The Fallen Kingdom by Elizabeth May

“At moments like this, I appreciate how the weather in Scotland is never the same, and how swiftly it changes. How the rain itself seems to breathe, soft and slow.”

The Fallen Kingdom by Elizabeth May
Release Date:  June 13, 2017
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Format: e-ARC
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Ratings: Page Turner Gut Punch badass

Full disclosure: I adore Scotland so that setting alone will attract me to a book. I had downloaded the first of Elizabeth May’s Falconer series to my Kindle some time ago, but then didn’t read it until I was IN Scotland last summer. I thought the first book was fun and moved onto the second one, which was even better. I grew to love the main character, Aileana, a fierce fae-slayer. As it always is with final books in a series, I (electronically) opened the final installment of the trilogy, “The Fallen Kingdom,” with: a little bit of sadness that I’d have to say goodbye to all the characters by the end; a tiny amount of worry I might hate it; and, of course, tons of excitement. The final verdict? My heart is a little shattered in the best kind of way.

My Thoughts
What interested me in this series to start with, aside from the whole Scotland thing, is how it pulls from dark mythology of the fae/fairies. The “girl falls for immortal creature that can kill her, but he’s more complex that” story has been told many times before, usually in a vampire fashion, but May layers her story with a fascinating history that makes it unique. So while tropes I’m bored of were present in the beginning of the series, it didn’t keep me from reading on. The stakes get higher and higher and the line between “good” and “evil” is tremendously blurry. It’s made the journey of the trilogy exciting instead of cliched.

And this last book? PHEW. It’s a rollercoaster. It’s even darker than the first two. Yes, it’s possible for it to get darker. [Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read the first two. You can skip to Positives/Negatives]

At the end of the second book, Aileana is in a bit of a pickle. She was a. tortured and then b. murdered and c. the world is also ending. Three things that are rather difficult to overcome. Plus she’s having a complicated love life. Still. The reader is not spared the ugly details of this all. The result is a story that makes you wish you could read even faster. I also felt like my heart was being stabbed a few times, but it’s fine. I survived better than some of the people in the story.

On a more serious note, something I appreciate about this book is how it shows the damage that Lonnrach’s torture had on Aileana. She didn’t walk out of that room of mirrors mentally unscathed. She is brave and she is strong, but what was done to her isn’t something any human can just “overcome.” As I’m not a psychologist, I hesitate to diagnose even an imaginary person, but what happens to her closely resembles PSTD. I find it extremely important that when a character goes through the type of trauma that often happens in fantasy novels, that the emotional and mental result is shown. Aileana is a testament to the fact that some things are too horrible to completely recover from. When it comes to a book for teenagers, this is an important lessen. No matter how strong you are, you can still hurt. Trauma can cause a mental illness that can make things horrible. But you can still keeping going. You can still fight. You can still be the badass heroine.

Positive/Negatives
+Everything about how Aileana’s internal struggles were handled
+Secondary characters had even more development in this book
+ACTION/horror
+It pulls at your heart strings
-The whole immortal love interest still bothers me a little but to balance it out, May did a tremendous job handling that particular trope
-I felt like maybe there could have been a little bit more

In Summary
“The Fallen Kingdom” is an excellent finale to the trilogy. It’s fast paced and terrifying at moments. The ending is satisfying. And while all the literal fighting is happening, the internal battles are even more riveting. I think most fans of the series will be happy with the conclusion.

Note: An advanced copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influenced my opinion.

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Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor

dimInto the Dim by Janet B. Taylor
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: HMH Books
Format: ebook
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, SciFi, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
RatingsEnjoyable Page Turner

The Basics
Hope’s mother is dead. Or at least that’s what she thought when her mom was assumed dead at a disaster scene where she was supposed to be giving a lecture.  But when Hope’s aunt that she barely knows invites her to Scotland, she is told her mother is actually a time traveller and alive, just stranded in the past. Hope is needed as part of a team to go back in time to save her mother.

My Thoughts
A good way to get me to read a book is set it in Scotland. I went into this only knowing that Scotland and time travel were somehow involved. There was less Scotland than I would have liked, but despite being picky about time travel stories, I still found myself enjoying the book.

