What Happens After You Fulfil Your Destiny?: Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

As much as I hate to say it, Chosen Ones is another one of those books with a great concept but not so great execution. I mean, taking the chosen one trope and grounding it in reality by looking at the aftermath and trauma that comes with it? Such a good idea! If only this fantastic potential had been better taken advantage of.

Who, What, Where?

Fifteen years ago, five teens – Sloan, Matt, Inez, Albie and Esther – were singled out by the government as potential chosen ones, prophesied to defeat a powerful entity known as The Dark One. Following his defeat, the world seemingly returned to normal. Now adults, the group is trying to adjust to living as regular people again. But how can they when they’re the most famous people around? More so, after everything that’s happened to them? Sloane, in particular, has had a hard time moving on – nightmares, PTSD, and secrets about her kidnapping by the Dark One that she hasn’t told anyone. Around the tenth anniversary of their triumph, one of the five shockingly dies and the remaining chosen ones are sent hurtling into another prospective battle with a new Dark One.

Too Long to Reach the Good Stuff

If I had to use one descriptor for this book, it would unfortunately have to be ‘a slog’. The last third or quarter of Chosen Ones is actually pretty enjoyable. Plotlines come together, secrets are revealed, there’s action, our villain develops a backstory…but gosh, does it feel like a trial to get there.

The pacing for most of this book leaves a lot to be desired. My interest would register in short bursts only to disappear again for large stretches of time. The earlier chapters deal with establishing the chosen five (plus their baggage) and the world ten years after the defeat of The Dark One. This was fine at first but after a while I found myself wondering where it was all going. Once part two hit, a major and unexpected shift in the narrative occurred which led me to believe things would start to pick up. Instead, I got some wandering around the city, character squabbling, and boring magic instruction (something I’m normally crazy about). Finally, at long last, some new characters were introduced and I began to get a better sense of the overarching conflict, allowing me to feel more engaged in the story. However, by this point, I couldn’t help but feel as though it was a case of too little, too late.

Not My Chosen Ones

When it comes to slower reads, I’m 100% fine provided I have characters I can connect with and get invested in. This wasn’t really the case here. I enjoy the occasional abrasive, emotionally complicated and typically ‘unlikeable’ character, but for some reason I just didn’t click with Sloane. I’m not sure whether it was the distance created by the third person narration but I never really felt as though the book got as emotionally deep with her trauma as it should have. Regrettably, I felt the same way about the rest of the chosen ones and for a book that I believed was going to focus on exactly this theme, it’s hard not to be disappointed.

In the end, my attitude towards most of the characters in this book can only be explained as indifferent. While I thought Albie was sweet, Ines disappeared for most of the book, Matt was annoying and boring, and Esther was…eh. Both Mox and Ziva were likeable with solid potential but because of their point of introduction in the story, there wasn’t enough time to properly develop them into anything substantial.

Documents and Files

One of the things I quite liked about the book was its use of files, reports, newspaper clippings, etc. to break up the third person narrative. There may have been one or two inclusions that I found a little pointless (poems?), but overall, these were a nice way to provide context to some past events in a different way than the standard flashback. Each excerpt isn’t always relevant at the exact moment it arises, but they do provide useful world building and background information for events further on down the track.

All Grown Up?

Chosen Ones is Veronica Roth’s first adult classified book. Despite it being targeted at an older audience, there’s a definite young adult vibe here. A couple of the themes seem slightly more mature, but the characters and writing often still have that YA feel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I can understand why such an approach would fit this particular story. Here, we have several adults who lost a significant part of their teenage years training to fight a mass murderer magician in a fight they weren’t even sure they would survive. Consequently, they didn’t go through the usual milestones, learning experiences and development of normal teens and this has impacted on how they interact and behave as adults. Sure, it can be a bit frustrating to read about adults acting like bickering teenagers, but it’s believable in the context of the narrative.


The later parts of Chosen Ones give me hope for a more enjoyable sequel, yet I don’t really see myself picking up the second entry in this duology. I’m sure that the big bang ending to the book will pull a lot of readers in on curiosity to see how events play out, but I don’t think I can trudge through another 400 or so pages if I’m wrong.    

