Books

Bite-Sized Book Reviews #3

Time for another Bite-sized book reviews!  This one is going to be a little different, since one is for a book series, and one for a book I DNFed.  I chose to not post a review on Good Reads for the DNF, because I think it’s unfair to do so when I haven’t finished the book, but since this is my blog I’d like to post my thoughts on said book and why I didn’t read it all the way through.  With that out of the way, let’s get on to the reviews!

 

Gods of Blood and Powder Series by Brian McClellan

 

This series is in the Powder Mage universe, so if you haven’t read the series, you may be a bit lost.  You wouldn’t be entirely lost, but if you ever plan to read the prior series there are major spoilers in the books, so read at your own risk.  The things it addresses in this series that you need knowledge of the Powder Mage trilogy for it explains though, which is nice.

 

This series takes place ten years after the Powder mage trilogy, and stars Vlora and two other characters not from the original trilogy.  Vlora was an interesting side character for me, so I really liked reading from her point of view…in book 1.  In book 2, she got a little too one note and didn’t develop much, but her plot was interesting and drove the overall plot forward.

 

Michele, the Adamat style character in this series, I loved.  My favorite plots and characters were in his storylines and in every book I super enjoyed getting back to his.  Ben Stike was the typical manly man Tamas character, but I overall liked him better along with his story arcs.

 

This world felt super fleshed out.  Like, the ten year gap truly felt like ten years of time had progressed in real time in their world.  Characters were different, but still the same, the stakes were higher, and a lot of characters got stories for them when they didn’t because of being supporting characters in the previous series.  I will say the 2nd book had middle book syndrome, and didn’t really feel like it added much to the overall trilogy, but there were some good moments in it.  My favorite one was the first book, I thought that one and book three were both really well paced and dynamic.

 

The end of the third book felt a little lack luster with the final conflict, but it also fit the series at the same time.  These books have always been about the characters and action more than anything, so it didn’t bother me too much how it ended.  Overall, a good series with a lot of lovable characters, good plot beats, and good pacing other than in book 2.  Give it a read if you’re into McClellans works.

 

Forest of Firelight by Shari L. Tapscott

 

Aaaand here’s the book I didn’t finish.  Such an awful slog of cliché insta love romance, a bland main character who we’re supposed to like, and a tortured love interest we’re supposed to empathize with.  The premise sounded so interesting too, and I read reviews saying the end was good but like…ugh.  It’s a short book, only 300 pages, but it just dragged on so long and the first 183 pages were nothing but naïve Princess getting into trouble, and brooding love interest saving her, internally saying he hated how stupid she was but at the same time falling for her.  No subversion of tropes what-so-ever, and for me the author didn’t seem like they were planning to do anything more than follow the same generic plot beats in a YA romance, so I just stopped reading it midway.  The world wasn’t interesting enough either, just generic epic fantasy with a somewhat interesting magic system, but not interesting enough to carry the story considering how frustrating the main character was.  If you’ve finished it, let me know if it gets better in the comments, but for me this was just a series I wasn’t willing to continue regardless so stopped in the middle of  book 1.

 

Of Sea and Song by Chanda Hahn

 

Another entry in the Daughters of Eville series, and the book I started reading this series for.  A Little Mermaid retelling that stars an epic sorceress who sings as her magic ability, and uses ocean magic?  Sign me up!  This story started pretty fun and interesting, but midway eventually fell into the trap this series usually does with the main love interest being irritating and them just falling in love with out any relationship growth what-so-ever.  I did like that the secondary love interest subverted the generic “He’s evil” trope in this one, and it was a fun ride regardless of leaning on tropes, so I can’t complain.  What this series thrives on is the familial relationships between the sisters and Lady Eville, and each daughter coming into her own through her story and this totally delivered on that regard, which is why the okish romance didn’t bother me so much.  Mary was my favorite lead so far which was also a bonus.

 

This was a really interesting take on The Little Mermaid that I super enjoyed, and this author gets better with every entry in this series:  this one was the best paced, with the least amount of leaning on fairy tale retelling tropes, and was really dynamic and interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

 

Conclusion

 

And that’s the end of my Bite-Sized Book Reviews!  If you want some more in depth reviews for any of these books, head on over to my Good Reads profile.  I hope these reviews help you with finding reads, and happy reading!

