Cold Steel by Kate Elliott

cold steel by kate elliottThis is the 3rd novel in Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy.

Summary (from Amazon): Trouble, treachery, and magic just won’t stop plaguing Cat Barahal. The Master of the Wild Hunt has stolen her husband Andevai. The ruler of the Taino kingdom blames her for his mother’s murder. The infamous General Camjiata insists she join his army to help defeat the cold mages who rule Europa. An enraged fire mage wants to kill her. And Cat, her cousin Bee, and her half-brother Rory, aren’t even back in Europa yet, where revolution is burning up the streets.

Revolutions to plot. Enemies to crush. Handsome men to rescue.

Cat and Bee have their work cut out for them.

My Thoughts: Cold Steel is the last novel in Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy (#1: Cold Magic, #2: Cold Fire). If you are looking for an epic series with adventure, travel, terrific world-building, a bit of romance, an intriguing and utterly unique heroine, a deep friendship, and liberal amounts of humor, this is it.

Cold Steel was a great wrap-up, and it left me aching for more in the way that the best books do. However, I suspect that I did myself an extreme disfavor by waiting so long between the 2nd novel and this one–part of that was, of course, Life, and the general obnoxiousness that comes along with it, and it rendered me fairly confused and sometimes disinterested near the beginning of Cold Steel. I had forgotten some of the “rules” that fantasy / alternate-universe novels like this come with, and for a decent amount of time I was left wondering about many characters’ motives and decisions, which took away some of the enjoyment for me. I should have re-read Cold Fire again before embarking on this 3rd novel, and maybe I’ll attempt that scenario sometime in the future. I think that would change a lot of the way I ended up feeling about the book.

I’d like to reiterate a point I made in my review of Cold Magic, and that is that I really enjoy the portrayal of friendship between Cat, our protagonist, and her cousin/BFF, Bee. I do think it’s a shame that so many of the books specifically marketed towards (young) women feature so few female relationships, and if there are multiple women featured in the novel, they are usually enemies or fighting over a man. Especially with all the recent attention about The Bechdel Test, this is a problem that goes beyond literature. There is a romance in this trilogy, the one between Cat and her husband, Andevai, and it is certainly romantic, swoon-worthy, and heartbreaking at times (as all good romances are), but it is not the only meaningful relationship in our female protagonist’s life–it’s one of many, and that, to me, is a much more realistic and honest portrayal of romance.

Another strong point of Elliott’s is her ability to make her characters fully 3-dimensional. The characters in Cold Fire have weaknesses, and not stupid, shallow “weaknesses” thrown in to make sure that the character isn’t a flawless Mary Sue. Andevai, Cat’s husband and romantic interest, is flawed and these flaws can be both humorous (his pride and vanity lead him to accumulate an impressive number of clothes that have to be lugged across half the continent by Cat and Bee) and serious: Andevai’s loyalty to his past, and an overwhelming desire for respect and recognition cause him and Cat to struggle greatly with their relationship and their dual involvement in the revolution they are fighting for. There are doubts, realistic doubts that caused me as a reader to waver as well.

I was first drawn into this series because I so enjoyed viewing it through Cat’s eyes. She is a unique heroine in that she isn’t really a heroine–in any typical fantasy story, her personality, actions, and motivations would have cast her as the sidekick, and her cousin Bee as the heroine. This is really a story about a side-player in a greater drama with her own reasons for doing what she does, and which might not line up with the traditional, heroic notion of right-and-wrong, save-the-world, goody-goody. I really enjoyed this in the first and second novels, but (and this might be a side effect of the aforementioned delay between my reading the 2nd and 3rd books) she really lost me a few times in Cold Steel. Certain pivotal moments had me going “whaaaat?” at her actions and thoughts, and I didn’t connect with her as well. I ended up not being as invested or impressed emotionally because I didn’t understand her motivations and reactions.

Overall, this is a very good trilogy with a world that I hope Elliott will return to sometime in the future. It’s so fleshed-out and well-developed I feel like she must have more stories and characters off-stage that deserve their chance to be told. Cold Steel was not my favorite of the series, but it’s still good. Also funny. It’s an interesting kind of humor–lots of different kinds of humor, actually. So enjoyable!

Author Websitehttp://www.kateelliott.com/

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Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Summary: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one unlikely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life– a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

My Thoughts: Shadow and Bone has been popping up all over the YA/fantasy blogs recently and I finally got my hands on a copy from my library. I finished it in less than 12 hours and I’m eager for the sequel, so that tells you a bit about how much I liked it.

