The Disasters, by M.K. England

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The Disasters, written by M.K. England, is her debut novel about five misfits on the run through space. Unfortunately, it seems all the new books I’ve read so far in 2019 have been more disappointing than ever before, and The Disasters is no exception. I’ve heard it’s claiming to be a Guardians of the Galaxy / The Breakfast Club mix, and to a very minor extent, it is, although terribly done if so. As the author is debuting, the mistakes she made in pacing and character development are moderately forgivable so long as she takes criticism seriously and applies it to her future novels, because the idea was there yet with poor execution.

The main characters are Nax, Rion, Case, Zee, and Asra, each equally bland and undeveloped. Nax was a stereotypical “cool” kid, like Peter Quill from Guardians of the galaxy minus the complex reasons for his behaviors. He had a whole woe-is-me act going on throughout the whole book, which can be relatable in small doses, but not as a whole character trait. Rion was a strange character from the beginning. He came across very closed off and rude, which was fine considering he was being kicked out of the Ellis Space Academy when we first met him. From the beginning it appeared he was going to have some sort of feud with Nax, but the moment a life-threatening situation occurred, Rion began joking and flirting with Nax, rushing a relationship that should have taken longer to develop due to their stranger’s status. Case, Zee, and Asra were expedient characters that seemed only to be there to use their convenient skills to get the characters from one place to another without much struggle. They weren’t particularly developed any more than our main character, Nax.

The romance in this book was rather infuriating, as a hater of badly writer love triangles. A few good books featuring love triangles that worked are Throne of Glass, Clockwork Angel, and Shatter Me. There was a love triangle between Nax, Rion, and Case, that really took up more plot and mental attention for Nax than it should have, considering the government was out to get them at every place they went. He would touch Case or Rion while the other one was watching, leaving both wondering if Nax liked them while being totally fine with it. Case ended up being used purely to cause some “drama” between the relationship Rion and Nax ended up having, despite hardly knowing each other.

One strange thing I noticed was the obsessive amount of touching Nax did in this book. He had just met all these people and from the get-go, he would grab their hands and shoulders. Almost every description of what the characters were doing involved shoulders brushing in some form, which quickly became weird to read and took me out of the story.

One good thing was the dream sequences, I can’t name many dreams I’ve read in books that have actually been interesting and I felt related to the plot directly, so I applaud the author for them.

The diversity in this book was probably the most I’ve encountered in any YA book I’ve read that comes to mind. It’s a shame that the rest of the book wasn’t developed enough to make it particularly impactful for minorities. The book lacked world building, which for a book centered around wild space adventures, is a complete shame. The one world that was somewhat developed was so much like earth all I could picture was a regular earthen city, which I felt was lazy writing. If you want an Earth-like city on a different planet, at least develop the land outside the city and make the characters venture through it to leave a lasting impact.

This book could have used a lot more revision. With a few hundred more pages, the characters could have been developed more and the plot would have more time to move while making sense, which was a huge problem I had, it moved so fast I can’t recall exactly why the ending happened as it did. I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you want a quick semi-enjoyable read.

I would give The Disasters 2/10 dragons.

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The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

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The Cruel Prince, written by Holly Black, is a modern fantasy and a first book in the duology. The second book, The Wicked King, was recently released. It follows Jude, who along with her twin sister Taryn and her half-sister Vivienne, was taken to the fairy world by Vivienne’s true father.

This book was very highly anticipated, and people either loved it or hated it. I personally liked it. My favorite element was the school that Jude attended with the other fey her age; it gave a unique twist on a fantasy story that made it different from the others. Jude as a character was aggressive and impulsive, but I didn’t mind. I found myself thrilled when she kept fighting the bullying of Prince Cardan and his trio.

