Book Review: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Date Published: April 8, 2014
Number of Pages: 613
Series

What’s It About?

After deceiving the rebel Chimaera army Karou has managed to seize control. After a shocking truce sees Akiva’s Misbegotten siblings align themselves with the remaining rebels the groups are forced to work together to stop the Seraphim emperor Jael procuring arms from Earth, not to mention preventing the apocalypse.

On the far side of Eretz the Queen of the reclusive Stelian clan sets out with a small group to find – and kill – the unknown magus stealing their power.

And on Earth as the invading angels shock and awe humanity a young scientist discovers a truth that has the ability to destroy not just the world but every and all universes.

The Story

Gods Monsters

They’d left nothing behind but thoroughly empty dishes and – this would be on for the conspiracy theorists – several long blue hairs in the shower where an angel’s hand had stroked a devil’s head, locked in a long – and so very long-awaited – embrace.

Beginning with the reaction to Jael’s army of Seraphim on Earth interspersed with flashes to Eretz and the integration of Akiva’s Misbegotten brothers and sisters with Karou’s’ Chimaera rebels the tension is intense. Palpable. The story takes off at lightening speed moving between character viewpoints – some like Karou & Akiva who we’ve come to know so well and others we’ve been dying to hear from (Liraz she has a soul! Who knew?) Taylor also introduces a knew character in the form of doctorate student Eliza Jones. At first Eliza’s story seems disruptive – every time the story shifts from Eretz and back to Earth and the discovery of the bodies in the pit you find yourself cursing the lack of Karou and Akiva. Eliza’s story though becomes more and more riveting and mysterious, so in tune with the overall story you eventually find yourself desperate for more.

The action is acute and never missing for too long – in fact the story plays out almost like a film with the perfect balance of conflict, fighting, strategizing and romance (and not just from Akiva and Karou.)

This exemplary melding of themes, genres and stories comes down to one thing – Laini Taylor is a genius. Her ability to seamlessly weave a multitude of stories together in perfect harmony is something to fawn over. Her ability to ensure that each of those stories is told to its fullest, given its dues and serves a purpose is awe inspiring. Like J.K. Rowling, Taylor planted seeds to her story’s ending at the very beginning, and like J.K. Rowling she didn’t disappoint in allowing those seeds to grow and bloom into a nearly perfect ending. This final chapter in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy was well worth the wait. Stirring, dramatic, surprising and heartfelt Taylor managed to maintain the realities of the worlds she created while leaving readers happy and, interestingly enough, salivating for more. (Is it possible? Dare one hope?)

From the impending threat of apocalyptic doom spanning two worlds, to the revelation about the vile fallen angel Razgut’s previous life, to the uncloaking of the mysterious – and supremely powerful – Stelians, to the sweet romance of humans Mik and Zuzana and the epic, heartrending, soul searing love story of Karou and Akiva not to mention the life threatening deception Karou and Ziri are trying to pull off – each story plays a role, each story connects somehow, magnificently to another and another, spinning an ending that makes for a book you can’t possibly put down.

The Writing

Let’s just take a minute to discuss the unbelievable beauty of Taylor’s prose – it is equal parts poetic, fluid and colourful without ever being over the top. It’s nearly impossible not to speed through her stories simply because her writing is so easy. Not easy in the sense that it’s “dumbed down” because it’s not (how can it be when you’re throwing out words like “cartilaginous”? Amirit?) Easy in that it flows, it’s melodic. It’s stunning.

Karou & Akiva’s Epic Love Story

I hate anyone who likens their story to Romeo and Juliet. Hate. Their story is uniquely their own. Sure they’ve got the whole star-crossed lovers deal but their strength, their determination to succeed, their inability to ever truly lose each other is something altogether different. Even when in Days of Blood & Starlight Karou’s anger blinded her (or attempted to) love for Akiva it was there, tangible, and weighing heavily on everything she did. In Dreams of Gods & Monsters Karou accepts this love, realizing that in denying it she’s weakening herself by denying her right to her own happiness. Which is incredibly profound and moving. But what truly solidifies this couple at the top echelon of YA romantic couples is that they are always willing to sacrifice their own happiness to save others and most importantly – they’re both acceptance of this fact in each other. Seriously how much more romantic can this be.