The story starts out slowly since a lot of set up is necessary. The reader gets a glimpse of Hope’s life and then learns about time travel along with her. There are some of the usual cliches. There’s the big secret of time travel Hope’s mom kept from her to protect her. She has been prepared her whole life for time traveling without knowing it (and her photographic memory helps.) She meets a mysterious boy she instantly falls for and she also doesn’t realize how beautiful she is. So smart and beautiful girl finds out family secret and meets a mysterious boy before she’s off on an adventure. A typical fantasy setup.

Thankfully the book expands a bit from there. Once the rescue mission gets going, the pace really picks up. I started to like the cast of characters more and needed to know what happened next. There are some unique aspects to how time travel works so it doesn’t feel entirely trite. The dire nature of the situation kept me engrossed in the book until I was finished.

Through all of the twists and turns, some of the character development got a little lost. Plenty of fun, witty dialogue and tough spots that reveal pieces of each character. However, this book really only provides an introduction to the time traveling crew so I didn’t feel truly attached to any characters. It was mostly the winding plot that kept me reading.

It wasn’t until the very end that things seemed to dig a little deeper. That of course is because there is going to be a second book. A lot happens in the last few chapters that leaves loose ends for a continuation. It wasn’t until everything was ending that I started to feel more for the characters. Hope and her friends started to feel more real and the romance became less hollow. Book two has the potential to be a much stronger novel.

Positives and Negatives
+ Second part of the book is fast paced, great setup for book two
– Characters felt a little shallow, took a little to become its own story

In Summary
Once the pace picks up, Into the Dim becomes a fun read that keeps you guessing. Some of the twists are predictable, while others sneak up on you. I didn’t start to feel invested in any characters until the story was ending which has me interested in reading the second book. The story didn’t blow me away and some of the aspects of the romance and time travel are typical, but I still found the story entertaining.

Note: An advanced copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influenced my opinion.

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Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Release Date: September 8, 2015

This book is set in the Kingdom of Xia and based on Chinese mythology. It follows Skybright, a teenage handmaid, who discovers she can shapeshift into a snake demon.

What I liked:

  • The Mythology: I loved the Chinese folklore details in this. It’s not something I read about often and Pon works in multiple myths along with the rich history.
  • Female Friendship: Skybright’s mistress is also her dearest friend. I love how much they care for each other and also the exploration of growing pains in friendship.
  • The Details: Pon draws you into this historical setting with beautiful descriptions of the clothes, food, and everything else. I was hungry a few times reading this and wishing I had some of their beautiful outfits.
  • Romance: What’s nice about the romance is it doesn’t overpower the story. The story is ultimately about Skybright’s challenges with what she has discovered about herself. But there are two different romances in this that are sweet and important in their own individual ways.

Serpentine is relatively short but Pon manages to provide enough character development and a satisfying plot. I enjoyed reading a fantasy different than many I have read recently.

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Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

shadowshaperShadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Release Date: June 30, 2015
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Format: Paperback
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Supernatural
Ratingsbadass characters

 

The Basics
Sierra Santiago, a teen artist, notices the murals around Brooklyn are fading. And then one sheds a tear. Her grandfather who recently had a stroke finally says something coherent, except Sierra can’t figure out the meaning. Piece by piece she starts to uncover a family secret about shadowshapers and what it all has to do with the murals.

MyThoughts
I had been looking forward to this book and was lucky enough to pick up an advanced copy at BookCon.

This book is refreshing in that the supernatural elements are so grounded in reality. The magical elements in this are cool, but it isn’t the fantasy that carries it; it’s the realistic characters running around the very real Brooklyn. There’s also a lot of Spanish and other cultural aspects that give the characters and story more life.

The characters feel like actual teens. Sometimes teenagers in books take on a very poetic nature, which definitely works when done right. But I appreciated the kids in this book being so realistic. Sierra and her friends each have distinctive personalities and Older does this without having to describe her friends all that much. How they talk and act felt more natural than in anything I’ve read in a while.

Then of course there is Sierra herself who is a wonderful heroine trying to learn something about family that was kept from her, which is relatable despite the secrets having to do with spiritual powers. She’s curious and frustrated and keeps fighting for the information she wants.

I also can’t ignore how beautiful this cover is. Not just aesthetically, but to have a WoC on the cover of a YA novel. And at that, a full faced girl that isn’t in a pretty dress.

If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed this book. The plot didn’t have quite shocking twist and turns. You could probably predict a few bits of it. However, I loved Sierra and shadowshaping world. This book had a lot of little things that were more important than the story itself.

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