Psychic Twins, Alchemy and the Potential End of the World: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (ARC)

When I first read the synopsis for Middlegame, my immediate thought was: Give it to me. Because, damn did this book sound good. Super-human intellectual twins and alchemists seeking to use them to become gods – it all sounded right up my alley. Plus, early reactions were flowing with five star ratings. It seemed like there was almost no way I wouldn’t enjoy it. And yet, somehow, this ended up being exactly the case.

Who, What, Where?

Roger and Dodger are twins. While Roger has always had an aptitude for words and languages, his sister views the world in numbers and equations. However, having grown up at opposite ends of the country, the two only meet when they realise that they have a psychic connection with one another. Little do they know that they are the carefully crafted experiments of an alchemist named James Reed, designed to embody the two halves of the Doctrine of Ethos, language and mathematics, which is believed to be the key to commanding all things. Reed seeks to use these abilities to access a place known as The Impossible City, and in doing so to gain unimaginable power.

I’m Sorry, but Huh?

If there is one emotion I associate with this book, it’s confusion, because good lord was I confused. Confused and then frustrated. This is one of those stories that holds back a large amount of information from the reader to allow for big dramatic reveals later. The problem with this approach here is that not only is the plot dealing with very complex ideas, but the answers to the big questions take so long to arrive (or never do), that you spend most of the book wondering what the hell is going on and why. What is the Impossible City? How does Reed intend to use Roger and Dodger’s powers to get there? What kind of power will reaching it grant him and why does he want that power? Somebody throw me a line here!

Slow & Messy

Middlegame is over 500 pages long and, until the climax finally starts to kick into gear, it’s a pretty slow 500+ pages. A large chunk of the plot is devoted to following Roger and Dodger through different periods of their lives. They interact with each other, go about their day to day activities, and steadily develop their abilities. Other than a few sparse dramatic events which separate them for periods, such as *spoiler* a suicide attempt, *end spoiler* that’s about it for a long time. At first, it’s not so bad, but after a while it starts to become boring and repetitive, and left me almost wanting to give up altogether. I’ll admit that things did pick up eventually, but by that point it felt like too little, too late.

*Spoilers* Another thing that bothered me was the plot’s use of time travel. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of time travel, but in Middlegame, I found its use messy and frustrating. At some point in the book, you realise that time is repeatedly being rewound to try to alter certain outcomes. Because of this, aside from a few crucial, fixed events, most of the story you’ve read thus far hasn’t happened as you read it. Like, WHAT??? Worse, the timeline continues to chop and change even after this point. Cue pulling my hair out…now. *End spoilers*

Middling Characters

Middlegame gives us a lot of quality time with Dodger and Roger, from their childhoods through to their post university years. For this reason, I do have a degree of appreciation for the two as characters. McGuire manages to make them feel distinct from one another and the relationship between the two is quite a nice element of the story, especially in the early years. Yet, as individuals, perhaps Roger more so than Dodger, I can’t help also finding them somewhat dull and unengaging. By the time they had reached adulthood, I realised that while I thought they were okay people, I just didn’t have all that much of an interest in or emotional connection with them as characters.

As villains, my enjoyment of Reed and his associate, Leigh, was massively dampened by the fact that I had no clue as to what their motivations or plans were beyond: get to The Impossible City. Besides their vaguely described goals and the lengths they go to achieve them, the two don’t really have much to their characters, leaving them feeling very flat.

The one character that I can genuinely say I liked was Erin, the embodiment of Order and part of another failed set of experimental twins. She may come off a bit crazy at times and definitely does a few downright horrible things, but she’s also smart, strong and a somewhat sad character in that she’s been placed in a rather awful situation but does the best she can with it.

Middlegame is an ambitious and complex novel which on first appearances had a lot of potential to be something great. There are likely to be some readers out there who will really enjoy what it has to offer, but unfortunately the slow pacing, confusing world building, and difficulty connecting with the characters meant that this wasn’t the book for me.

2 stars

*** ARC received from Tor via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.**

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Let’s Talk: Things Book Characters do that Make no Sense

Books are not reality,  I think we’re all aware of that. I mean, am I currently riding through the skies on a dragon, having romantic meet-cutes with boys wearing crooked smiles, or saving space ships from crazed AIs and zombie virus outbreaks? That would be a no. However there are a bunch of things that protagonists seem to do in my books that don’t make any sense to me. Perhaps they’re all crazy, or it might just be because they’re fictional….hmmm, who knows?

