Posts Tagged: YA – fantasy

{Review} Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell

March 8, 2014 Review 0 ★★★★

{Review} Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de CastellTraitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
Series: Greatcoats #1
Published by Penguin Canada on March 4, 2014
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that's exactly what's happening...

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they'll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor's blade.

Disclosure:I received this book for free from NetGalley, Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Cover Talk

I hate the first cover, but I love the one on the rerelease (that’s the one pictured above).  I think the first one is boring and plain, and the imagery that is there is kind of cheesy. However, I do like the second one much better–I love the symbolism of the blade, the map, and the coins, and I think it’s much more unique. I do think it looks a little younger, which can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.


Even though I had heard some buzz about this book being an edge-of-your-seat, dashing and daring adventure in a fantastically-built fantasy world, for some reason I was pretty hesitant to dive into this one. (I think because I can be really picky about fantasy novels, even though I love them, which makes me tentative to try new fantasy series.) It’s safe to say I was unexpectedly blown away by this book, though, and I will definitely be following up with the rest of the series when the time comes.

My Thoughts

One of the best things about this book–for me at least–was the tone of this novel. A lot of times I find medieval fantasy to have a more serious tone, but this book was light and funny. It’s witty and smart, but doesn’t feel heavy-handed or overly serious. It was this tone that reeled me in within a matter of pages. (If you’re interested in being sucked in–which you should be–you can check out an excerpt here.)  Here’s the first paragraph of the novel, so you can see what I mean:

“Pretend, just for a moment, that you have attained your most deepseated desire.  Not the simple, sensible one you tell your friends about, but the dream that’s so close to your heart that even as a child you hesitated to speak it out loud.  Imagine, for example, that you had always yearned to be a Greatcoat, one of the legendary sword-wielding magistrates who travelled from the lowliest village to the biggest city, ensuring that any man or woman, high or low, had recourse to the King’s Laws.  A protector to many–maybe even a hero to some.  You feel the thick leather coat of office around your shoulders, the deceptively light weight of its internal bone plates that shield you like armour and the dozens of hidden pockets holding your tools and tricks and esoteric pills and potions.  You grip the sword at your side, knowing that as a Greatcoat you’ve been taught to fight when needed, given the training to take on any man in single combat.”

I think de Castell achieves this effect in two ways 1) Falcio’s narration is charming, endearing, and cunning, which makes for an attractive and smooth-flowing read, and 2) the pacing is quick and zippy which kept me feeling engaged and hooked on finding out the next twist in the plot. Falcio’s winsome character really made the novel for me, because while he definitely has his flaws, it’s very easy to sympathize and understand him because he is completely honest and transparent in his narration.

There were some problems for me–mainly Falcio’s omniscient narration, some lacking worldbuilding, and a predictable conclusion–but I guess it ultimately became a matter of the good far outweighing the bad. Sometimes, for me, a book can be immensely enjoyable even when I really don’t like certain aspects of it, just because it’s so fun to enjoy the good parts. If you are someone who enjoys the fight scenes in Tamora Pierce’s Alanna, Beka Cooper, or Kel series or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling, I think you will definitely love this book. (It was also kind of reminiscent of The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.)

Overall: it’s action-packed, it’s witty, everything moves at lightning speed, and the banter and relationships between characters pulled everything together beautifully. Sebastien de Castell did pretty much everything right in my book.

Share Your Thoughts – Leave a Comment!

Have you read Traitor’s Blade? If so, what did you think of it, and will you be continuing the series? If not, is it on your TBR list? What are some of your favourite medieval fantasy books? (I’m always looking for more recommendations, as it’s my favourite genre!)

4 Stars


Review: Huntress by Malinda Lo

September 23, 2012 Review 8

Malinda Lo
Published: April 2011
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
YA, fantasy, romance, LGBTQ
Goodreads | Amazon| Book Depository

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

— Cover Critique —
I really like the cover – it is quite rare to have an Asian model on YA covers so it is great that the cover hasn’t been whitewashed, as this is something that has happened with other books before. I love the snowy background, hints of purple, blue and grey in the backdrop! Also, by the young woman’s stance you can tell she is determined, strong and a fighter!

