Unlove and Marriage… || Cruel Beauty Review

Initial Thoughts:

Honestly, this book was okay at best. There was so much talk about the Hermetic arts but it showed almost NOTHING useful about it. There was a lot of wishy washy magic which I had put aside and tolerated up until the solution at the end was to BLATANTLY REVERSE TIME to when EVERYTHING wasn’t effed up. That’s when I lost my shit.


CRUEL BEAUTY

by Rosamund Hodge
Balzer + Bray, January 2014
YA fantasy, fairy tale retelling
Rated: 2.5 / 5 cookies

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

The Good Bits

For podcasting reasons, I’ve been in a Beauty and the Beast retelling splurge. After I read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I’d scoured reviews just to see what people were writing about regarding that particular fairy tale retelling compared to some others. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge was a common comparison and mention in many of the reviews, so yes, I was very intrigued by the book itself.

Note, I did initially think that Cruel Beauty was also new adult, so my expectation on the romance was a bit…more.

Cruel Beauty started off well enough. You have a dystopian Greek-inspired world, where a Gentle Lord rules a separated and isolated nation of Arcadia. You have an angry girl who is destined to marry said despicable Gentle Lord. Who, by the way, she has been trained to kill from birth.

Pretty damned compelling stuff, if I do say so myself.

And for the most part? It was pretty cool, the premise. I expected things to go wrong the minute Nyx would be married to Ignifex, and it being a rather close retelling to its original source (and the fact that the book jacket summaries SPECIFICALLY FOCUS ON THIS), I knew general YA love hijinks was going to happen. What I overestimated was the amount of chemistry that these two lovebirds were going to have.

As a BatB retelling, though, it was pretty spot on, including the lovely library, a magical ring with a rose emblem on it, and a foreshadowing of the dream-prince/Beast who shows up as a shadow servant of the mysterious Ignifex.

Alright, so Ignifex isn’t a Beast in a purely physical sense (which seems to happen in a friggin’ YA novel)–since he’s supposed to be Rhysand-level kinds of sexy, with black feathery angel wings in the package–but he is a monster in the emotional sense. He keeps Arcadia trapped and rules through his shadow demons. He also is the Gentle Lord, a dealer of wishes and seemingly unfair bargains. That being said, obviously there’s a chink in his armor, and there is something that explains why he’s the Gentle Lord in the first place.

I will admit that’s the best bits of the story. Well, along with the fact that Ignifex is a pretty amusing villain, especially when he knows exactly why Nyx is there and lets her roam the castle anyway.

The Triggery Bits

Unfortunately, cat-and-dog conversation and dystopian fantasy backdrop were pretty much the only things I liked about the story. I wanted to like the rest, but there were several things that drove me nuts. Her family being one of them.

There was no redeeming quality in any of her family members, and I was deeply disappointed in Nyx’s twin sister, Astraea. What could have been a deeply interesting character turned out to be a bland, tropey, vengeance-filled sister with added naivety, which was quite possibly the worst combination of traits in a character EVER. I couldn’t even pick a limelight lady from the bunch of females in the group, because honestly, Nyx was the most interesting female, and she’s already got enough limelight.

On top of that, the magic in the book was frustrating. In the attempt to keep with the timeline and mythological background, the magic used for Nyx and the Resurgandi lies in the Hermetic arts. My problem with this is that there was a lot of talk about Hermetic arts, along with symbols and rules, but nothing ever came out of this type of magic. At the end of the day, the other magic that showed up in Cruel Beauty was something that didn’t have any rules and wasn’t explained all that much. By the end of it, it was all a Deus Ex kind of thing.

AND WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT TIME-FUCKERY AT THE END?

Let’s all just retcon the entire story because the characters are making more mistakes than the plot can handle, and soooo we’ll give them all a clean slate. This was quite possibly the worst copout ever. What was wrong with having characters live through the mistakes they made and try to make up for them? What was wrong with trying to break out of their dark, worldly prison as opposed to having all their experiences rewritten to a happier one? Ugh, this was the most upsetting bit.

But I won’t rant anymore. Otherwise I could go on and on.

2.5 out of 5 cookies! I wish I could have loved this book more…sigh.

Beauty, Beast, and Sexy Times || A Court of Thorns and Roses Review

Initial Thoughts:

I feel conflicted about this book. I so very wished that it was just a damn standalone because AS A STAND-ALONE I CONDONE THE SHENANIGANS A LITTLE BIT. What drove me nuts was the hint of a love triangle. OF COURSE that’s what would drive me nuts.