Books

The Spoken Mage by Melanie Cellier Full Series Review [Spoiler Free]

Sometimes you just find a book series you really enjoy.  It may be the characters, may be the world building, may be a bit of both.  It isn’t necessarily the best series, but you don’t care:  it just ticks all of your boxes, and you enjoy it for what it is.  I’m not one of those people who thinks everything should be a literary masterpiece, because that would be no fun.  What I like is an engaging story, that has a satisfying ending, and a great ride to get to said ending and for me, The Spoken Mage series is that.  Does it have story telling flaws?  I think so, especially with some of it’s pacing in the 2nd, and 4th books.  Is it a bit cliché?  Yeah, totally.  But do they do a good job building up the overarching plot, romance, and ending the story well?  Absolutely.  So for that, I honestly loved reading this series and recommend it to fantasy romance fans.

 

The premise of the series is what got me to pick this up in the first place.  In this world, the magic system revolves around writing.  Only nobles can  channel magic in a way that won’t kill them, so the common born are banned from reading and writing, so they don’t channel magic poorly and harm others.  Elena is a common born, who finds out she can use magic through speaking, not writing, and she’s sent to a magic school for noble born children to channel her gifts, and learn how to use them.  Crazy adventures, politics, and romance ensue  as the four book series is Elena’s time at the school.  Basic premise, right?  Other than the magic, I wasn’t super keen on a magic school setting.  I don’t dislike it per see, but there are a lot of tropes built into this sort of a setting and I hadn’t read a school setting since Harry Potter.  But, I had nothing to worry about, as there’s so much more to this world then just going to school.  I really enjoyed the themes set forth in this book, that Elena had to navigate the political landscape she was thrust into, and figure out how to fight for common born rights among a world of nobles.  She realizes however, being common born has its own set of issues, as does being mage born.  She and her classmates learn from each other, as they both had stereo types about each class group in their heads and it was nice seeing the characters grow from one another’s experiences.  Elena herself grows a lot throughout and it was just really enjoyable to read.
The romance is great too.  I love Prince Lucas so much, he was hands down my fav character and him and Elena growing and learning from each other was so fun.  I will say there were some parts in the series as far as their romance that were pretty groan worthy, but overall it was fun to read and I hope we get more stories with them in the future.

 

Now, the nitpicks I have mainly pertain to the 2nd and 4th books.  In book 4, everything was tied up a little too neatly, and there was a stretch in the middle of the book that just felt unnecessary, and only seemed to be an engine for the author to make sure all the plot points she wanted to happen for sure happened.  The book was the longest one, so I had hoped we’d get a bit more fleshing out for some characters, and that we’d get an extra chapter or 2 of wrap up.  I liked how it ended, but just an extra chapter or 2 would have pushed it over the top for me.

 

Book 2, I have so many issues with.  Like it was my least favorite in the series, it moved the plot forward the least.  I can’t super remember what happened in it?  I remember important things pertaining to Elena’s powers took place, and her and Lucas’ relationship happened as well, but other than key characters popping up and Elena’s powers developing, book 2 feels like a lot of missed potential.  There were moments like that throughout the entire series I feel, but they got glossed over by how much this series did right so it didn’t bother me too much.

 

The Spoken Mage series is a lot of fun.  Like I said, it ticked a lot of boxes in fantasy I like:  A lot of action, great romance, interesting magic and world, great characters and character development.  If you like a fairy tale style page turner of a series, you can read the entire series in this compellation here

 

I hope I was able to share my love of this series sufficiently!  I really enjoyed reading it, it was so much fun start to finish.  I think it’s important to highlight indi authors, and I plan to do so more later on this blog.  I’ve pretty much been reading self-published stuff exclusively for the past few months, I really enjoy the different things an indi author can do in their books as opposed to guidelines traditionally published authors have to follow.

 

Have you read any good self-published authors you like?  Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Books

The Autumn Republic Book Review [Powder Mage Trilogy, Book 3]

The Autumn Republic is the best book in the Powder Mage trilogy for me, hands down.  All pacing issues are gone, every character feels like they matter, and there’s a satisfying ending to every characters story arc.  Not all of them get the ending you’d expect either, but it’s a fitting ending for them and it was nice to see the author take risks and actually go there with a lot of the stuff in this entry of the series.  Of course, you’ll need to have read the first two books for this one to make any sense:  it once again takes place directly after events in The Crimson Campaign, but man is this one a roller coaster I couldn’t get off of, start to finish.

