A Hero Doesn’t Choose Her Trials: Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward was my favourite read of 2019, so to say that I had high expectations for Starsight is verging on understatement. In the end, was it as good as the original? No, but I can safely say it was a very enjoyable ride all the same.

Who, What, Where?

Yeah, I can’t do this section for this particular review because the spoilers would be out of this world. Ha. Get it? Out of this…okay, moving on.

A Different Type of Adventure

Story wise, Starsight was a very different experience to Skyward. I’ll admit, I panicked when I first realised the direction the narrative was taking, but in the end I really needn’t have worried. Where book one was focused on a straightforward path of training and survival with clear heroes, enemies and goals, Starsight is more about subtlety, politics, and subterfuge. Because of this, the pacing is a lot slower at points. Still, despite the lack of ‘I-must-keep-reading’ momentum, I was never bored.  And if you’re someone who really enjoyed the battles in book one, don’t worry. Spensa spends plenty of time in the cockpit.

A Whole New World…or Universe

Over the years, something I’ve found that frequently ruins a good concept is an author attempting to take their stage from small to big. When I saw this was about to happen here, a large part of me wanted to scream: ABORT MISSION. As it turned out, I should have trusted a phenomenal world builder like Sanderson not to let me down. Starsight is the big bang of world building. It introduces new races, technology, planets, histories, culture, politics, everything you could possibly think of, and it does so fantastically. These inclusions are not only interesting but exponentially raise the stakes for the characters and expand the story in an exciting (and MAJOR) way. Even better, they make logical sense. Now that the door has been opened, I’m really looking forward to seeing what else is out there.

New Faces & Missing Familiar Ones

Starsight introduces us to a bunch of new characters. I can’t say much because of spoilers, but these new faces are very different to those we found in Skyward. They’re also completely distinct from one another in personality, physical appearance, and backstories. You can tell that Sanderson had a lot of fun crafting these characters and throughout the story they provided some great moments of humour, sadness and excitement. I really enjoyed them, both the “good” and the villainous.

Yet, while I liked the new characters, I have to say that I missed Cobb and the Skyward Flight gang in this book. For plot reasons, they don’t get much page time other than a few scenes here and there. Jorgen makes some bread (really) and gets the beginnings of a character arc, which will be expanded later, but for the others, it’s almost a blink and you’ll miss it situation. Although, I am happy to report that our faves, M-Bot and Doomslug, were very much along for the ride (complete with an existential crisis on M-Bot’s part) and gave me the usual snort laughs. And bonus, they even got some development of their own!

Spensa the Spy

Something I really loved about this book was just how much growth Spensa underwent. I loved Spensa and her crazy dramatics in Skyward, but in Starsight she becomes far more self-aware, realises the value of discipline and pre-planning, and re-evaluates her perspectives on war and what it means to be a hero. It was also great to see her tackle challenges in new, subtler ways and have to utilise skills not previously part of her strengths. By pushing Spensa out of her comfort zone, Sanderson has created an even better lead that I can’t wait to see develop further.

Sanderson, You Suck

That ending. I knew it was coming, but I’m still mad. How could you do this to me? And with at least a year to wait for the next book? Like, really? REALLY?


Although distinctly different from its predecessor in terms of scale, plot and pacing, Starsight is another fantastic read which massively expands the series’ overarching story and universe. While I may have enjoyed Skyward better, Starsight was still a great mix of action, humour, and heart that I’m sure I’ll re-read in years to come.

Now, someone wake me up when book three is out…

4.5 Stars

Most Anticipated 2020 Releases

Once upon a time, 2020 seemed extremely far away and now, here we are. As always, there are several books coming out at different points this year that I’m eagerly keeping my eyes open for. Whether I’ll actually read them in 2020 is another story but #bookwormlife, am I right?

Loveboat, Taipei – Abigail Hing Wen | Jan 7

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An own-voices, contemporary YA romance set in Taiwan featuring a Taiwanese-American from an immigrant family. All the yes. This book looks really cute and like it’ll be a lot of fun. It’s basically a bunch of teens going a little wild at a summer program (which explains the Crazy, Rich Asians comparisons) but still deals with a bunch of more serious things like accepting yourself, honouring cultural traditions, learning from one’s mistakes, and personal sacrifice. Also, can we take a minute and talk about how gorgeous that cover is? Cue love heart eyes.


