Top 10 Tuesday: Fantasy/Sci Fi Sequels I Enjoyed More Than the Original *Gasp*

This week’s TTT topic is a genre based freebie so I’m looking at books which managed the impossible – they impressed me more than the original book in their series. Shocking! I know. Here are 10 sequels that made the cut.

Morning Star (Red Rising Saga 3#) – Pierce Brown

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I could have comfortably listed either Golden Son or Morning Star on this list but I’ve decided to go with entry 3 because it’s my favourite book of the original trilogy (before Pierce expanded the series). I’ve mentioned my love of these books quite a few times on this blog, recently even. So, why not mention it again for the zillionth time? I really like Red Rising, it’s fantastic, but it’s always those pages at the beginning which let it down. A 4.5 instead of the full 5 stars. Morning Star is just amazing from start to finish. Action, humour, friendship, THE EMOTION… There isn’t a dodgy sequel in sight with this book. Basically, if the series had ended here, I would have had no complaints.


A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOTAR 2#) – Sarah J. Maas

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This entry will be a shock to absolutely no one. As I’ve said before, when I first read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I liked it, it was fine, but it wasn’t exactly my new obsession. I only continued with the series a good while later (after a re-read of book 1) because of how popular the sequel was. I ended up being so glad I did because I really loved it. The characters are so loveable and the dynamics between them are great. Also, the expansion of the world beyond the Spring Court was a lot of fun. And need I mention the romance? It’s awesome. Fictional ship gold right there. Mutual respect, passion, banter – I’m in love.


Siege & Storm (The Grisha Series 2#) – Leigh Bardugo

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Like ACOTAR, this is another series where I didn’t mind book one but I wasn’t blown away. In the end I decided to keep going with the series because (a) I liked the villain, (b) I loved the Six of Crows duology and, (c) I was determined to meet the famous Nikolai Lantsov. I ended up having a great time with Siege & Storm. There was a good amount of action and the book kicked into gear quickly. I appreciated certain characters a lot more and Nikolai was, well, everything people said he was. This book is easily my favourite of the three.


Legendary (Caraval 2#) – Stephanie Garber

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If you’ve read my re-read review of Caraval, you’ll know that despite liking the setting & atmosphere, and progressing through the book quickly, I had a few issues with the story, characters and world building. I never saw myself continuing the series but after seeing book 3 pop up everywhere on release and hearing that people with the same Caraval problems as me had enjoyed Legendary, I decided, stuff it, I’ll try it out. As it turned out, people were right. I liked Tella as a protagonist much more than Scarlet and the world building in this book was miles ahead of Caraval. Plus the introduction of Jacks was a lovely surprise. I’m almost tempted to read Finale. Almost.


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter 4#) – J. K. Rowling

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Everyone who follows my blog will know by now that I’m a major Harry Potter fan. But in a series of seven books there’s, of course, going to be some you like better than others. While I love The Philosopher’s Stone, it’s the book that made me fall in love with the characters and world after all, Goblet of Fire has always been my favourite of the series in all it’s beautiful, chunky glory. A magical competition, dragons & merpeople, more wizard schools, and a Big Bang ending that completely changes the direction and mood of the series going forward. I’ve read it a hundred times and could probably stand to read it a hundred more.


The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air 2#) – Holly Black

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I really enjoyed The Cruel Prince when I first read it and I was certainly one of those people who eagerly awaited the release of The Wicked King before quickly going out and buying it on release day. Book two is definitely my favourite book in this series. I love the sense of momentum, plot twists, romance, and more morally grey characters doing questionable things. This book made me appreciate Jude as a protagonist a lot more which then translated over to my re-read of book one later on. Also, as a writer, if you’re looking for a way to end your novel that basically guarantees your audience will be desperate for the next one – this book is a prime teaching material.


The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle 2#) – Maggie Stiefvater

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After reading three books in The Raven Cycle, my response to this series is still somewhat apathetic but I’ll willingly admit that The Dream Thieves was the entry I enjoyed the most. I feel like I got to know the characters much better in this one which was nice. My favourite element of the novel, however, was Maggie’s inclusion and development of Ronan’s dream based abilities which made for some interesting plotlines and an exciting climax in seeing those powers tested against that of someone else’s. Overall, I liked the book enough to want to continue to book three and was a little sad I didn’t have the same level of engagement going forward.


A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes 2#) – Sabaa Tahir

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In all fairness, this is only the tiniest bit higher than book one but we’ll take it because I love it when a sequel does well. Book two is fairly different to book one. It really feels like a proper adventure and I enjoyed the cat and mouse dynamic between Elias and Helene. As Helene is probably my favourite character, I loved getting to see her given more presence & independence with her own challenges and plotlines. There’s a great level of political drama with the new emperor in charge and the Commandant pushing for power. Also in its favour is an exciting prison break sequence and a few major things happen with big consequences in book 3.


