Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by: Julie C. Dao

Summary:

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?

Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

The Review:

This was a book I sorta picked up on a whim mainly because I found out that the author was in the Boston area last week, and I had to work late so I missed it. It was also the premise that caught my interest mainly because I like fairy tale retelling, especially those from the villain perspective.

This is an East Asian retelling of the story of Snow White from the view of the future evil queen. This book also took full advantage of its setting and does a good job incorporating the East Asian setting and also a lot of its cultures and mythologies.  I also like how magic is used in this setting. Julie Dao put a lot of emphasis on Eastern magic and it really provided a lot of layers which made this fantasy world unique. While it was a retelling of the Evil Queen story from Snow White it did take a few liberties with the story. It also set up a lot of lore and myths throughout the book which I hope would be more fleshed out in future books, especially the one about the thousand lanterns.

The main character is Xifeng, and she was destined by a prediction by her aunt, Guma to be Empress of Feng Lu. She spends her life as a peasant and takes in her destiny into becoming Empress. Throughout the book you begin to see Xifeng’s progression into villainy and that is what I love about this book.  It was a slow and gradual progression and at times you really do feel for her and what she is going through. Xifeng is a character that had a lot of layers to her, and she reminded me a lot of Adelina, from the Young Elites.

There is also a small romance between Xifeng and Wei. While she does love Wei she keeps having to turn him away mainly because she has to focus on her mission into becoming Empress and feels that Wei would only get in the way in doing so. Even though I keep knowing how their relationship would end up, I still kept shipping them throughout the book.

With the world building, the book does a good job at also setting up the royals. It touches upon how the Emperor has a wife, the Empress but he also has concubines and the head concubine, Lady Sun, is a very wicked one. She is basically a scarier version of aunt Lydia from Handmaid’s Tale who is very obsessed with keeping her status as head concubine.

There is a lot of great secondary characters such as; Shrio who is a dwarf, who reminded me a lot of Tyrion Lannister, as he always gives wisdom to Xifeng and was little snarky while doing so. There is also the Crowned Prince who is said to be next in line for Emperor, who is also the commander of the King’s army. I almost did think that he would become a suitor for Xifeng, and it would turn into another love triangle but it didn’t. He was also a nice well rounded character.

In the end, I loved Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. It was great to read a fantasy book set in East Asia and Julie C. Dao really did a good job at impressing myself into this fantasy world. Xifeng, is a great character that I could really see go through a dark path in future books. It was also a great, enriching world to be in and would also see more of. I am excited to see where this story goes.

Grade: 5/5

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Windwitch by: Susan Dennard

Summary:

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

The Review:

Eariler this year I read Truthwitch and I really liked that book. While I am a huge fan of fantasy Truthwitch was a very different fantasy series which Incorporated a lot of magic in their world.

Windwitch, picks up almost right where Truthwitch left off, an explosion comes on Merik’s ship and Safi is shipwrecked. It mostly involves those characters trying to get back and having an adventure along the way. Iseult is trying to find Safi, and with a bounty on her head she works with Aeduan, a Bloodwitch who is tasked with bringing Iseult in.

While a minor problem I had with the book is that the leading characters are separated throughout the book, and I loved seeing Iseult and Safi’s relationship in Truthwitch but it was lacking in Windwitch. But I actually liked seeing their story arcs separate from each other. Safi spends most of the book with Vanass, and it was nice to for her to have a new ally. Meri is trying to get back home, with everyone thinking that he is dead he works with Cam. The relationship between Merik and Cam was really good, and I am glad that it wasn’t a romantic relationship.

What made Windwitch a good sequel was that it did a good job at expanding the Witchland world, including a sort of underbelly city called Shiitetown, which is filled with refugees. It was further developed some characters like Vivia, Merik’s sister. A lot of Vivia’s POV chapters dealt with her dealing with the politics of Nubrevna, and most of iot was her trying to be a new leader, with some people in her royal circle attempting to betray her. Vivia had a lot of development in the book and it they really expanded her character.

Camden is another character that was further introduced in this book with her relationship with Merik. She can still hold her own and spends most of the time defending Merik. Aeduan was one of the new characters that I felt had the best arc. While it may seem like a cliche trope in which someone who is tasked to kill her, ends up falling for her. While Aeduan doesn’t exactly fall of Iseult, he does grow to respect her.

I would also day that this book kinda suffers from second book syndrome. It has a lot of plot lines built up throughout that will hopefully be payed off in future books. It felt as if it was a set up book. But what it lacked in plot development it made up for in character development, all of the leading characters has significant development throughout the book, and it makes me excited about where they are going next.

The character I felt that had the strongest development was Merik. While in Truthwitch Merik was the sort of lovable rouge type, you really see that he cares about people and the world around. There was a point where he felt that he had to make a hard choice and either way it would have wrecked him. He also has to try to figure his place within the kingdom.

