New Adult Romance, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7): by Sarah J. Maas

Publish Date: October 23rd, 2018
Number of Pages: 984 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance, New Adult Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for this book and the whole series, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!***

To see my review of book #1 – Throne of Glass – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Crown of Midnight – Click HERE

To see my review of book #0.5 – The Assassin’s Blade – Click HERE

To see my review of book #3 – Heir of Fire – Click HERE

To see my review of book #4 – Queen of Shadows – Click HERE

To see my review of book #5 – Empire of Storms – Click HERE

To see my review of book #6 – Tower of Dawn – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the whole series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.75 Stars

Y’all… this series, seriously…

I could go on and on and on, and I kind of will in this review because fuck it, this is MY blog, but before I go into this book that’s the final installment of this series, I guess I’ll share my original Goodreads review from when I finished this book all the way back in the fall of 2018 when it was first released. Here’s a little book review throwback:

~~~

Not since Harry Potter has a series really grabbed me and emotionally invested me like this series has. I remember I discovered this series back in 2012 on Pinterest, of all places, and seeing so much fan art about it and seeing amazing digital art work with “Throne Of Glass” in the caption, not knowing what it was, but after awhile, my curiosity got the best of me and so I decided to look into it and give the book a try.

One of the best decisions I’d ever made.

I quickly loved this series so so much. I loved everything about it. I especially loved the characters. I loved the dynamic of Caleana with Dorian and Chaol at the very beginning, the original trio, and even the new characters every book, to Rowan, Aedion, Manon, Lysandra, Nesryn, Yrene and so many more. I felt so connected and familiar with each of them, and felt like I was friends with them. They were my definition of squad goals, at least within a book.

Sarah J. Maas has created such a vivid, creative, wonderful world with this story of a girl trying to win back her kingdom, and it’s so incredible to know that this series began when she was only 16. I am so happy for her that she was able to fulfill a dream of hers and see this series grow over the many years. While I know some people didn’t like this aspect, but it was incredible to see her prose grow and mature over time, and yes, that means the subject matter also matured. Throne of Glass felt more than a typical kind of Teen fantasy and later on, especially in Empire of Storms, more mature themes had shown up and I noticed how some people didn’t like that; some saying it’s not the best material that young girls should read. While I saw their points of view, I thought it was great to see her writing change over time, because the story had changed so much over time, and characters grew and changed over time and so did Sarah as a writer. A woman in her thirties will write something very different than when they themselves were a teenager. The series developed into a non typical teen fantasy series, and into an area between YA and Adult fantasy. I also think that pushing boundaries and having subject matter that parents might not want their kids to read means it must be a good story; they’re more shocking, interesting and thought provoking.

As any great book series, it had to come to an end at some point. It makes me remember when I first read the big battle at the end of the first book, knowing there’s some big villain that needs to be vanquished and thinking to myself, how in the world are they going to get to that point? What will happen from now until then? The book didn’t really pick up until surprisingly almost 200 pages in. It was understandable; Sarah had to catch us up on a lot of characters and their arcs because for some of them, it’d been two years since the last book they were in, plus there’s a lot of characters. I loved each and every one of their stories, and adored the parts where they reunite and/or meet for the very first time. So much that I wanted to see happen did in fact happen, and knowing that this was the final book, I let myself savor every word.

Long story short through the entire middle, I laughed, I cried, and I prepared myself for the eventual end.

The ending… there were many things that Sarah did that paid tribute back to the very first book, going back to her roots of the story that were so touching, so heartwarming, I’m so happy she did them. It made me emotional about how it’s all over now but it made them reflect on the beginning. The ending of course wasn’t perfect, some storylines I wish ended differently or got more attention, but who knows, ACOTAR was only supposed to be a trilogy, so fingers crossed.

I can’t say a single bad thing about this series overall. Any writer I hope wants to have their stories touch someone meaningfully, and Sarah, this one did, so much. It’s one of my inspirations of wanting to write my own books, even if they aren’t anywhere close to resembling her own. What a story it’s all been, so much that happened, so much time and energy put into it, and it honestly gave me a newfound passion for reading. The Throne of Glass series will forever be such a big part of me, as a writer and a reader.

You could rattle the stars. You could do anything, if only you dared”

Thank you Sarah J. Maas, sincerely from the bottom of my heart. Reading your books, meeting you and getting a picture with you when you came to Minnesota for your Tower of Dawn tour, I aspire to touch someone’s life one day like you’ve touched mine!

To the stars that listen, and the dreams that are answered”

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

~~~

Awwwwwwee look at me trying to be a huge, influential book reviewer on there while singing praise to my favorite author and trying to keep my emotions in check at how my favorite book series has come to an end. I’d at least like to think I’d learned to not use as many commas and that my grammar has overall improved tremendously since then as well! Honestly, not a whole lot has changed in my opinion of SJM since then, even though she’s only released House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) since then, which is also crazy to think about, but I’d say I’ve also come to notice more of the things in her writing that aren’t so great, whether it be from fellow fans or haters. The cool thing about it all is though is that I can say I still love her stories even though I do notice the little things that I do wish would change, but instead of bashing an author, simply go and find someone else who does include that kind of material, whatever it may be.

Celaena/Aelin is an absolute favorite of mine over the course of the series; her growth is done so well, and the emotions behind her words, her motives, her actions are so sharp and vulnerable that you truly feel them alongside her as she goes from assassin to long lost heir to queen attempting to regain her kingdom. In this book, she once again goes through the wringer and learns the valuable lesson of having to lean on those in her corner and how that’s not actually weakness, but a strength in itself. That’s only one of the lessons she’s taught me throughout this series, another is how to let those same people in. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with them in order to not only survive, but truly live. It’s better to have gone too far than to not have travelled at all.

Rowan is of course another favorite; how could he not be if you’ve made it this far? He’s stoic, hard around the edges, protective, honorable, and a fierce ally and friend and lover. It shows how much he’s changed since Aelin came into his life; not only because they’re mates but also because of how she’s made a Fae warrior prince like himself whose been around for many years to somehow see the world in a different way. She was literally like a sun that made him see the light in his long and arduous journey. Was I immediately sold on his and Aelin’s relationship? No…… The shit from allies to lovers could’ve been smoother in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean I don’t totally fall for the passion and love they have for each other by this point. To be honest, I didn’t see a whole lot of dynamic change from Rowan in this book, but he was more the rock and calming presence in order for Aelin to fulfill her destiny!

