Empire of Sand – Tasha Suri

Empire of Sand cover

“Mehr woke up to a soft voice calling her name.”

Mehr is a pampered if illegitimate governor’s daughter, a virtual prisoner by dint of her gender in the culture she lives in, and a hated reminder of father’s first love and thus enemy of her stepmother. She is also a half-caste, and the half that comes from her mother is not blood that is seen favourably in the Empire. The stories say that the Amrithi are descended from the desert spirits, the Daiva, and hold power in their blood. And it seems as if the immortal head of the Empire’s religion might be taking notice of those like Mehr…

Much as I enjoyed this book, I think perhaps the desert setting and South Asian-inspired fantasy has been a bit too prevalent in my reading of late (although still not as cliched as the Tolkien-esque fantasy of the past half-century, natch!), as I did spend part of this book feeling like I’d read it before. Which is a shame, because otherwise it’s pretty good.

I was a little put off by the themes of women as second class, ‘delicate’ flowers, and even more so by the forced marriage to a complete stranger – however obviously that all turns out. As ever, the teen romance-y type stuff left me pretty cold.

The Daiva also reminded me of too many other things, but in fairness they were well handled. The magic of dance was at least a bit of a different approach, and I genuinely liked the concept of an Empire built on subverting the dreams of gods.

Overall, though, this was an engrossing enough read, just didn’t quite hit the spot with me for reasons not entirely its own fault. Possibly had been over-hyped, too, when in reality I found it a decent, slightly above-average YA offering.

Paperback: 432 pages / 34 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Books of Ambha book 1
Read from 30th December 2018 – 6th January 2019

My rating: 7/10

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Dreams of Gods and Monsters – Laini Taylor

dreams of gods and monsters cover

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil pressed their hands to their hearts and started the apocalypse.”

(As always, this is a review of the last in a series, so anything I mention might in some ways be a spoiler for the first two books. Read on at your own peril!)

The stories of Karou and Akiva, chimera and seraphim, Earth and Eratz, have spun through two novels already – Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight. In this final part of the trilogy, we get our answers, as well as some further players: what are Akiva’s long-lost relatives, the Stelians, capable of? And who is the mysterious Eliza, plagued by nightmares and terrified of being found?

I had an odd time reading this book. With other things on the go, I wondered more than a few times if I’d lost interest, but every time I picked it up I was sucked back into the story. As soon as I put it down, though, I wasn’t quite so fussed. Not sure what I make of this! I am, however, very glad to have finished this – any! – series, given my awful habit of ‘having a little break’ and forgetting what previously happened!

As in the previous books, I have to say that the teen-ish romance bits didn’t do a great deal for me, although somehow things felt better handled here. To begin with I was a little irritated by the addition of new elements this far into events – things like Eliza, whoever she might be – but they are worked into the story very well and everything pulls together excellently by the end.

Likewise, I also felt – although it worked out very well by the end! – that we had an ending to the bulk of the main plot two thirds of the way through this. The remaining threads, however, had been woven lightly through the rest, so it wasn’t entirely disjointed. Still, it was a little… something?

Regardless, I’d certainly recommend the series if it sounds at all like your cup of tea, as I enjoyed reading it a great deal. Some of the ideas are very cool, and I hope will stick with me; the writing is strong; I perhaps just wasn’t a fan of the romance angle (which was rather half the point!).

Hardback: 613 pages / 86 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone book 3 (of 3)
Read from 31st July – 9th September 2018

My rating: 7.5/10

Tempests and Slaughter – Tamora Pierce

tempests and slaughter cover

“Arram Draper hung on the rail of the great arena, hoisting himself until his belly was bent over the polished stone.”

Showing a flair for magic, Arram is sent to the university where his skills put him on a fast-track programme. Younger than the other students, he bonds with two other advanced-course students, one of whom happens to be a prince of the realm.