A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES

by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsburry, May 2015
New adult fantasy, fairy tale
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

Note: This review has spoilers. This review is also a mess. This review won’t discuss everything I made notes on because future podcast reasons.

So I have a love-hate relationship with Maas right now. Well, maybe. Okay, not so much her as a person but the direction she takes stories sometimes. Alright, all the time, judging from what I’ve been seeing on the Maas fandom.

I’m going to back track because honestly, I loved Throne of Glass and likely I’m going to love Crown of Midnight, but I haven’t read anything past ToG in ages. And then I ended up picking ACoTaR for “research” reasons. And judging from the pattern that’s said to have happened in the ToG series (where eventually the intended ship sinks and the story goes in an entirely different direction), I’m betting it’s going to be the same in the ACoTaR series. Correct me if I’m wrong, but considering I’m hearing more about how awesome Rhysand is and not enough about Tamlin, I’m willing to bet the story gets away in the later books and shifts into something horribly wrong.

(Like Rhysand the jerkwad being part of the romantic arc. Oh god, he so is.)

So…anyway, this book.

I was a little underwhelmed by it, and for the longest time I ping-ponged between liking the story and groaning because once again, the main character was doing something stupid. Feyre is very different from the massively confident and deadly Celaena (or whatever her name is nowadays), and she constantly reminds me of how different the two characters are by putting herself down several times within the same chapter. I get it, Feyre, you’re human, you’re not something super-powerful or assassin-like deadly, you’re not even a special snowflake (up until the end of the book where we discover OH LOOK. She’s quite phenomenally a snowflake now!). But for eff’s sake, you killed a damn snow-fairy-wolf-thing right in Chapter 1, so clearly you aren’t as useless as you make yourself out to be.

Oh STFU Feyre.

Rant over, I liked where the story was actually headed at a certain point. Things picked up once Feyre actually stopped trying to run away and started trying to live her life within Tamlin’s castle. I mean, it’s an effing easy life, Feyre, stop making excuses about family vows when clearly EVERYTHING IS BEING TAKEN CARED OF. What the hell, Feyre. Does nothing please you?!

Alright, sorry, I get heated when I think of the main character.

There is a rich history revolving the creation of the wall between humans and fae. There is a great war that happens which killed off many people on both sides of the war, and somewhere along the way, a Treaty is enacted in order to keep the peace between the fairy realm and the mortal realm. Now the problem with Treaties is that for one side to stick to it, the other side has to stick to it, too. But clearly in this story, there’s some rule-breaking ahead, and that’s what lands Feyre in the mess she’s in.

I wish there’d been more of a prologue to work with. It took two-thirds of the book to finally introduce the big baddy, who turns out to be someone whose past revolved around love and betrayal–typically something you’d expect humans to feel, not so much the fairies. The whole affair in the fairy court humanizes creatures like Tamlin and Rhysand and Amarantha, and also displays the kind of shit they get into when they’re super-powered creatures with very human problems. I liked that. I liked that a lot.

(There could have been a bit more work on the worldbuilding, which is a whole other discussion that would get really lengthy, so I won’t even try to talk about that right now.)

I was pretty tickled with the romance. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, and I don’t really know if I’d ship them, but I will admit that the sexy times were the right kind of steamy. Except for that one bit where Tamlin pretty much bites Feyre and then talks about the dirty things he’d do to her if he’d caught her during one of the fairy festival-rituals. Yes, I know, she didn’t seem so bothered by his advances, but um, dude, no means no. Totally creepy. Thankfully, Tamlin isn’t super-psychotic, and it turns out he’s kind of a nice guy, except when he’s being all fae-y. A nice, muscled, strong guy with a mask perpetually glued to his face, but Feyre totally knows he’s hot underneath that, just by how his strong jaw looks and everything. He doesn’t even keep slaves or anything! (This is me trying my best not to snort…seriously trying here!)

As for Rhysand…I still think he’s a jerk. The Darkling from Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone comes to mind for comparison, and honestly, I thought the Darkling was a more compelling and seductive force than Rhysand was. It’s clear both characters are assholes, but honestly, the Darkling was a special kind of lovable asshole (or…maybe it’s just me…).

Um. Lucien was awesome. So was Nesta, actually. I want more of these two characters. Yep.

