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Legacy – a review of Blood and Tempest by Jon Skovron

I didn’t realise how strong of an attachment I had to the Empire of Storms series until I grew excited seeing this book come closer and closer to being next on my TBR list. Maybe it was the high that came from the end of the second book, Bane and Shadow, that made me want to read the final book in the series.

And yes, that means I’m rating the entire trilogy as a whole.

The biomancers and Vinchen are out to seek their so-called traitors threatening to bring them down; Bleak Hope, a secretly trained Vinchen and biomancer slayer seeking repent for her bloodlust, and Brigga Lin, a biomancer who broke the code and seeks vengeance on her mentors for shunning her actions. This comes as the biomancers seek to take further control over the empire, and Red has been recruited by the crown as a spy to help stop them. He must now seek to recruit Brigga Lin and his lost love Hope on his side, whom are deemed powerful allies in this fight.

The fight scenes and tensions were very well done. This was especially shown with how well Skovron writes each character’s perspectives and emphasises through each of them what is at stake. The plot also showed this perfectly as each character orchestrated their plans. Normally I find a large cast of characters weakens the plot, but this was not at all the case with Blood and Tempest. Every character’s purpose felt clear and their involvement was each significant in their own way, as unique as their personalities. As always I am a fan of Red – I may have a crush on him now – but I also love Merivale and Hope.

For this being the book in which Hope and Red finally united, there were very few scenes where they interacted together. Just the two of them, like they did in the first book. There were only two chapters where they significantly interacted, one of those being the final one. I was begging for scenes like this when they reunited, and I got none. It really bummed me out. Granted, most of the final third of the book happened within the same day, but it would have been nice to have more of that. This is personally peeving me and I’m trying not to make this bias rate the book lower because it was still good.

Furthermore, while the resolution was mostly done well – the two pivotal characters of the series were the two characters who didn’t earn their victory. They both literally just used their persuasive bargaining skills and their unique perspectives to fix the world in spite of both of them having fighting prowess. For everyone else, their work was very much merited and they struggled and used their cunning for it. Hope and Red, not so much. This is what takes down the quality of the novel the most for me. The ending always makes it a hit or miss for my opinion on the series.

And as always, fantastic worldbuilding. It was highlighted as so much about the entire world came together in its four demographics – peasant, nobility, biomancers and Vinchen. The political aspects of this novel showed those factions coming together not only for epic fights but to display the relationships and tensions between all the groups put to the test. And I think there was even a POV from a character from each faction. Having studied intercultural based papers, this was incredibly fascinating to see, especially as Hope and Red pulled these representatives together.

I think that’s what this book highlighted and why Hope and Red didn’t have an epic part, because they were the forces that brought everyone together. It was no longer about them, but the people in their lives. I really like that perspective and how it was shown in this novel. After pondering this and realising this in retrospective, I like this story a little bit more. I still wish that Hope and Red could’ve been a bit more romantic with each other though.

Blood and Tempest gets a score of 4/5. It’s no longer the story of Hope and Red, but more so their legacy.

Now it’s time for a series review!

Hope and Red – 3.5/5, though a slow start and with fight scenes glossed over, a very entertaining read.

Bane and Shadow 4/5, an entertaining array of characters and a tonne of tension.

Blood and Tempest – 4/5, an insightful way to end the book that truly shows the impact of the pivotal characters.

This series has it all – engaging characters, tension-filled plots, impeccable worldbuilding… and that’s not even touching the tropes! Dark and twisted magic meets pirates and urban environments in this series. Skovron writes a series with so much character that I look past the occasional flaws this series has, showing a core around themes of redemption, belonging and community. Much like Red I am swooned by the charm of this series, and have been given the same insights that Hope has. I think this series will stick with me for a while.

The Empire of Storms series gets a score of 4/5. This one is a keeper.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Hello Darkness – a review of The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

Two things. First, I have officially finished this year’s reading goals. Way too early, it’s September as I’m writing this.

Second, that was the darkest book I have ever read in my life. Bit timely, considering my last blog post about me not liking horror movies. This was kind of a horror book. Maybe I have a thing for horror literature?

Regardless, it’s appropriate for me to publish this so close to Halloween.

It’s the middle of the Cold War. The Soviet Union has taken technology previously in Nazi hold and their experiments, including siblings Gretel and Klaus. Gretel’s clairvoyance abilities lend her and her brother an escape from their facilities and into England, where the Warlocks that had previously helped in the Nazi’s defeat are now being assassinated. It will take the last remaining Warlock, Gretel and Klaus, and a retired member of the Milkweed Birtish Intelligence force to push their differences aside from the conflicts risen in World War II and dismantle the Soviet facility holding these superhuman experiments.

This was the sequel to Bitter Seeds, the first book in the Milkweed series. Both felt very much the same and yet very different at the same time. I was able to understand it more, for one thing, as after playing D&D I finally knew what warlocks actually were. It was two years since I read the first book in the series, so I was glad all the important points were summarised and I could get back into it remembering enough of what had happened. I don’t know if it was my age at the time, but I read through this novel far easier than its predecessor.

I think it was because it was less war and action focussed. The scenes that did have it were so good because I understood what was at stake better. But the political and strategic moments were at times boring, because what was being said or mentioned sometimes felt hardly at stake. That made me sometimes get less immersed in the story, but luckily the interpersonal conflict drew me back in again quickly. That part of it was absolutely the strongest.

