Monday, September 18, 2017

Review - Threats of Sky and Sea

Original Title: Threats of Sky and Sea
Series: Threats of Sky and Sea, #1
Author: Jennifer Ellision
Published: May 16th, 2014

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

What a pleasant surprise! I was looking forward to a good fantasy novel, and this one came out from my to-read jar. At first, I hesitated, but I decided to give it a shot, and, although this book was fantastic, it wasn’t perfect. However, it has a lot of potential in the world it features, and I will for sure read the rest of the saga. 

I love Elemental powers, even when they are somewhat overused in fantasy, and I’m pretty sure that, in any world I could live in where people could wield such powers, mine would definitely be water. In Egria, Torchers (fire) are the majority, although there’s some Riders (air) and Shakers (earth), but no Throwers (water), and everything around this people made me so curious! I want to know more about them, and why some things happen, like, how can anyone wield more than one, like Katerine? Is there someone able to control the four elements? Some deepening on those topics would be great, and I definitely want to know more about the Shakers, that barely appear in this book, and may be the most powerful of them all, as the Earth is at their command. 

I really liked the main character, Breena Rose Perdit. Even when a sixteen-year-old barmaid from a tiny village –in a forgotten corner of the realm–, embarking on an unexpected adventure, feels kind of trait, that didn’t deter me, as she is a very witty narrator. She has this frank attitude and curt responses, and from the first moment she makes it clear that she’s not to be toyed with. She has her own will and brain, she’s smart, and knows how to act sensibly, ready to defend the innocent and do what’s right. I loved that she doesn’t need anyone to make her decisions for her, nor she seeks other people’s validation before following her head or her heart. She’s throughout a great heroine, and I want to read more about her, especially after everything there’s still to uncover about her life and her family, that was left in suspense. As for the two big reveals around her, they are somewhat guessable; if you pay attention, you can totally see them coming, e.g., as she watches de ocean:

It crashes, roaring mightily and lashing its frothy waves against the cliffs. […] It wants me.” (Chapter 16).

This told me right away she was a Thrower, and when she was revealed to be the true princess of Nereidium, I, honestly, wasn’t entirely surprised, because it’s easy to get to that conclusion, especially with the hints about her family not being the one she thought it was, and her father’s lies. By the way, I liked her bond with him, their closeness, but their conversations, as he was imprisoned, made me lose patience, as he didn’t say anything useful. I understand that he did that in case Katerine was listening, but there was a point in which the mystery grew and grew and no one revealed anything, but kept dancing around the topic. And even with that, Bree’s father died before I could know more, and I really wanted to. I hope we get a deepening in his past, about how he managed to sneak Bree from the king’s grasp and raise her as his own daughter. It’s an interesting plot point, and I hope it gets further development.

Overall, I wish there was some more action, in the entire novel. There’s a bit too much explaining the everyday life in the castle, and Elementals, but not as much action as I would have liked. Some things take forever, like Breena and her father being taken as prisoners to the palace, as they walked for days, and spent one chapter after another on the road. In general, the characters are a bit two-dimensional, but I do hope for a deepening in their stories and motivations, especially with the bad guys. The king is a great, hateable villain, and it’s definitely well written, as he has no qualms on putting one or many lives on the line just to get what he wants. And Kat also made a great villain, but I would have loved to know more about her, and I didn’t want her dead (if she is, in fact, dead), because she had a lot of potential, and I’m really interested in her past at the Egrian king’s service. Even if she’s not around, I hope to know at least a little bit more, as she is the only one, so far, able to wield two Elements at the same time (air and fire). That raises some questions, don’t you think?

As for the other characters, I really liked Aleta. I wasn’t expecting her to be a Torcher (a Thrower, in any case), but it was a great twist. I loved her attitude, her defiance, in despite of her situation, and this was my favorite line,

They think I am glass,” […] “But I am not. I am not delicate. I am stone. If they want to break me, they will have a hard time of it. I am unbreakable.

She’s strong, and has the temper to be a queen. True, her legacy is a lie, but that just made me more interested in her story, because now I want to know who her parents are, if they are alive, if she’s ever going to find them, how she will react when she finds out Nereidium isn’t hers… I can’t wait to know. Honestly, I thought she and Bree would never be friends, that there would always be some rivalry between them, but I thank the author for saving us the trouble of reading a cat fight. I was glad to see how they managed to forge a bond, and be friends in despite of everything going on around them, with everyone pushing and pulling them in every possible direction, and trying to take control of their lives. It is great that they are both strong, independent women, capable of making their own decisions, and fighting their own battles, ready to take the reins of their lives no matter what. That’s a heroine for me.

