Series review : an ember in the ashes

I’ve been planning to write this review for weeks now, and I just didn’t seem to be able to find the right time -with the pandemic going on, and everything being so uncertain and changing around me, I haven’t been in the right head space to write. But I’m trying to get back to it, so here’s a short series review !

An ember in the ashes is a quartet of books written by author Sabaa Tahir, and the fourth installment of this series, A sky beyond the storm, is coming out on December 1st, 2020.

First book synopsis 

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

I’m not sure where to start. I’ve read all three of those books in the span of a few days, because my library holds finally came in and I was able to get all of them at roughly the same time, and… I wish I’d borrowed them in physical copies, because it  would definitely have made it easier to organize my thoughts on this. 

What I liked 

These novels are written with alternating POVs, and while I’m not normally the biggest fan of those, I have to admit that they’re extremely well done in this case. Each new POV adds a layer of complexity and humanity to the characters, and with a story as axed on tension and suspense as this one, it’s incredibly useful.

The world-building is excellent. Politics, intrigue, war and magic all work together to create a lot of tension and suspense. The plot itself is complex, with multiple side-stories all coming together one after another, and it makes for a very entertaining read.

What I didn’t like

I was a bit confused at times in the third book, in which the characters seemed to move a lot between places without letting me understand properly where they were, and what they were doing there.

Some parts were a bit too dark for me, but it’s mostly because I’m not used to violence or cruelty in books – I don’t read horror or thrillers because of it, so it’s not a surprise that themes of torture or slavery come off as a bit too much for my taste.

Conclusion

I’m definitely hyped for the next installment in this series. I greatly enjoyed the first 3, and the ending promises to be as entertaining as the rest of it ! For readers who’d like to get even more of Tahir’s universe, a graphic novel is coming out this summer, and it features our two heroes, Elias and Helene, as young students at the blackwood academy ! 

Two contemporary YA novels

I’ve been away for a while now – exam week has taken its toll on me and I haven’t been able to do much of anything lately other than studying and stressing about my midterms.

I do, however, have some days of rest now, which I’ll use to get back on track here and read the ARCs I still have on NetGalley because I probably should get around to doing that asap

So to celebrate coming back to the blog, here are two short reviews of contemporary YA books ! I had planned this post for February 14th – you can see how my posting schedule has been delayed!

Red, white and royal blue, by Casey McQuiston

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I picked up this book at the library because everybody was talking about it, and I was not disappointed ! It’s fun, light, and as I am a hopeless romantic, I absolutely loved it. 

Alex and Henry’s relationship, from enemies to lovers, is a good example of one of my favorite tropes, and well executed enough to make it a very good romance novel. It’s got nice LGBT representation, super cute banter, an amazing sibling relationship, and it’s filled with easy-to-love characters. 

This story also has some idealized fictional American politics, which might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed escaping for a few hours in a reality where everything was fluffy and worked out well in the end. 

One of my favorite quotes (which may or may not be from one of the book’s sex scenes, but honestly it’s such a mood I just couldn’t let it go) :

“Awesome, fuckin’ love doing things out of spite,” he says without a hint of sarcasm. 

What a mood

These witches don’t burn, by Isabel Sterling

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’m a hoe for a nice magic system. This one isn’t the exception to the rule. I really appreciated the way the magical elements were mixed in with the contemporary ones of teen girls’ lives – going to parties, working part-time somewhere, dating… and trying to figure out if an evil witch is trying to take over your town. 

It has really good LGBT+ representation (yes, there’s a theme to the books I’ve been reading lately) and the plot twists at the end surprised me a lot. I enjoyed reading this so much that the second book made my list of 2020 new releases I’m excited about

Did you read any good books in February ? Do you have any recommendations to share ?

Aurora Rising, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I wasn’t 100% sure what I was doing when I picked up this book – I’d heard both good and bad reviews of it but didn’t want to go into the details so I could make my own opinion. So when my library hold came through last week, I hesitated a bit before finally picking it up on Friday on my way to university. 

Surprisingly – or not ? – the book ended up being a 4 stars for me ! I enjoyed reading it a lot, and even though some parts of the narrative really bugged me, they weren’t bad enough to make me DNF it on the spot. 