What I loved the most out of this book was how deep into the perspective characters’ minds we got – Marsh, Klaus and Will. I looked over my review of Bitter Seeds that said I would’ve liked to have gone deeper into the perspective of the characters, and in Coldest War that is exactly what I got. I felt for and understood every one of the main characters perfectly and felt for them so much. Fear, the past and the future were very much at the forefront of each of these characters mind and I loved feeling these emotions in each of them. Will was a favourite of mine just for his varying stances on morality alone.

Gretel once again shone, however, as my favourite character. She was framed as the literal manifestation of the plot, and she literally is. In this book we see what sliver of humanity she shows the rest of the world and understand her motives without going into her head. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to, and it was wise for Tregillis to write her like that because it makes her so enjoyable. Her personality it just too intriguing from the outside.

Also, this novel was dark as the pits of hell. At some times this put me off because I had to sit back and process what was happening. This novel is absolutely not for the faint-hearted. I had a love hate relationship with how dark it got. Every chapter I read I felt disturbed in some form, but I really wanted there to be more breaks in it. There would have been so many more heartfelt moments to be achieved between characters – family relationships were a key part of this story which was not explored enough. I think I probably only felt calm for a third of a chapter. Must lend itself more to the horror genre then.

The Coldest War gets a score of 4/5. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, but those brave enough for it should absolutely read it.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Most Average Book Ever – a review of Dark Passage by MJ Putney

Guys, we did it. We found a perfectly average book!

I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but here we are. This book is perfectly balanced with its highs and its lows. This leaves me genuinely not knowing what to think of this book, but here we go I guess.

Victoria Mansfield returns from 1940 with her fellow magically inclined friends, whom helped out at Dunkirk to evacuate soldiers, and they return to Lackland academy to pretend to suppress their magical abilities and secretly meet at night to train their prowess. Soon it is the Christmas holidays, and the students must face the repercussions of embracing their magical talent. However, upon their return, their magical help is needed yet again in 1940 to evacuate a scientist imprisoned by Nazis in France, who holds the greatest medical discovery of his time in his hands.

One complaint I had with its predecessor was that the time travel aspects were barely foreshadowed, but in this second book it did a far better job. The plot was intertwined much greater with the connections between 1803 and 1940, historically and geographically, and it made for a very cohesive and satisfying plot. This was absolutely the strongest part of the novel, especially in the second half of the novel. This made the worlds too feel far more built out and cohesive.

Except for the subplots. Some subplots were inserted that had little to no connections to the events of the rest of the novel, and one of these subplots was practically useless. It was a couple splitting up and then getting back together after they realised how much they truly loved each other. The main plot points did nothing to enhance this, because they did it way too naturally. This is the worst kind of subplot – where you can pick it up and place it in any story and it works. No events contributed to this development once, at least not frequently enough.

Furthermore, the magic system felt very clunky in here. There were some moments where I thought they did make sense – such as their powers strengthening and they ways they could channel each others’ powers, but then there were moments where characters suddenly realised they had new powers or they just popped up out of the blue in the lead up to the climax as a solution for all that was going on. That’s a narrative sin we like to call the deus ex machina. There was no development whatsoever for Cynthia to casually say she has the powers of persuasion!

What’s just as weird is how reliant on dialogue this novel was, especially later into the book. The word count could be reduced significantly if they just made dialogue exchanges far more concise! I’m pretty sure the characters spent an entire chapter sitting outside of their mirror passage planning what to do and then doing it. Situations happened like this multiple times. Just do a timeskip and have the thoughts of the main character lay over the plan that was laid down and the shock if the plan goes to shit! It isn’t rocket science!

A final, very average point of discussion is the character arcs. Many of these felt short lived or not deep enough to make a significant change to the main characters of Tory and Cynthia. I can identify two somewhat minor ways that Cynthia changed and no significant ways that Tory changed over the course of the novel. The lessons they learn for the feats that they undertake are very small. I can only just accept them as character arcs.

Just as much as I can minimally say that this book was good. I didn’t hate it, not did I like it. It is about at split-down-the-middle average as average could get.

Dark Passage gets a score of 2.5/5. Perfectly balance, not as all books should be.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Knock-off fantasy Star Wars – a review of City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

I love me a good urban fantasy. It’s these kind of books that made me fall in love with storytelling, from the light and fluffy Rainbow Magic middle grade series to Percy Jackson and Brigid Kemmerer’s Elementals series. Those last two novels even got me into my love writing and motivated me to become an author!

So I decided to take on the next big young adult urban fantasy series of our time. And honestly, I am very confused after reading that first book.

City of Bones takes place in New York, in which young Clarissa “Clary” Fray has recently starting seeing things going on. Fae, lycanthropes, demons. And the Shadowhunters, a group meant to keep the nastiest of them from wreaking havoc on the mortal realm. After her mum gets abducted from such demons, Clary discovers her hidden lineage and connection the Shadowhunters and must unlock her inner potential to save her.

Except, she doesn’t. Everyone in the book says she goes out and does stuff, crediting her for four times as much as what she actually does. For the protagonist of this series, I’d assume, Clary doesn’t do shit! She spends more time looking at her crush Jace defend her than she actually does trying to help out. She claims she is so desperate to help her mother out, but not desperate enough to stop spectating and actually do something. Furthermore, she would be considered a Mary Sue if it weren’t for her sharp tongue, grudges and hypocritical help-outs. Otherwise, she is barely considered a personality. I couldn’t tell you anything about her except her barely touched on hobbies of reading and drawing.

I don’t think the plot helped her out either. It seemed to rely on other people doing things for her – information from this warlock here, having these celestials help her out there, making sure Jace is always protecting her… Some of the things this plot did felt very bizzare in terms of narrative, and boy I have a big one. They literally pulled a Star Wars. What part of it? Well, that’s spoiler territory, but if you read it then you know what I mean. When this happened in the book, when the “Star Wars” was revealed, I literally laughed out loud. This was supposed to be one of the most dramatic parts in the book, apparently, and I burst into giggles behind my mask on the bus. It literally felt like a joke and Clare took it so seriously!