2.5 Stars

Love and Witchcraft: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

A witch and a witch hunter fall in love. That was all I needed to know about Serpent & Dove to race out and buy it as soon as possible. Throw in a stunning cover and a heap of absolutely fantastic reviews, and I let this bad boy waltz its way right to the front of my TBR queue. But did it live up to expectations?

Not quite.

Who, What, Where?

Serpent & Dove is set in a vaguely historical French-ish land called Belterra characterised by a longstanding conflict between witches and the royal family/church. The witches argue that humans have taken over their lands and so, continue to use aggressive magic to get them to leave. Meanwhile, the church believes the very existence of witches goes against religious doctrine and use an army of witch hunters, called Chausseurs, to capture and burn them at the stake. Enter our leading lady, Lou, a thief and witch in hiding from her own coven. After a public stunt designed to help her avoid capture backfires, Lou ends up wed to Reid, the archbishop’s star pupil and golden boy of the Chausseurs. Hi-jinks and eventual romance ensue.

Spunk & Stubborness

As far as lead characters go, I really enjoyed Lou. While she might be similar to a lot of other ballsy female leads we typically find stuck in chauvinistic fantasy worlds, she’s too much fun for me to care. She’s spunky, snarky, flirty, independent and strong. Any woman who can hold her own in a conversation as well as a fight immediately has my heart. I will say though that I do feel she lost a lot of her spark by the climax of the book. It was almost as though her affection for Reid smothered her personality – a big no-no.

Reid, although not nearly as likeable for me as Lou, was still an okay character. Stubborn, religiously devout, and conservative, I get the feeling he’d probably verge on boring without Lou to bounce off. He’s a tad thick and frustrating at points, especially early on when trying to control Lou, but as the book progresses he does have his sweet and romantic moments.

Slow Burn…Up to a Point

One of the main reasons I was so keen to read S&D was because it was said to have a great slow burn romance. And it does…for the first two thirds. I really enjoyed the development of Reid and Lou’s relationship for most of the book as there’s a gradual build up from annoying the hell out of each other to enjoying one another’s company. I had a fantastic time with their verbal sparring, usually involving Lou in a bathtub or singing crass pub tunes, but also the softer moments like going out for cinnamon buns or discussing Reid’s favourite book.

Then we reach a point where, all of a sudden, Shelby Mahurin becomes every impatient romance reader screaming, JUST KISS ALREADY. I was more than fine with this, especially as it involves a definitely not YA appropriate scene in a theater *waggles brows suggestively*. What I was NOT fine with was the immediately following ‘I Love You’s. And not just the regular kind, the desperate, I can’t live without you, you are forever part of my soul kind. *sigh*. Shelby, girl, why you gotta give me this lovely slow burn only to put foot to pedal as we’re approaching the finish line?

Plot & Pacing

Let me say this straight – the first two thirds of Serpent & Dove were enjoyable, even with a few silly plot elements. The last third, not as much. The book starts out really well – there’s heist vibes, an action scene involving Chausseurs vs witches, and Lou & Reid’s version of a meet cute. I was hooked quickly. After Reid and Lou get married (for reasons I’m still very much like: well, hello, plot convenience) things slow down a lot to focus on relationship and character development. This goes on for a good while so if you were wanting your romance with more external conflict, you’ll be disappointed. Personally, I was going, yes, give me that slow burn!

Then I hit the climax/ending. Behold my disappointment:

  1. The romance reached melodrama levels
  2. Our heroine lost her lustre
  3. Our villain turned out to be nothing more than a cackling “evil” witch without proper development
  4. I was hit with several trope-y and contrived plot twists
  5. AND what should have been a difficult and gradual change in thinking for Reid was thrown out the window because PLOT WAITS FOR NO WITCH HUNTER TO BELIEVABLY PROCESS ENORMOUS CHALLENGES TO HIS ENTIRE LIFE’S BELIEF SYSTEM.