A problem many people seem to bring up is the romance between Jude and a certain character. In my opinion, there wasn’t a romance at all. At the end of the book the character confesses how he can’t stop thinking about her and then they kiss but for no reason? There wasn’t any reason for them to and they didn’t seem to enjoy it nor did they talk about it again so that was very strange. From what my friends and I can tell, there is no relationship between them because Jude doesn’t like him still and she betrayed him at the end, losing his trust and likely any romance they might have had.

I liked how the story brought out my emotions. I felt exhilarated while Jude argued with Cardan, sad when Jude complained about being mortal, and angry when betrayals occur. I loved how the mortal world was mixed in and how they would travel between realms, which added to the uniqueness of the novel. I did not like how the fey are as they are in every book: so incredibly perfect and beautiful that mortals can’t begin to compare. I don’t understand why this matters so much when writing about the fey, but it needs to end. This book would have been so much better if the world were expanded. How big is the realm? Is it only as small as the map in the beginning? If so, the author should have no trouble going in depth into all the places. I feel as though this depth would have made the story leave a more lasting effect on me. The writing style was very nice and easy to read, and the imagery was wonderful.

I would rate The Cruel Prince 8/10 dragons, for the unique twist on fey stories and the emotions it brought from me.

Tower of Dawn, by Sarah J. Maas

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Tower of Dawn, by Sarah J. Maas, is the sixth book in the seven-book series (not including the novella) Throne of Glass. I would suggest not reading this review if you plan on reading the series because it may give away important details. The book strays from our protagonist, Aelin Galathynius and instead focuses on Chaol Westfall, who in the previous book suffered a paralyzing injury that sent him off to Antica, in the Southern Continent. Once there, Chaol works with healer Yrene Towers to heal his injuries and recruit the Antica military in aiding the war effort against Maeve.

Most everyone was weary heading into this book. Chaol is one of the supporting characters who has been in the series since its inception, although certain events led to Aelin distancing herself from him, thus making the reader not care about him as much as they used to. I was surprised by Maas’ choice of making the novel from Chaol’s point of view, but as it was the seventh book, and I had to read it. It started off extremely slow because the reader was trying to understand Chaol again and find reasons to care about him. Around a hundred pages in, the book starts to pick up and became impossible to put down. Maas made a wonderful decision by making Chaol the protagonist because he was the one character that I felt I didn’t have a strong connection to, and by making this novel, Maas was able to make the readers like him again. It also gave important background to crucial characters such as Yrene and why the Antica kingdom decided to help the war effort.

Most people don’t read the Novella, The Assassin’s Blade, because they think they don’t need to, but I would highly suggest reading it before Tower of Dawn because you will get further background on Yrene and her interactions with Aelin and it’s a very fun book overall. Yrene is an incredibly lovable character, and her relationship with Chaol started off rough but evolved interestingly. I don’t quite understand what was going on between Nesryn and Chaol because I couldn’t remember from the last book, but they had a very strange relationship. The chapters from Nesryn’s point of view only got interesting in the last couple hundred pages, unfortunately. She’s a wonderful character but in the first 400 pages, she didn’t do much.

There was a lot of representation in race and sexuality in this book, which I know a lot of people have been waiting for. The whole Southern Continent is full of darker skinned characters and one of the princess’ is in a relationship with a woman. In her other books, there tends to be a lot of graphic scenes, but this one didn’t have many. There is little representation in body type, which is extremely annoying considering even the strong women who train vigorously every day still have no visible muscles and curvy waists, which doesn’t anatomically make sense considering how strong they are.
What I didn’t like was how Chaol’s personality changed. When I look way back to Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight, I remembered him not so much the whiny, tough, and brooding man he is here. Unless I remember him wrong, his personality upset me a bit and just reminded me of a more watered-down Rowan Whitethorn. You might think this was because of character development, but the character felt almost foreign to me, which isn’t a good thing.

I feel as though, as usual, Maas could have cut down a hundred pages, because there were so many parts that seemed unnecessary. I feel as though she could have spent more time developing the world. I’m not sure if we will get to see the Southern Continent again, but the kingdom and the whole southern part of the continent have been left unexplored.