Dorian is my absolute favorite, hands down! I’ve loved him since the first chapter of the first book, and that love only grew more and more as the series went on. It was disappointing to see him kind of get the brush off and shift slightly to the background in some parts, especially once Rowan and Aedion came into the picture in Aelin’s life, and I do think he was done dirty a few times because of that, but maybe that’s also partly why I love him so much as a character! He’s grown so much since the tropey, handsome, charming, total ladies man prince and has become a just and wholesome King full of bravery and more courage than anyone else I can think of! Ladies and gentleman and non-binaries, if a man like him who actually likes to read for fun enters your life, YOU HOLD ONTO THAT PERSON!

Chaol is such a controversial character towards the series, it seems like you either love him or hate him with hardly anything in between. Believe it or not, I’ve always been a big fan of his, even when he had some moments in Queen of Shadows that truly made you want to truly slap that boy across the face, I do put blame on SJM for that by putting him into the bitter ex position that he’d been relegated to. I could understand some of the things he did and said up until that point, it was all in his character and how he was brought up with his upbringing, but even I can agree that he was an ASS-HAT to Aelin in some moments… Nonetheless, I felt like he truly also redeemed himself later on by the time this book comes around. I was so glad/overjoyed/relieved to see him get his own little redemption arc and (hopefully) present himself in a better light once the story was done!

Aedion was another character I wanted to take the time to address. I immediately loved him when he strutted into my life in Heir of Fire, even though it was unclear whether he was going to be hero or villain right off the bat. He’s pretty much a male version of Aelin, which is straight up fire, but I will say I wish we explored his bisexual confession a little more! This is one thing that I’m not a fan of in terms of SJM’s writing, but so far her only LGBT+ representation is when a character just says it to their character, and that’s it… She got better about it in her Crescent City book with a lot more side characters who’re queer, but I say it can always get better; doesn’t mean I’m gonna trash her for it! I hate how disappointed I was in Aedion in this book with how he is towards Lysandra, but I go more into that later!

Manon Blackbeak is a badass, plain and simple. She’s a stone cold bitch, and I love her for it, but I have to say I like her character more than I liked her storylines. I just found myself skimming more often whenever the chapters centered around her; I just found her chapters to be more boring. That definitely changed in Empire of Storms, and suddenly I think she’s the most interesting character out of the bunch in that book! I also never thought I’d be so obsessed with her and Dorian becoming a thing, but a certain scene below decks with some chains later, and now…

If there’s more characters you want me to give a little commentary on, feel free to say so and I’ll happily add them!

What It’s About:

This book continues shortly after the events of both Empire of Storms and Tower of Dawn, both of which were happening parallel to each other in terms of chronological events happening. Aelin has been taken away by Queen Maeve and Cairn, brought back to Wendlyn to be taken prisoner and held captive in that horrid iron coffin, and let’s not forget Fenrys whose also there in his wolf form.

Aedion and Lysandra are trying to keep up the ruse of Aelin being safe and sound as the allies the Terrasen Queen has brought together, but tension is insanely thick between Aedion and Lysandra as she puts Aelin’s face on in front of everyone but themselves and Aedion is a general scorned by their wicked betrayal of keeping him out of the loop and allowing Aelin to be captured in the first place, all while barely being able to keep the Valg King Erawan’s army at bay…

Rowan is following close behind Maeve in order to save his mate and wife (yes, remember she’s his wife now too), and it’s a race against time before she’s gone forever…

Dorian and Manon are travelling with the 13 to gather even more allies amongst the witches…

Chaol, Nesryn travel back from the Southern Continent with all their new allies and the recent news they’ve discovered about the Fae Queen…

With Aelin captured, friends and allies are scattered to different fates. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever. As destinies weave together at last, all must fight if Erilea is to have any hope of salvation.

Years in the making, Sarah J. Maas’s New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series draws to an explosive conclusion as Aelin fights to save herself―and the promise of a better world.

What I Liked:

  1. The Final Battle! Just the fact that it’s the final book and that big final battle is finally here is reason enough to be excited! Remember when you read the first book for the first time and Aelin was still Celaena and she was facing off against Cain? You wondered what you were possibly getting yourself into, and what could possibly happen in this series as you kept going on with each book? It’s just crazy to think we’re finally here and the end is upon us!
  2. SJM’s Reunion of the Original Trio! The nostalgia was heavy in this book, and I was so happy to see SJM pay tribute to how this whole dang series started, and that was with Aelin (as Celaena), Chaol Westfall, and Dorian Havilliard! To have them all reunite and how she brought their dynamic back into the spotlight actually brought me to tears a few times! They feel like my actual friends, and they’ve been through so much together and on their own and to see them come back together and still have so much love and adoration for each other….ugh, SO MANY EMOTIONS!!
  3. Aelin Learns to Lean on Her Squad! One thing that even I was finding annoying with Aelin was how she had to keep all her plans inside her own mind and couldn’t share the entirety of them with anyone! Sure, the plans usually came together successfully up until this point, but c’mon girl… these people are your squad! Don’t keep them out in the cold, you’re not your cousin!!!! By this point, there was no way she was going to be able to get out of her predicament with Maeve and Cairn on her own, and it was great to see her finally learn to rely on her loved ones and allies in order to become victorious! It’s not weak to seek help from those who are willing to give it!
  4. Dorian Makes a Major Play! Once again, Dorian proves why I love him so much and becomes a major MVP when he shape-shifts and flies over to Morath, THEN his whole interaction with Maeve had me on the edge of me seat!
  5. All The Couples! I think I was complaining about this aspect of SJM’s writing before—that all her characters end up together when they don’t necessarily have to—BUT I can also say I care way too much about every couple by now to think this way, at least for this series… Aelin and Rowan, Aedion and Lysandra, Dorian and Manon, Chaol and Yrene, Lorcan and Elide, and even Nesryn and Sartaq; I just care about them all so much by this point! It’s hard to say some of these couples didn’t need to happen when I love them all so much!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Aedion’s Behavior Towards Lysandra…What a douche-nozzle he was in this book! Yeah, he felt betrayed by the two women who’re most important to him in his life, and sure they left him out of the loop with their plan, but seriously?! I was heartbroken by how much I was liking him less and less with every chapter that focused on him and Lysandra and the allies that Aelin brought to them. I was happy to see him redeem himself a little bit by the end, but I can tell it wasn’t enough for some readers, and not all was forgiven in terms of his behavior. I still can’t believe he even left Lysandra out in the snow when she was completely naked! I wanted to slap the sense into that hard head of his!
  2. More Characters Should’ve Died…Now hear me out because I can literally feel some of you readers deciding to have me cancelled for even saying this, but I seriously think SJM played it too safe and saved way too many characters in the end! The story would’ve been WAY more impactful if more main characters died in this epic final battle, and seriously it’s a nasty and brutal battle, it’d just be more realistic if more of the major players were to have been killed off. It would’ve been sad and depressing, yes, but it surely would’ve made such a more effective and memorable storyline with the emotional impact more deaths would evoke! What If Aedion and Lysandra died before they could reconcile? What if they literally died in each other’s arms while they confessed their love for each other? What if the same thing, but with Lorcan and Elide? What if the whole royal family of the Southern Continent died? The Ruks? What if Dorian died in his major sacrifice? I will admit, the character deaths we did receive were plenty tragic and I won’t spoil who it was for anyone who still doesn’t know, but I stand by my statement!
  3. The Ending Should’ve Been More Extensive…By this I mean it was wrapped up a little too neat and trim. I kinda wish there was a much bigger jump through time, and with more information on what happened to other characters besides just Aelin and Rowan. What happened to Chaol and Yrene? Aedion and Lysandra? Lorcan and Elide? Manon? Sartaq and Nesryn? What kind of King did Dorian truly turn out to be? I wanted more of these kinds of answers from SJM, but fingers crossed that she left it more open-ended so that if she ever wanted to, she could return to this world and continue their stories in some way!