 

This book cements the Powder Mage universe as one of the best fantasy universes out there for me.  I have to admit, I wasn’t feeling it the first book.  Second one, it still grabbed me enough to read on, but not there yet.  Third?  I can’t wait to read the next series of books and all of the novellas, just such a fantastic job with this book and a worthy conclusion to the saga for these characters.

 

Read it if you’d read the first two books, you won’t regret it!

 

I usually put the book synopses after my brief review, but the one for this book holds spoilers to things in The Crimson Campaign, so I’m just going to launch into the review from this point on.  Here we go!

 

PLOT

 

The plot is really good in this  installment, doesn’t have nearly as much pacing issues as I found in the last two books.  I think that’s because we’re in the end game here, and every character’s plots get interwoven into the final stretch of the narrative.  Nila, Adamat, and Bo are my favorite set of characters overall in the series, but their plots in this range from empowering to heartbreaking and it’s all just such good writing.  Tamas’ plot, and story arc finish in this book, and while it wasn’t what I was expecting for the character, it makes total sense for it to have happened and for me it was the most satisfying out of all of the story arcs.

 

The least satisfying for me was Taniel’s sadly.  He branches off from the main group early on, and it just seems like there wasn’t enough time to give him a better plot than he had in this book.  I like his scenes with Vlora, and she got fleshed out way more in this book, but what they did to Ka-Poel really made Taniel’s plot less enjoyable, and I’ll leave it at that to not avoid spoilers.

 

Another part of the plot that came to a conclusion, was having to do with the gods of the world.  It didn’t feel rushed to me for the most part, but one character that was in the series throughout is revealed to be something they weren’t before and it just felt off to me.  Throughout the series, McClellan has done a really good job of leaving clues for us for other plot threads, so we could figure it out so the lack of such for this specific character just seemed a bit off to me.  If we had seen more of them, or if it had made more sense why the reveal wound up to be them it would have worked far better than it did.  It didn’t really hinder the reading experience for me, but I could see it being an issue for someone else so figured I’d bring it up.
Other than that, flawless execution of the story.  The first two books led up to the third so well, and this series shines because of it.  You do have to read all of the books to get the full effect of the plotting though, since this is more a continued story over three books than it is episodic books with self-contained plots that have overarching story in it.  Since all 3 books are out, I’d highly recommend reading all 3 consecutively instead of reading something in-between any of the trilogy to get the full effect of the narrative.

 

CHARACTERS

 

Every character that was introduced in Promise of Blood has a satisfying conclusion to their story, as stated above.  Not much development is given to them per say, but they’re put in situations where they have to act differently than they would, and their morals are pushed to the brink because of it.  You really feel for all of them honestly, but still stand outs for me are Nila, Adamat, and Bo.  They all were always my favorites since book 1, and that never changed.  I’d love to read a spin off book about Nila and Bo, and see where their stories further lead, but I also like where they left us with their plots  at the same time.

 

Tamas’ full story comes to fruition here, and in this book I realized that if you don’t like him, it’s fine.  We as the reader, were never supposed to like him.  If we did, that’s fine, but this story was always meant to tell us about a man driven by grief and revenge, and the destructive path being led by those emotions ultimately leads us.  It was really well executed, and as stated above, although I wasn’t expecting Tamas’ story to end the way it did, when it happened I was like “Yes,  this totally makes sense” and I’m so happy McClellan didn’t shy away from the darker stuff in this series, because it really shines because of the darker subject brought up here.

 

Taniel doesn’t super change throughout the series.  I enjoy his character, but other than circumstances pushing him forward, he doesn’t feel like he grows at all.  He gets what he wants in the end, but I just wish he would have gotten a tad more growth than he did, and we got to see his and Tamas’ relationship develop more because of his growth.  What we got was serviceable, just wish we got a bit more.

 

Adamat, poor Adamat!  His story along with Nila’s shows what happens when people are thrown into something because of someone else’s  desires.  Adamat never wanted to be any part of this, but Tamas dragged him into it and that anger towards the man really shines through in this book.  He’s my favorite main point of view character for sure, really enjoyed his investigations, his scenes with Ricard, and his family.  The investigations in this book are the most gripping to me, and I think The autumn republic is the best use of his character for sure.