1. Charging into Danger with Little or No Concrete Plan

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Do you WANT to die? Let’s consider this for a moment. The bad guy has likely got an epic-ally thought out plan against all potentially appearing heroes (no really, he’s going to stop and tell you all about it right before he murders your ass because it’s just that awesome), and you should do the damn same! I’m sorry but the following excuses are just not going to cut it, in the slightest:

(a) We’ll just wing it

(b) It’ll be fine, don’t worry

(c) We can do it if we all work together

And my personal favourite,

(d) If we just sit around and wait, he’s going to kill her/him

Pfft…you know, the usual excuses.

2. Now We’re on the Subject, Charging into Danger Full Stop

Why. Just why. Villains and monsters are scary. *whispers* They kill people. If it were me, I’d be turning to the side kicks, who are obviously way more qualified for this whole mess, and being like: Well, off you go, before finding myself a blanket to hide under with a never ending stash of chocolate as I battle a massive panic attack. I mean, where do these MC’s find all this bravery and courage stuff? Thank god, I’m not a chosen one – we’d all die.

3. Having the Perfect Thing to Say in an Argument

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Teach me your ways quick witted protagonists! How is it that you always know exactly what to say at the right moment in order to come off sounding smart, sexy, hilarious and like a compete badass? Save me from my constant conversational replays in the shower during which I am compelled to come up with better and better burning comebacks, all of which will never be appreciated for their awesomeness (except by my shampoo bottle). This is how I prepare myself to one day develop a witty rapport with a slightly sarcastic boy wearing a crooked half smile with a minor case of overconfidence to hide his deeply buried heart of gold.

4. Saying They’re Not Hungry

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Honestly, if hobbits can be attacked by ring wraiths and still be concerned about second elevenses and afternoon tea, so can you. Fuel is important for the high functioning protagonist! Don’t blame the side kick when you’re being chased by a giant monster or a pair of ugly goons and your body suddenly gives out from lack of sugar. Listen to Professor Lupin  guys, food saves lives. It also stops hangry-ness, which is probably why the next point happens so often…

4. Making a Big Deal out of Stupid, Insignificant stuff at the Worst Possible Times

I get it. You feel massively betrayed right now. I’m sorry your best friend failed to tell you what she had for breakfast this morning and whether or not she happened to have had a random conversation on a street corner with someone who later turned out to be an evil mastermind pumping her for information, but is it really that big a deal? And do we have to discuss this right now, you know, as you’re preparing for the final battle and will likely need to rely on each other to keep your asses safe? They apologised, move on already.

5. Telling Lies or Avoiding Subjects and Making Minor Things Massively Worse than they Should Be

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Things in books would be so much simpler if protagonists stopped trying to hide things that really aren’t that big a deal. What once was a molehill is now a mountain, full of goblins, guarded by a basilisk, located in the Bermuda Triangle, and you’ve only got yourself to blame. It’s always the case that the chance to say something comes up and the MC lies to cover up the original slightly smaller lie, thereby making things even worse. Hello, snowball effect. So, the other love interest kissed you. Big deal. You pushed them away, just tell your damn partner already! Or, the MC thinks, why don’t I just wait until the other person happens to bring it up at the worst possible moment, thereby making me look like a lying, cheating, ass. Now that sounds like the way to go.

6. Never Needing to Use the Bathroom

Do protagonists never need to pee or shower? They’re constantly forced into terrifying situations and somehow never seem to have a problem. Kidnapped, stuck in an underground cell for the past 48 hours and still…nothing.  Clearly everyone just has iron bladders and never gets dirty. They’re like Legolas, a walking, talking make up/conditioner advertisement. Me, I love my showers and don’t even get me started on my ridiculously small bladder. The villain would be five minutes into his monologue and I’d be nudging a nearby henchman asking for directions to the bathroom.

7. Resisting being with the Character They Clearly Love and want to have Many Babies with til the End of Time

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Why are you fighting this? The reader sees it, every minor character in your story sees it, the other third of the love triangle sees it, hell, even my cats see it. Get together already and stop causing me stress and heartache with all these stupid, manufactured reasons as to why not. And while we’re at it, if you could never, ever break up or hurt one another, that’d be fantastic. Forget about that other love interest, he’s just in it for plot padding.