Conclusion:

It’s like I said in my original Goodreads review: Before this series, only Harry Potter has been a book series that has made me give as much emotional and time investment as this series has over the course of my 27 years on earth. The Throne of Glass series holds such a special place in my heart, and I think that’s partly because I was with the series as the books were all being released, and I grew up alongside the books and the story at a very impactful time of my life from 2013-2018.

It was always alongside me in my journey through those years, and with that proves my attachment towards this series that I might not ever have with another series ever again if not for quite some time. In terms of Gen Z’rs and the TikTok generation: these books truly hit different!

I truly can’t recommend this book series enough for anyone looking for an epic fantasy series to try and read. I say it’s seriously got a little of everything needed in order to create an epic story: adventure, memorable characters, danger, romance, character growth, the battle of good vs. evil, action, mystique and lore, surprising twists, history, betrayal, many intertwining storylines, and so much more! My only concern is that for the more advanced readers, the first book is truly the weakest and only shows what feels like 1% of what the actual series is about! It’s filled with many recognizable tropes we’ve seen so many times before, but remember that it was published in 2012 when these ideas weren’t considered as cliché as they are now. I say give it a chance, see what happens, and you never know, you’ve be as in love with it as I am!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Ruin and Rising (Shadow and Bone #3): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: June 17th, 2014

Number of Pages: 420 Pages

Publisher: Henry Holt

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers for this title and the previous titles in this trilogy, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***

To see my review of book #1 – Shadow and Bone – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Siege and Storm – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the trilogy – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 2.75 Stars

Well…. I’ve completed this trilogy finally, and I’ve gotta admit how how down in the dumps I am feeling now. Not because it’s over, but more so that for me it was such a drag through such a large chunk of the story, and how bittersweet that whole ending was! For the first 60% approx, it was once again such a drag much like most of the second book, and it’s not that the ending was horrible and should’ve been changed, but it just leaves you with such a feeling of depression and hopelessness.

I’d read the second book, Siege and Storm, back in late March/early April of 2020 when the Coronavirus Pandemic was in full effect and I’d been put on furlough on work until further notice. The unknown of what was going to happen along with all the craziness that this year alone had filled me with relentless anxiety and a vast array of emotions. I’d noticed my ability to sit down and read a book had become a major challenge. I just couldn’t sit down and concentrate! I was partially wondering if maybe it was a mix of that versus what I was reading at the time—I even couldn’t care enough to read on in V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful—either way, I’d noticed I was in a reading rut. If books by Leigh Bardugo and V.E. Schwab couldn’t hold my attention, certainly there’s something way out of whack going on there…

After reading this third and final installment to her Shadow and Bone Trilogy, I can with much less doubt say it wasn’t me. I struggled to keep my interest all through Siege and Storm and now Ruin and Rising, and part of it was because I’d read her Six of Crows books first, which were much more action-packed, there was many more memorable characters, they had a more original plot, and the author had much more experience under her belt by the time she wrote them. For me, I’ve noticed that it’s not a good idea for me as a reader to go backwards with any author’s books; I have to start with the beginning or I can’t enjoy the earlier work. It’s usually just not as strong of material, and you especially notice that with this trilogy. Compared to her more recent titles, these books just felt so much more “safe” and were with clichés and tropes many YA Fantasy fans are very familiar with because I’m sure Publishers want to play it safe as well by selecting stories filled with criteria that has worked so well in the past. I get it, doesn’t mean I’m entirely happy about it.

I can, however, say that despite this trilogies lack of keeping my interest, Leigh Bardugo did showcase some incredible character work with her main cast of characters, which in this case was Alina Starkov, Mal Oretsev, Nikolai Lantsov, and of course The Darkling. One of the biggest draws of these books was the love pyramid that pertained to these four characters. Each male was presented as a potential love interest to our protagonist, and it’s been one of the biggest debate topics of the whole Grishaverse fandom: which guy should Alina have ended up with?

For Mal, he’s the childhood friend whom Alina has\d been hopelessly in love with for as long as they’ve been together since their days at the orphanage. They both grew up together, and he became more handsome and popular with other cadets of the first army while she more or less stayed the same and felt like she was being pushed further and further into the background, but that all changes when she discovers that she has remarkable abilities and is the first Grisha “Sun Summoner” anyone has seen in a very long time; she may possibly even be the first one ever in existence. Anyways, as the plot thickens and both Nikolai and The Darkling makes their presence and interest known, Mal begins to feel inferior and left behind, which is so ironic how the tables turned there. He begins to be short-tempered with Alina, pushes her away and just wishes everything could go back to “normal” or the way it was before she become a holy saint-like figure to the people of Ravka….

…Well honey, maybe we’d feel sorry for you if you’d actually noticed her before! I personallu didn’t mind Mal throughout, but it’s funny how he’s the character in all the Grishaverse that gets the most criticism and hate from the fandom. Poor Mal… at least he got better in this book, in my opinion that is.

Next there’s Nikolai Lantsov: privateer, Sturmhond, and even Crown Prince to the royal throne. Charming, Daring, and even slightly obnoxious in his abundance of self-confidence; Nikolai is literally like a “golden boy” who any woman would kill to be with, right? WRONG! Alina didn’t fall for his charm, even when he admitted to having actual feelings for her, but she just couldn’t see past the fact that with him came a marriage proposal that may or may not have been purely just as a power-play to secure his spot on the throne and the adoration of his people as well.

The Darkling is a bit more of wild card compared to the other two, plus there’s the nice twist that he’s the villain of the trilogy. I still couldn’t ever really tell if his potential romantic feelings for Alina were 100% genuine, but one thing for certain was that they would’ve made an incredible power couple. Two of the most powerful Grisha to ever exist side by side, either as enemies or lovers or both, and I was definitely behind all the fellow fans shipping them to get together. It added so much to his character to see the scenes between just him and Alina and when he slipped some vulnerability into his demeanor that only she ever saw, those tiny moments said so much! Plus, it was obvious he still loved his mother despite everything, but unfortunately whatever his actual feelings were had to also be twisted and tainted by his dark greed for power, plus his need to control and manipulate everyone including Alina so it all worked out on his terms.