Synopsis

The year is 2380, and the graduating cadets of Aurora Academy are being assigned their first missions. Star pupil Tyler Jones is ready to recruit the squad of his dreams, but his own boneheaded heroism sees him stuck with the dregs nobody else in the Academy would touch…

A cocky diplomat with a black belt in sarcasm

A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates

A smart-ass techwiz with the galaxy’s biggest chip on his shoulder

An alien warrior with anger management issues

A tomboy pilot who’s totally not into him, in case you were wondering

And Ty’s squad isn’t even his biggest problem—that’d be Aurora Jie-Lin O’Malley, the girl he’s just rescued from interdimensional space. Trapped in cryo-sleep for two centuries, Auri is a girl out of time and out of her depth. But she could be the catalyst that starts a war millions of years in the making, and Tyler’s squad of losers, discipline-cases and misfits might just be the last hope for the entire galaxy.

What I liked

This book is entertaining, pretty fast paced, and it has space elves. Space. Elves. Do I really need to say more ?

Alright, so you also have space stations, space monsters, super cool spaceships, and even a space masquerade ball on a space station, covering up a space heist. Seriously. This book has everything I could ever ask for. I really liked the different alien species and their specific traits, although I would have liked a better display of the diversity of species that are mentioned in the beginning. 

Another point I really appreciated is the subversion of popular tropes. For those of you who haven’t read the book yet, I won’t go into too much detail, but if you did, or aren’t afraid of spoilers, the next paragraph is for you – it’s written in white, so it should show up when you select the text to see it ! Otherwise, you can just skip to the next one, which should be spoiler-free.

I thought the way the “member of the team betrays the others to the bad guys for a price” trope was used was brilliant ! I 100% believed in the treason up until the moment of the big reveal, and I loved the way the internal POVs were used to deceive you until the very end ! Those points of view are difficult to use well when you want to hide plot points from your readers, and I thought this one was brilliantly executed.

The reveal of the identity of the bad guys at the end was exactly the right amount of drama for me, and I liked the way the stakes kept getting higher and picked up the pace in the second half of the story. I got attached pretty quickly to the characters, and loved getting insight on their lives before the initiating event – and the LOTR references were a nice bonus !

What I didn’t like

There is, at some point in the book, mention of a “mating bond”. Now, I’m not fully against the idea in itself, but I thought the way in which the characters talked about it wasn’t really appropriate for the situation, and that there was an uncomfortable imbalance in the relationship that made the bond situation a bit… icky.

A second point that many other reviewers mentioned is that some of the character’s voices sounded a bit too close to each other, at times. I had to go back to the beginning of a couple of chapters to see whose point of view I was supposed to be reading. 

But the main thing that stuck out, for me, is the “sociopath” thing. You know which one. 

In the synopsis for this novel, the authors describe Zila, a young scientist and member of the team, as “A sociopath scientist with a fondness for shooting her bunkmates”. I disagree with the use of that term, and find it highly inappropriate in this situation

The sociopath etiquette is used as an excuse for the underdevelopment of the character and her use as a comic relief of sorts; even though the very few lines of her POV allude to extensive childhood trauma and complex emotions, both of which are mentioned but never discussed further in the book. As far as sociopaths go, she doesn’t exhibit much of their alleged traits, and it seems like the authors thought it’d just be a fun quirk to add to their character for a little bit more edginess. And frankly, it didn’t work at all for me.

Conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this book, and I would give it 5 stars if it weren’t for the few aforementioned flaws. As it is, I’m giving it a solid 4 stars and I’m hoping the next instalment in this series will fix some of those problems – maybe by giving us more character development for Zila, for example, or by making a little more sense of that mating bond bit ?

Did you get a copy of this book ? What did you think of it ? What’s your opinion on the mating bond trope in sci-fi novels ?

ARC review : Tweet Cute, by Emma Lord

I know, I know, I’m super late in posting this review. I’ve been trying to adapt to my new university schedule and I thought I had everything under control, but this post was supposed to be up a week ago, in time for the publication of the book… and it clearly wasn’t. But hey, better late than never, right ?

Tweet Cute is author Emma Lord’s debut novel, a contemporary YA rom-com filled to the brim with cuteness, lovable characters, and a ton of food references. It’s everything I was looking for in a book at the end of 2019, and I was absolutely delighted to get to read an ARC of it through NetGalley.

Synopsis

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

What I liked

Finally, a novel where teens using social media actually act like teens using social media ! The cultural references used by Jack and Pepper make the twitter war much more realistic than lots of supposedly “teen” characters in other YA novels, whose only references are their Hogwarts houses and how much they love Lady Gaga – we get it, Harry Potter is very popular, but it’s clearly not representative of everything that teens have an interest in !