But one thing it sort of had going, maybe the novel’s only redeeming quality, was the worldbuilding. You could tell this was where the most attention was put into, the careful thoughts about which areas and cultures of New York would feature which kind of magical creatures living in plain site. Even the creatures themselves had potential. I really enjoyed seeing how each parts connected, the mundane with the magical. And they featured very interesting takes for sure.

Too bad it was hidden behind a mediocre writing style. It was laced with filler words, pop culture references that will date it, and poor attempts at picking apart Clary’s mind deep enough. The style just doesn’t feel like it’s making an effort enough. It is such a shame because I know this works! I’ve seen concepts of this nature done really well, and City of Bones is in its shadow because its writing style among other more terrible things let it down. Dimension 20’s D&D campaign, The Unsleeping City, shares similar vibes with City of Bones and yet outdoes it in all aspects. If you want fairies and demons in New York, just go watch that. It is very easy to watch even for people new to D&D.

Apparently the rest of the books in the Shadowhunters series are far better, but book one has left me completely unmotivated. I am left genuinely wondering how this series got so loved from such a poor start.

City of Bones gets a score of 2/5. I’ve never read a more average book than this to date. And then Star Wars happened.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Harmonious End – A review of Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer

I’ve never finished a novel within a week. That’s either indicative of a short page count or a really good read, especially when my average for a really good book is two weeks.

So how did finishing Sacrifice by Brigid Kemmerer within a week fair up?

In the final installment of the Elementals series we focus on the oldest brother of the Merrick family, Michael. With the Guides seeking to exterminate his family and his allies and their presence looming ever closer, his concern of keeping everyone safe has him losing sleep. But as his entire street is set on fire by the Guides, his girlfriend Hannah is put at risk and Michael himself is suspected of arson. He must choose whether him and his loved ones should run and hide or stand up against the Guides before the entire county gets subject to a warped perspective of the greater good.

This would be the first book in the series to go outside of a high school and the formal classed “young adult” perspective, instead being classed more as an adult perspective as the audience grew up. But it was an interesting adult perspective, as the two main characters, Mike and Hannah, became adults and acting parents arguably too soon. This really highlighted and heightened the stakes when each of them had so much at risk. From the get go I was thoroughly engaged with what was present because I knew the stakes from the first word. This made for very action packed and harrowing moments. It really felt like the final book of the series as a result.

Kemmerer continues to succeed with her characters and their relationships, even without the typical narrative of finding love but instead having a preexisting relationship be explored. There is something really relatable and incredible about a story of losing everything you’ve built up, as a reality or as a threat. The inner thoughts of each characters’ POV were very insightful and engaging, especially seeing their respective struggles.

In terms of the plot, this plot was probably the best of the whole series. As mentioned before, the stakes felt so real here. I also liked how various plot points from the rest of the series were tied in to this – the arsonry from Book 2, Hunter’s family involvement from Book 3, Adam and Tyler from Book 4, and of course the grounds based in Book 1. I would have hoped that the partners of the main brothers were a bit more involved with the plot rather than some of them being supportive and this book being the big finale – especially Becca, being a Fifth herself. But I was still very pleased with how it ended and won’t complain about that.

In fact, I don’t think I have any complaints. This is rare. Other 5 star books on my site would have very minor complaints, but my only complaints as seen previously is minor squared. It is rarely that a final installment in a series would go so right. But this one did.

Sacrifice gets a score of 5/5. I couldn’t think of a better end to this series which I literally grew up through high school and university with.

Now we gotta rate the whole series! You’ll also catch my reviews of the first 2 books which I read before my blogging journey, albeit short.

Storm – 5/5, loved the characters, loved the plot. A breath of fresh fantasy air for 17 year old me.

Spark – 4/5, characters started to lack a little bit, but this plotline was something else.

Spirit – 4/5, absolutely incredible until the climax was rushed.

Secret – 3.5/5, an amazing blossoming romance that sadly wasn’t tied with the overarching plotline.

Sacrifice – 5/5, brand new and mature takes on pre existing elements to conclude the series.

If you want romance with high stakes set in a contemporary fantasy environment, this is the series for you. Kemmerer expertly portrays romances with deep connections in high risk settings across all books in this series. She understands her characters well, even greater when they have connections to their powers and how they are personified. While the plots get mixed up in places, the stakes are always very real. Even for it being a fantasy, it feel so damn real. This will definitely be one of my favourite series of all time. I cannot recommend it enough.

The Elementals series gets a score of 4/5. This one’s a keeper.

Yours in writing

Amy

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With A Pinch of Salt – A review of Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

I was excited to get to this book – the final book in what I quickly assumed from book one would be one of my most favourite series of all time – the Reckoners series! With the first two books being highly rated in my eyes, I jumped into reading Calamity with hype.

But you know how they say that sequels don’t quite hit the original, especially with a third sequel? Why is it that the third one is the most frequently the worst in the series? But I don’t mean one star when it comes to this book, anyway.

With his mentor and leader having been corrupted by the sheer nature of Epics, David Charleston steps up, whether he wanted to or not, as the new leader of the Reckoners. And he’s got plans. His knowledge that the Epics’ descent into darkness isn’t permanent sends him not only on a quest to make his mentor safe again but to stop the one responsible for their corruption, Calamity. His quest takes him to Ildithia, the former Atlanta, as he tries to discover the weaknesses of the Epics around him not to kill them, but to have them face their fears to bring out the inner good inside of them.