The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious 3#) – Maureen Johnson | Jan 21

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The Hand on the Wall is the final book in the YA mystery series Truly Devious. These books aren’t perfect but they’re a lot of fun. After a cliffhanger ending to book two, The Vanishing Stair, I’ve been looking forward to book three finally giving us some much needed answers. With multiple mysteries still in need of a solution, it’ll be good to see teenage sleuth, Stevie Bell, back in action. However, considering the blurb tells us there’ll be another accident (Ellingham academy can’t catch a break, can it?) and a school wide evacuation due to a storm, I’m guessing the drama is far from over.


Ashlords – Scott Reintgen | Jan 21

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Now, this just sounds super cool. An epic, challenge-filled race using magical, phoenix horses in which injuring and sabotaging other contestants is encouraged. The story focuses on 3 of the contestants – the daughter of two former champions, a revolutionary’s son, and this world’s version of a popular YouTuber. It’s being pitched as The Scorpio Races meets Red Rising. While I haven’t read the former, I love the latter and if it’s anything as dramatic and high stakes as that, I’ll have a great time. This book is the first in a duology, which are all the craze these days.


House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City 1#) – Sarah J. Maas | March 3

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Come on, as if this was a surprise. I’ve had this book on my upcoming releases shelf since the news of its existence broke. While I’m not a huge Throne of Glass fan, I do love Sarah J Maas’s ACOTAR series so I am super keen to see how her foray into the adult fantasy world turns out. Fae, demons, angels, a seedy city underbelly, a bit of mystery, some romance – I’m just like: let’s go already. It’s looking to be a somewhat chunky read but how could I possibly resist that absolutely gorgeous yet bizarre cover?


All Your Twisted Secrets – Diana Urban | March 17

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While I’m not a huge fan of the cover on this one, the blurb certainly has my interest piqued. AYTS is a YA mystery/thriller type read with One of Us is Lying and Agatha Christie like vibes. A bunch of high school stereotypes are mysteriously invited to a scholarship dinner only to find themselves locked in. In the room with them is a bomb, poison filled syringe and instructions to select one among their party to die within the hour or all of them will die. While I liked One of Us is Lying, it did have its let downs so I’m hoping this book will tick all the right boxes. Give me secrets, drama, tense situations and most of all, an ending that I’m not able to pick from a mile off.


Chosen Ones – Veronica Roth | April 7

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My experience with Veronica Roth so far has been limited to the Divergent series which started off great and ended in somewhat train wreck fashion with me DNF-ing Allegiant. Not exactly a glowing endorsement to read more of her books, but after seeing the blurb for Chosen Ones I’m super intrigued. From what I can tell, the book will take some common tropes like the chosen one, five-man band and big bad evil, and try to do something a bit different with it. In this case, look at what happens to the heroes after the evil has been defeated. Unlike her other work, this is an adult book and it’ll be interesting to see how her writing has matured.


The Betrothed – Kiera Cass | May 5

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Guys, I’ll be honest, the synopsis isn’t giving me the highest levels of excitement. It’s tropes galore and the plot revolves around a love triangle. HOWEVER, Cass’s The Selection books were the ultimate trashy, guilty-pleasure series so I’m going in with an open mind and hoping this is much the same. Sometimes a girl needs something light to read, ya know? The general gist is that a noble lady has been working her butt off for years to win the affections of the king. Finally he declares his love for her but then she meets a mysterious commoner and begins to question what will make her happy.


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins | May 19

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This book could either be fantastic or a complete disaster. I’m not entirely sure which yet (hopefully the odds are in our favour?) Honestly, it seems like a prequel book was completely unnecessary here, but am I going to read it anyway because I really like The Hunger Games? You bet I am. So far we don’t have all that much information about the story itself other than the fact that it’s set 64 years before the original series and deals with the 10th Hunger Games. A few people have been throwing Mags’s name around . I guess only time will tell.