The main characters, Pepper and Jack, were what really sold me on this book from the first couple of pages in. Their characterization is well done and they come off as believable teenagers, and the alternating POV helps the readers understand their actions and their behaviours, outside of what they think of each other.

The way they talk about their challenges and struggles is extremely relatable, and the author doesn’t hesitate to tackle the subject of unhealthy competition between students and the academic pressure to get into a good college, be the best of your class, and the effects it has on teenagers’ mindsets.

What I didn’t like

One of the plot points described in the longer synopsis available on Goodreads mentions an anonymous text-chat app that Jack built – and as much as this could have been an interesting way to connect the two characters, I felt like it was a bit too underdeveloped, and could have been cut out of the story without losing much in terms of character development. For me, this specific part would have had its place in a story without the twitter war, but the two in the same narrative felt a bit too heavy in drama.

A thing I would have liked to see more of was Pepper and Jack’s respective parents. Without giving away any spoilers, they obviously play a big role in their children’s lives, and in the reasons for the “twitter war” that starts everything, and I would have loved to have a bit more insight into their motivations and their stories.

Conclusion

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall, I had a really good time reading this book, and I would recommend it to YA contemporary readers without hesitation : it’s fun, lighthearted, and the romance is terribly cute but also realistic enough to be believable. 

Did you get a copy of this book, or did you add it to your 2020 TBR ? Did you write and post a review of it on your blog ? Feel free to link it in the comments so I can check it out !

ARC review : Only mostly devastated, by Sophie Gonzales

Finally, I’m writing this review I’ve been meaning to write for the past two weeks !

I’ll be honest and say that I asked for an e-ARC of this book without actually thinking I’d get one, and then… I did. I truly didn’t expect it, so I immediately downloaded it and read it in the subway on my way to and from class (really fast, because I just couldn’t put it down !).

Only mostly devastated is a fun, LGBTQ+ themed, YA contemporary romance with a 2020 release date, written by author Sophie Gonzales.

Synopsis

When Ollie meets his dream guy, Will, over summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself one prince short of a fairytale ending. To complicate the fairytale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country—Will’s school—where Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted—and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.

Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship. But as Will starts ‘coincidentally’ popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.

It’s time to admit something to you : I’ve never watched grease, ever.

So when this book was described as “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless, inspired by Grease.”, as someone who hasn’t read or watched any of those references, I wasn’t expecting anything from it, because – well, because I just didn’t know what to expect. And I think that actually helped me enjoy this book more than some other reviewers who tended to compare it a lot to those references.

What I liked

Fair warning : the next paragraphs have some spoilers. If you don’t want to see them, feel free to skip until the end of the section.

For a YA romance novel, I thought this book tackled some heavy themes, and it hit me pretty hard. For example – Ollie has to stay in that new city to help a sick relative, and the themes of illness and grief are talked about in detail in a few chapters. This hit really close to home for me : this past year, one of my closest friends passed away after a long illness – the very same one that affects Ollie’s relative in the book, and a few months later, I lost my grandfather of sudden illness.

The character’s feelings and expressions of emotion in the book resonated with me a lot, and I had to take a few breaks at some points. This quote, specifically, felt so real to me that I had to stop and cry for some time before I could start again.

I lost it in the hallway. I pressed my back against the wall and sank to the floor, crying as quietly as I could. I didn’t want to be here in this house knowing [character name] would never be in it again. It was her house. We came here when we visited her. It’d been her house my whole life. This wasn’t right. None of it was right.

That quote echoes exactly my own feelings about grief, and about my personal losses, and I thought the author had managed an extremely just portrayal of what you can go through in that kind of situation.

The themes of fat-shaming and homophobia were also talked about in this book, and I really appreciated it.

What I didn’t like

I felt like some of the character’s relationships could have been developed a bit more – like Lara and Ollie, and Will and his friends. I also had some trouble getting over my initial dislike of Will on behalf of Ollie, even when the main character himself started getting over it.

Conclusion

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Overall, this was a good book for me. I really liked reading it, even if it wasn’t as lighthearted and fun as I expected it to be, based on the cover and the description. I’d still recommend it to readers of YA contemporary books without hesitation !

That’s it for today !

ARC Review : Mooncakes, by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Mooncakes is a 2019 Graphic Novel written by Suzanne Walker and illustrated by Wendy Xu. Its release date is today, October 15th, which made it a perfect topic for this blogtober post !