I would rate Tower of Dawn 7/10 dragons simply for my love of the series and the new developments. Negative dragons for the slow first 150 pages.

Amber & Dusk, by Lyra Selene

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       Amber & Dusk, written by Lyra Selene, is a high fantasy novel that despite following the typical fantasy plot, had some charm to it. It follows Sylvie, a girl who was left orphaned with only a note and a necklace. She works her way to the Coeur d’Or after realizing she is a legacy, where she lives life in the dark and twisted court under the name Mirage, a name given to her because of her ability to make illusions.

This story wasn’t entirely unique, but I enjoyed the detailed court visuals, the individual powers each person possessed, and the scene where she first comes to the Amber City and meets the Empress. Unfortunately, I find myself struggling to remember exactly what happened in this book and what happened in Ash Princess, by Laura Sebastian, because I read them days apart. This isn’t a good sign for the originality of the books, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. One thing I wish the author had done was to add more detail to the story. It was fast-paced, which was great, but if she had added another hundred pages allowing more insight on Mirage’s training and interacting with her friends and love interest, I would have felt more attached to the characters.

The characters were frustrating at times. We didn’t get much detail with the friendship between Lullaby and Mirage, which made the friendship less believable. Mirage is a very frustrating protagonist because she is not only socially dumb, but just generally dumb, emotional, and much too arrogant. She had incredible trouble handling emotional outbursts that Lullaby warned could get her killed, but she never faces any consequences for her outbursts. A lot of Mirage’s dialogue is full of her repeating that it’s her birthright to be in the court and her birthright to rule and make decisions despite lacking any education and experience at her age of 17 or 18. She can’t even read, yet she still doesn’t seem to want the advice of people more experienced with how the court works. I understand the author wanted the character to have flaws, and I wasn’t annoyed at the beginning, I even welcomed the flaws, but when she never seemed to grow out of them, I got annoyed.

There is a slight love triangle, but it gets handled quickly. Mirage first has a romantic interest in one of the boys she traveled with to the Amber City, but once she was in the Coeur d’Or, she started developing feelings for Sunder. My problem with Sunder is that we don’t get to see him nearly as much as we should for the reader to get excited about their romance. The book was so fast-paced that when they finally got together, I was a bit disappointed and I felt it should have been drawn out longer. Sunder’s sister is a character we don’t get to see much of, but I feel like she might have more time to be developed in the second book (I hope Mirage will too).

The imagery was decent, and I got a great sense of what everything looked like – but nothing much beyond that. I hope that in the next book Selene decides to explore more areas of the world and the cultures out there. A pretty map at the beginning of the book would be awesome! there were some sexuality and race diversity, which was good. Selene’s writing is very beautiful and quotable, almost to the point of trying too hard. This sort of took me out of the story as I imagined the phrases on calligraphed bookmarks. This isn’t a bad thing if you like this style of writing; it reminds me a little of Sarah J. Maas’, which does make me cringe at times. There were times that the writing really helped bring emotion out of the reader, which I loved.

Overall, this was a decent book. I will be continuing the series to hopefully see more depth added to both the characters and the world. I rate this 6/10 dragons.

Ash Princess, by Laura Sebastian

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Ash Princess, written by Laura Sebastian, is the first in a trilogy. It follows Princess Theodosia, who is a prisoner of the Kalovaxian court after her home kingdom of Astrea was invaded. From the beginning, Ash Princess was an unoriginal, cliché-filled fantasy. There were certain elements I enjoyed, which I’ll discuss after I list the bad.

