I am toying with the idea of doing wrap-ups in place of lengthy reviews for each of my reads, simply because of the time I put into a review and the lack I have of said time. When something starts to feel more like a chore than fun, I try to take a step back, especially if it was something I started doing for the joy of it in the first place. I do have reads that I'll likely have just too much to say about--and in the case of such excitement (or adverse reaction), expect a full-length review. But for the time being, I'm going to try mini-reviews as part of this monthly wrap-up, and see how it goes!
So, I had six books on my August TBR, which was a little ambitious given my hectic lifestyle and the general busyness of last month. So I consider it a job well done to have completed four of the six!
Hunted | Meagan Spooner
Technically I started this one the last two days of July, but since it finished in August I'm counting it. Hunted is easily my new favorite Beauty and the Beast retelling, for so many reasons.
This is not a traditional retelling, and the time the author dedicates to building the relationship between hunter and hunted is fabulous. This is no quick love story, where our Beauty sees the good in the Beast immediately. Yeva is driven by hatred and fury, and she will kill the Beast by any means. She is not swayed by simple niceties, by her slowly growing knowledge of his cursed state. He will die, she has promised it, because his death will bring her peace.
Blend in Slavic and Russian folklore, and the haunting magic of a medieval Russian forest, and we have a very, very different tale than the one I've loved for most my life.
(This is one of those I was super excited about, thus you can read my full review here.)
The Library Of Fates | Aditi Khorana
Once again we have a potentially fascinating story leaning too heavily on all the pretty ideas it does not explore deeply enough along with its pretty cover. This was a highly anticipated read for me. The cover is gorgeous, the Indian setting is one I've been obsessing over, and the new folklore a story like this promises is exciting. I felt as excited for this as I was last year to read The Star Touched Queen, but I remember how poorly that went so I was equally cautious. Thankfully, the storytelling and cohesiveness were bounds above The Star Touched Queen, but Library still fell short for me.
It promises with both the premise and the cover a no nonsense heroine and let me be clear, that is not our heroine. Amrita is a spoiled princess in many ways, none of which are necessarily her fault, but my problem with her isn't that she started out that way. I take issue with characters who have absolutely no conviction. In love with one person one moment, another the next. On a mission for one thing here, another there. Loyal to one stranger in a heartbeat, loyal to herself almost never.
When I think on summarizing the plot, I absolutely love it. It plays with time and lost goddesses, mysticism and fate, love and reincarnation and the exploration of life beyond what we know. All themes I adore. Except once again, all the deeper themes and potential for an epic story of love and self-discovery fell lazily to the side while we trekked along with Amrita on her very, very convenient journey to find her true love. The last 25% alone is what helped this go from 1 star to 3 for me. So when I summarize the plot, I pull all the very best symbolism and mythology from this tale and love it, while leaving out the muck that drags it down.
Though painfully obvious at times as well as convenient and extremely rushed, The Library of Fates told a tale of which I loved the idea, just not the delivery.
Daughter of the Burning City | Amanda Foody
"My Gomorrah is a home. Their Gomorrah is a show."
Surprising, unique, well-crafted, and full of twists I did not see coming.Set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, this story follows Sorina and her family of "freaks" as they survive amidst the mysterious and oftentimes dangerous world of a travelling festival. What makes them special is not just the fact that they are a family comprised of a fire-breathing baby, a winged teenager, a tree-man, a fish-man, a very flexible sister, a matron, and a man of nails, but rather that each of them is an imaginary creation of Sorina's mind. Illusions, brought to life starting when she was a child and slowly growing more sophisticated. They make up the Festival's Freak Show, with none of the spectators ever the wiser to the fact that it is Sorina pulling the strings.
Sorina herself is also a freak, eyeless, though through some unknown power she is able to see her surroundings as clear as anyone. I enjoyed the system of magic, mostly the way it set its rules and does not break them. Sorina has limits that are established from the start and she does not suddenly transcend herself to overcome impossible tasks. Even when the fact that she can see despite being eyeless is explained it fits within the rules.
When members of her family begin turning up murdered, questions Sorina never considered before push her to discover not only who the murderer is, but who exactly she is and what her true power may be.
The story got a little slow in the middle and I felt myself dragging through for a bit, but the mysteries and ultimate revelations that come throughout the last quarter are well worth it. A few times I thought I had a guess of where we were headed, only to discredit my own theories and revisit them again a few pages later. I did not see some of the twists, and while sometimes in tales like this the twists can be far-fetched, everything about each of these made sense. I was satisfied with nearly everything about the ending, from Sorina's true abilities realized to the new roles each character finds. Without spoiling anything, the only aspect I am still unsure how I feel about is Luca and his ending. The revelation of his character is fabulous, and I should have, would have, seen it coming I think had I not been so convinced by Gomorrah and the magic it both accepts as normalcy and eyes with hypocritical derision. But I still don't really know if I particularly like the idea Luca's end left me with...that no outsider could ever see Sorina for who she was and love her as such without any special circumstances.
I definitely enjoyed the utter uniqueness of this story, and the exploration of what exactly makes a person real in the eyes of not just others, but also their own.
A Darker Shade of Magic | V.E. Schwab
I've been waiting a while to read this one. It's one of those stories I bought ages ago because of all the hype surrounding the series and V.E. Schwab in general (and, let's be honest, she totally deserves it because she's awesome). But as these things go, the more I tell myself to read something because I will likely love it, the more I push it to the back of my TBR. Finally, FINALLY, I read it. And yes, Kell is amazing...not just because he is one of the only remaining Antari, but also because of how human he is. I loved him and his many-sided coat.
For the most part, the story is a very simple one. There are three Londons (think parallel universes), and only the Antari can cross through the doors to each using blood magic. The magic has limits, and the more even a powerful man like Kell uses, the more he will be drained. Each London has a different degree of magic - Grey London would be "our" world, with little to no magic. Red London is Kell's London, and it is bright and vibrant with magic in everything and everyone. White London too has magic, yet it has run too wild and the world is drained of life and color. With the exception of the quite-powerful rulers, only desperate rituals to bind small magic to the body grant anyone else in this London magic. And once there was Black London, where magic ran freely through everything and burned too bright, burning through humanity and the very world.
When Kell is tricked into carrying a dangerous remnant of Black London through to his London, wild magic is released and a quest begins to clear his name, avoid the fellow Antari who hunts him, and get the piece of Black London back where it belongs. We meet Lila along the way, an aspiring pirate for all intensive purposes, and she is dragged (or rather drags herself) along with Kell to escape her dreary London and find adventure in a new one.
The story is simple and follows a very straight-forward path, but mostly I enjoyed the execution. I appreciate Schwab's writing because she is clear, she is concise, and she is above all else a talented writer who is meticulous with her details. From and editor's standpoint, that is all I can ever ask for. And she has the creativity for such imaginative worlds and the foresight and ability to connect all her dots, make sure she has smooth plots with no holes, and she doesn't waste time forcing in unnecessary subplots too early. There are questions about Kell's past and Lila's that were unanswered, but we'll get to them in time. We may see something between Lila and Kell in the future, but for this chapter of the story it just didn't suit. And the fact that I'm pretty sure we all know what Lila is after that colossal hint towards the end is just another discovery I can't wait to make with both her and Kell in the coming books. But for ADSOM, it had all it needed to be an excellent intro into all the Londons.
Now, on to A Gathering Of Shadows, and hopefully Black London...