As the book progresses, so do Arram’s studies. Friendships deepen, and different types of magic are explored. Meanwhile, the politics surrounding Prince Ozorne grow ever murkier…

Many, many years ago, I absolutely loved a book called Alanna. It ends on something of a cliff-hanger, but pre-internet (yes, I’m old! ;)) I never found out about any sequels. Well, turns out that Ms Pierce is quite prolific, and that many of her books share a universe. So, there are at least 20 books between Alanna and Tempests and Slaughter, which is a lovely thing to go back to!

If, like me, you’re not really up on any of the other books, that works just fine – this can be read as a standalone. If you’re already familiar with the series, then this is a bit of a back story to the ‘Numair’ mentioned in the series name.

The style of the book is quite light – as in, skips over long periods of time, gives you small events not just catastrophe – but there are still some rotting corpses and brutal gladiators. The whole thing has a sort-of resolution, but there’s clearly more to come in the series – and I’m very glad for it!

NetGalley eARC: 480 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: The Numair Chronicles book 1
Read from 21st August – 4th September 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Darkest Minds (2018)

darkest minds poster

A mysterious plague wipes out most of the juvenile population, but those who are left develop powers. Colour-coded from super-intelligent green up to deadly reds, the remaining youngsters are rounded up and put into camps – well, the greens, blues, and yellows, that is. Reds and oranges… not so much. Knowing her life is at stake, Ruby uses the power she still doesn’t understand to make everyone think she’s a green.

Six years pass (and, I mean – come on!!) and Ruby’s subterfuge can no longer go undiscovered. On the run, she meets up with other ‘rebel’ kids, seeking the promised haven where young people can live together and free.

But with bounty hunters, the army, and the mysterious League all out to get them, can the quartet – a blue, a gold, a green, and Ruby’s orange – make it to nirvana? And… what then?

I had never heard of the book this was adapted from, but while it was reasonably well made and entertaining enough, I must confess I found it all a bit of a rehash of every other YA adaptation I think I’ve seen, from Hunger Games to Maze Runner. Which isn’t an *awful* sin, but it’s not particularly exciting, either.

I thought the cast were a strong-ish point (although criminal underuse of some interesting background actors, such as Bradley Whitford and Gwendoline Christie) the premise so-so, and some of the plot holes were atrocious – if you were a fan of the book you’d fill these in with a lot of pre-knowledge, but going in cold it was just a bit clunky at times. Oh, your power has done this – but, at no point do you ever try to see if the power could undo it? I mean, just give it a go??

And big word of warning: this is the first in a trilogy. We get to a bit of a turning point by the end of the movie, but it’s clear that more is required to finish the story. Once that would have just meant ‘wait ’til next year’, but after the whole Divergent thing, I don’t suppose it’s now sure that we will get to see the next part. Meh.

Overall: it’s completely watchable, definitely going to please fans of the books/genre, but nothing stand-out for me.

Released: 10th August 2018
Viewed: 10th August 2018
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10 – not that bad, but just meh

Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor

daughter of smoke and bone cover

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”

Karou’s life is anything but ordinary. From her blue hair and somewhat mysterious lack of details on her previous life, she seems perfectly suited to being a 17-year-old art student in Prague. Her sketchbooks are filled with strange creatures about whom she has myriad stories – except, while her friends assume they of course must be fiction, Karou is only telling the truth.

Raised by chimera – creatures that seem composites of other animals, such as a snake-woman, or bull-headed man – Karou still runs errands for the gruff Brimstone, generally involving meeting less-than-savoury types to purchase teeth, of all sorts and species. Quite what Brimstone does with these teeth is only one of his many mysteries, but he pays Karou in wishes. She only ever gets small wishes, though – enough for blue hair, but not flight.

Plagued by the feeling that she’s meant to be living a different existence, Karou’s lack of knowledge about herself only deepens when one day a strange man – a strange winged man – takes a sudden and intense interest in her…

Following an enjoyment of Strange the Dreamer, spotting this first book in Laini Taylor’s earlier series in the library felt like a no-brainer. And then I realised I’d read the opening chapter as a free sample before, and decided that this was perhaps a little too ‘young adult’ for me. Which bits of it are: teen romance rarely interests me. But that aside, the rest of it made me glad I gave it all a second chance.