 

WORLD BUILDING

 

We’re back in familiar territory here, where the story began.  No real ground broken here, nothing really expanded on.  Just back to the French Revolution setting of the book.  But I like that where a series starts, it ends sort of thing so being in familiar settings the entire book totally worked for me.  It may not for others, but for me seeing the inner workings of the city after everything that had happened was a lot of fun and added to what this book series ultimately was about:  One man, and how his choices effected a world, for better or for worse.

 

WRITING

 

The pacing is way better in this book.  The writing is still raw and gritty, but more polished so it just feels more raw, if that makes sense.  I think McClellan’s dialogue writing has definitely gotten better in this book, felt way more realistic than in the past two.  Other than that, pretty much the same as the prior two books.

 

CONCLUSION

 

This review is shorter because honestly, I can’t say much more about this series than I already have in the prior two reviews.  If you’d read Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign and enjoyed them both enough to get to The autumn republic, you’ll want to read this book.  How much you like it depends on how much you liked the other two since this series is purely linear in its story telling, and the full story spans all three books.  For me, I enjoyed this book especially and it fixed most of the problems I had with the series as a whole.  Just was a really good ride start to finish and the slow burn of the first two books was worth it.

 

I’d highly recommend The Powder Mage trilogy.  Only reason I’m not starting the next series in the Powder Mage universe is because the third one isn’t out yet  (by the posting of this review, the third book will be released).  But as soon as it is I plan to buy all 3 and read.

 

Pick up this series if you like a lot of action, interesting plots and world building, and really good political intrigue.  You won’t regret it!

Books

The Crimson Campaign Book Review [Powder Mage Trilogy, Book 2]

The Crimson Campaign is a vast improvement over Promise of Blood.  It also has its set of issues, but I found myself caring a lot more about the characters in this one than the first book.  That may be because we focus far more on the supporting cast, which as I said in my first review was far more interesting than our lead, but I just found myself caring way more about this book than Promise of Blood.  We get to see the bigger world out of Tamas’ sphere of influence, and that was a welcome surprise to me, who really doesn’t care for Tamas and the people who are loyal to him, therefore they justify his less than noble actions.

 

This book is also a slow burn, but just…more interesting than the last time.  This series, as I stated in Promise of Blood, definitely plays the long game and wants to use all 3 books in the trilogy to fully realize it’s world and characters.  I usually prefer self-contained stories per book that also pave way for the overall plot in a series, but it works in the Powder Mage trilogy far more than in other series I’ve read because this is a crazy war, and the long game is what a war is all about.  So it makes sense to have these two books be the calm before the storm that the third book is going to inevitably be.  Er Pr taks place a few month afomise of Blood, so you definitely can’t jump into this one without reading the first.  If I were waiting a year for the 2nd book in the series, I’d find that pacing to be a bit of a problem, but since I’m reading these all together with no lulls between books, it’s perfectly fine to me.  Just as a note, you’ll want to read each book right after the other, and not read another book in-between these if you’d like to get the full impact of the overall story because of the flow of the trilogy and how little time passes between each of the books.

 

With my overall, spoiler-free review out of the way, into the nitty gritty!

 

BOOK SYNOPSES

 

When invasion looms…

Tamas’ invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counteroffensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god, Kresimir.

But the threats are closer to home…

In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers will lead Adamat on a darker journey.

Who will lead the charge?

Tamas’ generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself as the last line of defense against Kresimir’s advancing army.

In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? The Crimson Campaign is the epic sequel to Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood.  – From Audible

 

PLOT

 

The plot is once again split into the three main points of view of Tamas, Taniel, and Adamat.  Once again, I find Tamas’ plot the least interesting, as it just feels like semi-filler that while interesting character beats happen to him in it, doesn’t super feel like was necessary.  I’m already reading the third book, and it doesn’t seem like it really impacted the story much other than his troops thought he was dead for a few months.  This rumor caused infighting, betrayal, and a shift in the military that was foreshadowed in the first book, so that aspect of him being split from the cast was interesting.  His actual story however, didn’t add much to the story for me and I found myself getting bored of the military battles getting done over and over again in his story.  The ending of it was interesting, and I liked that we saw that when Tamas wasn’t with people who were loyal to him, that they saw him for the terrible person he was and didn’t condone his actions.  This book doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’s just an awful person doing what he thinks is right for revenge, and since that wasn’t made clear in the first book, it made me feel justified in my feelings for his character.  Still don’t like him, but I can live with a book that calls its lead out on their garbage actions.