Shout Out to a Great Supporting Cast

No review of this final book would be complete without a nod to the colourful cast of characters littered throughout the series and this final chapter. Zuzana and Mik are a given as the best representations of what being colour blind really means – it’s presented simply in their easy acceptance of both the Chimaera and Seraphim, their desire to help both. Ziri and Liraz – opposites attracting so perfectly. The disfigured, ruthless Jael and the snivelling Razgut, both of whom you can’t help but love to despise and yet feel sorry for in the strangest way possible. And the even smaller players – The Shadows that Live, Virko, Nightingale et al. Each character, regardless how minute their part in the story is so wonderfully designed, so full and multi dimensional you want to know each and every one of their stories.

Dreams of Gods & Monsters the final book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is a grand and heroic ending – brimming with intellect, heart and romance, it offers the perfect closure to a riveting story while not fully closing the door on a world overflowing with possibility. 5/5

 

A Favourite Exc…

BLOOD-STARLIGHt

“As long as you’re alive, there’s always a chance things will get better.”

“Or worse,” said Liraz.

“Yes,” he conceded. “Usually worse.”

Hazael cut in. “My sister, Sunshine, and my brother, Light. You two should rally the ranks. You’ll have us killing ourselves by morning.”

– Days of Blood and Starlight, Laini Taylor

***66 days until Dreams of Gods & Monsters!***

spongee

Book Review: World After (Penryn and the End of Days #2)

world after

“It’s amazing how many times we need to go against our survival instincts to survive.”

Author: Susan Ee
Publisher: Susan Ee (Skyscape)
Date Published: November 19, 2013
Number of Pages: 320
Series: Penryn and the End of Days, #2

After managing to survive the initial onslaught of the Angel apocalypse through an unlikely alliance with the enemy, Penryn finds herself, along with other survivors trying to salvage some semblance of a normal life camped out with the resistance a group of civilians set on taking down the Angelic invaders. When a group of people capture Penryn’s sister Paige thinking she is a monster the spectacle leads the newly created scorpion/locusts hybrids to the survivors. In the ensuing chaos Paige escapes, leaving Penryn and her schizophrenic mother searching the streets of San Francisco to find her.

Meanwhile Archangel Raffe (Raphael) believing Penryn dead continues to search for the fallen Angel Beliel in order to seek vengeance and get back his wings. As the story unfolds Penryn makes some shocking discoveries about the Angel’s plans and privately longs to reunite with Raffe.

World After the second book in the Penryn and the End of Days series proves that Susan Ee is most definitely not suffering from the sophomore slump. This is one of the best follow ups to a great first novel I’ve read in a long time.

Picking up right where the first book left off, World After doesn’t feel like a sequel because it flows so seamlessly – Penryn’s story is so perfectly laid out, Ee ensures you remember how the first book panned out without rehashing everything.  Even better is that this series truly sets itself apart from the other major female led, dystopian/apocalypse/fantasy series out there  and that comes down to Penryn.

Penryn puts other major female heroines (Katniss, Tris, etc) to shame she’s neither so tough and self-righteous that you can’t identify with her, nor does she complain about her current lot in life. She is unapologetic for the things she’s forced to do to survive as she navigates this new, apocalyptic, angel run world. Penryn’s sense of self-preservation knows no bounds – she will do whatever it takes to protect her little sister and her mother. She is a perfect mixture of vulnerability and steeliness.

In the first book Angelfall a big part of the story revolved around the relationship between Penryn and angel Raffe. In World After Archangel Raffe doesn’t make a proper appearance until more than halfway through the book. A great choice on Ee’s part – this is Penryn’s story and though Raffe is a great character (I mean he is particularly swoon worthy) she’s not allowing him to become Penryn’s sole purpose for survival, nor is she allowing her to become dependent on him, either physically or emotionally.

That being said I found myself waiting with bated breath for their reunion – Raffe despite his incredible piety and status as an Archangel is slowly but surely developing a great sense of humanity, his interactions with Penryn, their connection and the feelings he has for her that he never truly acknowledges nor denies only makes him more accessible and real as a character.

Though it’s obvious Penryn and Raffe have feelings for each other (I mean holy chemistry Batman!) Penryn never allows herself to become so wrapped up in Raffe that she forgets what she needs to do or what she’s capable of. Part of what makes their relationship so great is that despite Raffe’s otherworldliness he treats Penryn as an equal – because he knows she’s got his back. I love that when Ee creates these intense moments between Penryn and Raffe – with all this unspoken subtext Penryn always finds a way to remind herself of what’s important – survival and protecting her sister. She gets these great moments of being a teenage girl but never dwells because she knows at the moment there’s more important things to deal with.