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What things do book protagonists do (or not do as the case may be) that make no sense to you? Let’s rant (aka. talk)!

Love Ashley

The 20 Questions Book Tag

It’s time for another fun book tag. This time we’re doing 20 bookish related questions. Thank you Holly @ Nut Free Nerd for tagging me in this one, there were some tricky ones!

1. HOW MANY BOOKS IS TOO MANY BOOKS IN A SERIES?

If I was going to speak generally, I’d probably say three or four is my ideal. It’s long enough to fall in love with the characters and go on a journey with them, but not long enough to massively drag. However, it very much depends on the series itself. Some stories are meant to be told in only a few books, then there are others that have enough of an engaging plot to go for a lot longer. If the plot has started to feel more like filler or has become repetitive, then it’s too long. Then again, engaging plot or not, my brain does do a very loud internal moan at the idea of 14 books in the Wheel of Time series (how does one have enough plot for that???).

2. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT CLIFFHANGERS?

I’m in two minds about cliffhangers. When they’re at the end of a book and you haven’t got the next one to read for about another year, they’re an emotional gut punch. It’s agonizing. SO MANY QUESTIONS AND NO ANSWERS. At the same time, from a storytelling perspective, I have to admire them. They completely shake up the plot and end a story  somewhere very dramatic. If there’s one way to make sure a reader will continue with your series, it’s to end your book on an ‘Oh-Shit’ moment.

3. HARDBACK OR PAPERBACK?

Most of the time I’m a paperback girl – hardbacks are epic expensive in Australia. I’m sorry but I can’t afford to spend $35 on just one, thin book. Plus, nobody wants to deal with the awkwardness of trying to hold an enormous hardback in bed. However, I do have to say that hardbacks look a lot nicer on a shelf and they hold up against damage in my handbag a lot better than my poor paperbacks.

4. FAVOURITE BOOK?

The Time traveler's wife

Firstly, how dare you. And second, how dare you! I don’t have a favourite book, it’s just impossible to choose. THEY’RE ALLLLLLLL MY BABIES. One of my absolute favourites though, as you guys know, is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The writing is so lovely, the characters are really well developed (to the point where you feel like you’ve known them their whole lives), and the end always hits me like a ton of bricks, thereby reminding me that I do, in fact, have a heart.

5. LEAST FAVORITE BOOK?

Catcher in the Rye

This is also really, really hard but I think I’ll go with The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I had to read it back in year eleven for English and my gosh, I hated it. I’ve never come across a more annoying protagonist in my life. The whining, the angst…ahhhhhh…, and all over really stupid things. I honestly do not give a flying…well, you know, where the damn ducks go in winter, Holden Caulfield. How it’s become a classic, I’ll never know.

6. LOVE TRIANGLES, YES OR NO?

I recently wrote a post about this, you can find it here if you’re interested. Basically, I actually wouldn’t mind love triangles as a plot device if they were written properly, but they never seem to be – they’re imbalanced, drag on too long, take over the story, etc.

7. THE MOST RECENT BOOK YOU JUST COULDN’T FINISH?

Dividing Eden

The last book I DNF-ed was Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau. It just lacked, for a better word, soul. I couldn’t connect with the characters, the plot was un-engaging and the world building wasn’t really doing much at all for me. I made it half way before I finally cut my losses.

8. A BOOK YOU’RE CURRENTLY READING?

The Last Olympian

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #5) – I’ve slowly made my way through the series and now I’m almost there! So close to the finish line. They read very young for most of the series (it’s improved a bit in this book) but it’s always been a bit of fun.

9. LAST BOOK YOU RECOMMENDED TO SOMEONE?

Gosh, I’m always recommending things to people. Pretty much the minute I finish a book I’m recommending it to people.

10. OLDEST BOOK YOU’VE READ? *PUBLICATION DATE*

Pride and Prejudice

I tend to gravitate towards more modern books but according to Goodreads, the oldest book I’ve read is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, published in 1813.

11. NEWEST BOOK YOU’VE READ? *PUBLICATION DATE*

Furyborn

I’ve read quite a few new releases lately. Probably the newest would be…Furyborn by Clare Legrand which only came out a few weeks ago.

