Naamah’s Blessing

The final installment of the Moirin trilogy takes our favorite characters even farther than they’ve already been. All the way to the shores of what we would think of as South America.

Moirin interacts with the equivalency of Aztec and Incan people, in a long, dangerous journey she has to undertake to right a wrong. In a way she is making penance for earlier mistakes, and the story comes around full circle to involve characters who were at the forefront in the first book of the trilogy.

The environments are beautifully crafted and described. Carey has immense talent in bringing culture to life through her settings and characters. Somehow, Moirin moves through all the different cultures she encounters with grace and innocent purity.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a partnership quite as compelling as Moirin and Bao’s. They shouldn’t fit together at all. In the Phedre trilogy, Carey delighted in pairing two characters who are the exact opposite of the right fit for each other—and their relationship is inevitable, epic, and beautiful. Here, Moirin and Bao aren’t opposites. They are almost at right angles to each other. It shouldn’t ever work. But they end up with the strongest, most complementing partnership I’ve ever read. It’s a beautiful example of how mutual, unfailing love and respect in a partnership can create a foundation from which each individual can be completely themselves, and yet *more so* with the support of their partner uplifting them. #Relationshipgoals, well and truly.

It’s probably a good thing that this is the final book in the trilogy, because I’m running out of complimentary adjectives and have already used the same ones many times. I can’t speak highly enough of this trilogy. Fans of strong female characters, confident in their sexuality and unwavering in their loyalty to friends, will adore this trilogy and should read it straight through. I might like the second book more than the third, but since they’re all five stars in my book that isn’t much of a distinction to make. 🙂

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Naamah’s Curse

I’ve never read a more beautiful, terrifying story.

If you know me, you know that a basically Pagan Celtic protagonist driven by her soul’s passion to form meaningful connections with people is…well, me. Reading characters that so closely mirror ourselves can be an interesting exercise. You learn a lot about yourself.

In reading this book—which is now my #2 favorite book of all time (second only to The Amber Spyglass—I learned so much about myself through the emotions that the story woke in me.

Moirin has an untouched innocence. She can be naive at times, sure, but I’m speaking more of the purity of someone born from Nature, unspoiled by civilization. Her heart has no bounds, and her travels lead her to make meaningful connections again and again and again. It’s lovely.

This volume in the trilogy takes us to the northern fields above Ch’in, and then west to Vralia, where a religion parallel to reality’s Christianity is on the rise. Then we travel all the way south to Bhodistan, which represents India.

The events in Vralia hit home for me. There’s a particular brand of horror out there for everyone—one thing that you are soul-deep afraid of, more than anything else. This portion of the book plucked that chord for me. I won’t give away the exact circumstances, but what Moirin faces there was so terrifying to me that I seriously considered putting down the book despite the gorgeous writing quality and how much I love the characters. I’ll say only that my religion is sacred to me, and I had to question whether I would possess the same strength as Moirin, or whether I would break under those circumstances. It’s a valuable thing, coming up against your true limits and finding out what’s on the other side. I did it with my pregnancy. I hope I would come out whole on the other side of what Moirin goes through in this section.

Then, offered almost as a balm for the terror-filled ache caused by the preceding events, Moirin’s time in Bhodistan is so moving and beautiful that I cried happy tears. She meets wonderful characters, and Carey proves yet again how strong and resilient her characters can be.

Ideally we would live in a world where strong, complex female characters were flooding the market. Since that isn’t quite the case, I’ll say that Carey’s fiction is a welcome respite from the harsh realities of a world where the political landscape makes you feel less than lucky to have been born a woman. Carey’s heroines are everything a young girl would want to aspire to, and her heroes are representations of truly equal men who aren’t threatened by powerful women, but seek to support them. The pairings in these novels are beautiful, and each partner seeks to complement the other. True equality, as it is meant to be lived.

This trilogy touches my heart and soul. Every bit of it resonates with me. I would recommend it most highly to anyone who wants to get to know me better, and aside from that any fans of Carey’s writing will love these. Fans of speculative fiction flavored with mythology and alternate history would enjoy these immensely, and anyone looking for female role models should definitely read them.

Fearless

I always enjoy Cornelia Funke stories. Reckless was great, and the English translation quality was excellent, as per usual. Given how much I liked Reckless, I was surprised when I read Fearless and loved it SO MUCH MORE.

There’s an absolute beauty to the interactions between Jacob and Fox. There’s history there, and emotions, and a complexity that just makes your heart ache with its sincerity and authenticity.

Couple these fabulous characters and they’re fascinating relationship with one of the absolute best, creepiest villains I have encountered in a story in a good long time, and you have a novel that kept me absolutely riveted.

True story: I was reading this on the train on the way home from work and got so pulled in that I almost got off at the wrong stop.

There are fairy tale elements in this second book of the Mirrorworld series, of course. There’s even intriguing references to Jacob’s past, similar to what we got in the first book.

