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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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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Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Release Date: September 1, 2015

This book is about 18-year-old Maddy who has lived her entire life (except for some brief time as a baby) inside because she is allergic to everything. She thinks she has come to peace with this until a boy moves next door and THINGS HAPPEN.This book was a such a pleasure to read and beautiful in so many ways. A run down of what I liked:

  • Madeline: I cared for Maddy almost instantly. She is so lovable. The best books are ones where you just really want to get to know the main character, aside from the plot. Nothing could have happened in this book and I still would have been happy to have gotten to know about Maddy. I empathized with the girl trying to figure out what she wanted from her life, who didn’t feel like she was missing out until she suddenly did.
  • The format: This book has illustrations (that Nicola Yoon’s husband drew! So cute!), online chats, and a few other deviations from standard text. It makes reading the book a lot of fun. The way this is all used is part of what helps Maddy have such depth.
  • The romance: The relationship between Maddy and Olly is truly sweet and I didn’t even roll my eyes once! Yoon stayed away from dangerous tropes. It’s so easy to root for them, to ache for them.
  • EMOTIONS: This book is going to make you FEEL. An emotional rollercoaster I was glad to experience.
  • Representation of Illness: I can’t go into too much detail without being spoilery, but this is a good book where the sick character isn’t a big Life Lesson for the healthy counterpart.

There is also a THING that happens that is a spoiler which some people were unhappy with. I think the unhappiness stemmed from expectations of what some people wanted the book to be vs. what it actually is. Guess you’ll have to read and see though!

If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. It’s one I am going to make friends read so I can talk about it.

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Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee

I read this earlier this year and have been wanting to talk about it and it’s TIME. I’m into sports, but not so into boxing. However, if zero gravity boxing existed that might change things for me. How the book describes the sport is completely amazing. I became more engrossed in these fictional matches than I have been in many real life sporting events.

Aside from the awesomeness of futuristic sport, this book has a lot going for it. Here’s what I liked:

  • World Building: Lee does a fantastically well at building a complex world without over-explaining or making it confusing. I am not exactly well-read when it comes to Sci-Fi, but the world she creates is different than a lot of what I have read. I think the uniqueness of zero gravity boxing helps. There have been comparisons to Ender’s Game (which I love), but while there are some similarities I don’t find them truly comparable. Completely different tone, different message, and so on.
  • The Action: There is a lot of detailed action in this and it’s amazing. Sometimes I get bored with play-by-play fight scenes, but Lee makes them so tense and engrossing. God, do I wish this sport was real so I could watch it.
  • Characters: The story centers around zeroboxer Carr and his rise to fame. The book made me root for Carr, but not always entirely love him which is what I want from my MCs. I am drawn to characters who aren’t entirely lovable. Carr is adored by his fans and the general public, but not always lovable for his reader and it makes the story much more interesting.
  • The Sports World: What I liked most about this book is its subtle satire about the sports world and advertising. Carr is assigned a brandhelm (basically a publicist) Risha (who is beautiful and… you can see where this is going…). Carr is seen as marketable and gets a bunch of sponsorships. As someone who worked only briefly in sports, but got to see a glimpse of how this all works, I loved how Lee handled this. Branding – whether it’s a company or a person, in sports or elsewhere – is obviously a Big Deal in corporate America. So how Carr is treated is relevant. When I recently read about how Serena Williams doesn’t get as much sponsorship money as some of her counterparts, I instantly thought of this book. People become brands and it’s strange how that works in our world.
  • The Messages: Besides the publicity commentary, there are a few other things happening in this book that I won’t talk about to avoid spoiling anything. However, what’s nice about this book is the story isn’t over-burdened by these many ideas. The plot is first and foremost about Carr and his conflicts. The questions are there and they don’t necessarily have answers. The book delivers the action-packed fun but also gives you a few things to chew on if you wish.

I think the one negative of Zeroboxer for me is the characters didn’t feel fully developed. Carr of course comes far by the end, but I wanted more in the beginning with him and Risha and a few other characters. The character relationships didn’t feel as strong as they could have been.

If you enjoy Sci-Fi and/or sports you should definitely read this book. Even if you don’t enjoy some of its commentary, it’s still so much fun. And if you don’t like Sci-Fi or sports, this might temporarily win you over.

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