Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book Review: The Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa

I know, I know. Some of you are probably thinking, faeries? Aren't they tiny, glittery creatures concocted for the imaginations of three-year old girls bedecked in tutus and crowns? Call me a kid, but I've been enchanted by Julie Kagawa's "The Iron Fey" series ever since I read the first book. I think a little piece of me died when I read the final book in the original series, only to be revived when "The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten" series was announced! "The Iron Traitor" is the second book in this sequel series, and was released just last month. And let me tell you, the fey in the books are not your typical frilly faeries.

"Normal" is not possible when it comes to the life of Ethan Chase. Being the younger brother of one of the most powerful fey in the Nevernever wasn't meant to be easy, and, after an unexpected journey to the land of fey, "normal" is out of the question. But when he learns that his nephew Kierran is missing and seeking any means possible to save the summer faery he loves, Ethan finds himself sucked back into magical mischief and fey politics. Now, however, the stakes are even higher. Not only does he have to protect his stubborn girlfriend Kenzie, but Ethan also has to stop Kierran before he does something unthinkable, something that will give rise to the dangerous fey known as the Forgotten, and fracture the human and faery worlds forever.

The characters in "The Iron Fey" series have always, without fail, made me fall in love with them. I remember becoming so invested in the adventures of Meghan, Ash and Puck that I devoured even the in-between novellas in the series--I just needed more! Luckily for me, they make reappearances in "The Iron Traitor", and it really is like meeting old friends after a long time. Puck is as mischievous as ever, and it was thrilling to see Ash show up again (though this may or may not be because I ended up having a creepy fictional crush on the guy). And, of course, you have Grimalkin, the Cheshire Cat-like character, ripe with sarcasm and wry "better than thou". I think I squealed a little when he showed up in the novel! The way Ms. Kagawa ties in the original and sequel series together is both generous and exciting, and builds on the world she'd created previously in ways that continue to astonish you at every turn.

The main characters of this series, however, are Ethan, Kenzie and Kierran. Being in the perspective of a male protagonist is always interesting to me, especially when it comes to YA novels. I love reading about Ethan's emotions and thoughts throughout the novel, especially as he comes to terms with his feelings for Kenzie and letting some of that 'tough guy shield' go as he exposes himself to more vulnerability. The ways in which Ethan's character develops as the story progresses allow for greater reader investment in the novel, not to mention establish a connection between the main character and the reader. I do have to say, however, that I don't quite feel as invested in his character as I did in the original series, though this may not have anything to do with his portrayal! Kenzie, though admittedly a little annoying at times, is still a strong, determined character who is a perfect match for Ethan, helping him crumbles the walls he'd erected for self-defense. The most intriguing character in "The Iron Traitor", however, is Kierran, since the entire novel centers around his actions as he tries to save Annwyl. I loved their tragic romance, and to see him change as he struggles to save the faery he loves was extremely interesting to read about.

As always, Ms. Kagawa does an incredible job in expanding the world of the novel. She takes us to New Orleans, full of mystic and voodoo and all that jazz (pun intended), creepy, abandoned houses, and, of course, Nevernever. It's always intriguing to enter the land of the fey, what with all the court politics, exotic and entrancing creatures, and wickedly beautiful landscapes. And what's all the more intriguing is that Ms. Kagawa evokes this entire, expansive world through words alone! The writing itself is never purple, nor is it simplistic, with just the right balance of descriptions and action to set the novel at a quick and engaging pace. The storyline never really dropped, and always remained exciting until that one heckuva cliffhanger!

Overall, "The Iron Traitor" is an incredibly delectable addition to "The Iron Fey" series, with a wonderful cast of characters you can't forget, a deceptively enchanting world, and an engaging, fast-paced plot. I highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a good adventure--or to indulge in their childhood obsession with faeries!

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Horde by Ann Aguirre

I imagine that there's a crazy amount of pressure on a writer when it comes around to writing the final book in a series. You've built up a new and exciting world, created characters your readers fell in love with, and woven a compelling plot throughout the series--now what? You're left facing the enormous task of wrapping things up in a way that not only satisfies yourself but also satisfies your readers! Talk about pressure. "Horde" was released toward the end of October, signaling the conclusion of Ann Aguirre's "Razorland" trilogy--and of Deuce and Fade's journey from the enclaves.