 

The most interesting plot for me was Adamat’s.  I really liked seeing his relationship with Ricard, and seeing all of his sleuthing finally pay off.  Getting to see him interact with Bo, and other key characters in the story was really cool, and he’s one of my favorite characters.  I don’t want to spoil anything in his plot, but it’s action packed and shows how much he’s willing to do for his family and I just found myself continuing to wanting to read his plot the most out of all 3 main points of view.

 

Taniel’s plot is…middle of the road?  I liked it when I got to read it, more because I like Taniel as a character than the actual plot.  The plot wasn’t bad, mind you:  he had to deal with trying to keep the army together when everyone was pushing against him, and trying to change the way the army was ran, and I love a good man against all odds story – but what was happening to taniel, his relationship with Ka-Pole, was really what sold his story for me.  Like I said it was enjoyable to read, and I think impacted the overall story the most, but it wasn’t the one I was most excited to read.

 

The pacing of these three stories is well done in this book.  The first book had to setup the world, and character motivations, so the plots where unevenly distributed I feel, but this one every character’s plot had it’s time to shine.  Although it was slow paced, and the last fifteen chapter or so were where the action picked up, once again like in the first book, I didn’t find it boring to read in the middle like I did in Promise of Blood.  Like I said only thing I wasn’t a fan of was Tamas’ plot, but to be expected since I don’t like him as a character.

 

The end of the book brings all of the characters together to set up for what so far is an epic third book, so fingers crossed The Autumn Republic stays as such ‘til the end.  I’m 20 chapters in and can’t put it down, so I’d say that’s a good sign that The first two books in the series, while slow at times, did their job properly.

 

CHARACTERS

 

The characters get a lot of development in this book, and side characters that seem like they weren’t going to matter totally prove you wrong, and matter a great deal.  Stand outs for me are Bo and Nila, I can’t get enough of them and I totally ship it so hope they wind up together by series’ end.  We get to see Adamat grow, Ka-Poel and Taniel grow, even Vlora gets her plot, that was introduced in the first book, resolved and becomes a pretty decent character.  Not as fleshed out as the others, but enough to be a good supporting character.

 

Tamas, we get to see more of his motivations and inner workings.  As I said it doesn’t make me like him any more, but it shows us his headspace, and I can respect an author for doing that.  I don’t think Tamas was ever meant to be this grand war hero, and The Crimson Campaign makes that abundantly clear.

 

A lot of other cool side characters introduced here, which once again if I listed we’d be here all day.  All good additions to the cast, and they only serve to make the world more interesting as a result.

 

WORLD BUILDING

 

The world gets expanded a tad in this book, as we see Tamas go through Northern Kez.  Nothing super interesting if I’m being honest:  We don’t see their culture, or any of the people other than their army and royals, so it doesn’t really serve to flesh out the world more than say, using it as a set piece.  The magic system is expanded on a bit which is interesting, but nothing groundbreaking that makes the system different enough to mention.  Just more of the same, which isn’t bad, but nothing majorly expanded on.

 

WRITING

 

The writing definitely is improved upon in this book.  It wasn’t bad in Promise of Blood, but a lot of the sparceness is gone for a more realized writing style.  It’s still got that raw and gritty style I really enjoy for this sort of genre, but it seems a lot more polished than in the author’s dayview novel.  The pacing is vastly improved as well, and that also lends to a more seasoned author.  The third book only gets better, so the author is totally coming into his own as a writer and I can’t wait to see where his writing career progresses.

 

CONCLUSION

 

If you’re invested in the Powder Mage trilogy, you’ll want to read this book.  I’m happy to say it gets better with each book in the series.  If you decided to DNF Promise of Blood because of lack of interested, then obviously you’re not going to want to read this book.  It’s good though, made me invested in the series far more than Promise of Blood did.