I think this is Bardugo’s debut novel, and she did a great job taking the traditional high fantasy genre and putting her own twist on it. There’s some great new world building here that was very well done, explained smoothly and  naturally, and made a lot of sense to the plot, which honestly doesn’t always happen in fantasy novels. I also liked the sort of old Russian influence on a lot of the language and the culture in Bardugo’s world–that’s something I haven’t really seen before in YA fantasy.

I especially, especially liked the way Bardugo book-ended her story with the prologue/epilogue-type chapters, where the style and narration switched slightly and opened and closed her story to great effect. Bardugo’s story here has just the right amount of action mixed with mysticism and the unknown.

I’m glad to have a new fantasy series to follow; I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel when it comes out! Also, the cover is one of the more awesome book typography and design combinations I’ve seen in awhile.

Author Website: http://www.leighbardugo.com/

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Summary: Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Commentary: I was pretty excited to read Grave Mercy–assassin nuns in medieval France? Definitely not something that’s been done before. I was drawn in from the very first chapter, but then my interest sort of petered off, and I’m not exactly sure what went wrong.

While the premise of the novel was certainly interesting, I felt like the author didn’t deliver. I had a hard time connecting emotionally with our narrator, Ismae, whether because of the awkward and kind of stumbling narration, or because she was just kind of flat as a character. We see that she escapes from her horrible arranged marriage, but her transformation to a full-formed character never happens. I wasn’t able to relate to any of her emotions and was never fully pulled into her trials and travails,which means the romance also fell completely flat for me.

I did enjoy the historical aspect of this novel, however, and appreciated the political intrigue between Brittany and France.

Overall, Grave Mercy had a very interesting premise but failed to deliver fully. Really fabulous cover though, I have to say.

Grave Mercy is the first in a series, but I don’t think I’ll be following up with the rest of the novels.

Author Website: http://www.robinlafevers.com/
How did I get this book? The public library!

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue is 3rd in a series of books by Kristin Cashore; I recommend you read Graceling first.

SummaryBitterblue takes place 8 years after the events in Graceling and feature many of the same characters. Bitterblue herself is now Queen of the kingdom of Monsea, successor to and daughter of King Leck, a violent, psychopathic man who possessed the ability to lie to everyone, and have everyone believe his lies.

The kingdom is struggling to recover after King Leck’s torturous reign, a fact that Bitterblue’s advisers seem intent on hiding from her. Taking it upon herself to truly get to know her kingdom, Bitterblue begins sneaking outside her castle alone after dark to explore the city. While on her escapades she meets two thieves who open her eyes to the truth of what’s happening in her city. But the more she explores, the more she realizes that something is still dreadfully wrong in her kingdom, and the more she begins to question the trustworthiness of the people closest to her.

My Thoughts: Ever since reading Graceling I’ve been a dedicated fan of Kristin Cashore’s–Fire was just as beautiful and made me even more desperate to read more of Cashore’s writing. I’ve been waiting awhile for the release of Bitterblue, and while I definitely enjoyed myself (finished it in about a day), Bitterblue is very different in both mood, pacing, and plot than the previous two novels.

There’s none of the pulse-pounding adventure and adrenaline-spiked fights present in Graceling or Fire–instead, the problems plaguing Bitterblue and the demons she must confront are much more insidious, creeping, and hidden beneath the surface. There’s no definite Bad Guy, but there is something much more realistic and relevant to our own world: the covering-up of misdeeds, corruption in the government, false accusations and convictions, poverty and suffering, and yes, even the tedium of paperwork and bureaucracy.

Bitterblue is much more slow-moving. It is more thought-provoking and maybe even more… internal. It’s a different kind of book. If I enjoyed it any less (which I will admit that I did a bit), I think it was more due to the new characters. They weren’t as real to me. I didn’t fall in love with any of them, even the two quirky thieves, Teddy and Saf, that Bitterblue meets on her secret expeditions. Everyone just seemed… flatter.

Slight spoiler: I did enjoy the kind of relationship Cashore portrayed in Bitterblue–that your first love may not be your forever love, may not be your greatest love, and that some things (like ruling a kingdom, exploring a new land) may even come before love. But that doesn’t make the love any less worthy. In fact, Cashore is just great at depicting relationships that are sort of off-grid and nontraditional in terms of not being in the fairy-tale “meet, fall in love, get married, have kids” vein, but still being able to completely sweep you off your feet. Talent.