City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments 3#) – Cassandra Clare

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I was obsessed with this series in high school. I wanted all of my friends to read them and almost jumped out of my skin when I finally got to hold City of Glass on release. Back in the day, this book was my favourite of the bunch mostly because of the high stakes of it all and the fact that some of the other characters got more of a chance to shine. After re-reading the first four books in recent years, while books 1 & 2 have slightly diminished with time (we don’t talk about City of Fallen Angels…), City of Glass hasn’t and it’s still my favourite of the series (later additions included, even though I still haven’t read book 6. But let’s face it, there’s no way it’d be better than City of Glass).


The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & The Olympians 5#) – Rick Riordan

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Percy Jackson is another one of those super popular series. It’s also happens to have quite a few books, ergo there’s always a favourite among the bunch. As a whole, I liked PJ&O – they were fun, creative novels full of adventure, mythology and likeable characters. Yet, being intended for a middle grade audience, they did feel on the young side for me in my mid-twenties. However, I really, really liked The Last Olympian. In fact, many of my reasons for this are similar to City of Glass – action packed & dramatic battles, real stakes, and more characters in the spotlight. With the characters around 16 at this point, the book also read much older, which I appreciated. Major points to an author who can grow with their audience.

The Zombie Apocalypse Book Tag

This tag is an older one and was originally created by Nathan Hale over on Booktube. It seemed like some fun so I thought I’d give it a go. I had my sister’s help randomly picking the books from my bookcases and flipping the pages for me.

The Rules

  • Choose 5 books
  • Randomly order your books
  • Flip to a random page in each book and write down the first two names you see
  • Put the names in the categories listed below in the order you saw them!
  • Cry at how screwed you are…

My Books & Characters

  1. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – Jesper Fahey & Wylan Van Eck
  2. Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff – Eve & Lemon Fresh
  3. Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco – Audrey Rose Wadsworth & Thomas Cresswell
  4. Vicious by V.E. Schwab – Victor Vale & Sydney Clarke
  5. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – Noah Czerny & Richard Gansey III

The First Person to Die: Jesper

Oh, come on. The guy who knows how to use a gun with minimal bullet wastage when ammunition is scarce is the one who dies first? My luck sucks. This doesn’t exactly get me off to a great start.

The Person you Trip to Get Away from the Zombies: Wylan

Wow, I’m seriously heartless in a zombie apocalypse situation. Wylan is the sweetest, little cinnamon roll and I’m all like, here zombies, tuck in! Sorry, Wylan. Please forgive me. Hopefully this happens after the whole Jesper-dying-situation otherwise things are bound to get ugly…

The First Person to Turn Into a Zombie: Lemon

Oh. Dear. Poor Lemon. I sincerely hope she doesn’t keep her special abilities as a zombie because if so, shit will hit the fan in a big way. I’m sure it happened trying to save the rest of the team’s butts.

The Person who Trips you to Escape the Zombies: Eve

I wouldn’t put it past her. Eve has seen some serious things and considering she lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland already, she’s very much aware of the sacrifices you have to make to survive.

The Team Idiot: Thomas

I have to laugh at this one. Thomas prides himself on being one of the smartest people in the room, but admittedly, he’s also likely to be very much a fish out of water in a zombie apocalypse scenario so maybe it rattles him enough to make some stupid decisions? I’m sure he’ll turn it around!

The “Brains” of the Group: Audrey Rose

I could see this happening. Audrey Rose is a pretty smart cookie and she has no problem with gore. I imagine she’d be collecting zombie corpse specimens as we go along to try and work out how the apocalypse happened and how to fix it.

The Team Medic: Victor

This could be a good thing or a very bad thing. Good, because with Victor’s ability to numb pain, it’ll allow others to push through their injuries enough to get out of sticky situations and deal with the injury later. Bad, because we might end up not realising just how terrible an injury is until it’s too late. Next thing you know, oopsie daisy, our friend is eating our brains.

The Weapons Expert: Sydney

Hm, interesting. Sydney’s certainly tough and could probably manage with some time and experience but to start out, she’s maybe not the best choice. Who knows though, she might end up like Little Rock in Zombieland.

The Brawler: Noah

Well, we’re officially screwed. Considering Noah’s a ghost and his personality is more on the softer side, probably not the best choice as the group brawler. Guess I’ll have to work on my running.