A few days before I read Ash Princess, I read a book called Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, which I’ll be reviewing soon. When I think back to Ash Princess, I find myself mixing both books together, which isn’t a good thing because the goal is to write an original book, especially in an industry where the majority of YA fantasy tends to surround a strong female lead in a kingdom and trying to defeat the ruler. You could compare the plot to almost any young adult fantasy book because it follows the same layout. One of the largest similarities I found was when Theodosia was being whipped, she repeated her full name over and over, which was almost exactly what happened in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas, a much more popular series. As a young adult writer, I would assume the first thing you would do would be read the most popular books in the genre you’re writing so you can try and be as original as possible. This author either read the books and decided that the similarity wasn’t too close, or she never read them and just so happened to write a very similar scene. This really stuck out to me because the Throne of Glass series is eight books long (including the novella), therefore being reminded of a specific scene is not a good thing.

The author chose to include a love triangle in this book, and not a subtle kind like in Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas, or Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi. The subtle ones are when there are two characters that the main character finds attractive, but she only focuses on one at a certain time, which makes it seem like less of a love triangle, hence, less frustrating. In this book. Theodosia chose to be romantically involved with them both at the same time. She would kiss one and then kiss the other, which angered me and made me dislike the lead character more. To continue, the romances moved much too fast for the time the characters spent together. The only relationship that was believable was the friendship between Theodosia and Crescentia, a girl who has her sights set on marrying the crown prince. Their friendship is believable and developed naturally throughout the book.

This story would have been saved had the male characters been developed more. She had a strange relationship with a boy from her childhood who managed to survive the mass murder of her people and showed up in the palace with a small rebel team. His name was Blaise, which I had to look back at the book to find despite him being the main love interest (I think?) in the book. They hardly had any time to flesh out a romance or relationship of any kind, therefore the reader had to rely on a relationship they had built ten years prior, which isn’t believable because people change and grow a lot in that time.

My favorite character was the crown Prince Søren, who really got beat up throughout the book physically and emotionally. He showed real emotion, which was good, but I found myself wanting to read the whole book from his perspective, which would have been a much more interesting and original book.

I did enjoy how diverse the cast was; the main character is from Astrea where everyone has darker skin. There were some similarities with history, and I think she tried to make connections to slavery but there wasn’t much of a point to it as the idea wasn’t fleshed out. The plot twist was something I saw coming and I found myself groaning in wait for the characters to execute their plans.

If you don’t mind the similarities to other books (maybe you haven’t read much YA fantasy), I would still suggest you skip this series and find another. I would rate this book 4/10 dragons and I will not be reading the sequel.

Wildcard, by Marie Lu

 

Wildcard by Marie Lu

Wildcard, written by Marie Lu, is the sequel and finale to Warcross. Unfortunately, I can’t give many details on the content of Wildcard because it would spoil everything, however, I can tell you about Warcross. Emika Chen is the main character, and in this futuristic world a system called the neurolink, which is essentially a pair of contacts, connects its wearer to a virtual reality version of their own world. This was invented by Hideo Tanaka, along with a virtual reality game called Warcross, which holds tournaments annually with the best Warcross players around. Emika gets thrown into this world after meeting with Hideo and the story continues with unexpected twists and turns.

I read Warcross at a time when I wasn’t really reading, but its plot intrigued me and after testing out the first few pages, I flew through the rest of the book. It is nice that there are only two books because it wraps the story up neatly while keeping it fast-paced and full of necessary details. Lu creates a very dynamic world that was more developed than I could have hoped for. The way she explains the neurolink and how the reader discovers its abilities throughout both books is flawless and detailed. The effort Lu put into making the neurolink as fleshed out as possible without confusing the reader, along with her wonderful descriptions of setting showed the reader how passionate she is and how carefully thought out the duology was.

Lu is an amazing storyteller; her plot is unique and the way the story played out is incomparable as far as I’ve read. After the twists in Warcross, I felt as though I knew what was going to happen throughout Wildcard, but to my grateful surprise, I was wrong. Every time you think you know what’s going to happen, some new information appears and the whole goal changes, which is amazing storytelling in my own opinion. Keeping fresh ideas and fooling the reader makes them feel the same emotions as the characters do at that moment, rather than having the reader wait for the character to find out what they already knew.

All the characters were lovable and unique in their own ways, with lots of diversity. I was able to connect to the characters and feel for them as much in these two books as I would in a longer series, which I applaud Lu for. I would recommend this book for anyone from 12 and up as there aren’t many graphic scenes, the book is fast-paced, and neither book is very long, with around 400 pages for both.

This duology amazed me in another unexpected way because it focused on ethical and moral dilemmas that I, unfortunately, can’t talk about in detail without spoiling the first book. It focuses on the fear of death and hard choices for the benefit of society, along with how to deal with people you love when they make questionable choices.

I would rate Warcross and Wildcard a 10/10 each, for the amazing plot, scenery, and character development that should pose as an example to new authors wanting to create something unorthodox in the young adult book community.

Winter, by Marissa Meyer

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Winter, written by Marissa Meyer, is the fourth and final installment in The Lunar Chronicles. I read Cinder, the first book, in sixth grade, which was five years ago. Within that year I read the next two books, Scarlet and Cress, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The final book, Winter was scheduled to come out the next year, but I went through a reading slump and finally read it last week. Despite waiting five years to read Winter, the magic of the series was prevalent as ever.

There are 9 main characters, Cinder, Iko, Kai, Scarlet, Wolf, Cress, Thorne, Jacin, and Winter, which may seem excessive, but the way the series is organized makes each character’s story easy to follow and uniquely lovable. Cinder follows Cinder and Kai, then Scarlet introduced Scarlet and Wolf along with the previous pair, then Cress adds Thorne and Cress, and Winter adds Winter and Jacin. Each character has the chance to be developed separately from the others. Meyer does an amazing job of creating unique personalities for each of her characters that make them feel like real people. The friendship she builds between them is enviable, adorable, and amusing. There is great racial diversity between all the main characters and the settings, which seems to be increasingly common in young adult books, fortunately. I genuinely can’t pick which character is my favorite or least favorite, they’re all so fleshed out and amazing in their own ways.

Each book cleverly follows a vague outline of the classic fairytales, Cinder is Cinderella, Scarlet is Little Red Riding Hood, Cress is Rapunzel, and Winter is Snow White. An interesting theory about Winter is that Cinder, Kai, Scarlet, Wolf, Cress, Thorne, and Iko are representative of the seven dwarfs.

The gist of the story without spoilers is that the gang of characters are fighting to defeat Queen Levana. The story is full of action in all its 830 pages, with twists and turns throughout. There were a lot of repetitive action plots such as all the characters are fighting, then they all get separated, then they get back together only to be separated again. Luckily, the situations where these repetitive scenarios happen are in a unique setting with different goals.

To compare this book to other monster-sized books such as Empire of Storms, by Sarah J Maas, Meyer manages to make every chapter down to the page engaging and equally as interesting as the last, which is hard to do in a whole 830-page novel. Empire of Storms is an example of a long book that wasn’t quite able to keep me engaged the whole time, making it feel like it dragged on for ages.

The romance in Winter is cute and not intense, so it’s recommendable to elementary students willing to take on the jumbo series. There is persistent humor that I would consider genuinely funny, mainly from the characters Thorne and Iko, this successful attempt at comedy make the series all that more enjoyable. An example of a classic Thorne comment is, “Scarlet and I are going to start a missing-fingers club. We might let Cinder be an honorary member.”

The violence does get a little intense in the climax of the story, which is something to be wary about if you are squeamish, but you could easily skim over the few pages it’s on. The violence in the final battle is heart wrenching and scary; with 9 lovable characters what are the chances of something horrific happening to at least one of them? That you’ll have to find out yourself.

I would rate Winter a 10/10, for an amazing plot, relatable and genuine characters, and a story I’ll hold dear to my heart for years to come.