So about that Calamity, the main antagonist… the way he was defeated, in the most spoiler free way possible, was pathetic. You know how villain monologues are frowned upon? This was the reversal. A hero monologue. That somehow defeated the main antagonist. After a high action climax for it to slow down in such a way, it was just plain BS! This was not what I came to read this series for. It made the conclusion feel absolutely hollow and feeling like there was a catch, a plot twist, a rogue’s sneak attack. But nothing came. For a series conclusion!

In spite of that, there was one character’s conclusion and character arc that really shone in this book. I didn’t really like this character too much in the first book, and she grew on me in book two. But in book three, Megan Tarash was at her best. The way her arc concluded made me thoroughly enjoy her, which I didn’t even think would be possible. She went from average to great. Books two and three really added some depth and points of interest to her which really shone in book three especially. Other characters were very nicely explored as well, even less serious characters showing some depth that previously felt hidden.

What also shone like an oily pimple was how much Sanderson didn’t understand his audience, more so how smart they were. For some reason, he withheld plans that David had made and their intentions from the audience even though the story is told from his perspective. This happened on multiple occasions where the solution to this plan we didn’t know got built up like crazy and it made for cheap plot twists. On the other hand, there were some plot points which were so obvious it was ballistic that David hadn’t noticed so either. It was almost like I was proven done when one plotpoint and plan David made went right over my head, and to forgive me Sanderson made a point that I noticed a quarter of the book earlier than the main character. And sometimes I’d forgive this, but not this time.

Still, none of that took anything away from the worldbuilding, what this series excels at. The world didn’t quite expand in the way that I expected, but it was still fascinating to see it occur in such a way. The powers, abilities and origins of the superhumans known as Epics were the focus of this worldbuilding here. I wasn’t quite a fan of how much it focussed on two Epics’ abilities more than the rest, but it was still very insightful to see how everything connected. If I wound up satisfied with anything in this book, it would be getting closure on the nature and abilities of Epics.

The same can’t be said about the narrative.

Calamity gets a score of 3.5/5. While retaining the core of the series, it leaves me wanting more in a bad way.

And what’s this? Another series done on this blog? Well I suppose I should review the whole thing now!

Steelheart5/5, an action packed start to a very unique series.

Firefight5/5, more great worldbuilding and the depth of the characters was incredible.

Calamity – 3.5/5, a conclusion that works well but is not quite satisfying.

Right from this start I knew I was in for something great with the worldbuilding and the uniqueness of it alone. I haven’t seen any piece of media quite like it with such high action and stakes. As many reviewers had previous said, it’s a blockbuster in book form. The characters were also of great interest, various ones getting their chance to shine in many different ways throughout. My only major complaint would be how it finished. I wished it was just as engaging, full of stakes and just overall exciting as the rest of the series.

The Reckoners Trilogy gets a score of 4/5. This series is a keeper.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Just Watch Hadestown Instead – a review of Percy Jackson and the Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan

Riordan was my inspiration to start creative writing, almost as soon as I finished Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief when I was 10 1/2 years old. His Heroes of Olympus series still stands as one of my favourites and shares a place of pride on my bookshelf along with the Percy Jackson series.

And then I picked up this book.

In this short story collection, Percy Jackson takes the tales of famous Greek Heroes into a modern lens and recites the tales of ones as famous as Hercules or as underrated as Atalanta.

I didn’t think I’d have big issues with any of Rick Riordan’s work, especially his character voices, but I for some reason did have a problem with Percy’s voice in this one. The modern lens he put things through was framed as the reality to what happened and it broke immersion way too much. The funny quips and dialogue between characters was fine, but I loathed every time he directly put something from modern society into the plot. We know there wasn’t an ancient greek walmart, and so every time I saw that I just blinked.

But the odd thing is, I was fine and thoroughly enjoyed Percy’s voice with the origin stories of the Greek Gods. I don’t know why it doesn’t translate well here when talking about Greek Heroes. Maybe it’s the fact that each hero gets stripped of the core of their stories as they get turned into what feels like Tom and Jerry episodes, making fun of violence and tragedy.

Orpheus was a key example of this one, and his tale was also told in my favourite musical Hadestown. It wasn’t told in a traditional sense either. Instead of having his story with 21st century twists in it, it took place during the industrial revolution. The medium of the industrial setting added more to the story than I can say in Hadestown, talking about how with music and artistic expression we lose our senses of self and love.

Percy Jackson’s take just turned him into a generic husk of a D&D bard. Like not even with emotion and character like all the best bards in D&D do have – this is the kind of bard that gets memed over being a douchebag with a guitar but on a battlefield. That is not Orpheus.

Few of these heroes seemed to keep their substance or their cores with the way that Percy referred to them, or if they are it is done so as a side note. This is to the point that I believe in some cases it genuinely disrespects the core of the Greek Hero. Rarely were the hardships key to the hero’s’ journey communicated as harrowing. Except perhaps a harrowingly long journey. This was fine with the Gods and their menial issues and the power they held, but the purpose of a mortal hero is within their suffering. And it is made a joke.

In the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus novels, Riordan and his narrative voice knew when to take things seriously and when to emphasise the suffering and the comedy within the tale of these heroes. There wasn’t anything of this nature present, as if the core of Percy Jackson had gone.

So yeah, this book stripped the concept of Greek Heroes INCLUDING Percy Jackson himself. It’s only redeeming quality is the dialogue quips between characters without 21st century product placement. Those were funny.