12. FAVORITE AUTHOR?

I have a whole bunch and I love them all dearly so I refuse to pick just one. Here are a couple of my favourites: Jay Kristoff, Richelle Mead, V.E. Schwab, J. K. Rowling, Sophie Kinsella, and more!

13. BUYING BOOKS OR BORROWING BOOKS?

I’m a buyer. I rarely ever borrow books these days. I feel bad about it, but I love having my own copies of books because I re-read them but also ’cause I love growing my bookshelves.

14. A BOOK YOU DISLIKE THAT EVERYONE ELSE SEEMS TO LOVE?

SJTR

I was really looking forward to reading Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco because I’d heard so many good things about it, plus the plot and heroine sounded awesome. Unfortunately I ended up being really disappointed. The plot felt rushed, the MC did quite a few stupidly annoying things, and the ending was both predictable and a little silly. The hype train strikes again.

15. BOOKMARKS OR DOG-EARS?

*shocked face* Dog ears? Are you kidding me? There should be a special place in the afterlife (if there is one) for people who dogear. Plus, I adore collecting awesome bookmarks. They’re so pretty!

16. A BOOK YOU CAN ALWAYS REREAD?

I love doing re-reads of my favourite books. I don’t make the time to do so much these days and I really should. Some of my re-reads of choice are Harry Potter (obviously), Vampire Academy, The Hunger Games, and The Song of the Lioness books.

17. CAN YOU READ WHILE HEARING MUSIC?

Once upon a time, yes, but nowadays not so much. My brain always seems to get distracted by the music and starts singing along to the lyrics. There are exceptions though when I go on long car trips but it does take me a while to properly zone out, and even then I can lose my groove in a instant.

18. ONE POV OR MULTIPLE POV’S?

I like single POV books (when the MC isn’t frustrating AF) but I also don’t mind the occasional multiple POV book, however only where all the POVs are interesting. The last thing you want is to have to suffer through some sucky character’s POV or a boring storyline when there’s a better one going on. Essentially, I don’t really have a preference on this one as long as they’re done well.

19. DO YOU READ A BOOK IN ONE SITTING OR OVER MULTIPLE DAYS?

This again depends on the book. If it’s something I’m absolutely loving or a super fun, short book I’ll read it very quickly. Otherwise, it’ll take a bit longer. For example, I read The Selection by Kiera Cass in less than day, like it was crack cocaine, but I also managed something as big as Outlander in only a short period of time too.

20. A BOOK YOU’VE READ BECAUSE OF THE COVER?

Geekerella

I’m usually reasonably good about cover buys although occasionally I crack. Normally I use Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor for this question in tags but for something different I’m going with two YA contemporaries – Geekerella by Ashley Poston and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I recently started dipping my toes in YA contemporaries and these were two of the first I tried. Geekerella was really fun and enjoyable but I was disappointed with WDMR, especially after all the hype.

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I Tag

I don’t usually tag people but sometimes change is good. If you don’t feel like doing it or have already done it, no worries. I promise I won’t be offended and/or crawl under a rock somewhere to quietly die of shame.

Rendz @ Reading with Rendz

Beth @ Reading Every Night

Michaela @ Journey into Books

Kristen @ Kristen Kraves Reviews

Love Ashley

Top 10 Tuesday: Books I feel like Everyone’s Read but Me

I wasn’t really feeling this week’s allocated TTT topic or any of the variations I could come up with for it. Instead I’ve dug up this older topic from the archives on The Broke and the Bookish which is top ten books I feel as though basically everyone out there has read except for little old me. I could come up with a whole lot more than ten for this one but for now here’s a few.

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Shatter Me – Tahereh Mafi

This series is everywhere. Like EVERYWHERE, but it got even worse when Restore Me came out this year. I plan on giving it a read soon just to see what all the fuss is about.

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Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

When you talk about YA contemporaries, this is one that constantly seems to come up. It entered the top 100 reads list at my bookstore this year which definitely increased the feeling of being the only one who hasn’t read it.

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The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

The love for this book is crazy. It was on the NY times bestseller list for ages and ages, and it was all anyone talked about online for a good long while. Now there’s a movie coming out and the FOMO is real guys…

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Milk & Honey and The Sun and her Flowers – Rupi Kaur

I’ll be honest, I’m not a massive poetry person. I can admire a lovely phrase or two but I’m not about to go out and buy a book especially devoted to poems. These two works blew up in a huge way last year and the closest I’ve come to reading them is seeing a couple of photos on bookstagram. However props to Rupi Kaur for making poetry cool.