The Darkling and Alina for sure had the most depth to their characters out of everyone in these books. The Darkling is one of those villains that you feel are incredibly justified in his journey for power and all that he’s willing to do in order to get there. I only wish he was showcased even more in the books; it felt like he was hardly there in Siege and Storm and maybe that’s what made it such a slow read for me… I think Leigh Bardugo would’ve had this series be even more successful if she showcased The Darkling more and went even further with the darkness surrounding him. Alina had spectacular growth as the protagonist throughout; she started off as this timid orphan but really came into her own and gained a powerful voice as time went on. She second-guessed herself a lot, she focused on the boys when she maybe shouldn’t have been, she made mistakes; all of which made her such a realistic character in my eyes! She definitely held her own amongst all the other powerful male characters. She faced the constant battle of whether she needed to harden her heart in order to defeat the darkling, but is that the right idea? It was a wonderful theme and inner conflict she faced of whether she needed to lower herself to his level in order to defeat him, but maybe will ultimately discover that’s not the case.

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

What I Liked:

  1. The Darkling! I’ve been saying this ever since I started this trilogy, but the Darkling is easily my favorite character besides Nikolai Lantsov taking second place. It’s funny because he’s the villain of the whole dang story, but I’m starting to enjoy those kinds of characters more, especially if they’re incredibly complex and you can actually see where they’re coming from in terms of malicious intentions; those are the best crafted villains in my humble opinion. He started off as just another carbon copy of the “park prince,” broody, bad-boy character trope that is basically another Prince Cardan Greenbriar, Kylo Ren, Jericho Barrons, Rhysand, etc… but as the story developed, even in the first book, The Darkling began to stand apart from them all as more and more was slowly revealed about his background along with his evil plans to take over his world. I only wish we saw more of him or even got to hear from his perspective in these books. I was incredibly heartbroken with the conclusion for how things ended with him, even though it had to be done, but man oh man… my heart aches for him!
  2. Alina’s Development! Alina was a phenomenal protagonist who really grew as this story developed over the three books. I wasn’t really behind her at first because she was simply another cliché orphan-turned-“chosen one” character trope who was demure, shy, timid, and pathetically, secretly in love with her golden boy BFF. As she came into her abilities and has had to make some tough decisions, she’s really become a big contender of the game with her constant inner struggle of how far will she go in order to gain power. Should she become cold and detached like the Darkling, or is it really weakness to show compassion and love for those she cares about? That, along with dealing with quite a few misogynistic older men AND three possible love interests (one of which is her enemy), the girl really becomes a memorable character that anyone can route for! Unfortunately, similar to the Darkling, I was not a fan of how her storyline turned out…
  3. Nikolai’s Transformation! So, anyone who’s a fan of Leigh Bardugo may know by now that Nikolai was originally supposed to die in earlier drafts of these books, but she ended up loving his character so much that she changed her mind, which was a smart decision since he’s one of her best characters of all in all her books, not that I’m biased or anything… anyways, this book was rough on him, and it was certainly an interesting development for him that leaves him with many scars, both external and beneath the surface… funny thing I say that considering he gets his own spin-off duology with the first book titled “King of Scars.” It makes perfect sense considering how things are left with him in this trilogy: totally bittersweet, but at least this character’s storyline was left more open-ended than others in order for there to be further explored!
  4. A Lot More Twists & Gruesome Deaths! Shadow and Bone was littered with cliché YA Fantasy tropes, Siege & Storm was just boring for me, but Ruin & Rising was filled with more plot twists and absolutely disturbing scenes of torture and death that actually made me happy to read, because it’s THIS stuff is what makes Leigh Bardugo stand out from other authors! She’s got a dark and twisty mind—I’m obsessed with it—and you get to see more of it in this book than the others. The deaths are absolutely brutalistic and somewhat disturbing, and it was great to start to see what I know the author excels at when the previous two books felt too “safe” to what I’m used to from her. Remember; I’ve read the Six of Crows books, and even Ninth House before I started reading this trilogy.
  5. Mal Gets Better In This Book! I will continue until the day I am no longer on this planet to say that I am a part of the fandom that actually likes Mal. He gets so much hate from the Grishaverse fandom, even more so than any villain she’s crafted, and I get where it comes from, I do… But I also see the growth he goes through and find it incredibly endearing about him too. He had to kind of hit his own sort of rock bottom in order to rise back up, and I believe his rock bottom was him in the later scenes of Siege and Storm. He was stuck in the past and wanted things to go back to the way they were with how the dynamic worked with him and Alina in his favor, and he somewhat had a temper tantrum at how that wouldn’t happen, plus I will admit that the pedestal Alina put him on absolutely crumbled when compared to The Darkling and Nikolai Lantsov becoming potential love interests and major competition. He couldn’t handle it, but I still think he redeemed himself a little bit in this book with how he handled everything, and you further see how all major decisions he makes is because of his devotion to Alina. There’s no denying he cared about her, whether you believe he really had romantic feelings since the beginning and just didn’t do anything about it until now.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I Was So Bored…Similar to what was the entirety of Siege and Storm, the first half of this book was so incredibly hard to get through because I just had such low interest in most of what was happening. There were too many characters by this point that I just didn’t really care about, the storyline was just too methodically slow for me, and it was just a huge drag. Once more plot twists occured and there were some brutal deaths that made the book feel more like what I expect from the author, then it got a little better at least!
  2. I Wish The Darkling Showed Up More…I’m only really saying this because I may be biased, but I think these books would’ve been much more successful if The Darkling was a more central character, or at least showed up more than he a;ready did. Maybe that was part of the allure of him, but he’s such a marvelous, complex character and there was so much potential for these books to get darker and more sinister like I know Leigh Bardugo is able to do, but I get that these were her first published books so she wasn’t able to be as artistically free as she is now.
  3. The Surprise Twist with Mal…After its reveal and thinking back about certain scenes that are pointed out, this wasn’t something entirely out of left field that the author slipped in for pure shock value, but was so subtle in how the clues were placed throughout that only a select bunch of readers would’ve caught the foreshadowing. Plus, with the backstory of how Morozova brought his daughter back to life with his merzost power, he never ended up finding the firebird because his power was used up by then. Without giving too much else away, it certainly was explained well enough to make sense, I was still just….mehh about it either way. I found the backstory with Morozova the much more interesting aspect about it.
  4. That Bittersweet Ending…I can say that with how everything concluded certainly made sense, I guess… I don’t know, I was just kind of disappointed with most of it even though the harsh reality is that there’s really nothing that would’ve made a better ending for everyone. My heart breaks for The Darkling, and of course I wish things could’ve ended up differently, but as we’ve seen with him with all that he’s done and how he operates, he’d reached the point of no return/redemption. Alina and Mal also had a fitting ending for them, I guess… I’m not personally a fan, but I guess it works for them and what they wanted in the end. Nikolai probably had the best conclusion even though his was more open-ended, but it helps that I know he has his own set of books that take place later on past Six of Crows.