The Team Captain: Gansey

Phew! This seems like a perfect fit. Gansey enjoys the whole taking charge thing. He also largely manages to stay calm under pressure which’ll work well here.

As far as my odds go, I think I’m in with a small chance of survival. In all realness though, if the zombie apocalypse happened tomorrow I’d be dead for sure. My fitness is terrible and I have no idea how to use a weapon. *cries* Fingers crossed we manage to avoid a The Walking Dead scenario.

Do you think you’d be able to survive the zombie apocalypse? And if it did happen, which literary characters would you want on your team?

Book Tag: R.I.P it or Ship It

I recently stumbled across this fun, silly, little tag thanks to Shanah at Bionic Book Worm. After a little digging, it turns out we can attribute the original tag (it’s a little old now) to booktuber, Emma at Emmmabooks. The basic premise is simple: write down a bunch of character names on bits of paper, mix them up and then draw two at a time. You then have to decide whether the two characters you draw would work in a relationship or not. In other words, do you ship it or is this r/shp dead on arrival and should just R.I.P.? I’ve noticed that a few people, including Emma, separated their characters into male and female jars but in going for a more inclusive and diverse approach, I just threw all of mine in together and pretended everyone was bisexual. We’re also ignoring any potential character deaths here, too. Additionally, I did try to keep to popular characters that a lot of people would know.

Match Up 1: Percy Jackson (PJO) x Rose Hathaway (Vampire Academy)

It sounds super weird but I feel like maybe these two could potentially have a thing. BUT that thing would clearly be super bad for the rest of the world. Both Rose and Percy have a habit of rushing into things without thinking and their canon partners are perfect because they ground them. If these two were together it’d be like, Person A: I have this idea (a terrible, crazy idea) Person B: That’s a GREAT idea, let’s do it! Sooo….they probably shouldn’t date because they’d get each other killed and probably a bunch of other people in the process.

Verdict: RIP – for the sake of them and the world

Match Up 2: Blue Sargent x Richard Gansey III (The Raven Cycle)

I swear I didn’t do this on purpose. 100% chance occurance.

Verdict: It’s canon – why fight the flow? Ship

Match Up 3: Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows) x Holland Vosijk (A Darker Shade of Magic)

This seemed like a really weird combo at first but then I started to think that it might actually work. Inej seems to have a thing for broken boys with troubled pasts and clever, plotty minds which actually does fit Holland pretty well. Inej would also probably be a good influence on Holland, and maybe help him see more of the bright side to life. They’ve both been through some crap times so perhaps they could help each other through it.

Verdict: Ship

Match Up 4: Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) x Nova Artino (Renegades)

Yeah, I don’t see this one working very well, mostly because they’re too similar in a lot of ways. Tough, troubled pasts, snarky, carry the weight of the world on their shoulders… However, I do think that after some headbutting they’d grow to really respect each other and might even become friends.

Verdict: RIP

Match Up 5: Maven Calore (Red Queen) x Amren (ACOTAR)

Oh. Good. Lord. What in the world? My sister thinks that Amren might actually be good for Maven but I have a sneaking suspicion that Amren would simply not be able to handle all of Maven’s drama. She’d be like: I am ancient and a badass, I will not put up with this bullshit. I mean, at least Maven would be able to keep Amren in pretty gems. Still, the idea of this is just hilarious.

Verdict: RIP

Match Up 6: Isabelle Lightwood (Shadowhunter Novels) x Peter Kavinsky (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before)

Isabelle is not at all like Lara Jean, Peter’s actual love interest, but at the same time I think Isabelle has a lot of the traits that attracted Peter to his ex, Gen, without all the bitchy parts. I think they’d have some nice deep and meaningful talks which both seems to need in their r/shps. On the flip side, Isabelle’s taste in Simon shows that she likes softer boys with sweet hearts and Peter can definitely be that guy for her, provided he can avoid being intimidated.

Verdict: Ship

Match Up 7: Nesta Archeron (ACOTAR) x Magnus Bane (Shadowhunter Novels)

BAHAHAHAHAHA. Could you even imagine? Someone turn this into a reality show, it’d be gold.

Verdict: If pigs flew and hell froze over.

Match Up 8: Harry Potter (HP) x Cress Darnel (The Lunar Chronicles)

This is a bit of an odd one. Harry’s another one of those rash heroes who jumps into things without thinking which is why he needs people around him, and a partner, who reign him in a little. I think Cress might remind Harry slightly of Luna which doesn’t really seem like his type. With Cress, on the other hand, Harry may not have Thorne’s sense of bravado but he does have a bit of sass and the hero thing down. He’s not bad looking either so maybe Cress will be into it? Overall, I think this one might be a friendship only.