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Looking for Alaska – John Green

Come on, I had to include a John Green book here because (a) everyone seems to love them and (b) I don’t read them. I’ve been hearing about this book ever since I was in high school and it seems to be the JG book to read other than The Fault in Our Stars (which I actually have read!).

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To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This is one of those classics that I feel like HEAPS of people have read, likely because it was part of their English curriculum but also because I hear it’s fantastic. I’m not big on classics but part of me is tempted to read it sometimes just to join in on the conversations.

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Percy Jackson and the Olympians series – Rick Riordan

This is kind of a cheat answer because I’m actually three books into the series (only two to go!), however I feel like this series was almost a second Harry Potter for people a bit younger than me. Essentially everyone in the bookish part of the internet has read them and the spin off books, and they’re just crazy about them!

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His Dark Materials Series – Philip Pullman

This is another really beloved children’s series that I feel like A LOT of people read when they were younger but I somehow missed entirely.

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1984 – George Orwell

Another classic that people have read because of school or just out of pure interest, likely because it’s great and still culturally relevant. Again, I’m a bit classically deprived here…

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

Yes, another YA contemporary, I know. I only just recently started picking up a few books in this genre and this one seems to pop up like a game of whack-a-mole. It’s actually so much so, I bought a copy last week. Hopefully I’ll finally get why everyone’s always talking about it. Also apparently the rights have been acquired by Netflix, so that’s cool?

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The Kingkiller Chronicles – Patrick Rothfuss

This is a fantasy series that’s become huge. Basically everyone I know who enjoys this genre has read these. It’s been on my Goodreads to-read shelf for ages but I keep putting it off because I’ve heard the beginning is extremely slow. Then again, I should probably learn from my Nevernight experience and just do the damn thing already.

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Which books do you feel like everyone else has read but you? (Don’t worry, I won’t judge…much. Kidding, I won’t at all, promise).

Love Ashley

A Lost “Princess”, a Kraken, Exploding Robot Dogs, and Some Big Moral Questions: Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

4 starsLifel1k3

If any of you have spent time looking through my blog, you’d know that I love Jay Kristoff books. As in, would give up red velvet cake (one of the best things in the world) forever to get my hands on the third Nevernight book.

Alright, alright, maybe for like a month. Forever seems a little bit harsh.

Anyway, for this reason I was practically jumping out of my seat in excitement when I saw Jay was starting a new YA series. Robots! Awesome female characters! Romance! Crazy adventures across a radiation filled wasteland! I was like, GIMMIE.

[Insert witty blurb summary here]

Joking.

Lifel1k3 centres around Eve, a scavenger/bot fighter with a killer faux hawk. When she and her friend Lemon Fresh (I kid you not, the girl was named after a washing detergent) discover the remains of a human looking AI, a Lifelike named Ezekiel, their lives suddenly get massively complicated. Next thing they know, Eve’s grandpa has been kidnapped, everyone from street gangs to a gun toting preacher is trying to kill them, they’re trapped in a kraken’s stomach, and what are these strange visions Eve keeps seeing?

Why You Should Read This Book

Jay Does Characters Right

One of Jay’s strengths has always been his characters. They’re diverse, deep, and always successfully walk the line between strong and vulnerable. These characters are no exception. Here, our central four are Eve, our MC, Lemon, her smart mouthed best friend, Cricket, Eve’s small robotic companion and voice of logic, and Ezekiel, the lifelike with the perfect dimples. I quite liked these characters. They’re well written and very different from each other, and because of that the dynamic between them is a lot of fun. Their interactions during the book’s times of crisis can essentially be summarised as:

*Obstacle arises*
Eve: I have to save my grandpa, so here is my highly dangerous plan! But you guys should go home, I don’t want you to get hurt.
Lemon: I am a babelicious badass. You need me and I refuse to deprive you of my witty commentary.
Cricket: This is a very, very bad idea. Do not do this highly dangerous plan.

*outvoted*

Cricket: I hate democracy.
Ezekiel: I will throw myself into said extremely dangerous situation for you Eve because I’m basically indestructible and feeling guilty over some mysterious secret.
Kaiser (Eve’s robot dog, built fitted with explosives): Woof!