Magical Patterns

A big tick for me on this book was the approach to magic used for Lou’s category of witches, la dame blanches. For Lou and her coven, magic is an exchange and every use must be bargained for/balanced. There are multiple approaches to reach a specific goal but it’s up to the witch to determine the most suitable “pathway”. For example, at one point Lou uses magic to pick a lock and in exchange breaks a finger.  I loved this ‘use and consequences’ design and that there was a degree of skill involved in working out non-debilitating pathways. I also like that this system factored into the plot in both small and significant ways.

Where Are We?

Magic aside, the world building in this book is not one of its strongest qualities. While it’s technically fantasy, there isn’t much time devoted to building up a decent fantasy world. If not for the inclusion of magic and certain location names, I would have said it felt more like a French historical setting. Or, well, a very watered down version of it with a bunch of out of place elements thrown in. There’s no real sense of politics, customs or geography (beyond a couple of towns and features) and, weirdly enough, the Catholic church exists complete with bible, archbishop and mass. Colour me confused. 


Despite Serpent & Dove not exactly living up to expectations, for the most part, I enjoyed this book and expect that I’ll have forgotten the ending enough by 2020 to give the sequel, Blood & Honey, a go. Would still recommend.

3.5 Stars

Prepare Yourself for a Headache and Some Heartache: Wildcard by Marie Lu

3 starswildcard

After reading Warcross back in March, I had high hopes and major excitement going into Wildcard. I mean, after that ending, how could I not? But the big question is, did Marie Lu’s latest sequel manage to live up to expectations?

Unfortunately not.

Focus & Direction

I found Wildcard to be a big change of pace to Warcross in terms of its approach to plot. In book one, while the story centred around Emika hunting down the mysterious hacker, it was also filled with other elements such as the fun Warcross matches, memories to develop Emika’s backstory, and lightweight interactions to create friendship or romantic links between characters. Wildcard is different in that every scene feels focused and purposeful. There isn’t a lot of extraneous material and if you do get it, it’s often because the scene was also necessary for the main plot. That is, until the end sequence, in which character details about the Phoenix Riders are thrown at the reader in succession a bit like a tennis ball machine.

This approach wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I did miss some of the more light-hearted parts of Warcross, especially considering how dark sections of Wildcard became. However, if there’s one thing I can say it’s that after a slower start, the rest of the book maintains a constant, and good degree, of momentum.

No Warcross

I’ll be blunt: There are no book-one type Warcross matches in Wildcard. We get a one on one match between Emika and Zero and then a slightly Warcross-esque section at the end of the book, but neither fully reaches the excitement of the book one matches. Admittedly, these wouldn’t really fit into the plot of Wildcard, but my whiny, irrational brain just can’t help but feel sad about it.

Emika, Where Are You?

I really enjoyed Emika as a protagonist in Warcross. She was bold, curious, quick thinking, and given a good degree of emotional backstory. In Wildcard, however, I feel as though she wasn’t used to her full potential. Emika spends most of this book either being shuffled around by other big players or simply trying to find the answer to the next question in what seems like a never-ending line of questions. She’s not sure who to trust or what to do which leaves her in a largely passive position until late in the game.

My other problem is that Wildcard adds almost nothing to Emika’s character and backstory except for her starting to rely more on others. We get a few mentions of her father but the only new info we’re given is one fragmented memory sequence. The memory is one Emika considers to be her worst, but it’s never explained why and the context surrounding it is almost non-existent. Because of this, I found its inclusion out of place and confusing.

I won’t even talk about just how problematic the whole Emika-Hideo relationship is in this book. Good lord. Essentially Emika: Hideo, you created a mind control algorithm with the potential to kill people or turn them into mindless slaves, but I love you and keep dreaming about you, so let’s just forget all that. 

Complicated & Heavy (My Head Hurts)

Wildcard is a lot more complex than its predecessor and full of big moral dilemmas regarding technology. I admired Marie’s ability to take on these massive ethical questions and look at different sides of them, to the point where even I wasn’t sure where I stood at times. Although in order to deal with some of these ideas, the book does require you to suspend a degree of belief. For example, only 2% of the world’s population doesn’t use Hideo’s new contact lenses, the villain of the story can physically do what they’re supposed to have done to Zero, Hideo’s algorithm does have the power to turn people into walking zombies, etc. Because of this, I reached a stage late in the book where it started to verge into almost silly for me. To my relief, Marie managed to course correct this with her action-packed climax.