Conclusion:

Overall, it was an okay-on the verge of liking it for me with how this trilogy ended up. I didn’t enjoy these books as much as Six of Crows, but part of me knew that’d be the case because I know what kind of reader I am, and I’m just someone that will hardly ever enjoy an author’s earlier work when I’ve read something that was published later on in their career first. I just notice more smaller things, like their writing maybe isn’t as captivating and/or less experienced, plus it feels more “safe” when I know their later work has much more creative freedom and is much more complex. I just can’t go backwards with author’s work, you know?

Like I said, I knew this going in that I was potentially not going to enjoy this trilogy as much, but I was so disappointed in how it was so hard to read a set of books by Leigh Bardugo—who with the Six of Crows books alone had her become one of my favorite authors—and NOT love it. By SoC, she’s a much more established author and is allowed to go further with her storylines, her characters, and the overall mood of her content. Shadow and Bone was just filled with too many familiar tropes we’ve seen everywhere in YA Fantasy, while Six of Crows has a much more diverse cast, and went so much further in terms of the mental health and inner turmoil the characters all faced; it’s just so weird how a spin-off might be better than the original series!

I still recommend these books for anyone who loves YA Fantasy with a strong female lead. I know my review may seem like I’m less than thrilled about them than I’d hoped, but when compared to the many other titles that are out there within the genre, Leigh’s stories are much stronger and more memorable than, say… The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. Not to knock that series, but in my opinion, Bardugo just creates a better/deeper/richer story. At least with the many clichés that fill up the first book, she does veer away in big ways as the story develops.

Now that I have this trilogy under my belt, I can now move forward with the other Grishaverse stories that I still haven’t touched, plus be more prepared for the eventual, much anticipated release of the upcoming Netflix show premiering in fall/winter of 2020! Alina’s storyline is going to be a central storyline, so I had to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy before for context. I may even reread the Six of Crows duology too and maybe catch a lot more references and details that went over my head the first time I read them, and there’s even King of Scars, the next installment of the Grishaverse, and the first book in the Nikolai duology! I love that Leigh is continuing more stories within this rich and detailed world she’s created for us, and I always look forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Legendary (Caraval #2): by Stephanie Garber

Publish Date: May 29th, 2018

Number of Pages: 451 Pages

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers from the previous book in this trilogy, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***

Too see my review of book #1 – Caraval – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

This was why love was so dangerous. Love turned the world into a garden, so beguiling it was easy to forget that rose petals were as ephemeral as feelings, eventually they would wilt and die, leaving nothing but the thorns.

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

A much lighter and whimsical tale amongst the many that fall under the YA Fantasy genre, Legendary utterly sweeps you away, takes you on an enchanting quest, much like the previous book in this trilogy, Caraval. Both are filled with exotic locations, mysterious twists and turns at every street corner, gorgeous men with devilish smirks full of secrets, magical gowns that can transform based off the emotions of whomever is wearing them, and dazzling lights of the stars and streets as those who play the game and enter a hunt for the hope of something more.

Caraval was a fun summer read that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but there were definitely some things I had to say that I think could’ve made it better. I wanted more danger, more mischief and dark aesthetics; the stakes needed to be raised in order to add even more the excitement of this annual game. For me, Legendary seemed to have added all that to enhance the whole reading experience of these books! It was obvious that Stephanie Garber, the author, had decided to focus more on the storytelling aspect and less on the imagery and how it was described.

I’m sure it’s an added bonus for many readers that this time around, there’s less focus on Scarlett and more on her younger sister, Tella. Scarlett was our protagonist in Caraval, and the goal of the game was for her to find and rescue her sister, who’d been kidnapped as soon as she’d stepped foot on the island town where the game of Caraval was played. Not too many readers seemed to have liked Scarlett as the protagonist; she made some not-so-smart decisions, was cautious and sheltered, and was constantly the damsel in distress who needed the mysterious Julian to come and rescue her…It’s hard to get behind a character like that when there are so many stories out there now that have strong, fierce females who don’t need no man to help them out whenever things get rough. Tella is the complete opposite of Scarlett; she’s much more impulsive and daring, she’s more charismatic, and seems much more adventurous and courageous. I have to say she did make for a much more interesting story this second time around.

There was a much larger sense of worldbuilding in this book too that has to do with a larger story involving much mythology and lore that the author hadn’t included in the previous book. It involves the sister’s long lost mother, a deck of cards, and these ancient & immortal beings called “The Fates” that used to rule the world long ago, but have disappeared until recently. This had such a huge impact on the story and added so much to the overall depth of much more intricately crafted plot, and helped raise the stakes a large amount that the previous book needed.

I’m very curious if the author had all this planned out before she wrote the first book, or if all these new features were thought up afterwards as a way to keep the story going somehow. How much did she truly know before the first book?

Much like the last book, there were also a vast array of riddles and twists that I’m sure quite a bit of readers didn’t see coming, but there was also a fair amount of foreshadowing that I also think more seasoned readers would be able to catch so long as they’re paying attention. Some are more surprising than others, of course, but they get seriously much more juicy around the climax of the story. It all leads to a very cliffhanger-like ending that will make you want to get your hands on the third and final book ASAP!

I also love the theme that these books have become so consistent with; the whole play on what’s reality and what’s all just a part of the game. Everyone has secrets, everyone has their own motives behind their actions, and some are so much easier to read than others, and it’s actually so much fun to see how things play out, like, who are really allies? Who’s really an enemy? What are their true feelings for that character? Who the EFF is Legend already? The author asks so many questions about so many aspects of the story, it almost drives you completely insane at how much is going on behind the scenes and the rate in which they reveal themselves to Tella and you, the reader. I saw a comparison to HBO’s Sci-Fi thriller, “Westworld”, and it’s actually so true how the show and these books have such a similar theme driving the story. The whole idea of a park that draws people in, the cast of “actors” that enhance the experience, the story the audience experiences is entirely based on their choices, and there’s the scavenger hunt to find the ultimate prize at the end of the maze. It all raises some interesting points on the mysteries of the world and the human condition.