I have to say though that part of me was slightly more interested in the side or “bad” characters. We don’t get a heap of development on them but based on the end of this book I’m expecting a lot more in the next one. Give me robot emotional drama!!!!

Pop Culture Puzzle Pieces

*Minor spoiler* Alright, I admit, it took me a shamefully long time to recognise the fact that this was, in part, an Anastasia retelling. I majored in history at university and adore the animated film, and yet, I was about three quarters of the way through before my slow brain finally went, wow, this family all has names super similar to the Romanovs, and they were murdered TOO, and the daughter…oh.

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I really loved this aspect of the story. I mean, dystopian Anastasia with robots? You can’t beat that. These tie ins also added elements of mystery and tragedy to the story but don’t worry, they don’t also make it over the top predictable.

Lost “princesses” aside, Lifel1k3 delivers on the whole bunch of pop culture references found on its cover and it does so without feeling cliché or mishmashed. There’s a dramatic car chase that screams Mad Max, there’s a teensy bit of X-men awesomeness to one character, and if you enjoyed Blade Runner you’ll definitely find a lot to like here.

  • Destroyed world? Check.
  • Humans with God complexes? Er, check.
  • Major moral questions about the rights of artificial intelligence and what is human? Dooouubbble check. Actually, make that triple check.

In other words, the plot has action, emotion, and depth along with Jay’s usual, quirky kind of humour scattered throughout.

Twisty

Kristoff always gets you right at the end. Jackass.

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Just kidding. I love you and your awful (aka. great) plot twists (aka. gut punches).

Ending and Sequel potential

Jay leaves this book in an interesting place going forward. The fallout of the twist pushes the characters in an unexpected direction and I’m not exactly sure where it’ll end up. Additionally, there are a lot of big players (major tech companies and other Lifelikes) mentioned during the book that are missing from the climax of Lifel1k3 which I’m really excited to see show up further down the track.

Why it Might Not Be For You

Are you Speaking English?

Along with all the other world building, Jay’s also created his own assortment of new slang and jargon. While it’s certainly realistic (new terms get invented so quickly these days that I have trouble keeping up. On fleek? Bae? Who comes up with this shit?) it does tend to create a bit of fish out of water syndrome. At the start of this book, I had no clue what anyone was bloody talking about.

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Eventually it clicks but by then it’s become just plain frustrating. I mean, why the hell does Lemon have to refer to Eve as her “bestest” CONSTANTLY???
To help you out, the two main terms to know are:
Fizzy – good, awesome
True Cert – surely, for sure, honestly

Romance…Eh

So yeah, there’s some romance. There are moments where it’s sweet and all, but it’s also a bit wishy-washy and fast which is a bit disapponting considering how important it is to part of the plot.

Big World, Little Reader

The world in Lifel1k3 has a lot to it. Gangs, crazy geographical features like glass storm wastelands, robot krakens running around the ocean floor, warring and wealthy tech companies, robots… it’s complicated. We often complain about authors info-dumping to the point where our brains explode. My problem at the beginning of this book is that there wasn’t enough info. I was thrust into a world with language, culture, technology, and environments that I was entirely clueless about and Kristoff kind of carries on with the story as if he just assumes you too have seen his super-secret world building word document. It certainly improves with time but there’s still a lot I don’t know. I’m sure book two will help me out.DividerWhile it’s certainly no Nevernight, I can safely say that Lifel1k3 was an largely enjoyable sci-fi, dystopian, action packed ride with a lot of heart, and I’ll highly likely be picking up the sequel when it comes out.

4 StarsLove Ashley

Prophecies, Strong Female Protagonists, and Evil Angels: Furyborn by Claire Legrand

3.5 stars

Furyborn

I wasn’t one of the lucky people who managed to score an ARC of this one but I was lucky enough to live in Australia where I stumbled across Furyborn about two weeks earlier than its May 22nd release date. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while so once I finished my current read, I quickly got stuck in.

Summary

Furyborn follows two female protagonists whose stories take place a thousand years apart. In the past, Rielle Dardenne is the first person in many years with the ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. When she exposes her abilities to defend her friend, the crown prince, people claim she is one of two prophesied queens, one who will be their salvation and another who will destroy everything. To prove she’s the former, she is forced to undertakes a series of trials based on each magical element where failure means execution. Meanwhile, Eliana Ferracora, famed hunter for hire known as the ‘Dread of Orline’, lives in a world long almost conquered by an evil empire. When her mother is kidnapped, she makes a deal with mysterious rebel captain, The Wolf – assist in rescuing someone vital to the rebellion and he will help Eliana find her mother. As you can imagine, both stories tie into one another eventually.