I do like the art student lifestyle that Laini Taylor describes, and the city of Prague is made to sound amazing. The layers of mystery slowly, oh so slowly, unfold, as we discover more about the creatures who raised Karou, the other world she can only enter through doors when someone opens them from the other side, and all sorts of smokey, ancient-feeling magics and elsewhere-ness. Very atmospheric!

As we find out more, my interest did waver a little, as we end up back with the romance plot. But, still many mysteries to keep me going – including a huge cliffhanger! Thankfully the entire trilogy is available, so I don’t have to wait to find out what happens next.

Paperback: 418 pages / 60 chapters
First published: 2011
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy book 1
Read from 13th-29th May 2018

My rating: 8/10

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

strange the dreamer cover

“On the second Sabbat of Twelthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.”

Imagine when the name of a city disappears in an instant – not just from history or official records, but from the every mind and tongue. A few, such as orphan Lazlo Strange, are aware of the loss – he was playing at being one of the city’s fabled warriors at the time of the disappearance. This magic haunts his imagination throughout his young life, as he escapes the monastery upbringing to apprentice as a junior librarian – what a perfect life for a person with a head full of stories!

Halfway across the world, five young people live in an abandoned city. Each has a magical gift – some useful, some terrible – and all have blue skin. They are trapped by failed magic, and fear of the past, when they were the only ones to escape a cataclysm. Surrounded by ghosts, only one can ‘escape’ – by visiting the dreams of the mortals living below.

What happened all those years ago, to end the mystery of a century? What help can a rag-tag bunch of foreigners give to the fabled city of Weep? And what place does a dreaming young librarian have in either of these worlds?

This was one of those oft-recommended books that I decided to check out on a whim, and ended up completely captivating me! I absolutely loved it! Lazlo is a perfect main character for any avid reader, living as he does in stories and myths and dreams… all of which start to intrude more than a little on his reality. Twists and turns abound, and while some are guessable, the fantastical story will keep you turning pages to find out what happens next.

Massively looking forward to the sequel – and argh that I have to wait until October!

Paperback: 532 pages / 67 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: Strange the Dreamer book 1
Read from 21st March – 2nd April 2018

My rating: 9/10

Paris Adrift – EJ Swift

paris adrift cover

“The anomaly is waiting.”

Running away from her old life and old sense of self, Hallie lands in Paris and Millie’s bar. Surrounded by other travellers and misfits, it’s the closest Hallie has felt to home in a long time – until, that is, she stumbles through a time portal in the basement. At first terrified, then obsessed, can Hallie retain her sense of self as she is drawn again and again to explore the past of this city she has grown to love?

I was fantastically intrigued by the description of this book, and, for a large part, it does deliver. Despite the time travel elements, this isn’t really a science fiction kind of a novel. It’s borderline on ‘New Adult’ (YA, but a little older?) or even – eeep! – a bit of romance. And, especially by the end, it’s a lot about self-discovery, but in a very good way – in fact, the closing epilogue-y chapter gained this back a few points for me.

Because, while it’s well-written, and intriguing, and definitely has some cool ideas, there was also just something that didn’t quite click here for me. I’m not entirely sure what. Perhaps I’m just too old and un-travelled to have been quite as swept up by the whole life-in-Paris side, which I’d been hoping to find more evocative. Or perhaps I’ve just read too much time-travel to not find a few too many loose ends with the storyline. Or, there’s just not quite enough of any of these elements pushing through the mix.

Whatever didn’t quite satisfy me, I’d still cautiously recommend this book. Full marks for being something a bit different, and while not living up to The Time Traveler’s Wife (one of my favourites!), it might still appeal to fans of that.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read from 2nd-11th February 2018

My rating: 7/10