Review | Ash Princess (Ash Princess Trilogy #1) by Laura Sebastian

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess–a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.

For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She’s endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.

Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword. And power isn’t always won on the battlefield.

For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.

Title: Ash Princess

Author: Laura Sebastian

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

[SPOILER WARNING]

So this book had an unfair advantage right from the start with me.

I’m a person who likes certain plot points in books, so much that if they’re in a book that was fairly mediocre, it automatically makes me like it a heck of a lot more. Here are some examples:

Boarding school settings

Court intrigue and drama

Magical chosen ones (I know, I know! But only if they’re done well)

Main character either realising they’re part of a different species or becoming one during the book

Badass women who take down the patriarchy (I’m a bit of an SJW so this is a duh one)

Things like that. I would say they’re guilty pleasures, but I don’t feel guilty about them.

Ash Princess has: court intrigue and badass women so already it’s two points ahead before even being opened. (Also I think there are hints about ‘magical chosen one’ stuff in the book but maybe that’ll be explained more in the second book.)

So taking this into consideration, I’ll start with the thing I wasn’t a fan of:

Hidden tunnels:

There were hidden tunnels all throughout the castle, all of which had secret openings and had never been discovered by the invaders.

Would it have been so bad for the rebels to have helped the Princess escape through one of these at any point throughout her abusive childhood? She could have been raised as a rebel princess, working on strategy and maybe even some powers, building up to take back her country eventually.

I just thought that leaving a young girl to get systematically abused and emotionally broken for years when there is a way out was a pretty harsh thing to do. Sure, there were some good reasons why it could be hard: her shadows following her every move, the rebels being quite a small group until later on in the invasion years, and she was technically ‘safer’ in terms of purely being alive in the castle I suppose. But it gave the book a bit of a bad undertone for me.

Also, is Theo knew about them herself, I have a hard time believing a young girl wouldn’t think to even attempt to escape through them once. Maybe just a blocked up tunnel to show how she tried to do this in her youth would have helped me believe it a bit more?

So yeah, that was pretty much my main gripe about this book. The rest was pretty good!

Things I liked:

Worldbuilding:

Though we didn’t get to hear or see a huge amount about the other cultures in this world, considering we’re stuck inside a castle with no outside communication for a lot of it, we did get a map and some descriptions of the places that the invaders took over on their way to Theo’s country.

I liked how the main exports of the countries were mentioned, and how the invaders jumped from country to country using up all of the resources and taking any valuable exports for themselves. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this developed, maybe some more history thrown in to give us a solid grasp on the cultures and traditions of each place, in the future books.

Theo’s Character:

Theo starts out extremely downtrodden and broken from an entire childhood of whippings, beatings, and psychological abuse from the same people who killed her mother. This makes complete sense, especially considering a more strong-minded person in her situation would have probably done something to get themselves killed by her age.

The slow build of her confidence from beginning to end of the book was good, if a smidge fast in some places. I put that down to her mum’s influence and memory, so it’s understandable, and I look forward to even more character development in the next books in the series.

Love triangle:

I’m not a huge fan of these usually, preferring a slow build romance with one person to a ‘who shall I choose’ scenario. I swear, I don’t know anyone who’s ever had that dilemma in real life, so I’m not sure how it got so prominent really.

Saying that, this one was handled nicely I think. No insta-love for either guy, just a few butterflies and some guilt. I assume this will come to a head in the later books, but I’m glad it held off for the first book. It would have felt too crammed in if the author had also tried to cover a realistic romance alongside her emotional development and the court scheming. That, or it would have been a much longer book!

Overall, I really liked this book and enjoyed it, it stuck in my head long after I’d read it. I liked the flawed main character, and her loyalty to her country, and look forward to seeing more of her growth and adventures in the future.

Review | Swarm (Zeroes, #2) by Scott Westerfeld

X-Men meets Heroes when New York Times bestselling author Scott Westerfeld teams up with award-winning authors Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti in the second book of an explosive new trilogy about a group of teens with amazing abilities.

They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes.

These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers and mobsters. Now they’re trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground.

But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister.

Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him.

Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army?

Title: Swarm

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Genre: Paranormal

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

SPOILER WARNING: Obviously if you haven’t read Zeroes (the first in this series) then this will probably be a spoiler for that, but there will probably be some spoilers for people who haven’t read Swarm too so tread lightly.

I think I’m going to sum this book up like this: A fun comfort read that still manages to leave me a tiny bit heartbroken waiting for the next book.

Confused? Don’t worry, it’ll make sense in a bit… or if you read the book yourself!

I’m going to start with the things I wasn’t so sure about with this book, because it’s a fairly short list considering I still gave it four stars and I may as well get this part over with.

*cracks knuckles*

I remember quite a few times in this book feeling confused as to what character chapter I was in. I think this wasn’t helped by the swap over happening at the same time as a scene that includes the whole team, but I kept having to check the chapter heading and it broke me out of the flow of a book a little.

Also this book suffers from the issue of:

Minor character needs to tell the major character some information, but for some reason chooses to say it cryptically with only half of the information necessary to actually help them. This therefore leads to the obvious scene of “I told you this would happen!” “No, you said (vague description here), that wasn’t helpful!” which could have so easily been avoided. It’s not a big thing, but it’s something that really bugs me.