Fearless is devastatingly good. Y’all shouldn’t take my world for it—go read it for yourself. Then come talk to me about that villain (you’ll know which one it is). 😀

Immortal Fire

YOU GUYS.

OH MY GODS.

This book is better than I expected. Considering how much I absolutely LOVED the first and second ones, I was already expecting a lot.

Yes, the action is well-paced, the story structure is one of the most masterful I’ve read in ages. The characters are interesting and complex and so, so worthy of all the praise ever. But the arcs, you guys. The character arcs. The things they learn. The things that happen to them!

I seriously could never do this book justice, talking about it. When I’m this excited about a book, people tend to think I’m exaggerating or just being dramatic for kicks. So I’ll stop overselling this one and just say that it absolutely enriched my life to read it, and gave me all the achingly sweet and painful and inspiring feels. Read it or you’re missing out.

Dark Tempest

Okay, real talk: I wanted more of this book as soon as I finished listening to it, so I went back to halfway through and listened to the second half again. I wasn’t ready to move on to the third, because that’s too close to the end of the trilogy, and I never want that to happen. So I just listened to more of Dark Tempest again. 🙂

I’ve already recommended these books to a bunch of people, and I’m not even done reading them. I want more of Emi and Shiro. This story is SO good. The characters are deep and well crafted and intriguing. The mythos is woven in so well.

I think my favorite thing about this second book in the trilogy was the pacing. There’s this amazing balance between despair and hope that Annette Marie handles so beautifully well. It’s truly impressive. The midpoint had me on the absolute edge of my seat, ignoring everything in the real world until I found out what happened next. The thing is, with more time left in the books, you think she couldn’t possibly kill off the major characters. Except you don’t know that she won’t, and you start to get really really scared that she will…

It’s pretty fabulous, the way she keeps you guessing. The suspense is thrilling, the payoff at the end of battles always gives me the feels, even while circumstances are set up for the next big battle, the next potential death. I’ve rarely seen pacing this wonderful in any book.

Now, the next bit that I want to say has some spoiler potential, so do me a favor and go read the book, then come back to read the rest of this review. I just have to comment about it, because it’s refreshing and wonderful. But I don’t want to spoil anything for you—and you don’t want anything to be spoiled, either, so do yourself a solid and don’t read the following until you’ve finished the book!

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

You know in Star Wars, how Han Solo basically corners Leia before he kisses her, and that’s supposed to be sexy because he’s a big strong man she can’t say no to? Or in Indiana Jones, where he literally pulls a woman toward him with a friggin whip and forces her into his arms? Well, those are pretty good examples of societal sexist microaggressions. Somehow we started promoting the narrative that ignoring a woman’s resistance was sexy. That’s shitty and awful and creates all kinds of weird and disturbing conflicts in a girl’s mind. Srsly. SO. It’s no surprise that my favorite fucking line of this entire book is: “Do you want me to move?”

I mean, how amazing is that? How AWESOME is it of Annette Marie to weave in this layer of CONSENT between Emi and Shiro? Seriously the sexiest thing ever. Remember all the feels you got when you read the line in the first book: “Do you promise?” I remember all mine. It was epic and aching and wonderful. But “Do you want me to move?” is better. Different emotions, different subtext. I consider it a fucking victory for all women. So thank you, Annette Marie, for writing that so well. You’re awesome. ❤

Red Winter

Oh my. I didn’t have any expectations going into this book, because I hadn’t heard much about it. I found it on some lists of YA books with snow in them. Seriously. (Research for my current novel.)

I am so glad that this book came onto my radar. I think it started out a tiny bit slow—Emi’s character takes a while to build, and I didn’t empathize with her at first. She seemed a little stuck up, a little cold. I switched the audiobook to 1.4x speed pretty soon in, and then things went a little faster. I wasn’t expecting to get a quarter of the way through and *not want to stop listening*, though.

Let’s be real. I stayed up super late last night finishing this book (yes, I had work today, too).

When the action picks up, it really picks up. I just wanted to keep going! Basically as soon as Shiro enters the picture, that’s it for me. I’m lost in this story.

Marie manages to create what feels like a really good anime in the form of a YA novel with a cool female protagonist. Strong doesn’t really describe her well—it’s more like, “powerful.” For reasons that you’ll understand when you read the book. The settings are beautifully drawn, very engaging and visually stunning. The title is super clever, because fresh blood on fallen snow is an image you can’t shake. There’s plenty of suspense, both in the plot and in individual action sequences. There’s a definite ticking clock, especially for our protagonists.

By the time I finished this one, I was already looking up the next book in the trilogy. I think I’ll try Annette Marie’s other series, as well, because I am enjoying this one so much.

Fans of fantasy YA, fantasy anime shows, female YA protagonists, Japanese demon mythology, and fast-paced action will all love this book. It really blew me away, and I’ve already recommended it to several people just in the last 24 hours. Do yourself a favor and go read it. 🙂

“Do you promise?” *swoons*

Goldenhand

Nix has really upped his narrative game with this one. Goldenhand came out so many years after the original books, I didn’t think he was ever going to revisit this world. Man am I glad he did.