Salvation is doomed. The monsters have surrounded the town, and there's no escape from the death and destruction the horde brings with them. But the odds have always been stacked against Deuce, and the Huntress in her won't let them get in the way of beating the Freaks, no matter what the cost. With her knives in her hand and her companions by her side, Deuce is determined to secure peace, even if it means pushing aside the nagging feeling that the monsters are somewhat human. This time, however, more than the fate of a single enclave or outpost is at stake. This time, Deuce carries the banner for the survival of all humanity.

What I really enjoyed reading about in "Horde" was the character development of Deuce as the story progressed. Sure, she was always pretty badass from the start, but in "Outpost", the second book of the trilogy, you saw her get in touch with her more vulnerable side, the one that finds comfort and love in family. In "Horde", you see her grow as a leader as she faces the responsibilities of saving humanity. Despite the fact that she's only a mere sixteen-years old or so, Deuce has always been a mature heroine who has her feet firmly planted on the ground (except when she's swinging kicks at enemies, of course). Being a leader of an army, no matter how small at first, is no easy task, yet Deuce deals with it in a clever and levelheaded manner, and it's really admirable to see someone so young become someone that strong. In a similar thread, I also, of course, loved the development of Deuce and Fade's relationship in "Horde". Despite the whole issue with Fade having been kidnapped by the Freaks and stuff in "Outpost", their relationship grows in a way that only such hard circumstances can bring about. No matter what happens, they'll always find their way to each other. I just about died whenever they looked at each other and promise that they'll always be together. Just. Died.

The other characters in "Horde" were interesting to read about as well, especially Stalker and Tegan, both of whom were part of Deuce and Fade's original group in the previous book. Stalker's unrequited love for Deuce was a little bit of a bummer, but what was more engaging was his struggle with his past actions when he was part of the gangs. Without giving too much away, I just feel like Stalker's the perfect tragic hero, and it was really interesting to see how his character developed throughout the novel. As for Tegan, what I found most exciting with her was how she strengthened both physically and emotionally, and through that shed the insecurities from her past and took on new responsibilities as a doctor to help others. Of course, you have Momma Oaks, Edmund and Rex, who adopted Deuce and showed her what being part of a family is, and their familial bond grows even stronger in "Horde", which was undeniably sweet to read about. A special mention also has to go out to Morrow, who I really enjoyed reading about! He's such an interesting and exciting character, and I really liked his role throughout the novel.

Having said all of this, I do have to admit that I was pretty disappointed with the storyline of "Horde". This isn't to say that the events in the plot itself were boring--they were actually significant and allowed the characters to develop in new and engaging ways. Instead, it was the way that the storyline was conveyed to the readers that didn't really do it for me. I don't recall feeling the same way while reading the previous books, but I just felt like Ms. Aguirre's writing style was too passive and too descriptive to really capture the great action and emotion going on in the plot. It just seemed to downplay the sheer excitement of the battles and even the climax of the entire trilogy--it was over really quickly, and I felt like I'd missed out on something big. It made it kind of slow to read at times, as well, which is a huge shame considering how great the characters and the actual events of the storyline are!

Overall, "Horde" is a fairly exciting finale to the "Razorland" trilogy, with a truly kickass heroine, an engaging cast of characters and a storyline that does a great job in tying everything together. What dimmed it down a little, however, was its overly passive and slow narrative. Nonetheless, it's definitely worth a read--it's an adventure that's both exciting and beautiful.

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Retellings are fascinating--there's no way around it. I mean, taking something old and metamorphosing it into something of yours? It gives us a completely different way of seeing things, like that optical illusion of the pretty young girl/old grandma. It's mind blowing! Rick Riordan's "The Heroes of Olympus" series, as I'm sure everyone knows, takes the gods and heroes of the traditional Greek myths and gives it a modern twist tailored for readers today. "The House of Hades" is the fourth installment to the series, and was released just last month! I'm pretty sure it flew off the bookshelves in no time--there's a reason Percy Jackson is such a big name!