One thing I didn’t particularly like was how the romance building between Tella and Dante felt too similar to how it was built up between Scarlett and Julian in the second book. It was still enticing and a well drawn out slow-burn, but it lacked originality and just felt repetitive. I’m not sure if it’s the only setup the author is able to do in the romance department, but I hope for future stories that she can switch it up a lot better.

I’m happy to say these books are becoming a perfect choice for anyone who’s looking for a circus/theatre/performing arts-like story. Like Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, these books have the unpredictability and angst of “The Phantom of the Opera,” mixed with the over-the-top campiness of “Moulin Rouge.”

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

A heart to protect.

A debt to repay.

A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister, Scarlett, from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice, but now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever…

Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . the games have only just begun...

She loved the feeling of doing something bold enough to make her future hold its breath while she closed her eyes and reveled in the sensation that she’d made a choice with the power to alter the course of her life.”

— Stephanie Garber, “Legendary”

What I Liked:

  1. Donatella Is Now The Protagonist! The most consistent complaint anyone had about Caraval was how a lot of fellow readers found they didn’t like Scarlett Dragna. She made bad decisions, she constantly got into trouble and needed a man to get her out of it, I’m sure the list goes on for more readers, but you get the point. Tella is the exact opposite of Scarlett, and she is much more courageous and impulsive, and it seems like a lot more readers prefer her over her older protective sister. Personally, I liked them both and didn’t mind as much, but I have to agree I did love seeing more of Tella this time around.
  2. The Stakes Have Been Raised! There was definitely a higher dose of danger this time around that the books really needed, and it was nice to see how the lines between performance and reality continued to become even more murky, the plots became more sinister, and even more mystery shrouded the carnival event with people’s lives and the fate of the world on the line this time around. The question “Is this really still just a game?” was asked a lot throughout the story, and I love how the author crafted so much mystery and left so much up in the air. It also helps that there’s a for sure villain this time around too: You’ll meet Jacks, who has some seriously twisted thoughts inside his blond, bleeding silvery-blue eyed head. I’m not going to give too much away, but read the book and see for yourself!
  3. The Theme: What Is Reality? With the added danger I mentioned before, it also goes into what I also mentioned of whether this is all still just a game, or if now it’s real. You’re constantly questioning the motives of so many characters and all that’s going on behind the scenes, I liked the comparison I saw somewhere with someone comparing this story to “Westworld.” Now, some may think that’s a reach, but let’s think about it: the theme of “what is reality?” There’s the idea of a park where people go and become someone else, they let the game take them over, there’s actors surrounding you playing roles to only enliven the atmosphere, and then there’s the hunt to win the heightened scavenger hunt to find the prize at the end of the game or the maze.
  4. More Mythology/Lore: The Fates! Another aspect of the story that made this so much more impressive of a story was how the author added these ominous figures known as “The Fates.” Spoiler Alert as I explain who they were:…………. ………………… …………….. Centuries ago, they were these immortal beings who ruled the world and were agents of chaos, but were banished into a deck of cards by a powerful witch. There’s much more to it, like who each one is and a list of magical objects too, but that’s the main gist of it, and I don’t want to ruin the full experience of you reading it for yourself. It all does nothing but add to the story and continue to heighten the drama of how the story develops.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I’ve Seen This Before…I do love Dante; he was in Caraval but was a minor character. He was the pompous, hot, mean guy, so I was happy to see him receive much more attention this time around. I also thought he was a great love interest for Tella, but I noticed with him and Tella that it basically just felt like a total repeat of the whole dynamic between Julian and Scarlett in the previous book. It seems like Stephanie may only be able to write YA versions of alphaholes with a Mr. Darcy kind of vibe in her dashing male love interests, and I was hoping for maybe something with more original between Dante and Tella.

Conclusion:

Everything that I said needed to be added to Caraval happened in this book; Legendary was like a new and improved version on it with so a much more intricately drawn plot filled with much more sinister plots, daring twists, enchanting magic, and of course scorching romance!

If you enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, you’ll definitely love this sequel too. It’s not grimmdark, epically high fantasy, or anything too serious. These books are just a more fun. light-hearted, whimsical tale that can still entertain and enthrall all the same! I’d say just about everything about Legendary was bigger and better, all except for whether I can’t decide whether Dante or Julian is the better love interest.

Like I said earlier, I wonder if Stephanie Garber had everything all planned out in advance before she wrote the first book, or if she came up with it all later on or as she was working. I must say, she really does know how to expertly weave an intriguing story together with just about everything I love in a story: mystery and lore, unexpected twists, mysteries galore, second guessing everyone and everything, and of course scorching romance. You can bet I am going to for sure be reading what is sure to be an epic conclusion with Finale being the next title.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: The Shadows Between Us: by Tricia Levenseller

Publish Date: February 25th, 2020
Number of Pages: 326 Pages
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

Total Star Rating: 3.5 Stars

This is definitely a title to check out for those lovers of villains out there! There are many things to this 2020 release that makes it a story that many can enjoy:

  1. A female MC who doesn’t apologize for who she is.
  2. It’s a standalone
  3. Both the main LI’s are villains
  4. It’s been advertised as a Slytherin romance – which is actually almost a perfect way to describe it!
  5. The MC is incredibly complex in her ability to be both malicious and cunning, but kind and thoughtful all the same
  6. I suppose theres a “fake dating” trope
  7. A murder mystery
  8. A devilishly swoon-worthy male love interest
  9. it’s just overall fun!

Now I will be honest…this story wasn’t perfect—they hardly ever are—and this title didn’t necessarily live up to the expectations I’d given it. It had a few components I hadn’t expected to be included in the plot, and I won’t say they were bad, I’ll just say it wasn’t the direction I wanted it to go. It just felt like this book went the safe route after its initial set up, and I’d hoped it’d go down a much darker and twisted path. BUT…this title is still immensely enjoyable in the fact that as its a Slytherin romance, and it’s also a drawn out, slow-burn romance at that, and it still has quite a few enjoyable minor characters to add to the cast.

The cover you see above is the original cover design, but this boy decided to try out Fairyloot, a YA Fantasy subscription box stationed over in the UK, and while it didn’t straight out tell me this was the book I’d be receiving, a little research had made me 99% sure this was the book I’d receive. Below is the Fairyloot exclusive edition:

There’s not too big a difference based off just the initial glance at it besides the color choice of the background, but usually these subscription editions of books there’s more to it: there is exclusive artwork of the two main characters on the opposite side of the dust jacket, exclusive embossing on the hardcover, it’s signed by the author, and has a letter from her with a beautiful commission of the devious couple who star in this story, and that’s not even including all the other bookish items you get inside with your new book! What I’m trying to point out is, if you enjoy reading YA fantasy and enjoy receiving mail, I say check out their website and try it out!