Synopsis
mooncakes

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

What I liked
  • The art was really beautiful – I got this ARC from NetGalley so the last few pages weren’t in full color, but the rest of the book was, and it really made me appreciate the artist’s work ! The use of the colors in the story is captivating and helps understand a lot of details.
  • This is a very diverse book, but it never feels “forced” or badly done – the characters feel pretty authentic and it was easy to relate to them while reading, and understand their motivations.
What I didn’t like
  • I felt like it was lacking a bit in the plot department. For a book marketed towards Teens and YA, I was expecting a little more complexity in the intrigue. It stays enjoyable, of course, but feels a bit too simple for the themes it tries to talk about.
  • As you well know if you’ve read any of my posts about fantasy books, I love anything and everything magic. I would have liked to get to know more about the promising magic system that Mooncakes’s cover let me hope for, but it is mostly left unexplored through the course of the book, the author focusing more on the rest of her story than on explaining her world-building to the readers.
Conclusion

I’d give this book a solid 3 stars – not bad at all ! I overall enjoyed reading this and took my time to appreciate the art. I would maybe suggest it to an audience a little younget than the one currently reading YA, though, as the story itself isn’t one of the most complex there is.

Still, I’d definitely recommend this book if you have teenagers, or for something like the new acquisitions display of a school library !

The priory of the orange tree, by Samantha Shannon

The priory of the orange tree, by Samantha Shannon, is a standalone 848-pages novel published in February 2019, and hyped everywhere from booktube to bookstagram, including book blogs and book twitter, for months on end. So, of course, when my local library obtained a copy – and by that I mean when I asked them to loan it from another library at the other side of the province –  I had to read it immediately.

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Synopsis

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

What I liked

  • The cover is gorgeous.

You know the “don’t judge a book by its cover” saying, that everybody ignores because a good cover is often the first thing that attracts someone to a book in a bookstore ? It’s especially true with bookstagram – I find I tend to bookmark books on there because of a gorgeous cover, then when I’m at the library or the bookstore I check their Goodreads rating and synopsis and decide whether or not they’re worth my time. This one looked incredible, and the various recommendations I saw on all book-related platforms convinced me to put it immediatly on my TBR.

  • The characters

I got attached to Sabran, Ead and Tané really quickly, and loved the way each one had the time to evolve and grow during the course of the book. They’re not perfect, they all have their flaws – some more obvious than others – but they learn from their mistakes and adapt to their environment pretty fast.

I also would like to note the fact that this book has several well-written same-sex relationships, and that’s something I haven’t found that easily in fantasy or in YA without it being the main plot point. I really appreciate that kind of representation.

By the way, for those of you who have read the book (or aren’t afraid of spoilers) : here’s some very nice fanart ! (And a meme – also a spoiler !)

  • The magic system and the overall plot

I found the first very original (and I’m always a hoe for original systems of magic), and the second just complicated the way I like. It’s been compared to Game of Thrones a few times, and while I can’t say whether or not it’s an apt comparison since I haven’t read all Game of Thrones books, it is filled with political intrigues and will keep you on your toes until the very last pages.

  • The extremely rich world-building & the length

With 800+ pages, you have all the time you need to build your world and show it to your readers in as much detail as you want – and Samantha Shannon did that well.

I read this book on a very long work day, where my job was to sit behind a desk and wait until people came up to me with problems to solve, while keeping an eye on the company’s Facebook page – not the busiest day ever.

Where, for some people, the length and all that world-building felt heavy and unnecessary (I read a review from someone saying it took the 6 weeks to get through all of it because of that), I personally loved it and would like to see more of this type of novel in my TBR.

What I didn’t like

Not much. I would have liked to learn a bit more about the dragons, though, and the draconic plague felt a bit under-developed. My least favorite character was Niclays Roos, the exile desperate to return to his home and ready to do anything it took to do so, but I think that’s only because I read him as a mix between protagonist and antagonist, and found it a bit confusing.

Conclusion

You know how, when you put a review up on NetGalley, they ask you if you’d be willing to meet the author or to buy this book for a friend ? I’d 100% do both. In fact, I’m buying this book for my boyfriend’s birthday in a month, and if I ever get the chance (if she comes close enough to my city for me to go !), I’m getting it signed by the author.

If you’ve been wondering whether or not you should read this ? You definitely should.

If you’ve read this book and have a different opinion, or liked something I didn’t – or didn’t mention – feel free to comment !

Spin the dawn (The blood of stars, #1), by Elizabeth Lim

I’m in love.