 

Have you read The crimson Campaign?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Books

Caraval by Stephanie Garber Book Review

This book is good.  If you want the short and sweet version of this review, I’d say read it.  It has flaws, sure, but it’s pros outweigh its cons for me and the mysteries, characters and world are worth getting through them because there’s major payoff at the plots conclusion.  Plus, the sequel book sounds like it’ll be great after the epilogue!  I just wanted to get that out of the way:  This is a good book, if you like fantasy, romance, and mystery, check it out.  But for those of you who want a more in depth review, keep reading!

 

Plot summary

 

Welcome, welcome to Caraval – Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful – and cruel – father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the faraway once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year Scarlett’s long dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever. – From Audible

 

World Building

 

The world building is done interestingly, though I won’t say it’s perfect.  We see the world through the main characters eyes, and due to her upbringing, she has a very narrow world view.  We get a description of how the world works, and the way finding out the basics of the world is done in a well rounded way that isn’t just an exposition dump.  There are a lot of vague descriptions when we get to Caraval that I felt tried to lend to the mystery – but at the same time, parts of the book were really frustrating to read because of how vague the author kept descriptions.  The magic system in Caraval alssso…doesn’t really make sense, in all honesty.  But if you ignore that and just come along for the ride, the book is enjoyable.

 

Plot Progression/Pacing

 

The pacing is the biggest issue for me with the book, along with Scarlet in the first half of the story (we’ll get to that in the characters section).  I was so frustrated with how the book was progressing, and where it was trying to go in the first half, that I had to go read some reviews with minor spoilers in it.  They really just mentioned what characters would be popping up, and when I saw that my interest in the book was re-engaged.  But, the book doesn’t get interesting for me until around chapter 17 to chapter 20 – that’s when the book starts to get really good, and super engaging.  I marathoned the 2nd half of the book in 2 days, it just was really great.  The stakes were raised properly, it got really intense, and the characters all had mysteries I wanted to see solved.  Scarlet is amazing in the 2nd half of the book as well, and her character development had me rooting for her the entire book.

 

The plot was…well, the plot threads aren’t all answered, but the plot threads for the first book are.  I don’t think the multitude of plot twists at the end were all good, some of them felt like they were just thinly vailed reasons to keep characters in the game for a sequel novel.  Although all the plot twists weren’t welcome for me, the overall progression of the plot was slow in the first half, fast paced in the second.  When Scarlet couldn’t figure out obvious clues though, I was banging my head against the wall!  It’s a major irritant of mine when a character can’t figure out something that is so freaking obvious!
There were a lot of predictable plot threads, and a lot of convoluted plot twists, but if you suspend your disbelief and just enjoy this book for what it is, it’s tons of fun.

 

Characters

 

This is where the book shines.  The characters are great!  All well fleshed out, very realistic characters you feel for.  Scarlet, as I said, really annoyed me in the beginning:  but, the reasons she acted the way she did in the first half of the book were well explained, and her character arc was masterfully done.  I’m always annoyed with characters who are indecisive, but knowing what Scarlet has gone through her entire life, I felt awful for being annoyed with her because I know why she was acting the way she did.  And, that frustration had major payoff, because when Scarlet comes into her own, wow is she fierce!  Like I said in the above section by books end I was rooting for her, and absolutely adored her.  I really hope she appears in the sequel books, she’s so great.
Julian is another example of how well Garber writes characters.  He has secrets to hide, but the person we see is the person he is, and he’s a great foil for Scarlet.  Their relationships progression is one of the gems in this book.  No cases of insta love:  Their relationship grows from distrust, to trust, to friendship, to love and it’s throughout the entirety of the book, so once again, really realistic.  When he finally spills the beans about his true identity, I wasn’t really surprised to be honest.  The two things he wound up being, were two of my theories very early on in the book, but I thought what the final reveal was was a great way to subvert the readers expectations of what the reveal was going to be.
Scarlet and Julian are the perfect couple, and that’s not to say they’re both perfect.  They know how to push each other to be the best people they can be, accept each other for all of their flaws, know how to make each other brave and strong and it’s such a breath of fresh air to see a grounded relationship in a YA novel.  10/10, OTP!