Unravel the Dusk (The Blood of Stars 2#) – Elizabeth Lim | July 7

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After putting it off for a while, I read Spin the Dawn during the second half of 2019. Despite having some issues with it (the way it was pitched was slightly deceptive), I still enjoyed myself enough to want to read the sequel. The lead character, Maia, was left in a bit of a sticky position at the end of book one so I’m looking forward to seeing how she gets out of it/fixes things. Based on the synopsis, we’re also moving into a full scale war in the sequel which always sends the stakes right up and I’m totally here for it. Maia, grab your needle and let’s go kick some butt.


The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – Victoria Schwab | Oct 6

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I adore Victoria Schwab’s books so when she mentioned at a signing that she’d been working on a novel about a girl who sells her soul to the devil for immortality but in exchange is to be forgotten by everyone she meets, I was immediately sold. It also happens to be a love story. Honestly, her brain is actual magic. Knowing that she’s been working on this book for over 8 years is insane and I really hope it’s absolutely wonderful because I want all her hard work and anxiety to pay off so badly.


What are some your most anticipated releases for 2020? I’m betting Chain of Gold will be high on a lot of other people’s lists.

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.

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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

Unsavouries, Killer Fish, and Death by Martini: Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

4.5 starsThunderhead

I waited for what feels like forever to read Scythe earlier this year and to my relief, I loved it. Consequently, I had some pretty high expectations for Thunderhead. To make matters worse, there was also the typical worries about the dreaded middle book syndrome, or as I like to call it sequel suckage syndrome. However, I am very happy to report that Thunderhead (a) did not suffer from SSS and (b) largely lived up to expectations. Well done Shusterman! And…end review.
Kidding.

Who, What, Where?

Thunderhead picks up several months after the end of Scythe. Citra, now Scythe Anastasia, continues to live with her mentor, the honourable Scythe Curie, and has now developed her own unique approach to gleaning. This involves allowing her glean-ees to select their own demise no matter how weird or whacky – a realistic performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and a deadly James Bond style martini are a few choice examples. In doing so, she’s begun to make big waves throughout the increasingly conflicted mid-Merican scythdom.

“More and more scythes are coming to enjoy the act of killing. Conscience is becoming a casualty.”

After the death of Scythe Goddard, the order has slowly separated into two camps – 1) It’s totally fine to enjoy your job, even if it happens to involve killing people, and therefore you may murder in vastly creative and messy ways, and 2) Gleaning is a burden and an honour, and should be handled with compassion.

Tricky dilemma, right?

This isn’t the only thing on Citra’s mind as there’s also the small, nagging problem that someone is seemingly out to kill both her and Curie (How dare they! I love Scythe Curie).

Meanwhile, Rowan, the yin to Citra’s yang, is now an outlaw of sorts. Utilising the Thunderhead’s inability to interfere in scythe affairs, he’s fashioned himself a new persona, Scythe Lucifer, to hunt down scythes he believes to be unworthy of their position (aka  Goddard ideology supporters).

“Rowan grinned. “Come now, Your Excellency, there hasn’t been a terrorist in hundreds of years. I’m just a janitor cleaning filth from dark corners.”

As you can probably imagine this path lands him in some particularly hot water which happens to involve his friend, professional partygoer, Tyger.

Aside from the familiar faces, book two also introduces us to Greyson Tolliver. Greyson wants nothing more than to give back to the Thunderhead by becoming a Nimbus agent. However, things soon fall apart when he’s given some information that acting upon would put him in direct violation of the Thunderhead-Scythdom separation. Thrown out of the academy, Greyson is cut off from the Thunderhead and labelled a dreaded “Unsavoury”. But it turns out that the Thunderhead may have a plan for Greyson after all, and it may or may not involve Scythe Anastasia.

Why You Should Read This Book

Do I Laugh or Cry?

