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.


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Did 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.

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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!


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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

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

Romance and Espionage in Regency Period || Secrets in the Snow Review

secretssnow-review

Initial Thoughts: 

Lack of editing and formatting aside (and there was a LOT of that), there was just too much nonsense in this story for me to actually like. Shame, I really wanted to. It was a fast read at least?

SECRETS IN THE SNOW

by Michaela MacColl
Chronicle Books, October 2016
YA historical mystery
Rated: 2 / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley (Thank you!)

secretssnowJane Austen’s family is eager to marry her off. Coming from a family of little means, it is the only way she can be assured of a comfortable future. Jane is much more interested in writing her novels, and finds every suitor lacking in one way or another. That is, until the mysterious Mr. LeFoy arrives on the scene.

But when her cousin is suspected in aiding the French, England’s enemy, Jane is suddenly sidetracked trying to prove her cousin’s innocence, solving a murder, and ultimately facing a decision that might just cost her true love.

I thought there were a number of things going for this book that from the getgo should have won me over.

  1. It promised to be a mystery novel during the Regency time period.
  2. It focused on a historical figure–a fun one in my opinion, but I was always a Jane Austen fan, so of course I’m already biased in that respect.
  3. It reminded me of the movie Becoming Jane and oh my god I remember a Mr. Lefroy and well, shit, this romance is only going to end in tears, isn’t it?
  4. Spies and French espionage whaaaaat is happening?
  5. A little homage and allusive mentions to Austen’s fabulous works (particularly that of Pride and Prejudice, which may have largely been influenced by Austen’s own life).

And in some respects, I did like the story. To a point. There were, unfortunately, more things I was annoyed at than good, and at its short length, not enough of the things I liked managed to outweigh the things I didn’t.

Where the Story Flourished

The period of the story has it take place some time after the French Revolution, which makes for a more interesting twist in what otherwise could have been an attempt to keep Austen’s story within England. I liked that the problems encompassed something happening outside of Jane’s scope of things, that it wasn’t necessarily limited to her family home or England.

At under 300 pages, it didn’t take too much time to read. Had it been some Gothic-length epic I would have cringed, moved on, and never picked the book up afterwards.

But that’s about all I could say that I liked about the book.

Where the Story Flailed

First off, the formatting and editing. I know, it’s not something to judge on an ARC, especially not one that’s meant to go through a ton of edits before its actual publication in a couple months. But still. There were A LOT of errors. Enough where I was thrown off the story because some words or sentences were mushed together, and the dialogue formatting was a complete mess. Without the context clues, I admit even I would have had a hard time trying to figure out where some of the quotes ended and where the inner-mind thoughts began. Honestly, all it takes is one Beta-reader to smooth out some of the formatting/grammar problems. Just saying.

All that aside, if it was just formatting, I wouldn’t have rated the book so harshly.

Cousin Eliza, a spy? I don’t know what information the British army is on about, because as a reader, I took one or two glances inside Eliza’s character and found someone too wishy-washy to be a proper spy. She was also pretty darn frustrating to deal with, and honestly, I didn’t find her to have any particular principles she wanted to uphold.

That romance with Lefroy was nonexistent. Honestly, it really was. There was none of the Witty Repartee mastered between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Knightley and Emma. There was really no warmth within the book courtship between Jane and Tom. Heck, if it weren’t the repeated statements that showed Tom as smitten with Jane later in the book, I wouldn’t have seen their interaction as anything but two friends. So when Jane makes her decision at the end of the book, I really didn’t care. Well, I did care, just not in the “OMG FEELS OVER JAMES MCAVOY AND ANNE HATHAWAY NOT GETTING TOGETHER” sense that I had expected. Mostly I was annoyed at how the relationship went down.

The relationship of Tom and Jane in this book was just about this kind of awkward.

The dead body mystery that FINALLY began at the last quarter of the book. Seriously, if you expected to get into the mystery or the “secrets” in the snow at the beginning, you’d be mistaken. Frankly, besides the early onset of “I must discover the truth behind Eliza’s alleged espionage ties to France,” Jane pretty much just waffled through the book. Nothing happens up until she comes across a dead body, and when that happened, things got solved rather quickly and without much surprise. The fact that the book picked up only near the end is a bad thing.

*SPOILER ALERT* *RANTING ALERT*

I did NOT like the conclusion. At all. I’m sorry, but how is it okay to let the murderer go at the expense of so much damn scandal? Because that is what the repercussions will be once a total inquiry is set upon the Austen household. For most of the book’s beginning, Jane and the rest of her siblings have been trying to keep things mum, to limit the drama and involvement to within the family. And then, after getting some sob story at the end where the killer admits to a crime of passion (which is STILL MURDER, by the way), Jane capitulates and helps the person escape, seeing the whole thing as a justified sort of crime (NO, JANE, “the [murdered guy] was believed dead anyway” does NOT mean you can excuse him being ACTUALLY killed off. What crazy logic are you following, girl?!). No joke. She literally aids and abets, knowing that doing so could very well scandalize her family, to a point where even Tom would renege his pledged love and allegiance to her. Frankly, at that point, I thought Tom dodged a bullet there. He deserves much better.

*END RANTING* *END SPOILER*

2 out of 5 cookies! I try really hard not to give these kinds of ratings on full-blown reviews, but even then I think I’m being overly generous right now. Sigh.


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