Percy Jackson and the Greek Heroes gets a score of 2/5. This was just a marginally funny classical studies shitpost.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Queer Airbender Twin – A review of Secret by Brigid Kemmerer

I know Nick isn’t Aang, but that was how I had to describe him to my friends because that prospect excited me so much, okay?

And it still excites me because it was pretty well written.

Nick Merrick, one of four Elemental siblings, has more than just his air manipulation powers to keep secret; he’s gay. He’s got the hots for his cover-story girlfriend’s dance partner, but not the guts to come out even to his own twin. But tension rise between Nick and his posed girlfriend Quinn as not only is her situation at home worsening, but she’s hanging out with a sworn enemy of his family. Not to mention Nick trying to prioritise protecting his family in case a bloodthirsty Guide comes around over his own wants and dreams…

This story the more that I read it felt personal to Nick rather than the overarching plot of the Merricks vs the Guides. Am I saying it’s a bad thing? Kind of, but kind of not. It only really made an impact at the start and the finish. In the previous book, Spirit, the Guides were front, centre and a threat the entire time, ready to wreak havoc on the Merrick brothers and their allies. Here, they were established at the start to be there and then popped out of their hiding hole at the climax. There was barely a presence of them there for them to be so close to the climax of the series. It felt disappointing that the Guides weren’t really covered in this book. In fact, the Elemental side of things was hardly tied to it at all. Just kind of flavour.

Regardless, the intimate story that was there was done incredibly. The romance between Nick and Adam was downright magical. Kemmerer just does romance so well full stop! I can strongly say that my list of OTPs is very small. Nick and Adam – Nidam? – was just added to this list. They compliment each other so well and their relationship just felt so real and safe and pure. The emotions and language used made me feel so damn warm inside, no wonder I was shivering on the cold dank bus while reading this!

More on Nick, after reading this story he’s become my favourite of the brothers so far, if not my favourite character of the whole series. I feel like this book was also titled very appropriately; Secret. It was a key theme to Nick’s development; the secret that he’s an air elemental, the secret that he’s gay, the secret that he wants to move out of town. All of that was well reflected on his fear of going against what society expects him to be. Though it went so specific, it was a struggle that still felt universal and real. I understood him well solely on how he was written, how rooted he was in his fears. I feel like society is an obstacle for all of us to overcome. We often forget to look at ourselves, and I’m glad we saw that in Nick.

All that said, I started this series in 2017 when I read Storm in Year 12. Now it’s 2021, and you bet Sacrifice is only 4 more books on my TBR pile away. 5 years. 5 books. We’re on the home stretch now, Merricks. Bring on the final installment of the Elementals series!

Secret gets a score of 3.5/5. Chances were lost to tie the world to the plot better, but the plot was still something fantastic without it.

Yours in writing

Amy

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There Wasn’t Even a MacGuffin- A Review of Realm of the Gods by Tamora Pierce

We’ve hit a feat guys. I have officially reviewed an entire series on this blog. It took about 2 years, but here we are!

And I have to say, I’m not sure what to feel. It’s the final installment of the Wild Magic series’ fault. The rest of the series was solid, gracing in the above average scoring for the first three installments. Book 4 hit below average.

As the once emperor mage Ozorne has awakened the god of Chaos, the world of Tortall has never been more under threat as immortals slaughter the lands. Daine and her mentor Numair must stop their enemy from bringing the all terrifying god into the world before it wounds up destroyed.

But oops! They got into the Realm of the Gods and the only way they can stop Ozorne is to get out again!

And I mean it was an oopsie. The literal 7 out of 10 chapters spent getting back to the mortal realm only served as an inconvenience and an excuse to meet Daine’s godly dad and a platypus with a “not Australian” accent. There was literally no other purpose to being in the realm, no powers for Daine to learn, no powerful magic MacGuffin to retrieve. It was like Lord of the Rings without the ring – just the walking. The world had peaked my interest and I literally got nothing out of it. Except dialogue between councils that went in circles to decide the fate of the characters for them. The solution would have been to just take this book’s climax and tack it onto the end of book 3. Appropriately, because I hated how book 3 ended.

Next complaint I have was the Daine’s character for once was inconsistent and too immature for a 16 year old. One minute she had a bloodlust and the very next she lost it and turned nurturing. Her bizarre changes in emotions literally felt like they were there to make the plot interesting (it didn’t). And the moral she had to learn in this whole book was not to blame creatures for acting the way that they do, sometimes it is just in nature, and that they should be forgiven. But she did it from the start? It’s like she unlearnt it in one chapter just to learn it again. What should’ve happened was the flat arc that changed the supporting characters instead.

And now here comes my biggest problem with this book. Where the hell did the romance with Numair come from? Literally the only foreshadowing that this would happen was him blushing at Daine when her clothes were torn and he could see her body. Daine showed no recognition of having feelings for him until they kissed and she was suddenly head over heels. And not to mention the moral grounds this crossed. Their 12 year age difference when she is under 20 years old, for example. And how Numair first met Daine when she was 12 and developed a crush on her as she went through puberty while he taught her. Numair himself even commented on how he had affairs with ladies far older than Daine and he still had a crush on her. Do people not recognise how creepy that is? Less worrying is how the relationship served nothing to their character arcs, but it is far less significant of an issue when I was disgusted to see how romantic that kiss was. Numair should’ve stayed a mentor or even became a brother figure. Psychologically and narratively, this relationship made zero sense!

What can I say? The series finished with a sour taste.

Realm of the Gods gets a score of 1/5. It was a MacGuffin plot without a MacGuffin.

But it doesn’t stop there, dear viewers! We have to rate the series as a whole!

Wild Magic4/5, a rich and enticing world that peaked my interest.