What It’s About:

Allesandra Stathos is a young woman in a higher class noble family, but depending on who you ask, she’s very far from the lady that’s to be expected of her. Empowered to make men kneel at her feet, she’s not above taking a lover or two into the bedroom, and has even killed the very first boy with whom she’s given her heart to out of sheer revenge. Needless to say, she’s definitely not your average protagonist of the story.

In an effort to distance herself from her family and gain even more power, she devises a wicked plan: the woo the young Shadow King, manipulate him into falling for her and asking her to marry him, then to kill him and take the kingdom for herself. It’s a mystery surrounding him as to what his shadow capabilities can do exactly: are they controlling him? He can control them to do his bidding? Perhaps they insidiously whisper people’s secrets into his ear and warning him of who is actually his enemies. Either way, Allesandra has a plan, and she intends to go through with it.

Unfortunately for her, she’s not the only one with a similar plan, and she soon finds herself going out of her way to protect the Shadow King as invisible enemies also attempt to take his life. She’s not the only one who can come up with a villainous plan, but she also needs to watch out to not fall for the king herself in order to be seated on that throne by the end of it all…

What I Liked:

  1. Allesandra is the Main Character We Needed! She’s not the chosen one who’s to save the world, she’s not the long lost queen who’s come to reclaim what is rightfully hers, and thank effing god she’s not the shy, awkward girl who doesn’t think she’s pretty when she’s got, like, four different guys fighting for her affections…She’s unapologetically herself. I loved how she can go from planning out someone’s murder to gushing over a puppy in a single moment. She’s incredibly self-aware, ambitious, sexually confident, cunning, smart, conniving, and honestly acts the way I’m sure a lot of us wish we could on most days. Who wouldn’t be pissed at someone who broke their heart, and of course only after they’d had their virginity taken, and want to stab them repeatedly in retaliation? The only difference is: Allesandra Stathos actually goes through with it.
  2. It’s A Villain Love Story! I’m totally into the idea of authors exploring the villain MC prompt more often. I feel like it’d make for a much more compelling story, plus lets be honest, we all like to explore our dark side every now and then, right? I’d love to see how far authors can go into the dark and twisted minds of a villain, and have that be the main perspective of the story. Some great examples of that off the top of my head would be The Young Elites trilogy by Marie Lu, or You (The Netflix show and novel by Caroline Kepnes). It’s a love story between two people who definitely appear as villains, and I appreciated the fact at how it was a more original idea than most of the stories that are published.
  3. The Slow-Burn Romance! Ahh yes, every great romance has that drawn out slow burn…it moves every so slowly, infuriating you until you just want to squeeze something in your hands and feel it shatter! This book does a great job of that, and actually has a unique way of making it happen too; you too feel the burning inside along with the characters until it feels like a mere single touch will cause them both to erupt with passion. I will say though, it’s pretty tame in terms of love scenes, and feels like it has the same sexual tension of a victorian era romance where most of it is drawn from stolen looks and gazing into each other’s eyes…at least until the very end!
  4. Its Commentary on Feminism and Gender Roles! What was not expected from this book was it’s take on women and the role they play and how they measure up to their male counterparts. Allesandra goes against the idea of how a high class lady should act, and even risks her reputation by taking men into bed, and you know…even secretly murdering one too. Throughout the story, she challenges the set ways of sexism and wants a much more forward way of life, and makes a great point of how women should not be judged by what they do or don’t do in the bedroom. Men aren’t judged nearly as harshly, so why should they be? If men can go and sleep around, yet women have to wait until marriage, the math just doesn’t add up there. There was also a strong representation of female friendship. Our MC meets too ladies while staying in court, and she’s never had a pair of girlfriends before; other women have more been competition for her growing up. She develops great relationships with them as the story moves on, and even finds herself helping them in order to find happiness and love.
  5. It’s Standalone Novel! Based on how this story is set up, it’s really great that the author kept this as a single novel and isn’t going to try and make this into a series, or even a duology which is supposed to be the big thing right now for the genre/reading level. It’s not necessary to be honest, and not enough of the world is really explored outside the tightly woven plot. If the opposite were true, then maybe a duology would work, but a single novel is just perfect for this premise (plus there aren’t a whole lot of standalone YA Fantasy novels anyways).

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Have We Met Before?…As the story progresses, Allesandra gets to know the King more and find herself falling in love with him a little more every day, and that part of it is fine…I’m more talking about the pure aesthetic that is the Shadow King. He’s a great character, I enjoyed him, but he just seems too similar to other characters I’ve seen before in other Fantasy Titles: He’s pretty much another copy of Rhysand from A Court of Thorns and Roses, The Darkling from The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, or even Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows. They all share that same aesthetic of a ruthless dark prince-like figure who’s definitely an anti-hero if not a full on villain.
  2. Absolutely No Worldbuilding…While the romance and the plot were the main focus of this book, the setting takes a definite back seat–so much that it might as well be strapped to a car seat with a pacifier–so anyone who’s a fan of fantasy novels that are rich in detailed and well thought out lands and worlds to explore…you may want to sit this one out.
  3. It Could’ve Gone Further with the Villainous Main Characters…Allesandra starts off on a high note with her evil intentions, and even the Shadow King shows dark ambitious moments, but after awhile it’d felt like they’d lost their edge when it was becoming more and more obvious about their mutual growing attraction. I remember I had similar feelings with how Suicide Squad turned out, and wished there could’ve been more chaos with their wickedness.
  4. What About The Mystery?…I felt like the author could’ve gone further with the whole mystery aspect of the plot as to who else was trying to assassinate the king. I feel like the other villains/antagonists were way too obvious and wished their actually could’ve been more sneakiness behind the scenes amongst the court with more secrets revealed, and I would’ve loved to see scenes or moments with Allesandra trying to figure out who the killer is with her thoughts racing into paranoia. I wanted more courtly intrigue with emphasis on the members of the council and have them be even more scheming than just one character.

Conclusion:

Overall, a fun and entertaining story starring two villains as the main characters and love interests as the story; something you don’t see too often in any sort of work of fiction. Those who appreciate the darker themed stories or the anti-hero characters with obvious morally gray personalities like the characters from both The Young Elites by Marie Lu and You by Caroline Kepnes I think will really enjoy this title!

It didn’t entirely live up to the hype for me, and didn’t put as much focus into certain story components that I’d wished it had, but like I said, entertaining and binge-worthy all the same!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller, Paranormal, YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: House of Salt and Sorrows: by Erin A. Craig

Publish Date: August 6th, 2019
Number of Pages: 416 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance, Mystery, Paranormal

Total Star Rating: 3 Stars

Flushed with starlight and moonlight drowned, all the dreamers are castle-bound. At midnight’s stroke, we will unwind, revealing fantasies soft or unkind. Show me debauched nightmares or sunniest daydreams. Come not as you are, but as you wish to be seen.”