On the smaller scale, there are a lot of layers of mystery in this book. Each answered question led to another and another, causing me to jump back and forward between confusion, immense engagement, and just plain frustration. But, I can’t deny, I still powered through, determined to finally see the bigger picture (if only to stop my brain hurting in the attempts to force everything to make sense).

My Heart Hurts

For me, the Zero/Sasuke storyline was both the best and worst part of Wildcard. The more grounded and human moments of this plot, such as Emika watching records detailing the years after Sasuke’s kidnapping, are extremely heartbreaking and beautifully written. The conclusion of this storyline was also so well done that I found myself almost on the verge of tears reading it – it’s just that good. However, where this story connects into other elements of the novel is where the book started to lose me a little.

Climax & Ending

Following a turn in the Zero plotline, Wildcard delves into an action-packed, although too drawn out, almost-Warcross like sequence involving Hideo, Emika and the Phoenix Riders. This section was well done in that it managed to showcase the magic between the characters we saw in Warcross and some of the excitement of the original book, just with higher stakes.

Without giving much away, there were components of the ending that I thought worked very well and others, far less so. I liked the positive idea the book expressed regarding our relationship with technology, the sense of duality between the ending and Warcross’s beginning, and the resolution of the Zero story. BUT, the end also felt slightly rushed, as if certain complications were tied up too neatly and other elements weren’t given a proper degree of consequence at all – I’m looking at you, Hideo.

Divider 2

While Wildcard may excel beyond Warcross with regards to its bold subject matter and high emotional impact, it’s let down by an at times messy and unbelievable plot, lack of lighter moments, and a weakened protagonist. There are certainly a number of things to like about the second instalment in this duology but at the same time, I can’t help wishing certain things had been different. Overall, mildly entertaining but largely disappointing.

3 Stars

Music, Monsters, and Friendship: This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

4 stars

TSS

What if the worst deeds of humanity somehow created something living, breathing and equally monstrous?

It’s a simple concept, but it’s one that Victoria Schwab takes and, unsurprisingly, manages to turn into an engaging story full of shocking twists and interesting characters. Schwab herself describes TSS as: Sin City + Romeo & Juliet – Romance + Monsters, and to be honest, this is a pretty much perfect explanation of the book. The story is set in the troubled city of Verity, plagued by the existence of terrifying monsters which are formed by violent acts. The province is split down the middle between two very different controlling powers (or houses, if you want to use the R+J analogy). In the north, there’s Callum Harker, the powerful crime lord who has devised a way to control the monsters whilst demanding payment from citizens for continued “protection”. In the south lies the Flynn family, set on simply exterminating the monsters and who possess a zero tolerance for the individuals who create them. For some time there’s been a truce between the two families which has continued to grow increasingly rocky over the years, with a break down expected to be imminent. And so, when Harker’s teenage daughter Kate returns to the city, the Flynns send their youngest family member, August, to school with her to gather intel. As you can expect, this all gets very messy when an attempt is made on Kate’s life and blamed on the Flynns. But who’s behind it and is it as simple as it seems? If you guessed no, you’d be right.

Plot

I’m not sure what I expected going into TSS but it wasn’t what I got. I have a feeling I didn’t read the blurb properly, (probably too busy jumping for joy at the idea of having another Schwab series to read). The first part of the novel sets up our two main characters and establishes the flip sides of the pretty dystopian world they live in. From here, to my surprise, it moves into an almost typical high school setting involving classroom learning, social politics, and friendly banter over lunch. It’s a little odd to get used to at first amongst all the broader fear of getting brutally murdered. Yet, this section of the book provides essential scenes for the development of August and Kate’s relationship as well as their individual characters. We also never forget about the broader implications of what is happening inside the high-school ‘bubble’ as these scenes are balanced out by each character’s experiences outside of school hours. The last third of the book is a The Fugitive like section in which we see our two-some on the run. It’s during this part that we get some great action-packed scenes, emotional conversations between Kate and August, and entertaining twists which kept me entertained as well as drove me to pick up book two pretty quickly.