— Expectations —

Earlier this year I read Ash by Malinda Lo, and I really enjoyed it, so I thought I’d give Huntress a try. I was very lucky, and won a signed copy during Christa’s YA Pride event at Hooked on Books, so I was even more excited to dig into Huntress.

— Review —

Huntress is a prequel of sorts to Ash, although it is noted that this story takes place many centuries earlier and that there are some cultural differences (Huntress is more Chinese-inspired). While I can see the similarities between Ash and Huntress, I found it easier to read the book as if the two weren’t loosely connected. With that said, I think overall I enjoyed Ash a bit more, but Malinda Lo was again able to write a beautiful book, with strong lesbian female characters, so I can’t complain too much!
Huntress tells the story of Kaede and Taisin, two young women who depart on a journey of upmost importance, to journey to meet with the Fairy Queen in order to discover what has caused the natural balance to be so disturbed over the past few years. The Kingdom is relying on these two women and their small party, as they cannot survive through many more months, let alone years, of failed crops, and an almost perpetual winter. Taisin has had an unsettling vision, however, and she is worried about what she saw and felt – Kaede leaving her, and a most painful breaking of her heart. How will this influence their journey, and will it ultimately come true?
The book starts out with this retrospective scene of Taisin’s vision of Kaede leaving her, which I loved. It was beautifully written and it started out the story with such emotion! I think it gave a great glimpse to the book overall, as it is beautifully written and is centered around these two young women falling in love. Just as in Ash the romance between the two female characters is introduced so naturally and without over explanation or celebration, just acceptance, which I love! The romance between Taisin and Kaede is timid, slow-building and sweet. You couldn’t help but root for Kaede to recognize her feelings for Taisin!

Like I said, the book is beautiful overall – from the cover to the illustrated map, dividers and of course, the writing. I would often just stop and stare at the pages, or go back and flip through to the map and examine it. Here’s a glimpse into the beauty of this book:

I even bookmarked some passages, and I particularly enjoyed the exchange near the beginning between Kaede and the Mistress of the Academy, as it had a feminist feel to it, the discussion of female agency as Kaede is stuck between her father choosing her future (marriage for political gain) or the Academy telling her she will accept the quest that has been put before her. Kaede speaks out, saying:

I have been here for almost six years. Not the best student, but I have paid attention. And the one thing that has always made sense to me is the teaching that every individual has the right to make choices about their lives. Every minute of every day, we make choices. Why would you take that away from me now?”… From across the table, Sister Yuna said softly, “She is right. She deserves to choose her own path.”. (20)

However, as much as I enjoyed the writing, the diversity of the characters and the romance between Kaede and Taisin, I encountered a few of the same problems I had with Ash. It is at times hard to connect with the characters because of the third person narrative that shifts between the two characters. I would have liked to experience their emotions as they experienced them! In addition, the story has a very slow pace for the most part. For more than 240 pages the characters are setting out on their journey, riding their horses and camping. While they do encounter challenges along the way, it did seem a little too drawn out. A girl can only take so many descriptions of the woods and horseback riding, haha! Despite these two drawbacks, I did enjoy the magical elements that the Xi (fey) brought to the story, and there were some rather exciting scenes, such as when a huge pack of mystical wolves attacks the camp.
Overall, while I enjoyed Ash a bit more than Huntress, it is a story that can still be appreciated for its unique story, strong female characters, and beautiful writing. While reading it often reminded me of Graceling by Kristin Cashore (and not just because of all the horseback riding scenes, I swear!), so if you loved that one, I’d recommend this one to you.

rating 3.5

This post has been part of the A More Diverse Universe blog tour, which celebrates books by authors of color WITH characters of color. Be sure to check out the schedule of reviews going up this week to help support diversity in speculative fiction!


Review: The Mark (The Mark #1) by Jen Nadol

February 7, 2012 Review 4

Author: Jen Nadol
January 2010
YA, fantasy, paranormal

Sixteen year old Cassandra Renfield has seen the mark since forever: a glow around certain people as if a candle were held behind their back.The one time she mentioned it to someone else, the mark was dismissed as a trick of the light.

So Cassie has kept quiet, considering its rare appearances odd, but insignificant. Until the day she watches a man die. Mining her memories, Cassie realizes she can see a person’s imminent death. Not how or where, only when: today.