It would make more sense if someone was trying to be obtuse on purpose, or actually can’t say the information, but it felt held back in this case purely for plot convenience.

And done! There really wasn’t much for me to get annoyed about in this book, hence the high rating.

On to the good stuff then!

I liked the different insecurities of all the main characters, following on from the first book:

Crash is still feeling guilty whenever she crashes anything, and worries both about being in civilisation and away from it because both have bad effects on her.

Thibault is still struggling whenever anyone forgets him and still doesn’t quite believe that Flicker really does recognise him and remember. The scenes highlighting this pain with his family are especially hard to read, in a good way.

And Mob is trying to figure out who she is, in or out of a crowd, and deal with her dad’s death in the previous book.

I really liked seeing the teamwork in this book, especially now it includes Mob, and how they deal with the threats of new Zeroes in their territory and the big evil Swarm.

It was a nice change to have a plot that revolved around Zeroes fighting other Zeroes and the regular people caught in the crossfire. It reminds me of the recent films tackling Superheroes and their effects on the world around them: Superman having to pay for all the damage he causes to buildings etc during his fights, the Avengers having to account for large numbers of deaths that happened on their watch even if they did manage to save the day.

It’s a nice side of saving the world that didn’t get talked about much until recently, how the people left actually are after being ‘saved’.

I mean, it wasn’t done hugely in-depth in Swarm, but it was included, and I liked that.

The build up to the final battle was done very well too: I wasn’t able to guess what was going to happen, and even though it was a little short for my tastes it really ended the book with a bang.

And THAT ENDING. Seriously, you may need tissues for this one if you’re a crier. I know I’m fairly used to characters I like dying or leaving or just not being seen again in books, but this just felt like a stab to my heart when I read it. A good stab though… if that’s a thing?

It really left me wanting to read the next book, which is as much of a good review as most books need anyway!

I would absolutely recommend this series, and honestly anything Scott Westerfeld writes too. Go check his stuff out!

Review | Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicles #1) by Jay Kristoff

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

Title: Nevernight

Author: Jay Kristoff

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I knew barely twenty pages in that I was going to love this book.

I’d already loved The Illuminae files, by both Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufmann, but that’s never a guarantee that you’ll like an individual author’s work. So I took a gamble, based on so many great reviews of Jay Kristoff’s own work, and dived in. And wow am I glad I did.

This book had so much! Fantasy, murder, a world with three suns, a shadow cat, a school for assassins… and that isn’t even all of it!

Let’s start with the main character:

Now, you’d think someone whose main drive is killing the people who destroyed her family would be quite heroic, fairly good on the moral compass right? But then!!

In the first chapter she murders someone.

So then she’s this extremely morally grey character, and I love her even more for it. All through the book she’s looking out for herself and those she loves extremely dearly, all with the goal of avenging her family. And it makes her just as awesome as she sounds.

She’s clever without being amazing at everything, has a fringe (as a fringe-bearer myself this was an extremely important thing – book characters NEVER have fringes!), and is extremely headstrong and determined. In short, I love her.

In terms of plot, this book has so much crammed into it. For effectively being a book about succeeding at a school of assassins, it doesn’t feel at all one-dimensional, or linear. Lots of stuff happens, and lots of intriguing side plots are examined to potentially lead on to future books in the trilogy.

The writing style felt tinged with a sort of Terry Pratchett-esque magic, in the shadow that was shaped like a cat, and the little sub-notes in the margins, and the very interesting perspective, it was lovely to read.

The dialogue is so sarcastic and realistic… seriously, Kristoff can write dialogue with the best of them! There were phrases that made me laugh out loud, tear up, any emotion you can name I’m sure I had it while reading this book.

And the worldbuilding! He managed to add rises and falls of civilisations, how three suns would affect a world and a religion, and even completely believable cultures in other parts of the world. I seriously couldn’t find anything I didn’t like about this worldbuilding. Even the mystery surrounding Mia’s shadow-cat and abilities was dealt with slowly and complete enough that I didn’t feel like the plot-line was dangling at the end of the book.

One teency bit… just the tiniest thing really… but there was a sub-note mention of the trope of a guy getting into trouble sleeping with twins. *deadpan face* Now, it may just be because I’m an identical twin myself, but those sorts of things just stand out like neon signs to me. The NUMBER of times you and your sister get propositioned throughout your life when your a twin is almost uncountable, so it begins to seriously grate. I mean… does anyone else relish the thought of sleeping with their own sibling?? I always thought it was unappetising at the very least, and seeing it in a book unchallenged was a little black mark for this book. If homophobia or racism goes into a book and is unchallenged by any character morally, it gets pointed out as immoral or potentially dangerous, but incest is a-okay? *shrugs*

Okay, rant over. *brushes self off*

Anywhoo, it didn’t lower the star marks of this book for me, so it still gets a glowing 5 stars. (Just maybe the teenciest of black dots on one of the stars… right there, you can just about see it.)

I mean, you can tell I loved the book considering I pre-ordered the paperback of Godsgrave before the book was even properly shut! It gets a minor warning for particularly adult scenes and as many thumbs up as I can possibly give.