Wolf Speaker3.5/5, it didn’t acknowledge the events of book 1, but the fantastic characters made up for it.

The Emperor Mage3.5/5, overall fantastic until the climax ended.

Realm of the Gods – 1/5, it was pointless.

Tamora Pierce knew how to make a world and characters, though the writing could be stronger. It never had any particular flair to it that kept me engaged. However, the series’ main flaw especially in later books was the narrative – not connecting books, not knowing appropriate endings and even making an entire book pointless – that last point being especially bad when happening in the final one! Having studied narrative and letting it be the primary hook for me when reading a story, this makes this series a real bummer.

The Wild Magic series gets a score of 2/5. It’s going off the bookshelf.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Deep Water and Deep Characters – A Review of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

I had high expectations for Firefight. After loving its predecessor, Steelheart, I was hoping Brandon Sanderson would deliver.

He didn’t just deliver, he delivered something new. While Steelheart was a pepperoni pizza, Firefight was a vege trio pizza from Dominos. Both very exquisite pizzas, if you ask me.

After rescuing Newcago from the tyranny of the epic Steelheart, David Charleston and his fellow Reckoners have defended the city from other superhumans wanting to take over the city. They soon realise each have been sent by Regalia, the epic who runs the now flooded New York, renamed Babilar. While the leader of the Reckoners wants to go to Babilar to kill the epic, David has second thoughts. After all, the leader himself is an epic not yet corrupted by his powers. And somewhere out there resides Firefight, another epic David wishes to save from her powers. Could the Epics be saved from themselves after all?

Again, a strong aspect of this novel was the unique atmosphere of the world. If you thought Newcago had its own personality, then Babilar is something else. Even the way the world was built was very fascinating, seeing different cultures and the political standpoints of epics in this city versus the distance from the ones in Newcago. That and the way the city became rundown was amazing – an epic flooding the city so everyone has to live on skyscrapers AND vines overgrowing inside of buildings? Legendary.

The world was expanded upon well with the lore surrounding the epics too. One key aspect was studying what the core weakness of each of them was, especially when rumors were thrown around of a connection between an epic’s past and their Achilles Heel. This weakness became a key part of each epic it seemed and it was an interesting ride to analyse each of them and work out with David and the team what their weaknesses are. Granted I was often wrong, but it was still very entertaining to guess.

A significant improvement was with the characters as well. So much more depth was added to everyone that I thoroughly enjoyed. I especially enjoyed how David was developed, both with his goal of revenge gone and some fears adding so much depth to his character. He truly felt real in so many moments. Even characters I felt impartial to I wound up loving. But my favourite character has to be Mizzy, introduced in this book. She was fun, relatable and had great one liners right from the get-go. I can’t wait to see more of her in the future.

I found it wasn’t quite as engaging as when I read Steelheart up until the final quarter, but that wasn’t to demerit it. It had a lot more to think and reflect on in the novel rather than things to react to. This was mainly because David’s mentality had changed from react to reflect as well, making it a nice book to get through at an easy going pace. A distinct difference made for a different experience, allowing me to take it all in. It suited the atmosphere of Babilar too, especially being a new environment for David to be in. He had a lot more to take in than in Steelheart. So what it lacked in action it made up for in depth.

I suppose it just served as a calm before the storm that is Calamity: the final book in the Reckoners series. One I plan to tackle later this year. Can’t wait.

Firefight gets a score of 5/5. What can I say? The depth of the characters especially made this epic.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Woke, but Tiring – A Review of Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Just finished this book in time for the new year. Pity the review came out a bit later, so you didn’t know.

Another pity was this book. We’ll talk more about that in a second.

In Dead Until Dark vampires are real. The supernatural is mainstreaming and becoming part of daily life with humans. Including Sookie Stackhouse, a human with mind reading abilities. With the arrival of a hot vampire at the small town bar she works at, he brings on a little bit more trouble whether he wanted to or not. Murder. The deaths of various humans who get down with vampires, including one of Sookie’s coworkers. She’s down to prove the innocence of those she’s close with and do whatever she can to make sure she’s not targeted next.

Let’s talk about this Sookie character first. A lot of her traits felt very contradictory. She hates people due to reading their minds uncontrollably sometimes but she’s incredibly bubbly. Her emotions and feelings towards her clearly shifty boyfriend change more than weather in the spring, hating him in the morning and bedding him the same night. Her strengths became her weaknesses at the same time, and it was like the author flipped a coin to decide if she’d be good with them or not. It made me very hard to feel for her unless a situation she got into just had plain old shock factor.

Speaking of shock factor, the killer. This is a murder mystery plot after all. There wasn’t any realisation at any time during the novel over who the killer was and me being right, or when the killer was revealed I was in disbelief or realising it all made sense. It was just left feeling mediocre about it. It only barely made sense because this character really didn’t have a lot of presence in the story. There were no stand-out points that connected their motives and made everything click. It was like fixing a car with duct tape.

It wasn’t all piss poor though. The magical realism played into this book was quite well done, how the vampires decided to fit into the world and much about them was already well known to the general public, including some stereotypes. It made the world feel solid. Another solid part of the world was how diverse both the humans and vampires were and how naturally they were a part of it; black vampires, gay vampires, polyamoury between vampires and humans. It made the world feel all the more natural.

Until we talk about how the men in it were portrayed. All of them were assholes, and for some reason the main character looked up to a lot of them? The hot vampire she dates is clearly manipulative, her boss wants to be a homewrecker on her relationship, her brother calls Sookie’s mental trauma ‘excuses’. I’m not saying men are as pure as Jesus himself, but none of them came close.