Why You Should Read this Book

Now that’s a Prologue!

Legrand starts Furyborn off with a strong prologue which introduces four of her major characters and mentions a fifth. It’s the beginning of a story but also the end of one and dangles quite a few plot threads – there’s an evil angel after a baby, a hated queen who supposedly murdered the king, a half-angel kid that can time travel…like, man.

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From the moment it’s over you’re extremely keen to not only find out how Rielle and her kingdom have reached this point (because of course there’s more to the story) but also where things can possibly go from here.

You Go Girls!

I didn’t love the central characters here but I can’t deny that they (a) have their own very clear and distinct personalities, and (b) are just generally strong women. From a plot standpoint, they also contrast and balance one another. Rielle has spent most of her life among royalty and nobility, she’s never known a romantic relationship, and is extremely magically powerful. Comparatively, Eliana’s skills lie in her physical prowess. She’s sexually experienced, grown up in a loving family but has had to kill, lie and steal to support them and herself since she was young. However, what’s refreshing is that both women are confident in their bodies and aware of their strengths. There isn’t really any of that annoying ‘But, what if I can’t do this?’ back and forth. Instead, these girls are like, why yes, I am freaking awesome, I am an absolute babe. Come at me boys and assassins!

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Let’s Talk about Sex, Baby

One of the things I loved about this book was that it didn’t shy away from sex. Yes, some of the dialogue is cringy as hell, yes, some of it’s majorly theatrical, and yes, I could have done without a character once again “shattering” at the same time as the male lead, but overall I was impressed.

  • There’s a female masturbation scene, one that includes the associated emotions
  • Eliana is known to have had multiple casual sexual relationships with both men and women and unashamedly says she enjoys them.
  • There’s only one actual sex scene in the book but during it consent is made verbally clear, contraception is discussed, both parties communicate with the other as to what they want, and there’s foreplay in regards to pleasuring the female partner.

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Why You Might Want to Skip It:

But it JUST got Good!

One of the things that always bugs me about stories in this style is that I often get super into what’s happening in one storyline before all of a sudden I’m forced back into the other one. Then I get into that POV before it happens all over again! Unfortunately, it tends to happen just as something big is about to go down. It’s like experiencing a million tiny cliff hangers. For example:

Dude swung his sword at Eliana’s face…

*turns page* Chapter 30 Rielle

Me: NOOOOOOOOO

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Go Faster & Not Again

As can be expected with this style of narrative, there are variances in pace. With all the rushing around, Eliana’s storyline often feels like there’s stuff happening, which is why for ages you’ll be asking yourself, why am I so bored? Once you actually look at the bigger picture, you see that there isn’t much of value happening until later on in the book. Worse, the things that do happen until that point are due to Eliana acting selfishly or stupidly.

With Rielle’s story, the focus is on her completing trials for each type of elemental magic – it’s a tried and true trope which I’m fine with. The problem is, that there’s seven different elements and after a while, although the challenges are different, things start to blur together. It also doesn’t help that the writing in some of them feels slightly rushed.

Could go Either Way

So Many Questions

There are moments in Furyborn where Legrand’s world building does shine but they’re few and far between, and we’re left with so many questions. Honestly guys, I don’t even have any clue at this point of the scale of what I don’t know.

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Going into this I didn’t realise that one of the major components of the trilogy was going to be angels. When the term first popped up I went, wait, what? Then had to flip back to the blurb. Turns out, zilch. No mention. You’d think there would be for something this important to the plot. There’s all this history involving an epic war with angels, angel-human children, and a gate, but it turns out that I DIDN’T GET TO READ ABOUT ANY OF IT.

Angels aside, there’s also the political situation,  history and loss of magic, disappearance of all magical creatures, and a bunch of other things. In other words, there’s just SO MUCH POTENTIAL and yet, we didn’t get much of anything about it all. So points for where I think the world could go in future books but deducted for lack of development.