Ee creates a broad range of interesting and unique characters, deeply entrenched in the realism of the world she’s created. Through Penryn’s little sister, Paige who despite being “Frankensteined” maintains her sweetness and love for her sister while dealing with her newly developed savagery, their mother who in her paranoid schizophrenic state demonstrates more clarity and know how than those of sound mine, and the members of the resistance exhibit both the good and bad of human behaviour this new, dark, and cold world takes shape.

Ee weaves numerous stories into the fabric of Penryn’s overall tale – the resistance, her mother’s struggle with mental illness and Paige’s struggle with her new form only enrich the story. The Angels and their fight to be messenger – the mixture of power, politics and heavenly bodies heightens the drama and adds a sense of urgency to the fight. *Slight spoiler* the creation of the locusts to act as a sign of the apocalypse to help push for the angels agenda and dominate the world is a really great, unexpected twist.

Ee’s appropriation of Christian angelic hierarchy and the new elements she’s created (the warrior’s connection to their sword, the lightness of angels despite their power, their regenerative powers) adds to the angelic folklore we already know.

Ee is a great storyteller, she’s creating a world that readers can identify with and get lost in, with strong characters – and particularly a great lead it’s no wonder she’s become a self-publishing phenomenon. Also, little side note here, the book covers for both Angelfall and World After are amazing – dark, dangerous and beautiful they offer a perfect, wordless explanation of what to expect when picking up these books.

Susan Ee’s Penryn and the End of Days series is shaping up to be a great addition to the YA fantasy/dystopian canon – it’s a fascinating story with the right amount of edge, fantasy and romance. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Days of Blood and Starlight

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Author: Laini Taylor

Publisher: Hachette Book Group

Date Published: 6 November 2012

Number of Pages: 513 (Hard Cover)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

The second book in Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, Days of Blood and Starlight picks up after heroine Karou has left earth and her Seraphim lover Akiva to head into Eretz with the fallen angel Razgut in search of her Chimaera family.

This book quickly moves the story away from the mystery of Karou, instead delving deeply into the world of Eretz and the long-standing war between the Seraphim and Chimaera. Taylor’s choice to bring in not only new characters separated from the entwined story of Karou and Akiva – specifically the Chimaera children Sarazal, Sveeva but to focus on the relationships between Karou and the people from her past as Madrigal (specifically Thiago and Ziri) as well as Akiva’s relationship with his brother and sister makes for a nice, if somewhat jarring change of pace. Jarring in that if you go in expecting this book to be as flowery (in a good way) and dreamy as DOSAB you’ll be disappointed.

Days of Blood and Starlight brings the reader directly into the troubles of Eretz, the aftermath of the bloodshed and destruction of the Chimaera capital Loramendi and the beginning of the new rebellion. It delves into the politics of the Seraphim (introducing us to the Seraph king (and Akiva’s father) Joram and his brother – Jael) and those of the Chimaera, specifically what happened to the old leaders and the goings on of the new rebel force lead by Thiago.

What’s most interesting is to see the melding of Karou/Madrigal and how both of her selves manage to coexist. Karou is a consistent, charismatic and likeable lead character. Watching her struggle with the burden of resurrection, the loss of her family and the love and hate she feels for Akiva can be riveting.  She is so complete – yet so untouchable.  One of the minor downfalls of this book is that with the new storylines there’s far less of Karou than in DOSMB.

The upside is that there is more Akiva – yet, even with a bigger part he somehow remains a relatively mysterious character.  With this second book the hope was that more of Akiva would be revealed, but rather it’s much the same – a lot of pining for Karou and a desire for change. What would have been better is if we saw him focus on better developing his magic, searching for his mother and the break away Stelian Seraphim. It’s not until the final few chapters that we actually see Akiva put anything of substance in motion. (Though it is worth the wait.)

The slight twist towards the end and the introduction of Jael as the real threat to both the Chimaera and Seraphim was actually a nice – if unexpected – change of pace. And Zuzanna and Mik’s discovery of Karou’s “monster castle” adds some much needy lightness to a story that oozes misery (in a good way).

What makes this book (and its predecessor) so enjoyable is Taylor’s writing. It’s lush and poetic without being pretentious. It draws you in and paints such a vivid picture of the world and characters she’s created you can taste it. In short Taylor’s writing is visceral – she makes you care. And in doing so you become so invested that you can’t help but feel slightly bitter that you have to wait another year (at least) for the final chapter.