And as much as I was looking forward to reading a lot of the series, I don’t want to now. This is the first and only Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood book I’ll be reviewing on this blog I’m afraid.

Dead Until Dark gets a score of 2/5. I’ll give it credit for being woke at the time of its publishing, but everything else can be discredited.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Rogue Thief and the Monk/Paladin of Vengeance – A Review of Hope and Red by Jon Skovron

My first impressions was that I was reading about a rogue and a monk/paladin. Just your typical D&D obsessed brain taking over you. I failed that wisdom save.

Let’s move onto talking about something you guys will actually understand.

Hope’s village was slain by biomancers, turned to killer wasps. She found refuge in a monastery and was trained in secret to become a Vinchen warrior. Red was orphaned at age 8, seeking a mother figure in a criminal matriarch and becoming a skilled thief of New Laven. When these two meet their fates intertwine as the rough and poor of New Laven are set to be new fodder for the cruel experiments of the biomancers.

The world was built and described really well. There was much attention put to the details of these places and each location had new life within them. What really made them feel real was the grittiness of the urban lifestyle in New Laven, reminiscent of the central city I visit on a regular basis in my own home. Just a few centuries older is all. And still it was beautiful and endearing. Anything filled with so much character always is. I live of refreshing fantasy settings, and though Hope and Red is based in a similar time period to most other fantasy stories it was still a beauty to read.

The same couldn’t be said about the actions scenes. With a rogue and a monk, you expect some great fight scenes. But these were short and barely described, to the point where they seemed unbalanced. The moments I read that there was a struggle of them mention of blood or exhaustion, I wondered where they came from. There were never hints of any details in previous paragraphs. The moves were very generalised. Having two characters whom have skills pivotal to fighting and not describing the fights themselves? Sounds like Skovron should’ve written different characters or researched a bit more into fighting.

Another thing that wasn’t quite as enjoyable was how rooted the patriarchy was in nearly every aspect of society. Female empowerment was a bit too much of an underlying thing for a lot of conflicts. “It’s bad luck to sail with a woman on board.” “A Vinchen warrior can’t be a female.” “Female Biomancers are too strong to be considered alive anymore.” The fact that nearly every organization or circle in the book had some form of resentment towards females made for a very tiring trope. I’m not saying I’m against feminism, but without unique origins that don’t mirror our own world tropes like such become tiring.

But what I enjoyed was the magic system being used, conveyed through the Biomancers. Skovron wasn’t afraid to make this magic gruesome. I also enjoyed seeing magic from a villainous perspective with the two main heroes being out of touch with magic themselves. If it weren’t for the poorly described fights, it made for the Biomancers being quite the threat.

The dynamic between Hope and Red was very enjoyable too, with the morals and the streetsmarts teaming up with their fighting prowess. Both characters shone up against each other, but not out of the whole story. The world shone a great deal more than the characters.

Hope and Red gets a score of 3.5/5. Please note that rogues and monks are combat heavy, but the world overshadows that fact.

Yours in writing

Amy

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Betrayal, Betrayal Everywhere – A Review of The Savior’s Sister by Jenna Moreci

This one is a special one folks. Those of you who have stuck around long enough might have spotted my first review on this blog, The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci. One of my writing idols, I must say.

So yes, I was in fact close to tears when I got emailed an Advanced Reader Copy of The Savior’s Sister, the next book in the series. So first off, you might want to read its predecessor. Important stuff happens in that book that leads into this one.

This is the review of an advanced reader copy (ARC) of Jenna Moreci’s novel. I was given a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

We’ve heard Tobias’s story about him fighting in a tournament to win the heart of The Savior he never loved. Except, the real Savior of Thessen was the healer girl he had fallen for instead, Leila. Now we follow Her side of the story, fighting for Her own life in Her own home against Her own father. And the tournament She knows is what will kill Her. It’s up to her to fool the competitors, of which her assassins are among, find whom in her home she can trust, and keep her newfound love safe from the target she never meant to put on his back.

Sound familiar? Well, it is. It’s a companion novel. It happens at the same time as The Savior’s Champion, in roughly the same place, just through Leila’s perspective instead. The same coin, but a different side. Initially I thought it was going to deter my engagement in a lot of scenes, ones I had already read before but through Tobias’s perspective.

I was wrong. I never should’ve doubted Jenna.

Leila’s perspective of already mentioned scenes became very insightful as Her feelings were put into perspective before me. They never made those scenes one I could just gloss over. Her powers and what they do to Her made for a very unique perspective and a literal emotive way of talking, how She sees emotions in colours. God, that was beautiful.

What’s also interesting was the contrast between Her powers and Her personality. It definitely felt deliberate considering how She was brought up; Her hard and cold exterior shielding Her light and warmth which both offered their strengths and weaknesses. That’s one of my favourite tropes, but it was interesting to see it from a main character for once. Also I’d like to add the retorts She made to her father were probably making him want to kill Her more, and I loved that but at the same time felt scared for Her.

Politics was quite the focus for this book. Not my thing in real life, but it sure was here. A lot of it was very palace and family focal, but it was still engaging to see the corruption sweeping through the court. And even out of it. Seeing relationships established with the common folk of the palace and other realms was enlightening.

Now I need to mention my favourite character from this book. Hylas. God, there was this one scene that absolutely made me love him. I won’t say what it is, but just know something amazing is in store for him. I would personally like to protect Hylas. He’ll be safe with me.

Now a minor flaw I would like to mention. There has been action in this book for Leila almost as much as there was for Tobias. I prefer what Tobias had faced over Leila’s fights and battles. It was mainly because all the fights that She got into felt the same, just harder every time. I’ll give it credit for having her struggle, for using environments well and for setting stakes, but each time those fights didn’t have the distinguishable sparks like Tobias had faced. They did feel a tiny bit “here we go again”.