Antagonists

Corien, the antagonist in Rielle’s storyline is clearly established very early on. An angel, he’s seductive, powerful, and compelling. There’s a backstory to explore further down the track and some mystery as to why he so clearly needs Rielle. Unfortunately this element is missing in Eliana’s storyline. Yes, there’s a big, evil empire at work with a big, evil emperor but we don’t know much about them aside from the underdeveloped assassin character chasing after Eliana. Until a couple of pieces fall into place at the end of the book (in a good way), the antagonizing elements of her storyline are an ambiguous mess –  unkillable empire supporters, a rebel group Eliana isn’t sure about, another group abducting young women, just what am I supposed to focus on here? The silver lining is that this won’t be a problem in book two if the ending is anything to go by.

Overall, I’ll probably read the next book when it comes out but here’s hoping that some of the issues from this book are resolved and a couple of my million questions are answered.

3.5 Stars

Top 10 Tuesday: Names that Best Suit Their Characters

This week’s TTT topic is best character names (see That Artsy Reader Girl). What in all bookish hell does that mean? Is it names I’d actually consider naming my future bookworm children? Names that I find the most humorous? The best badass sounding names? Or perhaps it means the best weird and unpronounceable fantasy names? (Okay, highly unlikely with regards to that last one).

Who bloody knows?

So for this topic I’ve decided to do a list of ten names that I think really suit their respective characters. These are names that you only have to read once to get a sense of what that character is like without ever having read a scene with them in it. Admittedly there were a lot of names I wanted to use on this list but here’s just a snapshot:

1Kaz

SIX OF CROWS DUOLOGY – LEIGH BARDUGO

Saying that Kaz’s name suits him is like saying Niagara Falls is a bit wet. It’s unique, memorable, and hard edged, just like the man himself, but you also definitely get the feel that the person it belongs to has a bit of devious streak too.

2Emika

WARCROSS – MARIE LU

Emika as a character is quirky, kindhearted, and knows how to take care of herself. Her name is unusual but I feel like it matches her cool and ballsy nature. It’s the perfect name for a rainbow haired hacker!

3Lemon.jpg

LIFEL1K3 – JAY KRISTOFF

I honestly thought this sounded ridiculous when I read it – a girl named after a laundry detergent? Yet, somehow it’s so well suited to Lemon’s sassy and zany nature. She can be sweet but don’t mess with her either, she definitely packs a punch for someone so small.

4august

THE MONSTERS OF VERITY DUOLOGY – V. E. SCHWAB

I don’t think I’ve ever met a dodgy person named August. When I hear the name it just makes me think of someone kindhearted, thoughtful and sweet. Ergo, the name really suits our favourite Sunai cinnamon roll.

5alucard

A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC SERIES – V. E. SCHWAB

Alucard’s name manages to capture his aristocratic roots while still suiting his adventurous, rugged scoundrel personality. There’s a sense of refinement to his name but it still feels right for a charismatic pirate captain.

6Celaena

THRONE OF GLASS SERIES – SARAH J. MAAS

I’m not a huge fan of these books but I had to include this one. Yes, I know she has another name (spoilers!) and while I like that one too, I feel like the first better captures the different sides of Celaena’s character during the first half of the series – her girly-ness, self-doubt, and I-will-cut-you nature. This is easily the right name for a badass assassin.

7Hannibal

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – THOMAS HARRIS

It’s a little weird, a bit gothic sounding, but still polished. It also happens to rhyme with the word Cannibal, so there’s that. Essentially, it’s perfect for an intelligent serial killer with culture and taste and a mysterious background.

8locke

THE GENTLEMAN BASTARD SERIES – SCOTT LYNCH

I have no idea if it’s the alliteration or unusual sound but I have no problems imagining a smart, witty, and smooth thief like Locke to go with this name.

9Lou

ME BEFORE YOU – JOJO MOYES

Lou is bubbly, warm and young at heart. Although it’s a simple one, her name speaks to each of these things and definitely suits someone who’d get excited over a pair of bumblebee striped tights.

10daenerys

A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE – GEORGE RR MARTIN

This one’s a little harder to articulate. It’s more a feeling of just being right for the character. Daenerys’ name, even without all the later titles, is a strong one. It’s distinctive and memorable, just like the woman herself. The name also shortens to a sweeter nickname, Dany, which, although only used by a very select group of people, suits the tender part of her that she largely tries to hide from others.

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And that makes 10! What names do you think best suit their characters? Or better yet, have you ever come across any names that ended up sounding completely wrong for a character?

Love Ashley