I really enjoyed Bitterblue in the end, and I also liked how it ended up tying the first two books together.

Author Website: http://kristincashore.blogspot.com/

How did I get this book? Ebook!

Giveaway! See Michelle Read is currently doing a giveaway of Bitterblue here! Open until May 28, 2012.

Immortal City by Scott Speer

Summary: Jackson Godspeed is the hottest young Angel in a city filled with them. He’s days away from becoming a full Guardian, and people around the world are already competing for the chance to be watched over by him. Everyone’s obsessed with the Angels and the lucky people they protect – everyone except for Madison Montgomery.

Maddy’s the one girl in Angel City who doesn’t breathlessly follow the Angels on TV and gossip blogs. When she meets Jackson, she doesn’t recognize him. But Jackson is instantly captivated by her, and against all odds the two fall in love.

Maddy is swiftly caught up in Jackson’s scene, a world of glamour, paparazzi – and murder. A serial killer is on the loose, leaving dead Angels’ wings for the police to find on the Walk of Fame. Even the Guardians are powerless to protect themselves in the face of this threat … and this time it’s up to Maddy to save Jackson.

My Thoughts: Very interesting premise. There’s been an influx of “angel”-related YA fiction in the market recently, kind of tagging along on the supernatural coattails of vampires and werewolves and fae and etc. I’ve tried a few and just been kind of disgusted with the writing quality of some of them. Speer’s novel, however, captivated me from the very beginning with an incredibly intriguing and, might I say it, incredibly “American” (and by “American” I mean extremely capitalist!) set-up for his type of angels.

In Speer’s world, Angel City (aka our own Los Angeles) is populated by Angels who will “protect” you, aka save your life were you ever to be in some catastrophic incident like a car accident, plane crash, natural disaster, for an extremely exorbitant fee. As a result, the only people able to be “protected” are the extremely rich. As well, an entire culture and way of life has grown up around the Angels. They are celebrities, fixtures on red carpet events, and there are reality TV shows that center around normal humans competing against each other in different kinds of tasks (think Survivor) in order to get the chance to be “protected” by an Angel for the rest of their life. Angels are rich and beautiful, the world’s elite–there are tabloids and gossip magazines dedicated to them.

So here we have Jackson, the most famous and hottest and most perfect Angel of all. He lives this glamorous lifestyle, and we learn that he’s kind of “different,” and that he is tired of all the obsession and the craziness and fake illusions that come with his life. This is a premise I’ve read a thousand times–famous celebrity is tired of being a celebrity and having an awesome life, and then oh wow, he meets a perfectly normal, not-special girl (who actually turns out to be kind of special) who sees him for who he truly is.

And I expected to be rolling my eyes by this point. Except that when Speer switches over to Maddy’s narration and point-of-view, I only got more interested. I loved Maddy as a main character. She was down-to-earth and real, and I liked experiencing all the things about the Immortal City from her viewpoint. The romance between her and Jackson wasn’t rushed–it had hiccups and misunderstandings that were realistic and believable.

The evil enemy they have to face together was also a great twist, one I definitely didn’t see coming. Overall, Immortal City was a very enjoyable young adult fiction. I was intrigued and continually surprised by Speer’s plotting, and I definitely enjoyed the last 100 pages when things started getting really exciting. I hope there will be a sequel.

Sidenote: I think it’s fun that the author, Speer, is the boyfriend of Ashley Tisdale (of Disney fame) and his main career is a music video director! He’s directed for some big names. And I found this out after I finished reading, when I googled for more information about the book. I guess he actually knows what “celebrity” really is.

How did I get this novel? I received this as an ARC from the publisher, Razorbill. I haven’t seen very much publicity online for Immortal City, which is strange. There’s not even an official website or even publisher section for it yet, which is odd because on the ARC it details this whole marketing campaign they’re doing for the book release… which is only 4 months away. The website on the book cover, immortalcityseries.com, isn’t even up yet. The author doesn’t have a website for his writing, but he does have twitter, and myspace, and facebook. Also, I can’t even find any other book blog that has reviewed this yet! How strange. I feel like this is something the YA/fantasy world should be all over by now.

Genres: Young adult fiction, science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, romance

Giveaway: I’ll be giving this book away soon! Stay tuned.