Finally, we get to the love story, and once again, we face a poorly developed relationship in which the characters fall in love for absolutely no reason. I don’t deny that Prince Caden is a sweet, brave man, and overall an interesting character, but he and Bree didn’t have enough encounters and conversations for me to see their connection, their reason to fall for each other and be together. I need more to be able to root for them, to eagerly wait for that first kiss that shouldn’t happen, but will spark the fire… But it didn’t happen. Some lingering looks and brief conversations, meant to be intense, aren’t enough. I really hope to see more development between them, and find out the reason why they like each other, because, honestly, I couldn’t see why they should be together. Moreover, judging by the first part of the book, I honestly thought she would eventually fall in love with Tregle, as it makes so much more sense: he’s an Elemental like her, they are both prisoners in the castle, in one way or another they have to obey every order they receive, putting their powers at the service of the king, they are both in training around their element… It’s a lot more logical, if you ask me. But that’s just my opinion.

Oh, and I liked the names borrowed from Greek mythology, scattered here and there, mixed with regular names, it was a nice touch. I specially noticed the name Aleta for a princess from Nereidium. For those who don’t know, “aleta” is the Spanish word for “fin”, and she comes from a realm named entirely after the Greek water nymphs. Well played, Jennifer Ellision. 

So, long story short, I really liked this book, even with all those things I mentioned, and I will definitely read the next books in the saga, as they seem so promising, and Bree is a very funny, engaging narrator. I love to find new authors and get to know the ideas they turned into novels, and I really hope this saga gets better with each book!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Review - The Queen's Handmaid

Original Title: The Queen's Handmaid
Series: -
Author: Tracy L. Higley
Published: March 18th, 2014

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Seriously, this could be the most boring book I’ve ever read. I rarely give one GoodReads star, normally reserving it for when I truly don’t have anything good to say about a book, and this, sadly, is one of those cases. Every time I put it down, it pained me to think that I had to go back to it, I literally did it grumbling. But I’m too stubborn to leave unfinished books, even when I truly wanted to drop this one every few pages, and never pick it up again. The Queen’s Handmaid has the merit of being the only book that ever kept me up at night in a bad way, because I just wanted to finish it to be over with it, or I would have to bear another day of trudging through this story. 

A quick disclaimer: in this review, I won’t be delving into this story's historical or biblical accuracy, because I simply don’t know enough about those topics as to make a valid point. With that said, let’s dive in.

This book wasn’t a nightmare, but a sedative. It is probably one of the slowest I’ve ever read, and after four hundred pages of absolute boredom, I have a few things to say. The Queen’s Handmaid feels more like a history book than a novel, and precisely, it should have the opposite effect. Simply put, if I wanted a history lesson, that’s what I would have read, but I grabbed a novel instead. As I passed the pages, I often had to re-read chunks of information and paragraphs because my mind wandered, and if your thoughts are clearly more interesting than the words you are reading, I think that speaks volumes. One of the first confusing things I found was the dialogue between royalty and servants, as it felt informal, and way too modern for the time period. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think that, in other stories, if a servant talked to a royal the way it happens in this book from time to time, they would probably be executed, or at least severely punished. And although, yes, Cleopatra executes this Andromeda girl on the spot for that, we don’t ever see something like that again (by the way, that scene was also the one that made me think this book would be different than it turned out to be after a few chapters).

The second thing that bothered me may sound very technical, and it has to do with show vs. tell. For those who don’t know, a quick explanation: showing means vivid, impactful moments to get the readers invested in the story, for them to remember the important things and connect with the characters and the plot, while telling basically means stating facts, and providing information**. In this book, there’s a telling abuse. Most of the worthwhile content is delivered as facts and historical data, like the battle in Masada. Perhaps it’s just me, that, as a fantasy reader, I’m used to be in the center of the fight and experience everything firsthand, but here, we see the entire battle from Lydia’s point of view, and although the telling isn’t wrong, I can’t feel anything, it’s like watching a very boring movie filled with dialogue in a moment in which I should only be seeing and hearing the clash of swords and shields, the screaming... It’s a siege, for God’s sake! Also, there’s too much telling on the time jumps. In a moment, we are here, and in the next, one or two years have passed. E. g., we get a very intense scene with Lydia in the temple as the battle rages on around her, and in the next page, it’s the same place, only a year later, and the author has skipped all the good stuff, like Herod and Mariamme’s wedding, for example, and I do like a royal wedding in historical fiction from time to time, I mean, imagine the picture that could be painted with the right words! But no, there’s nothing about it.