– Erin A. Craig, “House of Salt and Sorrows”

You know the whole aesthetic of reading a book during a stormy evening? The resting by a window, snug in your little reading nook with a blanket, maybe something steaming in a mug nearby along, some candles lit, and joined by your furry BFF napping on your lap?

Yeah…don’t read this book if you enjoy any of that.

Stormy, murky, and unpredictable like the sea, House of Salt and Sorrows is a title that can entice and draw you in like a siren’s call, but the harsh reality hits you too late, and you’re dragged beneath the surface, unable to breath and see in the black abyss of the depths. This book offers great imagery and has a fun oceanic setting with a group of islands, rich with myth, lore, and ancient traditions.

I wish there was more oceanic-centric fantasy, maybe something with mysterious creatures, merfolk, maybe throw in a Kraken for added dramatics? I feel like that kind of world hasn’t been touched on as much as it should; I can only imagine the kind of stories that could come from this kind of setting. I mean, I loved the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (the first one is one of my all-time favorite films).

Seeing the gorgeous cover of this novel, I had high hopes that I’d found that kind of story within the pages…I hadn’t exactly, but I’m not detracting that from the book by any means. The setting was perfect for it with the islands that lined up side by side like a pearl necklace, but there wasn’t much mythical creatures to add to the fantasy aspect this title had been categorized under. It’s rather a light fantasy like Caraval by Stephanie Garber, but I’d consider it more Paranormal Romance than anything.

What I didn’t know at first was how this was actually a retelling of a classic tales from the Brother’s Grimms: The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Retellings of classic fairytales that we’re all familiar with have been a real hit or miss with me, maybe it just depends on which story is being retold, but I hate to say that for the most part, I’m on the side of saying nay rather than yay. I tried to let that also not deter me from how I’d take in this book when I’d read it.

What It’s About:

This story revolves around Annaleigh, who lives with her many sisters, father, and stepmother at Highmoor manor on the island of Salten. It starts off on a dark note as theres a funeral occurring for one of Annaleigh’s sisters. Once there were twelve total sisters, but now it’s down to eight as they’ve all died from the oldest and down the line; each death more tragic and gruesome than the last. With all the grief and tragedy hanging over the family, everyone starts to believe they’re cursed.

After her most recent loss, Annaleigh has started to have nightmares: terrible and disturbing images plague her mind. She starts to suspect the worst: that her sister’s deaths might not be accidents, that they may have been murdered by some malicious force.

She discovers her sisters have been sneaking out at night; it turns out they’d found some sort of portal within a seaside cave that transports them to foreign lands with glitzy and enchanting balls, but starts to wonder what is real and what is a mirage of the mind playing tricks on her. To make matters even more tense and confusing, a beautiful and mysterious stranger arrives onto the island, and he carries some secrets of his own.

More and more death and darkness unravels in her life, bodies show up as she tries to get answers, Annaleigh has to race against the shadows in order to save herself and her family from suffering the same fate of those she’s lost…

What I Liked:

  1. The Cover/Overall Design Aesthetic! The cover is a work of art in my opinion, and the overall dark and murky tide pool aquatic design theme was a big draw for me. I’ve always loved the ocean and its many secrets, and with the book also featuring imagery of an octopus throughout the inside of the jacket and through the pages for each chapter, it satisfies my aquatic adoration. Overall, excellent work on the people at Delacorte Publishing that’d given this aesthetic the green light!
  2. There’s Some Creepy, Horror Elements! With the main plot of the story involving a multiple-corpse murder mystery, the author added a paranormal aspect with some actually unsettling scenes throughout. Some were pretty cliché, but the author describes the shadow play for these scenes in a creative and creepy way, and uses Annaleigh’s fear with the anticipation of something popping out at her, and questioning of her sanity before actually coming face-to-face with them in great ways.
  3. The Slow-Burn Romance! Another aspect that drew me in was the romance Annaleigh develops with Cassius. It has a rather slow start, but when it finally starts to take off, it gets pretty entertaining! Cassius has the combination of medium length dark hair paired with pale eyes, and that shit is stuff I never get tired of. Added bonus is the air of mystery that surrounds him as more and more deaths occur, and he becomes a possible suspect.
  4. The Big Reveal In The Climax! Obviously I won’t spoil it for you folks, but I can for sure say that you won’t see it coming when it’s revealed what exactly is going down on the island of Salten. Part of it did actually disappoint me though; I thought it was a little randomly added in and didn’t do much for me, but again, I’m not going to spoil it. Just read it and see what you think.
  5. It’s An Accurate Retelling! So I’d mentioned earlier how this novel is actually a retelling from one of the many tales of the Brothers Grimm, and after looking more into the original story, it was fun to see how the author incorporated all the main criteria of the tale into her own story. There was the mystery of the 12 sisters and how their shoes would get worn out even as they never left their room–according to their father. There was also the contest the father initiated to whomever could solve it, and even the mysterious man who later arrives. Not everything matched up in the same order of the story, but all the main criteria was present, and twisted around to make the story new and fresh.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Main Character was Lacking…Annaleigh was just so bland in my opinion… I felt like I’d never really gotten a sense of who she was outside of trying to solve the murder mystery the plot centered around. To me, she was just a forgettable Mary Sue protagonist that was merely tugged along by the story, and swept away by the enchanting romance.
  2. Such A Slower Pace…Take this with a grain of salt as I am a 26-year-old male saying this…I mean, I’m gay too, but okay…This book for the first 200 pages was just way too slow for me. Like, it focused more on the outfits the sisters would wear, or what boring/everyday activity they were off to do. A 13-year-old boy, girl, or non-binary might find it more intriguing than I did, but like I said, this is a YA title, so it does somewhat come with the territory. It does get better as the plot thickens, but by that point, my overall interest wanes to the point of wanting to say screw it and tossing this title on the DNF shelf.

Conclusion:

Fans of Guillermo Del Toro will enjoy this enchanting, gothic, ominous, and somewhat romantic retelling of a classic Brother’s Grimm’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The story has sweeping ball gowns smooth as silk, luminescent gala’s to get lost in, beautiful strangers that catch your eye, the offering of a hand with a dark and heated gaze, and something not entirely this world chasing you along a dark corridor.

Like I’d said earlier, this book wasn’t necessarily one for me; I don’t plan on keeping it in my personal library, but I can definitely see the appeal it can draw to younger readers who love a romantic suspense of a story with fairytale-like vibe. The novel offers great visuals and has an overall gorgeous aesthetic, I just wished it’d moved faster at the beginning and focused less on the detail of the gowns and instead added even more chills and danger.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell