Skill and Slavery || Gilded Cage Review

gildedcage-review

Initial Thoughts:

Hot damn, but this was a very good book. It was DARK by the end, and now I’m bummed because I have to wait for the second book, but omg, that ending though. I can’t trust anyone in this book! And I definitely should have told myself not to get attached to people. TOO LATE DAMMIT.


GILDED CAGE

by Vic James
Del Rey, February 2017
YA fantasy, dystopia
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley (thank you!)

gildedcageOur world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

Down with the Monarchy, Down with Equality

This book took me a bit by surprise. Not so much because I’d expected it to be bad, but that I’d expected something as heady as slavery and politics to be a slow read and not at all the fast-paced narration I’d encountered in Gilded Cage. So when I started reading, there were many things that I had to soak in and think about, things that I didn’t really see coming, and characters that definitely made me go “OMG X IS REALLY Y HOW CAN I TRUST THIS LITTLE SHIT EVER AGAIN?” by the end of the book.

Luke’s little sis and her friends were careering round behind the house shrieking at the tops of their voices, while some unforgivably awful C-pop boy band blared through the living room window.

The time of the Equals. First off, I did want to point out that one of the most interesting things for me is that this particular England mirrors more of a modern England than any other time period. There are cars and magazines and TV and technology. Heck, the opening scene follows Luke and his family during his sister Daisy’s 10th birthday, and already from the first few paragraphs we are shown that the Hadleys seem to be a regular family living a routine, regular life. Luke is attempting to study for his exams, his older sister Abi is reading a smutty romance novel, and his sister Daisy is partying with her friends. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?

Until, of course, we are told a page or two later that this seemingly ordinary English life is fitted within a city drenched in a history of slavery. And it is still happening as of the beginning of Gilded Cage. Instead of open rebellion against such injustice, Luke takes it in stride and mostly for granted up until his parents sign the entire family up into ten years of enslavement. Then things begin to change for the Hadley family.

Let me tell you, those first few pages in Chapter 1 were already a doozy. Imagine an England where citizenship is not allowed to non-Equals unless they consign themselves into a decade-long servitude. Imagine these non-Equals taking it for what it is and not opposing the government, because what can the Skilless really do against the Skilled Equals, whose mysterious powers are beyond their understanding. It’s pretty heavy stuff, and right then and there I was already on the mindset that things were about to get pretty dark, pretty damn fast.

“Oh, shit” indeed, Varric.

The book largely tells the story of Luke and Abi, brother and sister whose parents decided to take their entire family into the slavedays, where they and their family enter into a period of slavery in order to fulfill their citizenship obligations. Abi, evidently the smartest of the three siblings, has managed to sign her entire family up into servitude at Kynestone, the household of one of the most powerful Equal families in England. It looked like a cushy 10-year position for everyone, except for one thing. By some stroke of misfortune, Luke is separated from his family and taken to Millmoor–a town where slaves are treated like animals. Working conditions are poor, difficult, and very long at Millmoor, and to Luke, it’s only the start of what looks like the most miserable ten years of his life.

Enter the various points of view that really helped with the pacing. I had initially thought the main POVs would be that of Luke and Abi (and quite possibly Daisy, because many reviews mention her a lot), but the book itself had many more characters that were given chapter POVs. It really added a more in-depth look of the inner workings of the Skill and the characters who wield them. It also gave a more in-depth look at some of the character motivations on both sides. After all, it isn’t just Luke and Abi roaming the pages, there’s also Silyen, Euterpe, Gavar, and Bouda. At first I thought this would become problematic, considering a lot of these secondary character POVs only showed up once or twice, but honestly, their chapters helped to form the bigger picture of the world of the Equals.

Beside him, her own exams long since completed, Abi was lost in one of her favorite trashy novels. Luke gave it the side-eye and cringed at the title: Her Master’s Slave. She was nearly finished, and had another pastel-covered horror lined up. The Heir’s Temptation. How someone as smart as his big sister could read such rubbish was beyond him.

And on a related note, I totally related to Abi. Completely and utterly.

“It’s an ability, origin unknown, manifesting in a very small fraction of the population and passed down through our bloodlines. Some talents are universal, such as restoration–that is, healing. Others, such as alteration, persuasion, perception, and infliction, manifest in different degrees from person to person.”

“Magic, you could say?” Silyen offered.

Then there’s the Skill itself. As of Gilded Cage, not much is known about how it manifests in a few people, and what the limits of the Skill are. Some Skilled people are clearly kill-able, yet the how is still a little vague. In some cases, the plot conveniently kills off Skilled people in a fire. Yet others are burned and mutilated, yet somehow within minutes and quite possibly seconds, they are right as rain. There was a bit of explanation about why some siblings had a great deal of Skill while others didn’t, but it was only briefly touched upon, and not altogether fully developed. It will be interesting to see how the Skill continues to be unraveled within the later books.

In the Philippines, Skilled priests regularly repelled dangerous weather systems that threatened their islands. What were Britain’s Equals capable of? Abi wasn’t sure.

The fact that the Skill manifested within the rest of the world makes this magical system even more interesting!

…word must have gone round the whole of Zone D.

And Luke had talked it into existence.

Thinking about that made his head spin. It was almost like Skill–conjuring up something out of nothing.

“There no magic more powerful than the human spirit,” Jackson had said at the third and final club meeting. Luke was beginning to dare to hope that was true.

I couldn’t say which place had been the most interesting part of the book. On the one hand, I thought Luke was getting more action within the story, having been mistakenly thrown into Millmoor as opposed as being stuck in the Jardine household. On the other hand, a lot of political bullshittery hit the fan within the Jardine household that I almost wished Abi had taken some sort of initiative and went out of her way to find out more about the household she served. I mean, there were parts where Abi did do something, but I thought she’d been sidelined as a character who pined for someone unattainable and slaved away as a secretary. She’s much more than that, and I really hope she gets a bit more into the plot in the next book (and from the look of things, it sounds like she will be!).

Be warned: This book ends in a cliffhanger ending. And you might want to cry just a bit if you get attached to certain characters. Because OMG HEARTBREAKING THINGS HAPPEN.

You tell ’em, Meredith!

4 out of 5 cookies! Did I think the pacing work for the book? Yes, I did! Did I enjoy the politics behind it? Surprisingly, I did! Honestly, I thought Bouda Matravers played a great game, though she wasn’t the only one with far-reaching ambitions. Do I want the next book now? Ugh. Don’t talk to me about another trilogy. Because of course I want the next book now.

This book counts as #5 of the Flights of Fantasy Challenge.


gildedcage-bouda

Did you read this book? What did you think?

Russian Folklore Galore || The Bear and the Nightingale Review

bearnightingale-review

Initial Thoughts:

This was the type of book you needed to read in a slow pace beside the crackling of a fireplace. No, seriously, it’s very reminiscent of old-world storytelling, and it was just so damn lovely. And lyrical. And filled with Russian fae-folk. And a badass girl who is not afraid to stare Death in the face. Literally.


THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE

by Katherine Arden
Del Rey, January 2017
Fairy tale fantasy, historical
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies
e-ARC provided by NetGalley (thank you!)

bearnightingaleAt the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Okay, I’m a little late in reviewing this ARC, but I found myself wanting to savor the story, so I took a bit longer in the reading.

A Case of Russian Fairy Tales

I was recommended this book by NetGalley upon the insistence that if I had liked Uprooted by Naomi Novik, I would easily love this book, too. Well, I loved Uprooted, and The Bear and the Nightingale has a similar feel. Both books are drenched in Slavic fairy tales, they are both set in villages too close to a dangerous forest, and in some sense, they feature females who come into their power through sheer necessity. While Novik takes Uprooted to a fantasy world sandbox, Arden brings hers straight to Old World Russia, where villagers still give their thanks to household spirits.

“Let’s go to Sarai, Sashka!” She turned to look at him. “Or Tsargrad, or Buyan, where the sea-king lives with his daughter the swan-maiden. It is not too far. East of the sun, west of the moon.”

I loved that this book was filled with Russian folklore. And it was filled to the brim, I must say. Right from the beginning, Dunya launches into the story of Morozko, the Frost-Demon, and the maiden he was supposed to marry. Then, as though that wasn’t enough, a few other mini-stories litter the pages, producing a fabulously rendered backdrop of old Russia.

Pyotr’s house was alive with devils. A creature with eyes like coals hid in the oven. A little man in the bathhouse winked at her through the steam. A demon like a heap of sticks slouched around the dooryard.

Okay, I do have an obsession with fae folk. This stems from years of reading and writing about them. And it so happens that some of my favorite fae are Russian fae. The rusalka, the domovoi, the bannik…all of them feature in TBatN, and it made my giddy little heart squee with delight when these creatures were brought forth to become important figures within the story.

“Then she must have a husband,” said Dunya simply. “The sooner the better. Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, the bird-prince and the wicked sorcerer–they only come for the wild maiden.”

Not to mention the fact that the book reads very much like a fairy tale. It’s what you would expect from someone telling you a story by the fireside. It just has that kind of feel and poetry. Even the words and descriptions lend well to the type of narration Arden uses (limited, multiple POV), which, if found in a different type of story, might not work as beautifully as it did in this particular case.

Dread settled over the village: a clinging, muttering dread, tenacious as cobwebs.

Seriously, I can so imagine the dread, you guys.

“I’m not sure you’d like to live in the woods,” said Olga. “Baba Yaga might eat us.”

“No,” said Vasya, with perfect assurance. “There is only the one-eyed man. If we stay away from the oak-tree he will never find us.”

I love Vasya. She’s that type of female character who breaks societal norms, especially during the general time period (considering Russia is largely controlled by the Golden Horde, I’d say late 13th century at the earliest) where females are really only faced with two things: matrimony or the convent. Vasya is neither the marrying kind nor a convent girl, and she defies even her father for the type of freedom she wants. Also, she’s nice to horses. That’s always a plus. And while she’s not the type of girl to get tied down by any means, I wouldn’t object to her falling in love with a certain demon…um. Just saying.

“Because I am not Kaschei the Deathless,” said Olga with some asperity. “And I have no horse to outrun the wind.”

I will admit that The Bear and the Nightingale was a little slow to start, and most of it was really just an introduction to characters who disappeared a third into the book. I felt like there wasn’t much discussed regarding Olga at all after her marriage, which was a shame, because there could have been a lot done in Moscow in her perspective. Same with Sasha, who gets talked up so much that I was a little disappointed that we don’t get to see more of him after the halfway point.

You could even say that much of the introductory plot points are just a lead-up to later sequels (which is pretty much happening according to the author, who said that book #2 is already in the editing stages). This is great, because there are a ton of unanswered questions. Well, not so much questions as me going: “THAT CAN’T BE IT. I WANT MOOOORE.”

“Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”

“I still do not understand.”

“That does not mean you cannot learn.”

Seriously, though, if this isn’t a build-up to the sequel kind of quote, I don’t know what is.

But yes, other than that slow start, and perhaps the lack of action until the third part of the book, I thought the book captured old-school fairy telling perfectly. Arden had the mood and setting just right, and even the dark and scary bits were sufficiently dark and scary.

“The Bear is awake.”

“What bear?”

“The shadow on the wall,” said the rusalka, breathing quickly. “The voice in the dark.”

For an evil spirit that inspires fear in the hearts of many, this description of him is spot on.

One by one, her family fell silent. Someone outside was crying. It was little more than a choked whimper, barely audible. But at length there could be no doubt–they heard the muffled sound of a woman weeping.

And NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE. I would be noping out of there so fast if I heard a woman crying outside my house in the dead of night.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! I kind of wished this was a standalone, but at the same time I really want to next book, if only to continue my ride along with Vasya.

This book counts as #3 of the Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge.


bearnightingale-dunya

Have you read this book? What did you think?

 

A Russian Historical Fairy Tale || Blood Red, Snow White Review

bloodred-review

Initial Thoughts: 

I will say that I enjoyed this book, though I find the marketing summaries for it are completely off-base. Yes, it says it’s a fairy tale, but it’s not based on anything recognizable, and it’s not exactly filled with fairy or fantasy-like elements. Yes, it’s a historical fiction previously published in 2007 (also, weirdly enough, as a YA children’s book), but it is not a young adult or children’s novel in any sense of the word. If I wasn’t as liberal-minded as I’d been in my NetGalley reads, I would probably be annoyed for being led astray by the description.

BLOOD RED, SNOW WHITE

by Marcus Sedgwick
Roaring Brook Press, October 2016
Adult historical fiction
Rated: 3 / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley (thank you!)

bloodredWhen writer Arthur Ransome leaves his unhappy marriage in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, he has little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously, romantically entangled with Trotsky’s personal secretary.

Both sides seek to use Arthur to gather and relay information for their own purposes . . . and both grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from conflict with his beloved, but her Russian ties make leaving the country nearly impossible. And the more Arthur resists becoming a pawn, the more entrenched in the game he seems to become.

Three Arcs and One Russia

The book itself is divided into three parts, going from a wistful omniscient narration to a third person limited tone and finally to a first person account of the events taking place before and during the Russian Revolutions. Had the entire book been narrated like it was in the first part, I would have loved it. The narration alone in the beginning was enough to garner this book a higher rating than I gave it, purely because of its whimsical style. It also helped that the narration focused on the Romanovs and the “fairy tale” court of Tsarist Russia.

The second part had a bit of suspense added to it, though the counting up of time was a little confusing, since the narration kept going back and forth between “present” time and events that happened in the past. This was where Ransome was getting in over his head, and the plot definitely thickens!

By the third part, where Ransome himself was the first-person perspective, things start to get dull and a bit boring. The story is solely focused on Arthur Ransome. My problem with this isn’t that Ransome–a journalist who wrote a book about Russia–becomes a spy and falls head over heels in love with a Red Party member, I mostly tuned off at some point because Ransome spent most of the second part and all of the third part taking a mostly passive role in the plot. He was interesting in the beginning because of the company he kept, and he continued to be interesting with the amount of groups he’d managed to befriend, but then he kind of just…didn’t want to play the game anymore and wanted out when things got super-intriguing. In all honesty, it’s probably what the guy did in reality, but I was hoping for a more dramatic work of fiction.

The history was riveting, because it really was a tumultuous time period (which, frankly, puts the French Revolution to shame) and I had to look up various figures of the time period. For instance, I knew much about Lenin but not Trotsky, and I certainly didn’t know about Robert Lockhart and his British spy network within Russia. It’s certainly a great time period to immerse myself into, reading-wise, and I’m actually not sorry that I picked this copy up.

That said, I will say this: It is NOT a young adult or children’s book.

Adult vs. YA vs. Children’s

I don’t pretend to be an expert in characterizing any of these genres, but I’m of the camp where YA and children’s books are classified as such because their protagonists are primarily of the same demographic age. The themes themselves are also indicative of classification, and by all rights, I don’t think most children are interested in the inner workings of a post-Tsarist, revolution-riddled Russia, nor are young adults typically drawn to a journalist-turned-spy and his ethical dilemmas at being used by Whites, Reds, and his own British government.

Simply mentioning the Romanov children (and Ransome’s own Tabitha) does not make this a children’s novel. Simply tacking on the importance of a “love interest” and an “overall problem” to add to the romantic drama in the summary does NOT make this a YA novel. Not to mention the historical content given, the seemingly senseless deaths, the talk of Rasputin’s absolutely gruesome massacre, the tragic destruction of the Romanov line, the political ramifications of actions from three or four parties involved within Russia itself…it’s a shitton of things to keep track of, and as a grown woman, even my brain was trying hard to keep track of the events going on.

That is not to say that there are exceptionally precocious children and YA readers out there. Heck, this book could be exactly their cup of tea. If that’s the case, kudos to them. But IMO, the premise and the fact that the book is supposed to be a YA historical fiction threw me off.

3 out of 5 cookies!

Did you read this book? What did you think?

Art and Birds and Sacred Geometry || Rebel Genius Review

rebelgenius-review

Initial Thoughts: 

The good thing is this story is swashbucklingly adventurous and reminiscent of Avatar: the Last Airbender. The bad thing is that it isn’t Avatar: the Last Airbender. Just a sorta kinda copy with a completely different world and magical system. Did I like it? Yes! I did wish the story’s medium had been an animated one, though.


REBEL GENIUS

by Michael Dante DiMartino
Roaring Brook Press, October 2016
Middle grade adventure fantasy
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley (thank you!)

rebelgeniusIn twelve-year-old Giacomo’s Renaissance-inspired world, art is powerful, dangerous, and outlawed. Every artist possesses a Genius, a birdlike creature that is the living embodiment of an artist’s creative spirit. Those caught with one face a punished akin to death, so when Giacomo discovers he has a Genius, he knows he’s in serious trouble.