Characters

One of the best parts of the book is the sense of duality between August and Kate. Schwab has said that her inspiration for this story came from a line she wrote in Vicious:

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.” 

It’s very easy to see how this was utilised to create her two main characters here. As the daughter of quite a monstrous person, Kate goes through a large part of TSS determined to live up to the reputation of her father. To not only survive, but rule, a place like Verity, Kate believes that she needs to be cruel, cold, and dangerous. In other words,  that she, too, needs to be a monster. Her father is the only family she has left and for reasons even she doesn’t fully understand, she desperately craves his approval and acceptance. The only problem is that Kate is a far better person than her father and he’s not in any way someone she should aspire to be. It’s something she comes to realise eventually but it takes time. The slowness of this development may come across annoying and unlikeable for some people, but looking at the underlying reasoning for her actions, I quite liked Kate and found her to be a good, strong character in the moments that mattered.

August, on the other hand, is a monster. A Sunai, August is driven to reap the souls of the impure which he achieves through the enchanting melodies of his violin. This is something he takes very little pleasure in, unlike that of his older ‘brother’, Leo, but it’s a process necessary to his existence. It’s a well-used trope, the monster who wishes he was anything but, and yet August never felt cliché to me. Instead of spending all his time moping about the nature of his existence, August simply tries to live his life as if he were the person he wants to be. It’s a serious case of denial, yes, which gets him into trouble later on, but it’s both sweet and endearing.

The friendship between Kate and August works so well because of their differences. They bring out the best in one another whilst also forcing each other to deal with the parts of themselves that they’d rather not. I read so many YA novels with underdeveloped romances which seem like they’re there just for the sake of ticking off a box. It was a wonderful change to read something that focused on building a solid and balanced, platonic relationship without any romantic elements. Yep, that’s right. You heard me. NO ROMANCE. None. Nada. Zip. And it’s a choice that works perfectly for this particular story.

Monsters

There are three forms of monsters in Verity – Corsai, Malchai and Sunai. Corsai, animalistic in nature, are born from non-lethal forms of violence and live off human flesh. Malchai, closely resembling vampires, are the result of murder and bare some of the warped characteristics of their creators. Last are the Sunai. Much more human-like in nature, Sunai are products of crimes involving the large-scale murder of innocents – massacres, bombings, and so on. They are akin to avenging angels who use music to reap the souls of those who have committed violent acts.

Despite the general similarities of each type of ‘monster’, there’s a great degree of variation within the classes which provides for some interesting character contrasts. This is particularly so for August and his adoptive Sunai siblings, Leo and Ilsa, who each have their own vastly different personalities and attitudes towards their role in the greater scheme of things. The differences among the Malchai don’t become prominent until book two, however, Callum Harker’s right-hand man (or monster, rather), Sloan, is still an interesting and frightening figure in this story.

To put it simply, the monster elements of the story are definitely some of the most interesting, and I absorbed every little detail like a dry sponge.

Writing

If you’ve read Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic series, you’ll be satisfied with her still excellent writing here. However, do keep in mind that unlike ADSoM, this series fits solidly within the YA classification and as a result the descriptions are briefer, language is more to the point, and the plot speeds along far quicker.  It’s not a bad thing, nor is it unfulfilling, just different. Her worlds are still well constructed, characters distinct, and concepts sound. If you’ve loved her other work, you’ll at the very least like this.

This Savage Song was an enjoyable read with an engaging concept and interesting characters. Did I adore it as much as the ADSoM books? No. Did I speed through it, set on reading the sequel to find out what happened next?  Very much so. I have no hesitation recommending it to anyone looking for an entertaining YA fantasy read.

4 Stars

Have you read This Savage Song? What did you think?