Cassie searches her past, her philosophy lessons, even her new boyfriend for answers, answers, always careful to hide her secret. How does the mark work? Why her? Most importantly: if you know today is someone’s last, should you tell them?

— Cover Critique —
The cover is really pretty. I like the soft glow, the purple background and the pinkish dandelion being blown off into the air. 

— Expectations —

I bought this for my Kobo, thinking that the premise sounded really interesting. I checked Goodreads before I purchased it and it had some good reviews.
— Review —

One thing you should know about me is that if I start a book, I’m very likely to finish it even if I don’t like it at all. Why? Well, I usually still want to find out what the author does with the story. Sometimes I am just too far in to give up, and figure I might as well finish reading. Both of these reasons apply to why I finished The Mark.

Cass has a gift, or maybe it’s a curse, but whichever it is, it means she can see this aura or glow around a person that lets her know that person has only hours to live. She doesn’t know how she knows this, or why she has this ability, she just does. As many would, Cass struggles with the ethical dilemma of telling the people she sees that they have a very limited time on earth, or letting them go about their last day without the knowledge of impending death. This dilemma becomes closely personal when Cass has to make some important decisions about those she loves. Should she tell? Or maybe more importantly, CAN she?

I like the premise of The Mark – the examination of the ethics behind knowing that it someone’s last day and whether one should tell them or not – but the execution of the novel really fell flat for me. For starters, I never made a connection with the main characters. Some pretty important stuff happens, and yet there I was, not truly caring what happened to them, even the characters I wanted to love. I’m a crier, but not a tear was shed, even at some of the really emotional parts. I just couldn’t do it. The character development seemed very rushed to me, and the characters flip flopped around a bit. One page they would say something, pretty definitively I might add, but then easily go against their previous declaration a few chapters later. They may or may not have been a few dramatic eye rolls given throughout this book. I’m just saying.

Cass was said to be being smart and mature, however, some of her actions and attitudes did not reflect this at all, and she actually came across as very immature to me. Her relationship with Lucas seemed very contrived, and was very weird. *SPOILER* There was hardly any build up and all of a sudden they were sleeping with each other, which was very out of the blue and seemed to go against the little I knew about Cass. *SPOILER END* I didn’t really find their relationship engaging either. I did, however, find myself interested in some of the minor characters such as Cass’s best friend, and the coffee shop guy, Doug, but these characters were hardly given any page time.

If the problem was just character development, and The Mark had a great plot driving the story I might have been able to give this book a rating of 2.5. But nothing ever seemed to really happen. Everything seemed very rushed, yet at the same time there were hardly any developments. I know that doesn’t make a ton of sense… but that’s how it felt. A few times something potentially interesting or exciting would happen, but it would be quickly resolved, leaving me disappointed and feeling as if I was on a treadmill, experiencing much of the same dialogue again and again, with the same points being rehashed. Also, the leaps forward through time with very little explanation were jarring, and were done too easily in my opinion, as if the author didn’t know how to write the characters and plot going from Point A to Point B.

Overall, I just couldn’t get into this book – it didn’t do anything for me. I found myself frustrated with the characters and plot numerous times. The ending seemed too neatly wrapped up, but it apparently is a trilogy, and the sequel has already been released. I’m not going to say don’t read this book, or the sequel, because my opinion of the book won’t necessarily be yours. If you are interested in some more favourable reviews of The Mark then please check out the links below:

Did you read The Mark? Did you love it or hate it? If you had one last day on earth, would you want to be told? How would you spend it?


Review: Ash by Malinda Lo

February 2, 2012 Review 5

Title: Ash 

Author: Malinda Lo
September 2009
YA, romance, fantasy, LGBTQ

Challenge: e-Book

In the wake of her father’s death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do.

When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash’s capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

— Cover Critique —

The cover has this subtle beauty to it. I love its simplicity, and the contrast between the dark background and Ash in her white dress. Plus, there’s purple, my favourite colour!

— Expectations —

I expected a good fairy tale (it’s a pseudo-retelling of Cinderella) and some strong characters. I’d been introduced to this book by a post from the Bitch YA Book Club on the BITCH magazine website and thought it sounded interesting.  