Luckily, he finds safety in a secret studio where young artists and their Geniuses train in sacred geometry to channel their creative energies as weapons. But when a murderous artist goes after the three Sacred Tools–objects that would allow him to destroy the world and everyone in his path–Giacomo and his friends must risk their lives to stop him.

Not gonna lie, the first thing I saw when I saw the cover of this book was Michael Dante DiMartino’s name and everything pretty much shut down from there, because all I kept thinking was, “Avatar. Avatar the Last Airbender on paper. ON BOOK FORM. With art and stuff. OMGWHATISTHIS WHAT IS HAPPENING I WANT THIS.” As a big AtLA fan, I was practically stoked when I found that half the AtLA creative team wrote a book for children.

Of course, it’s not AtLA by any shape or form, though there are enough similarities in the story and characters that it’s difficult to avoid the comparison. Which is why this review is probably going to bring up AtLA a lot. I mean, I’ve already mentioned it twice in this paragraph alone. Sorry not sorry.

A World of Art

Rebel Genius takes place in an interesting world where artists of all kinds possess Genius–magical birds with jeweled crowns on their heads. Most of the time, the Genius arrives at birth and grows alongside the artist, and the partnership between the two are often beneficial. The artist is endowed with a magical skill, and with the right training, both artist and Genius can grow to become powerful in the ways of sacred geometry.

That is, until the Fire Nation–Nerezza attacked. Since then, as the Supreme Creator, Nerezza has forced artists to part with their Geniuses. Unfortunately, by killing the artist’s Genius, it inadvertently kills off the artist’s soul, and thus most lives are also lost because of this. In the case of Giacomo, he lost his parents under the Supreme Creator’s rule.

Enter Team Avatar–Genius. The characters have some of the quirks of the AtLA team, and it is definitely hard not to see them otherwise. Unfortunately, because the show itself had such great character development, the featured characters in Rebel Genius paled in comparison. Milena was easily my favorite character, and even she doesn’t get much limelight. A lot of characters were introduced as well, though I found that I held little sympathy for any of them. Zanobius held some interest because he had that “father-son/creator-creation” moral dilemma that is pretty much the stuff of a hero’s journey story, but even then his character is kind of flat. It’s hard to like someone whose point of view gets rewritten every so often. On top of that, the book really focused on the worldbuilding and the magical system, so the characters pretty much just wandered through the backdrop.

But what a beautiful and interesting world it is! I mean, artists gain power through knowledge of sacred geometry. Art and math, for eff’s sake. That shit is beautiful. It’s profound. It’s the kind of magical system I’d like to live in because geometry and symmetry is aesthetically pleasing (and fun to play with). Now I wouldn’t love to live in the world Nerezza sought to make, but hey, that’s a different dilemma altogether.

screenshot_2016-09-27-20-26-55

Also, can I just say how great it is to see illustrations within the text? I will say it was a little difficult to picture a few descriptive details, so having sketches of characters and situations gave me a better visual of what was happening in the story. For those who also had some trouble with the math-ish concepts, it may have been a good thing to add illustrations, only to see how Genius powers worked (and even then, it was still somewhat hard to grasp).

All in all, though, I enjoyed the story. It was fast-paced, descriptive, and interesting. I couldn’t really rate Rebel Genius too high, though, because as I said, much of the character work paled in comparison, and the story seemed to be just an introductory story into the world. I would love to have known more about what was happening overall, and would have loved more progression on the story itself. The entire adventure in the Land of Death and Duke Oberto’s was such a roundabout way of trying to get to the Compass. I can easily imagine it as an episodic story, but for me it didn’t quite work in book form.

Now…if only there was an animated form of this book…oh wait.

That was the last gif, I swear!


rebelgenius-milena

Did you read this? What did you think?

Mini-Reviews: The Cake Therapist, Snow White

I am to the point where I’m finally caught up in books and reviews. Well, I mean, I still have a ton to read and review (especially now that NetGalley is approving more things on my request list than rejecting…), but you know. It’s going to be slower once September hits. Yeah.

I read The Cake Therapist as an audiobook, which was probably a good idea because I don’t think I would have finished it otherwise. That said, doesn’t that cover look DELICIOUS? I could eat that cake all up.

Snow White has another apple cover! I love apple covers XD. This one is a pretty simple one, though, and doesn’t tell you much about what’s inside. I guess that’s when you peel the apple to discover its contents. *cough*

caketherapist

snowwhite

Did you read either of these? What did you think?