Once you start reading this book, you see why he wanted to write Clariel, too. Reading Clariel isn’t super necessary if you want to enjoy Goldenhand, though. You’ve already read Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen, so you already want to spend more time with the characters (and if you haven’t read The Creature in the Case yet, go do that before you dive into Goldenhand).

It’s tough to follow up a trilogy ending where they literally save the universe, of course. And somehow, Nix does it with style. He employs switching POV chapters, and introduces new characters that are just brilliant and endearing. Lirael and Nicholas are kind of adorbs, and I’m so so glad we get to spend more time with Lirael, because two books with her definitely wasn’t enough.

Sameth has matured in a really wonderful way. We get the promise of it near the end of Abhorsen, and we get to really see how it’s unfurled in Goldenhand.

There’s new magic in this, and new lands north of the Old Kingdom that we haven’t visited before. We get to explore more of Lirael’s past, as she uses her Remembrancer skills and through a message passed down through the years.

The villain in this book is probably the most complex and interesting one yet. I won’t say she does it for me quite the same as the Destroyer, because that was one badass, inexorable villain. But Chlorr of the Mask is interesting and has a lot of depth to her, which makes for interesting conflict.

If you enjoyed any of the previous books in this series, you should read all the way through to Goldenhand. If you enjoy good fantasy, with well-wrought characters, an intelligent magic system, and a fully realized world complete with history and landscape, then this is definitely a book for you.

The Creature in the Case

This is a lovely, compelling short story that takes place in the Abhorsen universe. Chronologically, it happens between the events of Abhorsen and those of Goldenhand. It follows Nicholas Sayre, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like him enough to care about this story. Thankfully, Nix provides enough interesting situations, endearing awkwardness, and fast-paced action to help you fall for Nicholas.

This story is definitely worth reading. It should be read after Abhorsen and before Goldenhand, in particular by those who love Lirael’s character from the original trilogy.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The blurb on the front cover of this book by Neil Gaiman really sums it up nicely: “A glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom.”

This book is like a combination of J M Barrie and Neil Gaiman, with generous heaps of The Phantom Tollbooth thrown in, and plenty of references/allusions/respectful nods to The Wizard of Oz, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Narnia, and any other fairy tale you can think up. It’s a delight to read, and surprised me by being dark and wicked at times, which is so fitting for a true fairy tale.

The narration style is definitely in line with Peter Pan, and the characters are closely modeled after Wonderland characters. There’s clever wordplay like you would expect from Norton Juster—a wyvern whose father is a Municipal Library so he’s really a wyverary, for example. It’s clever and sweet.

Parts of the story reminded me of The Magicians trilogy, which isn’t too surprising considering its roots in Narnia. The narration style lends itself to a flavoring of metafiction. Our protagonist is aware of other fairy stories that came before hers, and aware that she’s in her own story. But she’s never aware of the narrator, which is good because I’m not very fond of breaking the fourth wall. It pulls me right out of the characters and tells me I’m not them, however much I relate to them or want to be them. And a story someone else tells you is never as exciting as the story you’ve lived yourself.

Probably my only gripe—and it’s small enough that it hardly bears mentioning—is that the protagonist, September, has a companion named Saturday eventually, and their names are too similar, being long and both beginning with the letter S.

My favorite part came near the end, something that Saturday says to September. Clever, and sweet, and just a little terrifying and portentous.

There are a million places in this book where you want to hold on to what you just read. A sentence or a phrase that just rings beautiful and insightful, that seems to describe yourself better than you thought a story that wasn’t about you could possibly do. I very much enjoyed all those little starbursts of connection.

Before I picked up this book I thought the ship of her own making was, for some reason, a steampunk-worthy airship. It isn’t. I wasn’t disappointed. You won’t be either.

After reading the interview with the author at the back, I think Valente is clever and fun and the kind of person I’d love to get to know, because we could probably get on great as friends. I’m glad she wrote this book, and glad I got to read it. You should go read it, too. You won’t be sorry.

Allegiant

So, I think I was right about the direction the trilogy was headed in. This third book introduced a bunch of new characters who I could care less about. They don’t have a lot of depth or complexity, and we don’t spend enough time with them to get to know them.

The new setting is fairly boring, as it offers a lot less moving around and war-zone type action than in the previous two books. And the entire time it feels like Tris and Four and the others just came in halfway through someone else’s battle, and they take it up because there isn’t anything else left to fight for, and they were groomed to fight by their past experiences in the city.

In this one we see a greater disintegration of the relationship between Tris and Four, as well, one that was pretty good in books one and two. Now it feels played out and repetitive.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t think people should read these books. Or watch the movies. The first movie is actually pretty great, though the second one felt to me like it was dropping the ball majorly. I wouldn’t count these books as a waste of time, more like frustrated hopes. There was so much potential, and to watch it leach away as the trilogy progressed was just–disappointing.

I think I’d still love to read other work by Roth, though. Her writing is good, I just want to see her with a story that doesn’t peter out.