3.5 out of 5 cookies! Again, there was a lot more I wanted to say, but I’ll save it for podcasting purposes.


Have 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?

 

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?

Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

I think many readers are in agreement that this book is a slow-burning story. I was aware of this. But even with that, I underestimated its slow-going-ness.

Not that that’s completely a bad thing.


A THOUSAND NIGHTS

by E.K. Johnston
Disney Hyperion, October 2015
Fairy tale fantasy
Rated: cookieratingcookieratingcookieratingcookiehalfrating / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley

thousandnightsLo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Gifly Thoughts

The tale of Scheherazade is a fantastic one. There is the king who finds that his wife is unfaithful to him, and in this unfortunate transgression, he concludes that all women must be unfaithful (one must also conclude that this king wasn’t very adept in logic, but that’s a whole other ballgame, I suppose). As a solution, he kills off his cheating wife, and proceeds to lop off the heads of his consecutive wives after one night because he figured eventually they were going to have sordid affairs right, left, and center. This continues to happen up until Scheherazade, who was tired of the king’s hypocritical and chauvinistic bullshit, volunteers herself as tribute.

What Scheherazade does is clever and self-sacrificing. She risks her neck in the hopes that perhaps she can do what no other bride could: stay alive. As the daughter of the vizier (in most accounts), Scheherazade is a learned woman, and knows her way around cultural, philosophical, and political nuances. She isn’t just a pretty face. And as it were, she succeeds in what she goes out to do. She “tames the beast” with a thousand tales, prolonging her life just long enough that the king falls in love and keeps her alive. She does this without shedding blood. She makes do with her mind and voice as weapons (I mean, imagine if she’d gotten bronchitis or something! That would have been disastrous.). She uses words and stories to win the king’s heart.

That is kickass.

I’ve always loved the idea of Scheherazade, and I’d read a most excellent retelling of her tale in Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner. When I saw the beautiful cover in NetGalley and read the summary, I jumped to the opportunity to read A Thousand Nights. The book certainly shines a different light to Scheherazade’s story.

The protagonist is taken away in place of her sister, and put in Lo-Melkhiin’s palace, where every night she fights for her life. Similarly, the protagonist uses her words to match wits with the murderous king, though in this version, the king is possessed by a demon (I want to say it’s an evil and powerful djinni from the description of the monster). It’s no wonder Lo-Melkhiin keeps killing his wives. Fortunately for the protagonist, she’s got a power of her own, one that could very well battle against the demon and win.

A Thousand Nights was beautifully written. It was a prime example of “painting with words,” because the setting was vivid and descriptive, and often even the dialogue is pretty. I adored the worldbuilding that went along with the tale, and certainly I thought the protagonist and her sister shared a bond that was grand and beautiful and everything you could ask for in a familial relationship.

As I said before, I also expected the slow-burning plot. At times it worked, and I was more than happy reading the descriptions and goings-on of the protagonist’s regular day. There is, however, such a thing as being too slow, and at other times I was skimming the day-to-day drudgery in order to get to the good stuff, only to realize that even the “good stuff” doesn’t amount to much.

I liked the story, it had an aesthetic feel to it that I normally don’t find in much YA (I think this is marketed as YA…). But I’m not in love with it.

I couldn’t sympathize with the nameless protagonist or her nameless family; it was really hard trying to put an identity in any of the protagonist’s family members, so they all became just a huge blob of mother’s mother’s sister’s brother’s cousins and whatnot (gods, don’t get me started on the speech about relatives). The named characters barely show up, and the most interesting ones–Sokath and Firh–have maybe a page or two of conversation with the protagonist and they mostly disappear again in the story. Lo-Melkhiin’s story was the most interesting one of all, and I’d wished his freedom from demon-possession hadn’t been so haphazardly dismissed with a single wish (though admittedly the whole “five words” description was a nice touch).

Also, believe it or not, I could have also used a bit of romance. There was almost nothing of it in A Thousand Nights. I mean, I’m not asking for full-blown Stockholm syndrome romance here, but if the protagonist wasn’t getting much romantic prose going her way, why couldn’t her sister?! I don’t know, it just seemed like an opportunity wasted to me, especially when there was such good writing and no romance to invest in.

3.5 out of 5 cookies! I’ve read a few reviews that compare this book to The Wrath and the Dawn. I might have to pick that up at some point, though I probably shouldn’t read Scheherazade stories back-to-back.


thousandnights-mother