Book review: "Legendary" (Caraval #2) by Stephanie Garber (audiobook)

Legendary

If you read my review of “Caraval” last year, you probably can guess that I had a lot of reservations about “Legendary”. I felt let down by “Caraval” so much that I even considered not picking up the sequel. But since I am a glutton for punishment, I did request a physical copy of “Legendary” from the library. I must say, Stephanie Garber’s books have stunning covers, both US and UK editions.

I thought that I could get through “Legendary” but quickly realized that I didn’t care much to read the physical copy and got myself an audiobook instead.

Synopsis

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.

Review

Whatever I said about the writing and plot holes in “Caraval”, sadly, still applies for “Legendary”. The characters seem to be two-dimensional, flat, their traits exaggerated beyond measure. The writing only follows the same route: the book is full of beautiful but completely useless in their abundance similes and metaphors like, “and her dress was made out of blue silk and midnight stars” (not an exact quote, but you get the meaning). It would have felt more magical and profound if not for the complete lack of world building and character development. Using pretty words won’t help the lack of plot.

“Caraval” was told from Scarlet's point of view. Her main objective in the first book was to find her missing sister Donatella. She does find her, but the ending has a twist that left a sour taste in my mouth. I felt that Donatella had betrayed her sister, and there was nothing that could redeem her in my eyes, even though Scarlet, naturally, forgives her sister. (I had a problem with it also because Scarlet should have had PTSD after everything that happened, but her feelings and mental state after events in “Caraval” were not addressed.)

Donatella was portrayed as spoiled, uncontrollable, impulsive, and greedy. Yes, Scarlet still loved her and forgave her, but that was how Donatella was depicted in the book. And I hated her.

In “Legendary” though, Donatella is portrayed as impulsive, yes, but also very determined to save and protect her sister in any way possible. Her character voice in the second book changed so much that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Donatella is fierce and unbending but also very gullible, which really goes against her character who reminds us again and again that “she does not kiss the same boys twice”. I found that annoying as her character seemed to be inconsistent with what she was in the first book - at least, this is how it felt to me.

Throughout “Legendary”, Donatella is being almost thrown at one of the villains of the story by the author. She constantly says that she should not trust him and that she is disgusted by what he did, etc., but she is still attracted to him. I found that too unrealistic, as that character went beyond the mere trope of “a bad boy”. He was written as a real villain, who would even force himself on Donatella (there were at least one or two kisses that she did not consent for), and somehow she also found that exciting. I think that Stephanie Garber was trying very hard to create some sort of a love triangle, but it felt forced and unattractive to me.

The author tried to include some red herrings in the narrative, but it was done in such a blunt way that it was just ridiculous. For almost two-thirds of the book, Donatella kept saying that she couldn't believe that THIS could be true. And lo and behold, it turns out to be true. What a twist!

The only thing that “Legendary” made me happy about was Dante. I love his character, and we get to see more of him in this book, which was exciting. My favourite moment in the book was: “And, oh glory, he was shirtless. So very shirtless.”

(I keep hoping to see at least some LGBTQ+ representation in Caraval trilogy, but alas. My headcanon is that Dante is bisexual or polysexual - that would have been very cool.)

Scarlet was barely present in the book, and the way Donatella sees her is also skewed, in my opinion, from what she truly is as a character. At some point, Donatella even starts to doubt her sister. And, once again, big surprise - she shouldn’t have!

I think that overall Stephanie’s writing did improve from book one. “Legendary” is heavy on romance and not so heavy on fantasy and magic, which is a big let down once again. I love Rebecca’s narration - it was the only thing to keep me from giving up on his book. I will most probably pick up the last book in the trilogy in audio as well. I have no idea where the plot would go in book 3, as there is barely any plot, to begin with. I guess we need to get our happy ending for everyone so there will be more romance. Oh boy.

Plot: 2.5 stars
Narration: 4 stars
Overall rating: 3.25 stars

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Book review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (audiobook)

The Hazel Wood  

This review might contain spoilers.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is the first book in the new, young adult, fantasy trilogy. The moment I heard about this book, it became one of my most anticipated releases of 2018. I ordered my first Owlcrate subscription box and received an exclusive cover edition of The Hazel Wood. I was so happy!

Months later, my excitement abated a bit, but I still wanted to read the book. When I found out that Rebecca Soler narrates the audiobook version, I immediately ordered it from Audible.

Synopsis

 

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Review

 

I have mixed feelings about The Hazel Wood. First of all, Rebecca’s narration is fabulous, and whatever misgivings I have about the book, they have nothing to do with the narrator.

For some reason, I expected The Hazel Wood to be like “The Darkest Part of the Forest” by Holly Black (which is one of my most favourite YA fantasy novels - I am still not over the fact that it is a stand-alone). But it is different, although, at times, especially moments about the forests and Hinterland dwellers coming through to the real world did remind me of Holly Black writing. Alice, the main protagonist, sometimes reminded me of Kate from This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab - she is a straightforward and unapologetic girl with anger management issues.

And that is the problem with The Hazel Wood - it reminded me of other books I have already read. Not too much, but enough that I felt as if the story was not original enough. I loved the idea of travelling between worlds and the book with creepy fairy tales. That is definitely something that I enjoy in stories. More so, Melissa does an excellent job at developing the plot and characters and weaving in references here and there.

The main protagonist is Alice Proserpine - her first name, obviously, refers to Alice from Wonderland, and her last name - to Proserpine (or Persephone in Ancient Greece), the ancient Roman goddess, who was kidnapped by the god of Underworld. Thankfully, Alice from The Hazelwood had a better fate than that of Persephone.

There were other literary references, multiple mentions of Kurt Vonnegut, Harry Potter, and other classics.

Alice, her mother Ella (which is short for Vanilla, by the way), her grandmother Althea - all seem to have rather sonorous names creating almost alliteration. Even, Ellery (Finch) fits into the trend.

Alice is not a likeable character, and she is not supposed to be one. But seeing as the narrative is told from her perspective, it is hard to be completely detached from her personality. I neither liked nor disliked Alice. I felt that she was well developed, but failed to make me care about her as a character. Same about the plot. The Hazel Wood failed to make me care.

The only character whom I liked was Finch. I did not like him from the very beginning, but I liked him later, for his determination and excitement about the Althea Proserpine’s book and Hinterland. He was also very sweet to Alice, and even though later we learned about some of his ulterior motives, it still does not cancel out the fact that he did a lot for her.

And she was a shitty friend in return.

Sadly, Finch’s fate turned out to be a sad one, and seeing as he was the only character of colour in the book, his mistreatment by the plot does not sit well with me. I thought about it a lot. It is possible to argue that Finch got exactly what he wanted (I can’t really say more for fear of spoiling it all), but I just don’t like the way it was delivered in the book.

There was a reference to the police mistreatment of people of colour in the book. And there was at least one canon same-sex couple. I must give it to Melissa, she did try to cross her Ts to make the book diverse and appealing to all readers, but I still found that the book was lacking in this regard as well.

I am torn. I can compare The Hazel Wood to a slightly warped mirror reflection - everything seems to be in place, but at the same something is off. I wish I loved this book, but I didn’t. I liked the wrapper but not the filling.

I still plan to continue with the series - although the ending of The Hazel Wood wrapped up so nicely, I am surprised it is not a stand-alone - I hope that since it was a debut novel, the sequel will be better.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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I created a mood board inspired by The Hazel Wood, as it is a very atmospheric book. I made two versions - one with black and another with biracial Finch. (Since the book didn’t specify and I loved both images that I found.)

Version #1

The Hazel Wood mood board 1

 

Version #2

 

The Hazel Wood mood board 2

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Book review: Island of Exiles (The Ryogan Chronicles, #1) by Erica Cameron

Island of Exiles  

I was provided with an e-ARC copy of "Island of Exiles" by Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review. The book seemed like a perfect read for me as it was advertised as a YA Fantasy novel with LGBTQ+ characters.

Since I will be discussing world building and some of the relationships in the book, please, be aware that there might be minor spoilers ahead.

 

Summary

 

In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.

On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.

But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya's home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she's never seen.

To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run—a betrayal and a death sentence.

Review

I started reading "Island of Exiles" at the end of November but due to some personal reasons, unrelated to the book, had to stop. I picked it up again in January and realized that I needed to start from the very beginning. I did just that, and I am very glad I did because I wanted to give this book justice and I felt that I wouldn’t have been able otherwise.

The strongest point of the book is the worldbuilding. But, sadly, it is, in a way, its weak point as well. The author created a fascinated world: the events of the novel take place on an island with very harsh, desert-like landscape and raging storms. The hierarchy of the clan is very strict; the obedience is not questioned; the rations are scarce. You train, fight, and die young. Erica Cameron developed the magic system and the society's structure in which your magical ability defies your position in the world. Every type of skill and status has its own name. The language of this world is quite extensive, which makes the process of submerging into the narrative extremely slow.

Plainly speaking, it will take you some time to get used to all the words and definitions. It is not a bad thing, and many of high fantasy adult novels have complex worldbuilding, including their races, cultures, and languages, but in the case of a YA novel, it slows down the pace of the narrative.

When I started "Island of Exiles" for the second time, I already knew what to expect and made sure to pay attention to the world of Itagami. It made it easier to get into the story again for sure. I do admit, that the narrative does not develop as quickly as I would have prefered in the beginning and once you hit one third into the book - this is when fun stuff happens.

By the end of the book, I was comfortable enough with terms and definitions that I didn’t feel like I was walking in the dark anymore (by the way, there is a glossary at the end of the book - I wish I had known!). I flew through the remaining pages, very keen to find out what happens next.

Let me tell you - the plot went into a completely different direction from what I expected!

My favourite part "Island of Exiles" was the gender and sexuality diversity of this world. People are born of either of three genders: male, female or ebet (which is explained in the glossary as the sex designation for those neither male nor female; while reading the book I kept thinking about intersex, although I can not claim if it is what the author intended it to be). There are specific pronouns for ebets too. Relationships between people can be khai (a relationship chosen specifically to produce children) or sumai (a deep bond/partnership/love, which does not necessarily have to be sexual and can be created between siblings, for example). Or relationships can be simply casual. The sexuality is never discussed or mentioned as something “normal” or not. Anyone can be attracted to any gender or or be ushimo, i.e. asexual or fall on asexual spectrum.

I loved this aspect of the world so much! I wish Erica Cameron would write a pure romance within this world as it would have so many possibilities!

I had some problems with the main character, Khya, as I had trouble understanding some of her actions. She kept referring to Tessen stealing her promotions - something which I only vaguely grasped. She seemed to be hell-bent on distrusting Tessen, while he was only ever amicable and pleasant to her and others. It felt as if the author was trying so hard to make it “enemies to lovers” type of relationship that it felt a bit unnatural. The same thing about Khya’s obsession with her brother, Yorri, that was borderline possessive and manipulative.

I feel as if Yorri’s character was not developed in full either, but hopefully, it is going to be remedied in the sequel.

My favourite characters were Tessen, Sanii and Etaro. I also suspect something is going on between Etaro and Rai - or maybe it is my wishful thinking, but I hope for the happy ending for all characters.

Since I am lucky to have already received the second book in The Ryogan Chronicles, Sea of Strangers, I jumped into it right after finishing “Island of Exiles”. Can not wait to see what happens next.

Highly recommend "Island of Exiles" to those who would not be intimidated by a complex glossary of the world and to the fans of diverse reads.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Book review: "Royal Bastards" (Royal Bastards #1) by Andrew Shvarts

Royal Bastards  

This book got on my radar thanks to Indigo. Some time ago, they had Royal Bastards listed under Diverse Reads category - the section that I tend to scout religiously for new releases. This book is no longer listed there, and who knows, perhaps, I imagined it, but I was looking forward to reading a new YA fantasy anyway.

Summary

 

Being a bastard blows. Tilla would know. Her father, Lord Kent of the Western Province, loved her as a child, but cast her aside as soon as he had trueborn children.

 

At sixteen, Tilla spends her days exploring long-forgotten tunnels beneath the castle with her stablehand half brother, Jax, and her nights drinking with the servants, passing out on Jax’s floor while her castle bedroom collects dust. Tilla secretly longs to sit by her father’s side, resplendent in a sparkling gown, enjoying feasts with the rest of the family. Instead, she sits with the other bastards, like Miles of House Hampstedt, an awkward scholar who’s been in love with Tilla since they were children.

 

Then, at a feast honoring the visiting princess Lyriana, the royal shocks everyone by choosing to sit at the Bastards’ Table. Before she knows it, Tilla is leading the sheltered princess on a late-night escapade. Along with Jax, Miles, and fellow bastard Zell, a Zitochi warrior from the north, they stumble upon a crime they were never meant to witness.