Ever since Percy and Annabeth plummeted into the pits of the Underworld, things haven't been looking good for the demigods. The Greeks and the Romans are gearing up for war against each other, and Gaea's monstrous armies continue to rise. Jason, Piper, Hazel, Frank and Leo have to find the mortal side of the Doors of Death and help Percy and Annabeth out of the Underworld, if, that is, they survive the horrors of Tartarus. The clock is ticking for the prophesied Seven--or it might be too late before the giants free Gaea and the world is plunged into the biggest war in millennia.

It's always exciting to see the demigods of Camp Half-Blood again in a way that's like meeting up with friends you haven't seen in ages. I think it comes from the fact that you bond with the characters in a way that's only possible after being with them for eight years--which is precisely how long a lot of readers have spent with Percy Jackson! In "The House of Hades", I loved the development of Percy and Annabeth's relationship as they traversed the pits of Tartarus. You really see them grow more as a couple than individuals in this part of the series, and it's so heartening to see how committed they are to each other despite the crazy amount of hellish (literally!) obstacles they face. There are so many sweet moments--as sweet as being in the gruesome Underworld can get--that really remind readers of how young they actually are, yet there are also moments when you see that their relationship transcends the normal relationships of mortal teens in both depth and maturity. I've always been a huge Percy and Annabeth fan (Pernabeth? Anncy?), and this certainly satisfied my mulish insistence on some sort of romance in books.

The newer demigods are equally as awesome to be with in the series. While they're all part of a team against the dark forces (cue ominous music here), what's really interesting to read about are their individual issues that they struggle with. For example, Hazel knows that she has to face some adversary witch in front of the Doors of Death, and that if she fails, Percy and Annabeth may be stuck in Tartarus forever. She also has to deal with the fact that her father is Pluto, though he's hardly been around for her--oh yeah, not to mention the fact that she's from history! Talk about issues. Another character I liked following throughout the book was Frank, who undergoes a huge amount of development, more so than any other character in "The House of Hades". He really matures as he embraces his responsibility and role as a son of Ares/Mars, but it's also endearing to see him struggle with these changes, since he started off as a pudgy Asian kid who could change into animals. On the flip side of the coin, I have to admit I wasn't really feeling Jason's character. I felt like he was kind of pushed to the side a little, and he ended up as more of a passive, stock character than anything.

As for the plot of "The House of Hades", it remained interesting and fun throughout, which I think was especially helped by the multi-perspective points of view. However, while quite a lot happened to the demigods, both in the mortal world and in Tartarus, I felt like it wasn't as compelling as it could've been. I got the impression that the book as a whole is kind of a filler or detour before the final climax of the series, especially the portions where we followed the other five demigods. I get that the entire point of these crazy heroic journeys and quests is to go from one place to another, and face different foes and overcome different obstacles, but I feel like if Mr. Riordan had condensed it a little more and got to the point a tad more quickly, it would've been much more gripping.

All in all, "The House of Hades" is a great fourth installment to "The Heroes of Olympus" series, with a lot of exciting character development both in individual and in relationships. I can't wait to get my hands on the fifth book, "The Blood of Olympus" (talk about an ominous title), though it's absolutely killing me that I have to wait a whole year for it!

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, November 2, 2013

November '13 Releases!

Whoah. How is it November already? It's already the penultimate month of 2013, and it's crazy to look back on the year and see how much has happened and how much has changed. What's always unchanging, though (and luckily for us book nerds in search of a good adventure to keep us sane and alive!), is the slew of incredible books that are released every month! Now that's something to be thankful for.

"Champion" (Legend #3) by Marie Lu
Release date: Nov. 5

"Shock and Awe" (Sidewinder #1) by Abigail Roux
Release date: Nov. 11

"World After" (Penryn & the End of Days #2) by Susan Ee
Release date: Nov. 19

"Pawn" (The Blackcoat Rebellion #1) by Aimee Carter
Release date: Nov. 26

"Angel Fever" (Angel #3) by L.A. Weatherly
Release date: Nov. 26