Days of Blood and Starlight is a strong follow up to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Taylor continues to create a fantasy world with both characters and plots a readers will care about.

If you haven’t read Daughter of Smoke and Bone you really should read it first before checking out Days of Blood and Starlight, both make great reads.

The Monthly Re-Read: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

DaughterOfSmokeAndBone

Wishes are false. Hope is true. Hope makes its own magic.

Ten reasons re-reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone is totally worth it:

10. The unbelievable beauty of Karou and Akiva’s love story. Not to go all mushy here but my God, that’s one intense relationship.

9. The imagery – it’s visceral and vivid and makes you almost desperate to see the world through the eyes of Laini Taylor

8. Taylor’s prose – it’s borderline poetic, flowery (in the best way imaginable), mature and clever – your eyes just flow across the pages as your brain effortlessly absorbs the story.

7. It’s creative. At first glance the story seems totally out there, I mean who would have thought that a world that encompasses animal-people hybrids and oppressive angels could be so enthralling? But it is. Enthralling and original – unlike anything else out there.

6. Zuzana – quite possibly the ideal best friend.

5.  Teeth for wishes – where does this woman come up with this stuff? Furthermore, the uses Karou puts her wishes to (namely exacting revenge on an ex-boyfriend) priceless.

4. The mystery surrounding Karou – Taylor builds it so brilliantly, even if you’ve already read DOSAB  it’s still a shocker when the truth is revealed.

3. Brimstone – the Wishmonger is both fearsome and loveable. His life’s work is pain yet he always has hope. He’s wise and kind and puts his life at risk to give Karou a second chance. Basically, he’s amazing.

2. AKIVA! Do I really need to explain this? I mean I will, but come on. He’s described as having ungodly beauty, he’s all dark and tortured – but loyal and totally crazy for Karou. On a scale of 1 to 10 in swoon-worthability he’s a modest 80.

“Love is a luxury." "No. Love is an element." An element. Like air to breathe, earth to stand on.”

“Love is a luxury.”
“No. Love is an element.”
“An element. Like air to breathe, earth to stand on.”

1. Karou – she is one of the best modern-day heroines, beautiful, charming, smart and funny but tough, not just physically but mentally as well. She’s not afraid to show vulnerability or to kick your butt, and in the face of adversity she always perseveres.

Book Review: Clockwork Princess

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Author: Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Date Published: 19 March, 2013

Number of Pages: 438 (Hard Cover)

*Spoilers ahead, if you have not read Clockwork Princess but plan to, don’t read this review until you finish the book.*

Before I can lay critique to the final book in Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices trilogy I have to say going into Clockwork Princess I was not as big a fan of this series as I am of The Mortal Instruments. Though I enjoyed Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince they didn’t resonate with me the same way The Mortal Instruments has. However, Clockwork Princess has completely changed my mind on the series. This final chapter (that epilogue!) not only entertained me but moved me as well.

What’s it about?

Clockwork Princess picks up a little after the events in Clockwork Prince, Jem and Tessa are preparing for their upcoming wedding, Charlotte and Henry the arrival of their baby and Will is dealing with his kid sister Cecily and well, brooding over Tessa, and the Magister is still at large and his plan for Tessa yet to be revealed has everyone on edge.

Clare takes us fairly quickly into the action of the Shadowhunting world – moving the story along smoothly and efficiently. Gabriel Lightwood’s revelation about his father’s descent into madness and transformation into a giant worm (which is both gross but humorous) and the message of The Infernal Devices sets things in motion, ultimately leading to an attack on the institute by Mortmain’s steel army (and Mrs. Black!) where Tessa is kidnapped and of all people Jessamine (who only just returned, literally) reveals to Will the Magister’s whereabouts.

In between all the action the story plays out as both a Gothic Romance (Byronic hero and all) and a comedy of manners – which is a good thing, the love triangle between Jem, Tessa and Will is so heavy and intense that the bits of comedy scattered throughout provide a well needed cathartic release.

The letters between Consul Wayland and the Lightwood brothers and Gideon’s ever-blossoming love for Sophie play out along the lines of a Whycherly play in that it’s all affected politeness and scheming and manipulation but in an absolutely fun and enjoyable manner (that first letter to Consul Wayland – priceless). And the “Great Scone Debacle” was really, well, adorable.

The race to save Tessa as Jem wastes away and ultimately the final show down had all the elements of the Shadowhunter world that make Clare’s novels so enticing.