I preordered this book on my birthday, June 10th, without really knowing what I was getting into – I’d seen the cover a couple of times, and followed the author on Twitter, and it seemed like a nice and fun book for the summer. I wasn’t disappointed : it arrived at my local Chapters on Thursday (I skipped my lunch break to bike to the store in 40°C weather to go get that book before it closed for the day) and I just couldn’t put it down once I started reading.

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Synopsis

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

On Goodreads, this book is described as “Project runway meets Mulan“, but I’d like to offer a different comparaison – Mulan meets the tailor’s version of Donkeyskin. If you don’t know what Donkeyskin is, there’s some information in English on its Wikipedia page, but the most important part is this :

She  (the princess) went to her fairy godmother who advised her to make impossible demands as a condition of her consent: a dress as bright as the sun, a dress the colors of the moon, a dress all the colors of the sky, and finally, the hide of his marvelous donkey (which produced gold, and thus was the source of his kingdom’s wealth). Such was the king’s desire to marry her that he granted all of them.

In the classic french tale, the king’s tailors work day and night to satisfy the princess’s demands – even though she doesn’t actually want them to succeed. Maia, for the most part of the book, does her best to obey her emperor’s commands, and sew the three magic gowns (three, like in Donkeyskin ! … sorry, I just really love that fairytale) he has asked from her.

What I liked

The writing is really smooth, and once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down anymore. The romance felt natural, and was very well done – I’m a sucker for a good enemies-to-friends-to-lovers trope…and some fake dating on top of that !

I got attached really easily to Maia and her desire to protect and support her family, and Edan’s backstory was very original and really interesting. The pretending-to-be-a-boy part was quite stressful, but had some pretty funny moments too (like Maia being the only one able to walk easily in her glass slippers, while all her male competitors struggled to take a few steps…), and I’m excited to see what will happen next !

The world-building is very well done, and I especially appreciated learning about the rules of magic in A’landi, and the mythology behind the story of the three dresses of Amara.

What I didn’t like

Almost nothing. I wish we would have gotten to see more of the Lady Sarnai, who seems like a really complex and interesting character, but I’m guessing we’ll get all of that in the next book in the series, so it’s not a big negative point. Some plot points were left unresolved, but again – this isn’t a standalone, so I didn’t read it as one, and won’t judge it as one.

Conclusion

Definitely one of my top 3 books of the year so far, 10/10 would recommend. If you like fairytales, brave women who fight for what they believe in, and creative magic, you absolutely need to get your hands on a copy of this book.

Did you get a copy of this book ? What character did you like the most ?

Descendant of the crane, by Joan He

I haven’t been able to do an actual book review since forever, so : Descendant of the crane is Joan He’s debut novel, released in April 2019 – and, for once, I actually did buy a book on the day it came out !

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Synopsis

Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, dreaming of an unremarkable life. But when her beloved father is found dead, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of a surprisingly unstable kingdom. What’s more, Hesina believes that her father was murdered—and that the killer is someone close to her.

Hesina’s court is packed full of dissemblers and deceivers eager to use the king’s death for political gain, each as plausibly guilty as the next. Her advisers would like her to blame the neighboring kingdom of Kendi’a, whose ruler has been mustering for war. Determined to find her father’s actual killer, Hesina does something desperate: she enlists the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death, since magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of Yan at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

What I liked

  • The characters are complex, and feel alive – they have their own character arcs, and I really liked the way they intervened in each other’s story. There’s also some excellent world-building, and the book isn’t too fast-paced (I know there’s a lot of pressure on authors to write books that are fast-paced all the time, but giving your reader some time to breathe between all your action scenes isn’t a bad thing at all !)
  • I like that it’s very different than what I’m used to see in that kind of story – usually, it’s a girl with no power, a secret princess who needs to get to the throne, or marry the prince, or a secret magician persecuted… but Hesina is the queen-to-be and she doesn’t need to go looking for a position of power – she already has it, and needs to focus on other things (like who killed her father, or how broken her country really is).
  • There is magic, but magic alone isn’t the be all end all of the story, and even if that might be a drawback for some, it isn’t one for me : I’m honestly a little bit tired of books where the only motivation of the characters is magic, and where the only explanation for someone’s betrayal – or grey morality – is…corruption by magic.
  • Courtroom drama ! I loved the courtroom drama. I want more of the courtroom drama. The courtroom drama is delightful and the ex-convict-now-lawyer was a really nice addition tho the mix. There are a lot of twists and turns that you don’t expect, but you never have a moment in the book when you have to stop and say « wait, what’s going on. I don’t understand. » You see what the characters do, and even if their vision of what’s going on isn’t always the truth, it doesn’t confuse the reader.