Iseult and Safi are still some of my favorite characters, and even though they spent the entire book apart from one another they still care about one another. A major strength about Truthwitch and Windwitch, is their strong bond and I really hope they have a great reunion in the next book.

In the end, Windwitch was a sequel that delivered in terms of character development. While it was lacking in plot development, it was made up for with fleshed out character arcs, both new and returning characters. I am very excited to see where this story goes.

Grade: 4.3/5

Now I Rise by: Kiersten White

Summary:

After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.

The Review:

Last year, I read the first book And I Darken, and it was one of my favorite books that I read last year, so of course I was excited to read its sequel, and it really didn’t disappoint and was a really great sequel.

The book picks up some time after the ending of And I Darken with Lada trying to reclaim Wallachia. I like Lada in this book, she is starting to become a lot more darker in this book. I like that she has a bigger leadership role, she reminded me a lot of Adelina from The Young Elites. She is very blood thirsty, but what made it good was the fact that she was still sympathetic. She does a lot of awful things throughout the book, but in a way you see that there is a reason for her doing those awful things.

Radu, a character who I felt was very whiny in the previous book was a lot better developed in this book. He spends most of book basically torn between his allegiance to Mehmed and his sister, Lada. When asked to be a double agent for Mehmed he starts to learn about Mehmed’s dealings and wondering if there is more than meets the eye. I liked his relationship with Cyprian was really well developed and I liked his character. Radu was a lot more fleshed out in this book and is starting to become one of my favorite characters.

While the book wan’t was action heavy as other fantasy books it relied primarily on military strategy and forming alliances with kingdoms mainly with the Italians. I loved seeing the Italians, it was great that we were able to see other kingdoms within the series and it was nice to see it expanded upon. It also dives heavily into the political aspect of the world, which I always found was very lacking in other YA novels.

I would also describe this book as sort of a “bridge book”. While it isn’t as plot driven, it was very character driven. It also had a lot of build up that will hopefully pay off in the next book. I don’t know if this will be a trilogy or will there be more books, but if any of the first two books if anything I think the series should only get better.

In the end, Now I Rise was a fantastic sequel that expanded on both its universe and its characters. The two leads had a lot more development and had a lot more character progression. I really have high hopes for this series and I hope it gets better.

Grade: 4.5/5

 

Dividing Eden by: Joelle Charbonneau

Summary:

Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?

The Review:

This is a book I wanted to pick up, mainly because of the premise. I liked the Hunger Games mixed in within the fantasy genre and how both Carys and Andreus had to battle for a throne they didn’t know they would have to.

While the book does sort of start off a little slow, once the conflict starts, in which the king and crowned prince were assassinated, that is where the story picks up. In the beginning you the relationship that both Carys and Andreus has as twins. Also with the fact that they weren’t groomed for the crown.

You really see the relationship between Carys and Andreues. Carys always feels protective of her brother, and when hey are given the trials to determine who gets the crown, she immediately is against it and is trying to come up with deceitful ways in order to protect each other and put one over on the Elders.

Throughout the book they are put on trials to see which one will take the crown, but as the story goes on both of the twins are pushed to their limits. The Trials of Succession felt almost like a messed up Triwizard Tournament, and it tested how Carys and Andreus would be as leaders.

In terms of the Twins, I liked Carys a lot more. I feel like a lot of the development went to her character as she was the more critical thinker. While I did also like Andreus, I felt that his character lacked a lot of development. Maybe the next book will further devleop his character.

I also liked a lot of the side characters, in particularly Imogen and Erick. Imogen was betrothed of Andreus’s brother Micah, but was also having an affair with Andreus. She is a seer and could tell the future of the Kingdom. Erick is a sort of love interests for Carys, while yes there was a love element, it was developed well and didn’t distract from the story.

The book also had some really good twists that I really don’t want to spoil, while some you could see coming, others would take you by surprise. It also has some good magical elements which sort of surprised me but I enjoyed anyway.

In the end, Dividing Eden was a very good book. While it was a little light on the plot, the characters were very engaging and it had a great cliff hanger ending that makes me excited for the next book.

Grade: 4/5

Ruined by: Amy Tintera

Summary:

Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war. She lacks the powers of her fellow Ruined. Worst of all, she witnessed her parents’ brutal murders and watched helplessly as her sister, Olivia, was kidnapped.

But because Em has nothing, she has nothing to lose. Driven by a blind desire for revenge, Em sets off on a dangerous journey to the enemy kingdom of Lera. Somewhere within Lera’s borders, Em hopes to find Olivia. But in order to find her, Em must infiltrate the royal family.