 

 

Donnatella, much like Caraval, is a bundle of magic and mystery.  She does something that you’d originally think was horrible and selfish, but when you see the consequences of her actions, you see her in a whole new light.  Tella is selfless, brave, and just as strong, if not more so, than Scarlet and we see this both in the beginning, and end of the book.  But to say any more about Tella would be a spoiler, so I’ll stop there XD
Governor Dragna is the worst you can get.  The perfect villain, because you hate him from the start and want to see him get his (luckily, we do).  You see the effect his abuse has had on both Scarlet and Tella, and it makes you hate him even more.  That’s part of why Scarlet’s development is so amazing:  She escapes her Father’s control, by openly defying him, and it’s soooo amazing!
The supporting cast is all great.  I’m especially fond of Dante and Iko, but Legend is the perfect anti-hero, who by books end you still don’t really know anything about.  I hope the next book in the series explores the mystery of Legend a lot more, because seeing him in this book was interesting but made you want to see more.  No matter how big, or how small the cast member is in Caraval, they’re all wonderful to watch.

 

Writing

 

This is the one hit I’ll give the book. The writing tries to be whimsical with flowery pros, but all it does is frustrate the reader at points.  Scarlet feels her emotions attached to colors, which I thought was interesting in the beginning because I thought that would somehow link to the magic of Caraval.  But nope:  It’s just how she feels emotions, so throughout the entire book we get to read things like “The gray ash of disappointment” “the violet danger” “the emerald greed” and to me, it just felt like a lazy way to not have to actually explain to the reader what was going on in any detail.  Along with that, descriptions are made into vague pros like “Our kiss felt like the beginning of something and the start of something new”, “It tasted like midnight”, “her dress was periwinkle, the color of happy endings” and none of those things equate to anything in my mind other than vague, non-descript descriptors that are just there to try and make the book sound a lot more introspective than it actually is.  Would it be so hard just to say Scarlet tasted something, and it was spicy?  I don’t think so!  I know Garber was trying to have “The magic of Caraval” apparent through her pros, but really it just got annoying after reading through the 100th metaphor.  I really hope in her next book, she uses these in moderation and gives us a bit more of a grounded sounding narrative because there were so many times I just went “There’s no way I would even know what midnight would taste like because it’s not a sensation attached to taste”.  Using a completely opposite word to describe another sensory detail isn’t good writing, it’s just overly involved writing that’s distracting.

 

Julian had a “nickname” for Scarlet the entire book that was super annoying too.  Crimson.  Crimson?  That isn’t a nickname, it’s a synonym!  Once again, another thing thrown in that makes absolutely no sense and adds nothing but irritation to the narrative.
But I will say:  I freaking adore how every one of Scarlet’s dresses were described.  That was perfectly done.  I could totally picture each gown, and ugh it just made the fashionista in me squeal:  all so pretty!

 

Overall/Final Thoughts

 

In the end, I loooooved this book.  It’s a great tale of two sisters who love each other so much, that they fight to keep the other safe in their own way.  It’s also a tale of two abused young women fighting to come into their own, and be free of their Father, both in very different ways.  The backdrop is the magical game that is Caraval, full of magic and secrets, and secrets and magic!  But in all seriousness, this is a really great first book in a series.  If you’re ok with a good magical mystery, wrapped in romance, and fantasy, pick up this book.  As long as you’re willing to turn your brain off for a while and just enjoy the ride.

 

The epilogue is pretty clear in the character who we’ll be following in the next book, and I really can’t wait to read it!

 

To me the mark of a good book is a book that has you thinking about it days after you’ve read it.  Thinking about what parts in the book now make sense after getting to the end, how the characters will be in the next book, things like that.  I’m still thinking about Caraval days after I read it, and finishing it left a really good feeling for me.  So despite any flaws I see in this book, or any discrepancies’ I have with the writing, I think Caraval is an amazing story that deserves to have been told.

 

Have you read Caraval?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment’s!

Books

Heartstrikers Book Series By Rachel Aaron Review

When you start a book you usually have one of these reactions:  You can’t put it down, you can’t wait to see what happens next, and if there’s another book in the series, you can’t wait to pick it up and continue the series.  For The Heartstrikers series of books, I had all three reactions every time I started reading, and finishing each of the books.  Sadly, the series isn’t over yet (ugh I need the fourth book so bad, think it’s coming out later this year) but I’m so happy I took a chance on this indi author.  Rachel Aaron is an amazing author, her writing style is so fun and captivating and her characters are just….ugh I love these books!  I wanted to hold off reviewing them individually, because really, each book would have just been me gushing about how much I loved them because they are all amazing.  I found Rachel Aaron through looking for books on Audible, and got recommended the first book in the series:  Nice Dragons Finish Last.  When I heard a preview, I not only fell in love with the audio book narrator, but with the authors voice.  Really quirky, fun world building and characters all around and…ugh I just love these  books so much!  But instead of gushing here, time to gush in the review!