What I didn’t like

I’m going to put the ending in this section – not because it’s bad (on the contrary, it’s unexpected and really good), but because the book ends on a sort of cliffhanger, with Hesina’s arc not being fully finished. I was expecting a standalone book, and that’s (officially) what it is, but I’ve grown used to endings that fell satisfying in a way this one wasn’t. The author has addressed this multiple times, explaining how, in the publishing industry, you don’t really get to choose if you’ll be able to publish 3 books in a series or only one, and that she made Descendant of the crane to be a standalone book, eventually followed by companion books with different characters, in the same universe.

Another point is the character of Akira, which I feel like we didn’t see much of in the book. At some point, I was reading a scene, and then all of a sudden he speaks up – and I realized that I had completely forgotten that he was present in that scene. There was a romance element between him and Hesina, but it wasn’t very present.

Conclusion

I really wish I had preordered this book, because the merch that came with the preorders and the book boxes looks amazing ! Sadly, I didn’t have the money at the time – but I’ll definitely remember to try to preorder more when I see a book that I’d really like to buy !

A very nice bonus, though, is that there’s also a delightful “meet the characters” page on the author’s website ! You can see Hesina’s picture, for example, here !

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a refreshing summer read !

The Uglies trilogy, by Scott Westerfield

Have you ever read a book as a child, then read it again years later to see if it was truly as good as in your memory ? And if so, was it as good ?

That’s what I wanted to know when I picked up Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, and I must admit that I’m really glad that I decided to read it again.

Warning : this is going to be full of spoilers.

Uglies is the first book of a series of four, that takes place in a futuristic world where our civilization has been destroyed. In its place, individual cities stand, and the world is divided between the Uglies – people under 16 – and the Pretties – people over 16, who have undergone a chirurgical operation to make them perfect. A symmetrical face, well-defined muscles and no baby fat… and something else. Something wrong that makes the Pretties, for lack of a better word, airheaded.

Tally Youngblood, an Ugly whose only dream is to finally reach 16 and get the operation, is thrown into a world of rebellion and uncertainty when her new best friend, Shay, runs away right before her birthday.  The Special Circumstances, or “Cruel Pretties” as Tally calls them in her head, want her to go looking for her friend… and lead them to the anti-operation resistance. Not a single thing goes according to Tally’s plan(s), and she finds herself lost between what she’s always been told to want – the perfect life, the happy life, the Pretty life – and what she, individually, comes to desire : freedom.

One of the main themes of this series is the absence of choice (here comes the big spoilers !) : whenever she tries to make things right, Tally always ends up with an impossible choice to make – or a non-existent one.

She learns the truth about the Pretty operation… then has no choice but to give herself up and undergo it willingly, and trust her friends to be able to reach her and try their “cure” on her. As a Pretty, she once again manages to break through her conditioning, and through the wrong in her brain… only to be captured by the Special Circumstances, and be operated on a second time – but this time, she’s made into a weapon.

Where the first two books are relatively light, with Tally’s innocence keeping her from seeing just how dark and disturbing her world is, the third one, Specials, shows everything in a different light. Her worldview is compromised, and the reader can see it from the beginning : where the Pretty operation had made her bubble-headed, the Special one made her cruel and cold. The reader can see it – but she can’t.

I absolutely love Tally Youngblood. She’s a hero who has to fight, every day, to keep her mind clear and out of anyone else’s control but her own, and that’s something I appreciate a lot : she’s saving the world, yes. But she’s also saving herself, bit by bit, and saving yourself from something (or someone) who had absolute control over your life and every one of your choices is, in my opinion, one of the most brave and strong things anyone can do. The other characters are well made, with their own stories, lives and emotions, and the world-building is amazing.

This is a series of books I would definitely recommend (and it’s not only because f the nostalgia !), and read again !

There are a lot of heavy themes that are talked about a lot in the third book, though, that I think readers should be warned about, such as scarification, severe mental illness and anorexia. From my own experience, I felt like these themes were treated well, but my experience is limited to the things I have personally been through, and is in no way meant to be universal.

Did you read this series when it first came out ? If so, what did you think of it ? Are there any books you’ve read as a teen that you’d like to read again as an adult ?