In a brilliant, elaborate plan of deception and murder, Em marries Prince Casimir, next in line to take Lera’s throne. If anyone in Lera discovers Em is not Casimir’s true betrothed, Em will be executed on the spot. But it’s the only way to salvage Em’s kingdom and what is left of her family.

Em is determined to succeed, but the closer she gets to the prince, the more she questions her mission. Em’s rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life—and her family—on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake.

The Review:

This is another book I decided to pick up on a whim and I have also seen reviews for Avenged, the sequel to the book.

One thing that surprised me about the book was how it started off. It puts you right in the middle of the action, with Em and her friends trying to infiltrate the enemy kingdom of Lera, by posing as the prince’s bride to be. Right of the bat you see Em kill someone in order to do so. and it surprised me how quickly she was able to do so. It establishes her as a character who has a lot of moral grayness to her.

The beginning of the book also establishes her motivation. After seeing her mother and father killed, with her sister kidnapped, she feels that she needs to do what she she needs to do in order to have revenge on those who wronged her and killed her family. It reminded me a lot of Arya from Game of Thrones.

The main plot surrounds Em pretending to be a bride-to-be of Prince Casimir or Cas, and trying to get information on the whereabouts of her sister, Olivia, and also act as a spy for Ruina. She, or course begins to fall for Cas. While it may be a bit cliched, and of course most have seen this story before. But the difference is how the story and characters are framed. The main strength is how you see Cas’ perspective, mostly due to his POV chapters, which establishes his relationship with his mother and father and how the kingdom is handled. It made Cas a more fleshed out character, rather than a plot device.

I also liked the world building and the lore. The people of Ruina have special abilities, which is why they are hated. It reminded me a lot of The Young Elites in that regards. While Em does lack the abilities that her people has, you were able to see the special abilities from the other characters. The book also puts you right in the middle of the conflict, and you learn about the world through conversations, so it didn’t feel like info dump.

I also felt while the ending was a bit rushed, I did like the ending, it was a really good page turner with a lot of great character moments for both Em and Cas. You also see how their relationship becomes more fleshed out. It wasn’t all insta-love, Em began to fall for Cas mainly because he wasn’t like his father.

In the end, I enjoyed Ruined. While yes, on the surface it does come across like YA bingo. The characters and plot make up for it. I thought it was really good and I hope to read the sequel.

Grade: 4/5

Hype or Like Friday: The Crown’s Game by: Evelyn Skye

Happy Friday everyone,

and here is a Hype or Like Friday review for The Crown’s Game by: Evelyn Skye

Hype or Like Friday is a meme created by JillianLarkin, and Britt to discuss about hyped books and see if they’re hyped up or not. There would be book of the month that you can read, and the post your review for it on the end of the month, then rate it whether it’s a hype it or like it.

Summary:

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip-smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love…or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear—the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

The Review:

I was very excited that this book was picked for Hype or Like Friday, because it was on my TBR for quite some time and I was glad to have an excuse to read the book, even though I have heard some  mixed things about it.

This book reminded me a lot of an Ember in the Ashes. mainly within its fantasy setting set within a historical time period and it also mixes in a lot of Ottoman empire within the story. The world building was well done, not as good as other fantasy books which entrenched you into their world. I liked that it gave us just enough information about the world without it feeling like info dumping.

The story is told from two POVs, Vika and Nikolai; two of the combatants of The Crown’s Game, which is a tournament that tests their magical skill in order to become an Imperial Enchanter, the loser would have to killed. Both of them are really engaging characters. Vika, is someone who was raised in isolation mostly by her father. I like how snarky and independent she is, but she is also very reserved especially with the fact that she may have to kill someone.

Nikolai is someone who sees the Crown Game as a way out. He was orphaned at at young age and spends most of his time with the Prince, Pasha. I like his friendship with Pasha,you don’t see a lot of male friendships in YA books and I am glad that this one was well developed. Pasha, was a crowned prince but he didn’t act like a spoiler prince, I also liked his courtship with Vika, he actually felt that he had to get to know her. While there is a love triangle between Vika, Pasha and Nikolai it wasn’t to distracting from the actual plot.

The Crown Game is sort of like a twisted Tri-Wizard tournamnt, it tested the skills of Vika and Nikolai and what type of enchanters they will become. While the Crown Game is the back drop for the book, it takes a few turns especially dealing with Nikolai and who he really is. I thought the twist was actually really done.

One of the problems I sort of have is a lack of main antagonist. Without giving to much away, I felt that the villain felt a little tact on without any much development. I also wanted to know a bit more about the conflict. I hope the sequel will flesh out those parts of the book.

In the end, I enjoyed The Crowns Game. It had great characters that kept me engaged at every page and it took full advantage of the Ottoman empire and its setting. I hope some of back stories could be more fleshed out along with its villain

My Grade is: LIKE

Grade: 4/5