In this story, lots of things happen for no reason, and that’s especially noticeable after Lydia leaves Egypt. The author dedicates five whole chapters to their stay in Rome, and I felt that the whole thing could have been easily removed from the book, and absolutely nothing would have changed. Nothing comes from Lydia serving Octavia, nor from the insinuated attraction between her and Varius, the poet, so why making me read all these chapters to no point? Because there isn’t one, no matter how hard you try to find it. The whole Rome part got me completely lost with so many names and characters, and I ended up bored sick with the political negotiations between Herod and Marc Antony. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to show these things, but there’s a point in which enough is enough, you can’t rely on your readers’ patience forever. The only thing that happens during those chapters that is worth reading is Riva being attacked by the man we later find out had been sent by Salome to find the scrolls. But asides from that, nothing changes in the general plot, I could have just skipped the five chapters, and it would have been exactly the same.

If we are talking about pointless scenes, after the Rome part, the one that definitely made me want to flush the book down the nearest toilet was the childbirth scene. So, Mariamme has decided that she wants to escape her husband, so she, Lydia, and Simon get on a cart and secretly leave Jerusalem, but in the nearest inn, Mariamme goes into labor, and then finds out Herod is coming back alive to the city, so she has to go back too. And I was like, "why on Earth, why??" Why did I have to read that? The exact same thing could have been told without changing locations, and without exhausting the reader, perhaps saying that Mariamme was about to leave the palace, and then her water broke, and so on. But no. They left, but they had to return anyway, so why making them leave in the first place? Seriously, it made absolutely no difference to the story that she had her baby here, or there. But it did make me angry. What a waste of page time!

Can we talk about the “romance”? Because it really disappointed me. As I said before, at first it seemed the love story was going to be between Lydia and Lucius Varius Rufus, the Roman poet, but aside from letting us know that Lydia is attracted to passionate men, it’s just another piece of the novel that could have been cut from the book and nothing would have changed. After him, she meets Simon, who serves Herod as a soldier, and although we see that something grows between them, this book is so boring that even the supposed romance fell flat. They don’t have enough chemistry, there was nothing for me to root for their relationship, and their first kiss just left me with a puzzled expression on my face, over this:

And in the kiss something was unleashed within her that had little to do with the way of a man with a woman, and everything to do with the way of an Israelite passionate for her people and her land.” (Chapter 19)

Seriously? You kiss the man you are falling in love with, and that’s what you are thinking? If you ask me, I normally would say it’s the other way around. But, see what I mean? For things like this, their moments together are ripped from everything that could be remotely romantic between them. 

But the last point is the worst. First, Samuel dies before giving further explanations about what he wants Lydia to do, that is finding this Chakkiym people, but it bothered me that he was literally dying, and he kept talking and talking without giving any piece of real, useful information! He didn’t let Lydia interrupt him, but he talked non-stop without getting to the point! Man, you are dying, please say what you mean to say once and for all! *Deep breath* As I said, this book was a huge trial to my patience. After Samuel dies and Lydia leaves Egypt, she spends literally years of her life searching for the Chakkiym, never finding them where she was supposed to, doing what she was told, praying to reach her goal, etc., and we only find out who and where they are in the very last chapter! After that, there’s not even a resolution, because she still doesn’t find them! This seriously pissed me off. After year after year of searching and waiting for Lydia, and painfully boring chapters for me, I don’t even get a resolution? What kind of ending is that?

Finally, a quick word on the character building. Lydia is a cardboard character, and I didn’t fully like her. Everyone loves her, she doesn’t have any faults, and everyone who gets to know her can’t help but loving her *eye roll*. No one is like that, as far as I know, and although I was mildly surprised by Lydia’s parentage and royalty, I was too bored to care. At the point in which that’s revealed, I just wanted to be over with the book once and for all. My point is that she, and the rest of the good ones, are very good, nothing is ever their fault and they possess every virtue. That’s their essence, and they don’t feel even remotely human, because no human being is just a big pool of goodness and love. On the other hand, the villains, like Cleopatra, Herod and Salome, are bad, and only bad, they are never humanly vulnerable or show any concern in regards of those around them, their only worries are about their power and the things that could threaten it, and for me, that’s not enough. The worst of them was, definitely, Salome, she’s the witch in every fairytale, she’s nothing more than pure evil. Both her and Herod are not far from the stereotypical villain who creates suffering for no reason, and sometimes it felt like the only thing they had left was to twist a handlebar moustache and tie a woman to the train tracks to fully complete the villainy chart. 

Phew! That was long, and without covering the details (please don’t make me). I just want to add that this is definitely a no for this author. I tried, and I just couldn’t. If all of her books are like this one, I think I’ll pass. Sorry.

**For a deepening on show vs. tell, I recommend watching Jenna Moreci’s vlogs on the topic, here:
- Show.
- Tell.