Blue Goddesses, Moths, and Beautiful Dreamscapes: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

4.5 stars
Strange the Dreamer

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?


To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not entirely sure how to write this particular review. As silly as it sounds, I think I’m still in a bit of a dreamlike haze (much like Lazlo) in which I’m finding it difficult to isolate individual trains of thought.

Writing & Plot

One of the criticisms I had heard of Strange the Dreamer prior to reading it was the fact that in reality, very little actually happens in the story in the way of plot. Having now finished it, in a way, I somewhat agree with this point. And yet, while I was reading, I can safely say that I didn’t care in the slightest. Had I not been aware of it beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. Why? Because of Taylor’s writing.

To put it in the most simple of terms: Laini Taylor is a beautiful writer. I’ve heard something along these lines from hundreds of other people, over and over again but it still wasn’t something I managed to pick up on when I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone last year. It’s likely I was too distracted by my disappointment in the story itself. But here, it’s a fact that is so very plain to see. As I’ve said in posts before, I’m not a fan of authors who use massive amounts of description. For me, it bogs down the story and is just plain boring. Taylor is not one of these authors. However, this doesn’t stop every word and phrase from being nothing short of enchanting. Her language choices, the things she pays attention to, the depictions of her characters – all are fantastic and somehow manage to lull you into this almost perfect state of contentment. If you’re going into this book looking for a full steam ahead kind of story, it’s not what you’ll find. Instead, Laini Taylor takes you on a leisurely stroll through her mind in which she introduces you to the beauty of her fantasy world, the secrets of the city of Weep, and the compelling ensemble of characters she’s created. There’s light, there’s darkness, and I absorbed every little detail with eager enthusiasm. This is very much a story about a place and people. Yet, it can definitely be said that the book changes in tone a great deal at some point during the second half. It’s here that it turns to focus on the romantic relationship between its two lead characters. While I believe I certainly could have been a fan of this relationship, like many authors these days it suffers from a lack of gradual development and too quick a use of that magic ‘L’ word.

Characters

Strange the Dreamer has quite a long list of characters, all developed to varying degrees. The two central characters are Lazlo, a librarian who wants nothing more than to understand the mysteries of Weep, and Sarai, the blue-skinned daughter of the goddess of despair with the ability to enter people’s dreams. Both Lazlo and Sarai are very likeable characters and this is due in large part to their almost childlike tendency toward trying to see the world as a better and more magical place than it is.  Both undergo a decent degree of development as the story goes on in terms of their ideas about their respective situations and their view of themselves, which is quite a lovely thing to see.  While Lazlo and Sarai are certainly engaging, particularly during the beautiful dream sequences they share together, many of the more interesting plotlines stem from the surrounding cast of characters. First, we have Eril-Fane, aka the Godslayer, who is twisted by guilt and regret over what he was forced to do to save his people many years ago. We also have Thyon, the alchemist, a man determined to continue to prove himself and unable to comprehend a simple act of compassion. Lastly, and perhaps the most interesting of all, is Minya. As the only godspawn old enough to remember the carnage, Minya is a terrifying and sometimes frustrating mix of guilt, hate and vengeance which suggests interesting things yet to come. Many of these characters’ stories felt greatly incomplete but it’s understandable considering this is only book one where the focus needed to be Lazlo, Sarai, and slowly peeling back the layers on Weep itself.

Climax & Ending

Unlike the rest of the novel, the climax of Strange the Dreamer is quite fast-paced and succeeds in setting up a dramatic set of circumstances for the sequel. It’s part predictable, part frustrating, and also a teensy bit of a betrayal. Part A is easy to be okay with as it’s a great and logical place for the story to go. Part B, well, it’s only the beginning for that. As for the betrayal, it’s definitely a shock to find that Taylor has spent such a chunk of time developing certain things only for them to progress to that kind of plot twist. However, it’s a comfort to know that she’ll easily manage to make something quite wonderful and exciting of it in the book to come as she continues to explore the idea of gods and monsters, and everything in between.

[Also, points for having one of the most stunning book covers I’ve ever seen. Every time I look at it, I just go wow!]

4.5 stars

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