Verdict: RIP

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And…I think that’s enough crazy-ness for now. It’s so weird trying to match up characters from other fandoms. I find that I’m constantly comparing them to the characters’ actual romantic interests and seeing if there’s an overlap but I guess it’s always hard to know. You just can’t account for chemistry.

Do you guys agree with me on these ships? And do you have any weird cross-fandom pairings that you secretly ship?

Let’s Talk: The Five-Star Novel Checklist

Recently I’ve been feeling the strong urge to try and resurrect my efforts to write a novel. I’ve had the same idea for years and years now, always remaining in the planning stage, but I constantly lose motivation after coming up against wall after wall after wall of PLOT HOLES. Regardless, I’ve been thinking hard about what it is that my favourite reads seem to include or do right and these are just a couple of things I’ve noticed:

Image result for check boxLayered & Complex Characters

This applies to both heroes and villains alike. I don’t want to read about completely pure of heart main characters from which the sun shines out of every orifice, without weaknesses, demons or quirks. It’s flipping BORING. I want to see people push through vulnerabilities, fail on occasion, and sometimes make the wrong choices. They’re a work in progress, constantly being shaped by the events of the story and the characters around them. This is why anti-heroes are so popular these days. Everyone enjoys a little unpredictability in their protagonists and there’s nothing better than watching someone grow as a person during the course of a novel.

The same goes for the antagonist of the story. Even though I don’t necessarily agree with what that group or individual is doing, I want to be able to understand it – to sympathise. Depth is important. If they’re an awful person, how did they come to be that way? What are the stakes for them? I mean, it’s not like they popped out the womb that way. Crazy men who just want to watch the world burn only work in certain circumstances. Okay, just one – this guy:

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That’s about it.  Everyone else better have some realistic motivations.  There is absolutely no logic to having a villain who wants to end the world just cause.

Image result for check boxHumour

I tend to read a lot of fantasy novels in which the characters are forced to come up against some pretty dramatic and trying circumstances. So, things can get pretty dour without the occasional burst of humour. I’m a massive fan of the occasional witty throw-away line of dialogue, burning comebacks and sarcastic retorts, or recurring inside jokes. What would Cassandra Clare’s shadow hunter stories be without their amusing exchanges between the characters. For example:

“Do you remember back at the hotel when you promised that if we lived, you’d get dressed up in a nurse’s outfit and give me a sponge bath?” asked Jace.

“It was Simon who promised you the sponge bath.”

“As soon as I’m back on my feet, handsome,” said Simon.

“I knew we should have left you a rat.”

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“We came to see Jace. Is he alright?”
“I don’t know,” Magnus said. “Does he normally just lie on the floor like that without moving?”

Image result for check boxPlot Twists & Unpredictable Events

Without sounding like an arrogant ass, I’m someone who is usually quite good at predicting how stories will turn out. Usually this is because there are certain lines that most authors refuse to cross e.g. they won’t kill off main characters, they want their key characters to be at the centre of their plot twists, so on and so forth. There’s nothing I love more than reaching a moment in a book that I did not see coming and which sends my mind reeling.

Game of Thrones, in its early books, is a great example in that George RR Martin was willing to brutally murder off many of the characters his readers thought were here for the long haul (we know much better now, of course).

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The first instalment in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is another book that managed to get me, while the twist three-quarters in Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae also hit me real hard *shakes fist at sky*.

I will say though that even if I’m able to predict a plot twist, I’m perfectly okay with it as long as it makes sense and it’s entertaining. The last thing I want is to accidently roll my eyes out of my head at the complete cliché-ness of it all.

Image result for check boxA Gradually Developed Romantic Relationship

As much as I’d love to be able to say: who needs romance, I can’t because the majority (not ALL, but the majority) of my favourite books involve a romantic relationship in some form or another. I really enjoy having some variation in the dynamics between characters. I want something to root for, to ship! However, when I say romance, I do not mean insta-love. One of the things that annoys me the most about romantic relationships in books is how often authors fail to properly develop it before the characters are dropping the ‘L’ bomb and diving headfirst into danger to save the other person. Insta-lust, totally cool. Love, nope, nope, I’m out.

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I’m looking for a gradual build up and an understanding of one another. More importantly, I don’t want the relationship to serve to damage or limit the involved characters. If it’s a story intending to show off a toxic relationship, that’s fine as it’s another kind of plot all together. But if this is something you’ve been dangling in front of my face for an extended period like the carrot before a donkey and it involves two characters I already love, the last thing I want is to see them reduced to shadows of their former selves. In other words, no “I forbid you to do that” or stupid, petty actions that are ridiculously out of character. A perfect example of this is Sarah J Maas’s relationship between Feyre and Rhysand in A Court of Mist and Fury (however, not all authors have the luxury of spending the majority of a 600 page book developing their romances). Also important is that the relationship serves to add to the entertainment of the story, not make me want to bash my head against a wall in frustration.