— Review —

Ash is said to be a re-imagining of the age-old fairy tale, Cinderella. However, don’t let that fact dissuade you from picking up this book if fairy tales aren’t your thing, because you can easily find yourself being lost in the story without it conjuring up images of pumpkin carriages, cute little mice, and glass slippers from your Disney childhood. Sure, there is an evil stepmother, and some fairies, but most of the Cinderella references are fairly subtle, as Lo has fashioned a sweet little tale of love, death and magic that is so much more than a young woman falling in love and being rescued from a handsome prince. 

While I did enjoy Ash, I felt that the characters and writing style could have been improved upon. I never felt like I really knew Ash, and I think this is largely due to the third person narrative. I guess that’s common for fairy tales, but it also causes distance between the reader and the main character. I didn’t feel as much of Ash’s own personality come through as I did Kaisa’s or Gwen’s (my two favourite characters). But once I got over the writing style, and my issues with Ash’s characterization, I did find myself enjoying the story much more. 

The strength of Ash lies in the world Malinda Lo has created. I for one, loved many of the names that she chose for her characters: Aisling, Kaisa, Sidhean, Lore, and Aidan, among others. Whereas the personality of some characters lacked at times, I felt that the setting helped bridge these gaps – with Lo’s beautiful descriptions of the Woods, for example, stealing the spotlight at times. I also loved the strength she gave to many of her female characters, which was reflected in the society she created, with female huntresses and the normalcy of same-sex relationships. I liked how this wasn’t a coming out story or a story that focused on the sexuality of the main characters – the fact that Prince Charming was female just wasn’t a big deal. 

Overall, Ash was a charming, and at times exceptionally beautiful, fairy tale that left me with a smile on my face, and a tear in my eye.

Have you read Ash? Did you agree or disagree with my review? What’s your favourite fairytale? Any recommendations for other good fairy tale retellings?


Review: The Alchemy of Forever (Incarnation #1) by Avery Williams

February 1, 2012 Review 0

Title: The Alchemy of Forever (Incarnation #1)
Author: Avery Williams
January 2012
YA, fantasy

Challenges: 2012 Debut Author, e-Book

Seraphina has been alive since the Middle Ages, when her boyfriend, Cyrus, managed to perfect a method of alchemy that lets them swap bodies with any human being. Sera ran away from Cyrus years ago, when she realized that what they were doing–taking the lives of innocent people–was wrong. She doesn’t want to die, so she finds young people who are on the brink of death, and inhabits their bodies.

— Cover Critique —
The cover is absolutely gorgeous. All that purple, pink and blue! Plus, I really love how they illustrated the body swapping with the ghosted image of Serpaphina. 

— Expectations —

I expected a thrilling fantasy with some great discussions about alchemy and the ethics of taking of swapping bodies. 

— Review —

The Alchemy of Forever starts out with very little in the way of an introduction, thrusting the reader into a very important scene between Seraphina and Cyrus, with little foreknowledge of the characters. I think this is the biggest problem I had with the story – not enough time was spent character building (although there are two exceptions) and as a result I had very little invested in the characters and the story. The characters often seemed forced and unnatural, and for some it felt like their role was to pad the story with more faces and names. However, I do think that the two main male characters of Cyrus and the boy next door, Noah, were the exception as they were interesting characters. Cyrus was downright creepy and manipulative, as a good villain should be. Noah was interesting and quirky, kind and caring. I just wish the other characters, especially Seraphina, were given as much attention in the writing process. 

The plot was interesting what with alchemy and body swapping and all, but again, the way it was carried out didn’t work for me. The author was telling the reader a lot of things instead of showing and this made quite dull for me.  The story often seemed to go in circles – Seraphina feels guilty, Seraphina makes a plan, plan fails – wash, rinse, repeat. Honestly, it got a bit annoying, especially when a large part of the book was Seraphine just being scared of Cyrus finding her. 

I’m not saying that this book was down and out awful. The Alchemy of Forever had promise – a thrilling fantasy with a great plot, but a dull main character and too much repetition led to it just being an “OK” read for me. In the end, the reader was left with a cliffhanger of sorts. I might pick up the next book in the series when it comes out, but I think I’ll be borrowing it from my local library instead of purchasing it. I just hope the author can flush out the character of Seraphina more fully by then.

I’m not going to say don’t read this book, or the sequel, because my opinion of the book won’t necessarily be yours. If you are interested in some more favourable reviews of The Alchemy of Forever then please check out the links below: