remember in my senior year English class, we had to write our own Canterbury Tale. I remember diving headlong into it with such gusto that I loved it.

So how does all this relate to Mr. Brooks you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. That Tale I wrote (mimicking the poetic style of the actual Tales) about a knight going on a journey to an unknown land (um hello Druid of Shannara and the Voyage series).

And then when I got to college, I began to craft the basis of what would become my Mistlands world. I began to write more than just a few words (thanks Anthro/Classics majors for making me write 30 page papers like it was life-sustaining…) all while trying to live to the magic Mr. Brooks instilled in me.

I have never gone to a book signing before, but when I heard Mr. Brooks was coming to Austin (at the amazing local Book People!) with his latest book dropping, I knew I had to go. I’ve literally read all his books multiple times and he is just a pure genius in this genre.

But the best part of the night (aside from him being wildly funny and divulging his upcoming plans in terms of his projects, not to mention reading a passage from a new Word & Void novel – more squuuuuueeeeee!) I actually got to spend a few minutes talking about writing with him! He genuinely seemed interested in listening to me ramble. He offered me some sage-like advice of keep going and work with writing partners. As well as mentioning that even though we might never make it, to always stay positive and enjoy what you write. And I think that’s the key. This year has got me excited for writing because I’m stoked where my story is, but in the end, I absolutely love this story, and that’s the biggest thing – love what you write! He even said he hoped to see me on a bookshelf one day!

Even though I’m just one of his millions of fans worldwide, he has inspired me from a young age to just enjoy the magic that is in literature!

DFWCon 2018

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On Saturday June 9th I went to the first writer’s conference of the summer – DFWCon in Dallas, TX with my good friend and fellow writer Dewey Conway. Now, as many writers might know, these sort of conferences do a wide range of things for would-be authors – panels by published writers/agents, classes on craft/business, as well as the opportunity to pitch a polished work to an actual agent. This was only my second ever writer’s con, but I’d say this one was a far different experience than my first, and dare I say it, a much better one.

Let’s start simple, this time I actually had a polished work (of which I’ll post future blogs on the many changes Summonborn has gone through in the last six months) that I was feeling positive about being good enough to actually pitch agents. Pitching agents is not an easy task for a fairly introverted person like myself, you know it means talking to another person about something near and dear to your heart. This damned story (ripped tenderly via blood magic from a greater trilogy as a lead-in novel) has gone through so much change, that somewhere along the various rewrites, I realized I had something worth sharing. Now, pitching that same story, regardless of my confidence levels going in, was nothing short of mental pants shitting. I think I did good of keeping it all internal, but it was still nerves going up and down the spine.

But here’s the thing I also learned over many rejections during querying, agents are just looking for the next good story, and they want to listen to your pitch. And if you have a good one, they will be interested. Not so hard.

Luckily, I had an excellent pitch prepared, it was so awesome that when I sat down to pitch, I literally didn’t use it at all… yet somehow I was able to stumble through and form cohesive thoughts long enough to passably get my story across to this lovely agent. And will you believe it, she was interested and wanted me to submit to her. Well Savior’s cock (my main character’s favorite swear word and now in my own lexicon) I knew I had a good story, I just had to make sure I would get it across, and apparently I did. So, that, my dear friends, is a huge win in my book.

It was such a big win for me that I barely cared about the panels/classes. Yeah I went to some, but I really don’t remember a whole lot from them. Cloud Nine is a real feeling I had not been to in a long time. I even decided to try my hand at pitching another agent. It went just as well since she told me to query her agency.

That’s two wins in my book.

And then, to top it off, Dewey pitched his wonderful story and got a full manuscript request! I felt like a proud papa bear because I’ve spent a ton of time with his story as a critique partner, helping him (and vice versa). It felt like I also got  another full request.

Met some other cool writers and heard their pitches. Went to those panels. And then the keynote speak, Mr. Scott Westerfeld, gave an awesome lunchtime speech on Young Adult, teenagers, and art. I really didn’t understand how he was going to tie it all together, but damn was he great. Funny and smart. Oh, and I had some super rich double chocolate cake (which I never eat sweets, but hot damn that was good!)

All in all, it was a great way to kick off the summer! Nothing beats a good roadtrip talking about books. And that is the kicker, for an introverted writer, talking about books IS the easiest way to crack open that shell, I just had to find that first crack.

2017 in Review

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With 2017 ready to bow out and 2018 coming to invade, I think I can honestly say that this past year was a good one.

Personally, and I’ll keep it short since this blog is mostly about my hobbies, was pretty good. The wife and I bought a big dumb house (hooray mortgage) that we pretty much redid (painting really blows). The big dog ended up having heartworms, so yeah, that was fun. While the little one had to get gnarly teeth pulled. Other than spending a metric shit ton of money this year, all in all, it went swimmingly. Oh, and I added to my anime-inspired tattoo sleeve – added Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke to my Cowboy Bebop. Next up: Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I’ll leave my writing for the last since that’ll be the longest. In terms of my other hobbies I tend to blog about – I’ve seen/read some badass things this year. From movies to TV shows to books, I can say with aplomb this year was excellent. Now I know that I should have done some more blogs this year about all of the things aforementioned, but sometimes I didn’t want to spoil things (aka The Last Jedi, Stranger Things 2). So I might do a post about them this coming year.

I have a new favorite show: The 100. I seriously don’t know how I missed it until this year, probably the whole YA/CW stigma. But damn, this show is amazing and gets better with each season. One of my other favorite shows, Halt and Catch Fire, ended this year and I am super sadface. I will say that this season was stunning and one character’s death was probably the most well done TV death I have ever seen. Just beautiful. Emotional.

I’d have to say IT was probably the single best movie I saw all year. It (pun intended) was just perfect. It had everything – tension, drama, scares, humor, teenage angst. I just flat out loved it from start to finish. I’ll stand by it, but I loved The Last Jedi (come fight me bro). TLJ really flipped the Star Wars world on its collective head and I loved every minute of it. OK not every minute because that one scene with that one character (we all know what I’m talking about) was very cheesy. And I don’t care if people hate it, I loved it. It’s no Empire, but definitely up there with the best of them. Some of my other top films seen this year were VVitch, Thor: Ragnarok, and Blade Runner 2049.

This year, my goal was to read 30 books. While I didn’t reach that goal, I did finish with a respectable 27.5 (still reading that other half but won’t finish prior to year end). A few of those books were rereads (Elantris, Watership Down, Voyage of Jerle Shannara) but most were brand new. Majority of them were fantasy, but I did dip my toe into YA this year (more on that later). A couple of them are beta reads for critique partners, but I’m counting those because they are full manuscripts. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t been published because someone took the great effort to write them (both were excellent btw). I’d say Blood Song and Nevernight were the top two new books read this year. I will admit, I had to put down three others due to first person POV, I just have such a hard time with 1st person. So hard.

Now to the meat of this year end review – my own writing.

2017 was illuminating for a multitude of reasons. I know I don’t know shit, but I feel like this year really helped clean the muck off so to speak. At the tail end of 2016, I worked with an agent/editor on my passion project. After he lovingly tore it apart, I truly came to understand what the story needed to become – albeit to a point. I spent years writing this thing and in one fell swoop, I learned my story was trite and boring. Overdone. It was disheartening to hear it. But ever the optimist (hey I’m a Chicago Cubs fan so back off) I set my mind to fixing this story of Brynn and Hunter, vengeance v. duty of faith. Long story short, I thought I fixed this story. But I was wrong.

Something just didn’t feel right about it. I changed many things: the setting, the religion, the magic system, points of view. But it still didn’t feel complete. And then I went to my first writer’s conference. Though I grew up in the shadow of Chicago, there really wasn’t a huge writing fellowship, a group of fellow writers. Twitter has really helped grow my world in that manner, but the big thing was moving to Texas. The Writers League of Texas is amazing. I won’t stroke the ego anymore than this, but joining the WLT has been a boon. And their annual conference really helped a ton. I met some great writer friends and had some interesting ideas pop into my head.

You know how they always say you should listen to your wife, well in this case, I should have. Even though she hasn’t read much of my writing (waiting until I’m satisfied with the story) she has always said my style is very YA. So after hearing this and talking about my story at the conference, I came to the revelation it should be YA. I did the edits, toned things down, de-aged the characters, all the fun YA stuff. The story really did pop more. But, I still wasn’t comfortable with it.

I know YA is trending toward more adult themes like sex and violence, but even with toning the story down, it didn’t feel right. I have a creepy sick villain and he had to be taken out in the YA version. That didn’t sit well with me. My main character, Brynn, likes to swear (same with a sky pirate). I didn’t want to lose all of that. But I tried. So I ended up taking the darker parts/characters/plots out and went to put that into a separate book. Nearly finished with that book. But always in the back of my noggin was the original plan for my trilogy. I couldn’t shake it.

And then came the true enlightenment. And it came while playing Final Fantasy IX (of all things).

If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing that game, I highly suggest it. The reason that game inspired me was the whole package it contains – humor, tragedy, tension, rage, friendship, love, idea of self, fast pacing, darkness. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is my story contains all of that. Yes, I tend to write more YA, but the story has to have that darkness to it, that grimness. It has to be dense, fully fleshed out, the world-building has to be adult level. But that doesn’t mean my YA writing can’t fit into that mold. They can co-exist. And then I remembered something that agent/editor said to me – I can write different characters or scenes using different genres. For example, my main characters of Brynn and Hunter can stay more YA style. It fits them. It always has. Minus the swearing by Brynn. My soldier character is definitely grimdark. He sees so much violence, commits violence and has a bleak outlook on life, wavering confidence in his honor. My villain was written to be more like a horror character, especially because he deals with the supernatural. Top it off, I changed the setting again, took the premise of my magic system from a separate WIP, changed some POVs, took out a YA character and gave her a complete separate story. Now I think I’m finally satisfied on where the story sits.

To put all that into perspective, none of this would have come about if I didn’t open myself up to other writers. I have 4 excellent CPs. One (Amanda) I met at the conference, and the other 3 (Claire, Lana, Dewey) via Twitter. What has really helped me the most is by reading their stories. Amanda writes YA fantasy about mermaids and Atlantis. Lana about Slavic mythology and witches (in YA first person no less). Dewey writes Middle Grade adventure/fantasy. And Claire does YA fantasy/sci-fi. Out of all four of them, Claire’s stories are the ones I would veer toward normally. And that is the beauty of having CPs. I’m getting a chance to broaden my horizons, read different types of stories and viewing them in a different mindset than just plan ole reading them. Working with CPs gives the opportunity to read someone else’s story, but also provide constructive feedback, in addition to receiving it. Seeing these other genres/stories has opened my eyes to what my own story is missing. The ideas just won’t stop. I even bring a critical eye to published authors works, see what they did, how it works. It has been amazing to have this transformation and it has really set me up for success that I didn’t have in the past.

Also, even if they don’t read this, I really just wanted to give a massive shout-out to Amanda, Claire, Lana, and Dewey! Thank you all!

Even though my goal for 2017 was to get on the path to publication, I think I can say I achieved it. Sure I haven’t scored an agent, but damn, they would’ve had a shitty story. I know that what I learned this year has set me up for success this coming year. My goal for 2018 is to land that agent. Without all the growth this year, I know it never would have happened.

Bring on 2018!

What I’ve Read: Ilse Witch

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A re-read (maybe the fifth or sixth) of Ilse Witch, book one of the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara by Terry Brooks

Brief Summary:

As a Wing Rider is doing his daily flights over the Blue Divide, he spots a castaway. Turns out, the castaway was an Elf prince who set out 30 years prior to discover a forgotten magic across the ocean. Blind and mute, the castaway carries a map. When the Druid Walker deciphers the map, he brings together a ragtag team of warriors, magic-users and a young boy with a mysterious past. Using the brand new technology of airships, the group undertakes a long and arduous journey to this long forgotten land. During the journey, the young Bek learns the truth about his ancestry and his undiscovered magic. Chasing them the entire journey is the Ilse Witch, who also has a mysterious past and deep hatred for the Druid. Upon reaching the land that time forgot, the group is attacked by the sentient dweller in the ancient city and become separated.

What works:

Though my first foray into fantasy was Tolkien, Terry Brooks was really the one to fully grab me. I read the original trilogy and the Heritage series in the late 90s, so when this book came out in 2000, I was aching for this series. And it didn’t disappoint (and still doesn’t). The biggest thing about Mr. Brooks is his attention to detail in crafting a story. While I loved individual books in the aforementioned stories, I really didn’t get invested in every single character arc (though after re-reads, I understood them better) until this story. I love every single character POV and care so much about them. This book, this quest, these characters are the exact reason I started forming/writing my own fantasy stories. There is just something so graceful and encouraging in this book/trilogy that I couldn’t help myself for wanting to emulate Mr. Brooks.

The one thing that sets this series apart for me is the expansion of the world. In the original trilogy there is only the most basic of hints this world is the future of Earth. A bit more is expanded in the Heritage series (I’m thinking of you Eldwist!), but this series really hits home that this is our future. I love the journey to Castledown – which is obvious it takes place in Asia (hence the name Parkasia). It really adds a layer of setting and place.

Every time I re-read this series, I find a new character to fall in love with, and that is what makes Mr. Brooks fantastic as a writer in these early series. When I first read it as a teenager, obviously Bek and Quentin were my favorites because they were of a same age to me. Then it became Walker. Now it is Rue and Redden, the Rovers. I always loved Rue because she was an awesome character, but now, I can really see the progression of Mr. Brooks as a writer. In the early stories, only Brin and Wren were main female characters, but they were magic users, family members. They were the ones the story happened to. Not Rue. Rue is not the main character, but her story arc is amazing. She relies on her instincts, her abilities, her charm, her wit. She is a perfect character.

I also love the fact that one of the main characters – with that familial connection – is a villain. It is a true flip of the script. The Ilse Witch is great.

While I really like stories with major plots and scheme, my favorite fantasy trope is the quest. I just love having characters go to someplace unknown and just grow from that. The Druid of Shannara is pretty much one of my favorite fantasy books because of Walker’s journey to the Eldwist. And this trilogy adds another level to an awesome journey story. I absolutely love the journey itself, but also the stuff that happens on said journey – like the growth of Bek, the mystery of the Ilse Witch, who is the spy, what will happen to the group. It is just an overall amazing first book in this trilogy.

What doesn’t work:

While I am a huuuuuuuuuge Terry Brooks fan (I will read the hell out of all his books!), this series starts the formula for all his other books that take place chronologically after this. What I mean is that the same types of characters start to reappear, especially the boy Ohmsford character and the Wishsong. Bek is amazing, but down the road, you see him over and over again, so it really isn’t a blight on this book, but it does set the stage.

The other thing I never noticed before I tried to become a writer myself was the repeating Mr. Brooks tends to do sometimes. For example, every time the characters meet to discuss their plans, every single character is named in that meeting. It happens a lot! And after a few times, it gets somewhat trite. This also happens with catching characters up to speed, many times the same history is repeated.

The biggest thing to me is probably the title. I enjoy how the script is flipped with the Ilse Witch, but really, in the scheme of the trilogy (spoiler), she really isn’t the major focus until book 2 and especially book 3. While book 2 is aptly named, I think book 3 should have been called Ilse Witch. The reason this bugs me is because the Ilse Witch isn’t a major POV character here, and most of the story revolves around the journey from Walker/Bek’s POV. I know it is silly, but I think the title doesn’t fit the story, but if you couldn’t tell, I really love this books so I am somewhat nit-picking here.

Rating:

5 our of 5

Terry Brooks will always be one of my favorite authors and I re-read them quite often to immerse myself in a wonderful story. It is hard for me to rate each book individually because this trilogy is so strong as a whole, there are no let-down books that tend to happen with series. I don’t know how anyone who enjoys fantasy could not love this book (trilogy).

What I’ve Read: Prince of Thorns

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Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, book 1 of the Broken Empire trilogy

Brief Summary:

A young boy (nine) sees his mother and younger brother murdered by one of his father’s (the King) enemies. Once healed, the boy (ten) runs away with a group of merchenaries and becomes their leader. Now fourteen, he aims to return home to become a king. Though his father has other plans for him, sending Jorg on a suicide mission to bring him a great stronghold of an enemy.

What works:

This book isn’t for everyone. Jorg and his companions are definitely not heroes and they definitely aren’t nice. They kill, burn, rape and pillage and sometimes in very graphic detail. At first it was a bit off-putting to say the least. Though once the story fleshes out, it doesn’t seem all that difficult to see why Jorg does what he does. But it still isn’t for everyone.

That said, the way in which Mr. Lawrence writes is superb. I highly dislike first person point of view, but this book demanded it. Jorg is so complex, not being in his head would be a major shame. One thing I really did like (and only after major thought on my part), I loved the voice of the novel. It is set over a thousand years after nuclear destruction, but the limited allusions to that are great. Very little description is used, and I think that works to the story overall. Also, the way in which Jorg describes things is so basic, so stringent on detail, I came to love it.

Another thing I didn’t like at first, but after thought, really came to dig, was the fact characters were killed so quickly. Unlike in Game of Thrones where plots happen and people die, this book had Jorg (mostly) killing characters you just got to know. Some I didn’t see coming and I loved it. I thought it was so daring of the author. Well done, sir.

What didn’t work:

Though Jorg is complex, sometimes I felt like he was too badass, almost like when you play an RPG until your characters are just like God. The dude is 14 years old and he already is a genius, skilled fighter, master manipulator, leader. While cool, I wish there was a bit more build-up to it, not just him having these abilities.

This was a very short book (only 320 pages) and I felt a bit disappointed in the overall plot. I love revenge stories, but there wasn’t a ton of build-up to the end. Further, I wasn’t a total fan of the villain popping up randomly toward the end of the story. Almost a bit of a cheap fake-out.

Rating:

4 out of 5

The best thing about this book is the pace. Yes it is short, yes it is dark, but the pacing is so strong, I didn’t want it to end. The writing, while hard to digest due to the graphic nature, was so well done, it was excellent. It really is a great piece of fantasy.

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.