Book Reviews

A Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West

Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness, this one was good. I loved the main character Bristal, and I loved the setting and I loved the magic system.

Briefly, Bristal becomes one of the lost elicromancers when she is kidnapped and forced into the pool for granting power. She studies magic, but is betrayed by one of her teachers, who believes that elicromancers should rule the world rather than simply influence it. The rest of the novel combines Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, as Bristal works to thwart the plans of her former teacher.

Hannah West throws you straight into the action, in the middle of the kidnapping, in fact. For those who don’t like in media res openings, they will not like this book. It covers a lot of time, and West does not waste time or book space on anything that does not matter to the story. At times, this makes for a bit of choppy storytelling. For example, most of Bristal’s studies, both before and after the betrayal by Tamarice, are simply left out. West summarizes months and years worth of story in a few sentences to let the reader place themselves in the new time and place. It could have felt like cheating, but it served the story well.

The minor weakness of the book flows from that choice, however. A lot of the romance subplot, such as Bristal integrating with the soldiers under the prince, and her interactions with the prince, is summarized while West jumps to another storyline. Given that it is a romantic subplot with a character that doesn’t have much romance in her blood, I thought it was handled very well. Those looking for a typical YA romance, with lots of sighs and torment and pining are going to be disappointed. Bristal is a woman with a lot on her mind, and she doesn’t let her growing feelings divert her from her purpose of saving the world.

This was a very refreshing, interesting read, and I look forward to the next novel in the series.

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Red Winter by Annette Marie

Red Winter by Annette Marie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This YA Fantasy, heavily influenced by Japanese myth and culture, was a bit of a slow start, honestly. I ended up loving it, but the Annette Marie took a great deal of time in the beginning of the book explaining the world and the culture and the myth/magic system. I am familiar with Japanese culture, so someone who wasn’t as familiar would need this information, but a lot of it was given in paragraph after paragraph of explanation.

However, there was just enough character development to keep me reading. Emi started off as a very passive, eager-to-please character, but there were sufficient hints in her backstory to explain her motivations. And then her whole reason for existence was shattered, and Marie treated Emi’s reaction with honesty and grace. This, I think, was the best part of the first half of the book. Emi’s struggles to figure out the secrets in her life were brilliantly handled.

Because this is a YA Fantasy, we must ALWAYS have a romance, right? Well, this one was handled very delicately. Shiro had the typical Mysterious Past ™ of most YA Heroes, but his story was made intriguing by the complete outside perspective Marie gives him. This was not a man with fox ears, this was a Yokai. I especially loved the conversation about human vs yokai morality, where it was clear that Shiro and Emi are from completely separate worlds and it shows in their every interaction. Not that they find no common ground. There were enough hints that I am intrigued to find out which of the two will bend more.

As for the major plot line, it mostly felt like set up for the next two books. This one dealt with Emi’s reaction to her revelation, and her first attempts at rebellion. Given where she starts from, the build up was entirely reasonable. It certainly did its job in making me want to read the other books, but I am not sure I can say much more than that.

Overall, a slow start to what promises to be a really good trilogy, with intriguing characters who have plenty of room for growth.

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We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one was a bit of a culture shock for me. Entirely in a good way though. Coming from a background of 1001 Arabian Nights and Disney’s Aladdin, Hafsah Faizal dumped me into the deep end of the story, and I floundered a bit before I got my bearings. Perhaps some of that was due to the fact that I listened to the audiobook rather than reading an ebook or physical copy. As brilliant as Steve West and Fiona Hardingham were, I still needed the ability to go back and refer to things to make sure I was absorbing everything right.

That said, this book was absolutely brilliant. The character development was fascinating without feeling contrived. I found myself moaning in complete sympathy when Nasir would backslide into old defensive habits, or when Zafira would push through as headstrong as ever. I loved every character, and all were introduced at the perfect time to be memorable and distinct from one another. With an ensemble cast such as this, that balance could be hard to achieve, but Faizal handled it beautifully.

There were also a number of wonderful twists and turns in the story, with revelations around nearly every bend. Faizal treated these well, giving the reader plenty of time between the shocks to adjust to new information. There was only one section where the revelation seemed dropped in the middle of nowhere for no reason. (It’s near the end, so I won’t spoil it.) It turned out to be somewhat necessary to the climax of the plot, but the way it was presented was more of a “let’s give this information away” rather than “let the character earn the revelation”.

But I’m being nitpicky.

This was a wonderful book, and I am on tenterhooks for the next novel. There was a triumphant ending, with just enough loose ends to make me interested without feeling like sequel-bait.

(And tomorrow I get to meet the author!!!! YAY!!!)

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