But don’t let that one little thing discern you. I’d say you should pick it up when it’s released. The Savior’s Sister comes out on September 29th 2020. You can preorder it on Amazon or through this link here. You can also enter her presale giveaway while you’re at it.

And now the verdict.

The Savior’s Sister gets a score of 4/5. Same story, fresh-as-a-peach perspective.

Yours in writing

Amy

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The Tale of the Misguided Edgelord – a review of Spirit by Brigid Kemerer

Bit awkward. I’m reviewing book 3 of this series when I haven’t reviewed books 1 and 2 on this blog.

Granted I did read them before I decided this blog was going to be a thing. Don’t expect me to backlog every single book I’ve read. #sorrynotsorry

Actually most of the books backlogged would wind up being Rainbow Magic books, so I won’t apologise for that. Be relieved I won’t be reviewing the tonne of books I no longer have.

Anyway, the Elementals series! This series follows a family of four brothers, each controlling a different element. But there’s one kind of elemental not in the Merrick family; a Fifth, the spiritual elemental. One Fifth is Hunter Garrity, whom the Merricks can’t decide if he was on their side the whole time or betrayed them. We follow his story as one of his former friends, a fire elemental, threatens to burn down the town if the Guides, hunters of elementals, don’t come and cause chaos themselves. Little does Hunter know that the new girl who caught his interest has an agenda with the fires around town too.

Okay, first thing I have to say is that Hunter needs a hug. Like right now. One weary thing that can happen with characters as tragic as Hunter is that they won’t do anything about it and become very passive characters. I absolutely loathe pivotal characters who remain inactive in their sorrows for their entire lives and waste their lives away. Hunter wound up being very active and turbulent, making much of the things that happened to him very powerful. It was never a matter of his emotions in the moment for long, he would always lead on to ways to fix the problems in front of him. His emotions rarely made him passive to the problems faced in front of him. I admire that in characters like him.

Emotion was actually a huge core to Kemerer’s writing, which I find absolutely excellent. Especially in third person writing, at times emotions are glossed over. Emotion is a core to the storytelling presented. I really engaged with the story through emotions alone, how each action was presented at the base of a feeling. It became almost effortless to get into the characters minds and understand what was going on.

That being said, some moments were placed off and drew me out of the story. The strongest (or I guess weakest) example was the climax. It was a very short lived chapter, thus the emotions and the stakes felt more like ripping off a band aid instead of tearing down a wall. This was odd when compared to the depth of other scenes target felt so long, so real. Like the midpoint, very well executed. But with such a big deal as the climax being so short, it made me doubt whether the storyline being resolved was actually important or not. This was especially when the previous climaxes in the series were built up and expanded upon so much more.

Perhaps if Kemerer put more emphasis into those final scenes I would have given this book a perfect score.

Spirit gets a score of 4/5. There was passion put into the characters and the very emotive writing, if only the same could be said for the ending.

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50 Cents Payoff – A Review of The Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce

Admittedly this was a long time coming. My reading was interrupted, first by a terrible book before this I did not finish and then by an overwhelming amount of crucial assignments. Thus this next book was a much slower one to try and finish.

That’s not to say the third instalment in Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic series was bad. Not at all.

In this book Wild Magic user Daine travels South to Carthak. There she tends to the Emperor’s animals and explores the culturally different atmosphere the realm has to offer. Meanwhile, her royal peers try to resolve conflicts the Emperor might start. Then Daine is told by the gods looking over her that she must be weary for what else is in store, more importantly their wrath.

An improvement from the last book in the series, the already introduced characters were mentioned and suitably active. Although it sounded like the events in the previous book a lot of the time were insignificant, aside from Daine learning her shapeshifting abilities. This seems to be a problem across the series, where many of the events don’t appear to correlate across books. This book had less problems occurring with that than the previous ones though, with characters from book one returning with purpose, even if it is minor.

The world building and character interactions linked together well in this book, granted it was one of those “new land” kind of storylines. I have to give props for the variation in settings used to build the world, taking on Eastern cultures to inspire the land of Carthak. There were a handful of moments where it felt like whitewashing was about to take place in the book, but the way that Daine and Kaddar handle it and discussed it as the book progressed wound up sensible, with Daine suggesting societal improvements without depriving Kaddar’s culture. The way these two altered each other’s perspectives worked really way, making me enjoy the chemistry between the two.

The plot was the strongest it has been in the series yet. It was engaging to work out the various mysteries and how they all connected, from the Graveyard Hag to the Emperor’s suspicious behaviour. The buildup was incredible and had me hooked each time, by far Pierce’s strongest plot type compared to her journey and infiltration plots in previous books.

Now comes the biggest issue, the one addressed in the title. Daine ends up in a rage over an event that happens in the climax, a very rare occasion for her. She creates an army of animals to storm the Emperor’s palace in vengeance with the intent to kill him it seems. She does a fantastic job of wrecking the palace, but then she gets to the Emperor. Does she cause any form of physical harm to the Emperor herself? Nope. Other characters do it for their own personal reasons. Then is turns out the event that Daine thought happen didn’t happen due to an illusion? And all she does is get embarrassed for her rage? No. I’m not happy with that. Nothing paid off for Daine in the end. It didn’t feel like a victory despite how obvious it was because her goal was not fulfilled.

You know what they say about an ending making or breaking a book? That applies to me.

The Emperor Mage gets a score of 3.5/5. A filling book with a bad aftertaste, so let’s just imagine that Daine actually resolved the plot herself.

Yours in writing

Amy