PLOT

 

Julius Heartstriker is the only nice dragon in his clan and instead of making waves, he hides from his older, more aggressive siblings to stay out of trouble.  His Mother doesn’t tolerate this anymore and throws him out at the age of 24 into the DFZ  (Detroit Free Zone) and Julius has to figure out how to make it in the world with no money, no street smarts, and trying to avoid being killed in the DFZ because the DFZ is a no-dragons-allowed zone.  There’s a lot more to the series, but that’s the plot of the first book and more or less the series is Julius gets thrown into a situation and gets out of it by being himself, with the help of his BFF Marcy, mage extraordinaire.

WORLD BUILDING

 

I’ve complained in the past about fantasy worlds not having a concrete place they inhabit.  For example, does the story take place in a full fantasy world, or an alternate Earth.  The Heartstrikers series does a wonderful job of both showing, and telling us the world we’re in.  A meteor hit the Earth about a hundred years before our story started, bringing magic back into the world.  Along with magic, we got the reawakening of spirits, dragons, and human mages and they’re all getting used to magic being back in the world.    The series is clearly an urban fantasy dystopia (I know it sounds weird, but it totally works) set in our world.  How can you tell it’s in our Earth’s timeline?  There are super high tech magic-technology phones in use, along with self-driving cars and GPS.  Not only that, but we get characters referencing things like Batman, Super Mario, Star Wars, and a lot of other pop culture references that would be archived in the databases of a post-magic-tech Earth.  Does the narrative tell me that?  Not at all:  but because of how rich the world building is, and how intricate the showing, and telling the world building we see in the books, I can deduce that without even having to be told that somewhere in the narrative.

The magic system is really interesting, and makes tons of sense.  There are different magic systems for how humans, dragons, and spirits use magic and even when it’s being explained (it’s explained a lot through the series, it’s a major over arching plot point) never was I confused.  I read that in the third book the human system of magic confused a few people, but it made perfect sense to me.  And, how the dragons overall work is just really great!  I’ve never read dragon fiction before, but in this series, dragons have a human form and a dragon form and it’s just so fascinating and adds so much to the story.
So yeah, all in all, the best world building I’ve read in a modern fantasy series.  I’m not huge into urban fantasy, and wasn’t aware this was going to be one when reading, but it’s so great.

CHARACTERS


 

They’re all perfect~

Ok to go into more detail every character is really fleshed out, human, and interesting.  Even the side characters, even the characters that you know are there just to be offed later.  Any important player in the story is very human, very real, and very loveable.  If they aren’t lovable, you understand their motives and are able to sympathize with them to a degree.  I adore Marcy, who is Julius’ best friend/love interest, and all of Julius’ siblings we see (he has a lot of them, his Mother gets busy) wind up having wonderful storylines and plot motivations and by the third book we see something big is coming together, and I can’t wait to see how it will end for our characters.

WRITING

 

I mentioned this in my opening paragraph, but the writing is what got me wanting to read this series.  It’s like reading a sit com, but a really good sit com!  Whitty dialogue, great descriptors, really good pacing.  All around just an amazing job from Rachel Aaron.

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

The Heartstrikers series ventures to answer this question:  Can a genuinely nice person succeed in a world filled with power hungry, aggressive people, and still stay true to himself and his ideals?  Will doing so change his surroundings for the better?  Along with that, we have plotting dragons, humans and spirits just trying to survive, and the magical future of the world coming to a head.  When you think someone is “the villain” you find out their motivations, and realize what they’re trying to do may not be so bad.  It’s a book series about humanity at its core, what drives us to do things, what makes us stay true to ourselves, and how someone we’ve met by chance (or perhaps by fate dun dun dun) can affect us, for better or worse.
nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished are all amazing reads.  I think there are one or two books left in the series that aren’t out yet –shakes fist- but I anxiously await the next installment of the series because ugh this is so good!  I haven’t been this invested in a book series in a very long time.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do!  If you have read it, I’d love to talk about it in the comments!