But of course (Mortmain and his Infernal Devices be damned) the real story is the triangle that is Jem, Tessa and Will. It’s exhausting and draining and exciting and suspenseful and completely sad all at once. It’s the stuff good love stories are made of.

Quite frankly I fear the brilliance of Clare’s story will be lost on a lot of people who will focus too much on the fantasy aspect of the world she’s created (which clearly is awesome). But really, if you were to take away all the ‘otherness’ of this story – the Shadowhunters, the demons, the magic, a crazy man creating crazy demon powered robots (yes I went there, I called them robots) – it’s really just an examination on love. And not just romantic love – Clare explores the love between siblings, caregiver and receiver and friends – as so epically written in the story of Will and Jem.

But it all boils down to the love triangle. Generally these types of story are so black and white – there’s the good one and the eternally flawed one, and the one in the middle must choose between what’s easy and what’s difficult, perfection or imperfection. But in the case of Jem,  Tessa and Will everything’s kind of laid out on the table from the get go. We know what Jem’s flaw is, we know why Will behaves as he does and we know Tessa is something other than just a girl – and somehow it makes the whole thing so much more intense. Neither Jem nor Will is perfect; the question is who’s perfect for Tessa.

From the beginning I was always team Will – Jem was nice and kind and patient and sweet and probably the safer choice in that he didn’t appear to be an emotional mess, but the guy was an addict marked for death. I mean really, I couldn’t help but feel how unbelievably selfish Jem was being in asking Tessa to marry him knowing he would be dead sooner rather than later.  I admit I was rooting for Will. Though about a quarter of my way through the book I actually started to think that maybe, just maybe no one would end up with Tessa. (My alternate ending being the death of Jem and Will joining the Silent Brothers which let’s be honest, would have really played into the Gothic theme and would have been devastating for fan girls and boys everywhere. But really who doesn’t love a good tragedy?) When it was revealed that Jem had in fact joined the Silent Brothers and he said his farewells to both Tessa and Will the sixteen-year-old girl in me swooned because I knew Tessa would now end up with Will. And I felt like Will deserved her. He gave up so much to protect those he loved, this was his reward, it was what he was owed – a lifetime of love and happiness. And though it was made clear that Tessa loved Jem as much as she loved Will – to me it always seemed like Will was the right fit. The one who would make her live, make her experience life in a way she may not have thought possible.

But then I got to thinking – the fact that Jem would so unselfishly renounce true love for the happiness of his friend, his Parabatai – told me two things: Jem was really as pure and kind as everyone believed and that theirs (Will and Jem) is the true love story, each willing to forsake their own happiness to spare the other heartache.

Which makes for a nice change. Often “brotherly love” is explored jokingly, all ‘bro code’ and no heart. Clare subverts that ideal and offers a truly tender examination of male friendship and love. And in doing so the reader understand perfectly how Tessa could fall in love with both men.

The Epic Epilogue

Going into the epilogue I was expecting a tie-in to Jace as the last of the Herondale’s, maybe meeting Tessa or having brother Zachariah (who we now know with certainty is Jem) tell him about the family he never knew. Instead Clare totally destroyed my heart with Tessa’s walk down memory lane of her life with Will, and more specifically his death.

I couldn’t help but be moved at the final image of Will’s life with Jem on one side and Tessa on the other. And I love the idea of Jem playing his feelings, his experiences – singular and shared – through his violin. Something about the way it’s described just kind of pulls you in, it becomes so visceral and tangible. The brief images that are invoked to describe Tessa and Will’s life together – and how despite the rules around the Silent Brothers Will consistently worked to incorporate Jem into their lives, were lovely and touching.

And only adding to the bittersweet reality of Tessa’s life, the fact that after so many years, so much patience and determination Jem managed to overcome what stood in his way and offer Tessa a second chance at the life she could have had with him kind of destroyed my heart. (Is it weird that part of me felt – I don’t know, fear maybe, that in going off with Jem it meant it negated Tessa’s love for Will? I don’t think for a minute that’s what Clare was suggesting; I guess I just really love Will…)

But Clare manages to please both team Jem and team Will while at the same time offering a beautiful, bittersweet ending that was really and truly quite unexpected and exceptionally moving. And one that stayed true to the story.

The whole steam punk/Gothic vibe, the allusions and subtle comparisons to A Tale of Two Cities (Will as Sidney Carton, pfffft not even), and all the love stories makes this third and final book in The Infernal Devices, in my humble opinion, the best of the bunch.

I highly recommend reading the entire series, the lead up to this final book is worth the suspense.