The tone of this series is really unique, mostly because the world it’s set in is so completely different and yet also the same as the real one. Real issues like religious persecution, racism, the dangers of technology, abuses of power, and the meaning of our existence all come up but they never develop in the way you’d expect. Well, duh Ashley, that’s because it’s a world with no death run by a supercomputer in which there are nutters who worship a giant tuning fork. Then there’s the not so real-world circumstances which arise that you could never have predicted. This is because they’re just so extremely outlandish that they’re almost comical, even though they might involve things that are disturbing or gut-wrenching. The climax of the book is a perfect example of this. Speaking of which…

Now that’s a Climax!

The climax/end of Thunderhead is outlandish, funny, heart-breaking and just generally fantastic. It’s worth wading through some of the quieter plot sections just to read the end of the book which involves *spoilers* a major character death, a cliff-hanger with our heroes in an awful position, a sinking island, murderous marine life, and the villain doing a fake rescue just to gloat. It’s all very bizarre and yet somehow it just works together. Now that’s some writing witchcraft, I’m telling you.

Inside the Mind of a Super Computer

In Scythe, the story was broken up by journal entries from several of the key scythes in the story, detailing their intimate thoughts about their profession and themselves. This time around we’re given insights into the thoughts of the Thunderhead. These segments are really interesting and provide a lot of extra information about the world, showcasing just how well Shusterman’s crafted it. Although, they’re also a little sad in that you can’t help but feel bad for the Thunderhead as it’s forced to watch the Scythdom become increasingly more corrupt whilst being unable to do anything about it.

“Rain is the closest thing I have to tears.”

However, I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen so many stories involving computers gone nuts that I was constantly on edge waiting for the switch to happen where the Thunderhead just snaps and goes postal.

Me the entire book: I know there’s going to be an AIDAN situation, I JUST KNOW IT. Is it now? It is NOW?

A Worthy Adversary

One of the things I was a little disappointed about with Scythe was the loss of the antagonist, Scythe Goddard. I worried about where the story’s conflict would come from following his decapitation and incineration. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have. Rowan and Citra were given a suitable (and familiar) villain to face off against which tested both their specific skills and different approaches to situations, with Citra perhaps more successful than Rowan (don’t you just love how vague I am? Avoiding spoilers is like making your way through a mine field). How this individual enters the story is pretty creepy and horrifying though. The more you think about it, the more you’re repulsed. Well, I was at least. Here’s a hint: Frankenstein. *shivers*

Why You Might want to Skip it

Where are we going with this?

One of the things that turned people off Scythe was its pace and direction. I didn’t really have this problem but with Thunderhead I’ll admit that I did have some difficulty in seeing where the story was leading for the first half of the book. Several major, and fairly compelling, plot threads are introduced and slowly developed, but it takes a good long while to understand not only how they relate to each other but also their overall importance. This was especially relevant to things like Greyson’s story as well as Tyger’s role.

It’s a bit like a giant puzzle with cool looking pieces that don’t seem to fit together until you discover some extra ones lying on the floor. And then you realise that pieces you thought were part of this puzzle actually belong to a similar one. I really hope you know what I mean. Hint: the similar puzzle is book three.

Unfinished Business

Yes, I know there’s a third book on its way, but there were a couple of things that I felt were left in a bit of an incomplete or unsatisfying place by the end of the book. The first is Scythe Faraday’s search for the hidden land of “Nod” in the hopes of finding a fail-safe against a corrupt Scythdom. The second is Greyson’s storyline which fizzles out and hits a sort of nothing point about a third of the way from the end. Here, he seemingly sits around doing nothing until the last couple of lines. These stories will definitely reach their stride in the next book but for this one, they were a little on the lacking/disinteresting side at times.

A Cliffhanger

Everything is awful now. Why. Why. Why. Where is book 3? I need to make sure my babies are okay. So basically, if you can’t handle books without a proper resolution and everything tied up neatly in a bow, avoid this one. Because everything is awful now.


Overall, despite a few bumps in the road, I really enjoyed Thunderhead and am very much looking forward to reading book three, The Toll, whenever it happens to materialise. If you had a good time with Scythe, you’ll likely have a similar experience with Thunderhead. My recommendation is definitely read it. And if you haven’t read Scythe yet, firstly, what the hell are you doing here, and second, GO GO GO, DOOOO IT.

4.5 Stars