 

Rebellion is brewing in the west, and a brutal coup leaves Lyriana’s uncle, the Royal Archmagus, dead—with Lyriana next on the list. The group flees for their lives, relentlessly pursued by murderous mercenaries; their own parents have put a price on their heads to prevent the king and his powerful Royal Mages from discovering their treachery.

 

The bastards band together, realizing they alone have the power to prevent a civil war that will tear their kingdom apart—if they can warn the king in time. And if they can survive the journey . .

 

Review

 

Royal Bastards is written in a rather simple and uncomplicated language which makes it a very easy read. It took me awhile to finish it, only because the book was due back to the library and I had to wait till I could pick it up again. Once I started reading it again, I managed to read almost 200 pages in one evening. A very easy read, indeed.

 

I had several issues with the narrative - most of them being connected to the fact that the author tells us things as opposed to showing. Granted, there are things that need to be delivered via exposition but for me, it was just a bit too much. The band of characters, the royal bastards, reads like a group of friends from a contemporary romance novel: a tomboy girl, a nerdy kid, a popular girl, a boy next door/BFF, and a bad boy with a heart of gold. You know what I mean. Not that it is a bad thing to include tropes, but for the fantasy book it was not necessary at all.

 

There are a lot of moments in which the characters conveniently discover certain things in their bags to help them on their journey or turns out they have hidden talents. It made the narrative a bit plain and predictable at times.

 

It is a debut novel, and, sadly, has typical mistakes of one. Not a bad book. Definitely, entertaining. The best action happened in the last 40-50 pages of it, though. There were some pretty good jokes too. In my opinion, the dialogues are the strongest part of the book.

 

However,  the plot and the intrigue that the author was trying to spin were the weakest points. “Royal Bastards” does read like a nice adventure/romance, but does not hold against an expectation of a high fantasy novel.

 

As for the diversity aspect. Well, there is a secondary character who appears by the end of the book and who is mentioned to be gay, but it is mentioned in passing, and by no means qualifies as a diverse read or a book with LGBTQ+ characters. Will see if this changes in Book 2. “City of Bastards” is coming out this June.

 

I do plan to continue with the trilogy. In spite of tropey tropes, I am curious to see where the story would go and I do like some of the characters.

 

Rating: 3 stars

 

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Cover Reveal: "Bring Me Their Hearts" by Sara Wolf

In a new series Publishers Weekly has listed as “one of the most anticipated YA's of 2018”, we're excited to share the cover for Bring Me Their Hearts! NYT bestselling author Sara Wolf delivers a fast-paced, gritty fantasy sure to thrill fans of Holly Black, Sabaa Tahir, and Sarah J. Maas.  

ARE YOU READY??

 

 

Bring Me Their Hearts

 

About the book

 

Zera is a Heartless—the immortal, unaging soldier of a witch. Bound to the witch Nightsinger ever since she saved her from the bandits who murdered her family, Zera longs for freedom from the woods they hide in. With her heart in a jar under Nightsinger’s control, she serves the witch unquestioningly.

Until Nightsinger asks Zera for a prince’s heart in exchange for her own, with one addendum: if she’s discovered infiltrating the court, Nightsinger will destroy Zera’s heart rather than see her tortured by the witch-hating nobles.

Crown Prince Lucien d’Malvane hates the royal court as much as it loves him—every tutor too afraid to correct him and every girl jockeying for a place at his darkly handsome side. No one can challenge him—until the arrival of Lady Zera. She’s inelegant, smart-mouthed, carefree, and out for his blood. The prince’s honor has him quickly aiming for her throat.

So begins a game of cat and mouse between a girl with nothing to lose and a boy who has it all.

Winner takes the loser’s heart.

Literally.

 

About Sara Wolf:

 

Sara Wolf is a twenty-something author who adores baking, screaming at her cats, and screaming at herself while she types hilarious things. When she was a kid, she was too busy eating dirt to write her first terrible book. Twenty years later, she picked up a keyboard and started mashing her fists on it and created the monster known as the Lovely Vicious series. She lives in San Diego with two cats, a crippling-yet-refreshing sense of self-doubt, and not enough fruit tarts ever.

 

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Entangled Publishing: https://entangledpublishing.com/bring-me-their-hearts.html

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07232WZBF

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bring-me-their-hearts-sara-wolf/1126358416

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/bring-me-their-hearts/id1237042410

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/bring-me-their-hearts

Goodreads Link:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35144326-bring-me-their-hearts

 

Release Date: June 5th, 2018