Image result for check boxFantastic Friendships

I mentioned romantic relationships earlier but friendships or close bonds between characters are another must for me in books. I love, love, love watching small groups of people with strong ties come together to support one another or fight against a greater threat. As you read, you can’t help but feel a part of the social circle yourself – whether it be a group of mothers as they support each other through domestic violence, false accusations of school bullying and general feelings of inadequacy in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, or a gang of thieves as they attempt to rake in money for their own selfish exploits as in Six of Crows or The Lies of Locke Lamora.

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Where would Eragon have been without the wise-cracking dwarf, Orik, or Gansey without Blue and the rest of the Raven Boys? Exciting plots may be one of the biggest parts of a great novel, but the best bits are the smaller movements between characters.

Image result for check boxExciting World Building

There is nothing I love better than falling into an original and amazing new world – one full of possibility, secrets, histories, maybe even magic. You know a world is great when you’re lapping up any chance to see more of it. Part of the wonder of the A Darker Shade of Magic books, for me, was the excitement of having so many different versions of the same city scattered through different dimensions. And then on top of that were the parts of Kell’s world alone which we never got to see. Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse was so wonderful that people were willing to read a whole different set of books just to see more of it. Meanwhile, Tolkien basically began the modern fantasy genre with the creation of Middle Earth. Never underestimate the power of an expertly crafted world. Just don’t rub my face in every little unnecessary detail of it (I’m looking at you, Tolkien).


I could sit here and talk for ages about more common threads like magic and training sequences but we’d be here forever. So I’ll leave it for now.

What characteristics do your favourite novels tend to have? It could be anything, small or big! General or specific! action sequences, poignant writing, wars, multiple character perspectives, a romantic relationship between best friends – what’s something that makes you fall in love with a story? I ask totally not to help me in my writing pursuits *cough*…

Love ash 2

 

Psychics, Baby Birds, and Trees that Speak Latin: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

3.5 stars

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These days I have a habit of reading YA novels that all seem to blend into one another. They’re not bad, they’re not great, they just happen to sit in that weird three-star middle ground in which over time individual plot details are kind of forgotten. The Raven Boys is like this, and yet it’s not.

Who, What, Where?

Let’s set the scene a bit… The book focuses on five teenagers – four boys and a girl. Blue, the girl, is a member of a family of psychics, who while possessing no actual psychic abilities of her own does act as an amplifier for them and other mystical energies. She also happens to be worried about a prophecy which states if she kisses her true love, he’ll die. Then we have the boys – Gansey, Rowan, Adam, and Noah – students of the illustrious Aglionby academy who just happen to be trying to track down ley lines in the hopes of locating some really old dead guy’s tomb, waking him, and getting a wish granted.  Blue joins her aunt at an old church on St. Mark’s eve, a night on which psychics can see the ghosts of those set to die during the next 12 months. Blue somehow sees Gansey’s ghost and her aunt tells her it’s because either he’s the love of her love or she’s the reason he dies. Drama ensued. And there you have it.

Characters

The characters of The Raven Boys all have distinctive and well-constructed personalities. Each adds a little something different to the story and while they weren’t completely lovable, they’re definitely all very likeable (even Rowan whose personality is designed to set people on edge). This is important as while the story does deal with the group’s investigations into the mystical, much of it actually rests on the interactions between the characters and the things going on in their respective lives, especially the boys e.g. Adam’s troubles at home and future aspirations, Rowan’s family and schooling issues, etc.

Romance

One of the main pet peeves I have with YA novels is insta-love. So many good books in this category have been let down by laziness in developing romantic relationships. I have no idea if this will become a problem later in the series but it wasn’t in this book. Blue has feelings for Adam and vice versa but it’s the kind of gradual and slightly awkward relationship development you’d expect from a couple of teens who haven’t been in a relationship before. It’s believable and not overly annoying (yet). However, trying to avoid spoilers, it’s very easy to see that this (a) won’t last or (b) will turn into a love triangle very soon based on insights Blue gains during the book about Gansey. If so, I hope that either relationship will develop gradually *fingers crossed* but I have serious concerns about the kissing-prophecy angst that’s teased to come.

Plot

In terms of the book’s plot, I liked the idea of it in theory – ley lines, magical energies, ghosts, rituals, etc. but for most of the book I was a little confused. Specific information did come out over time and yet I’m still sitting here feeling slightly hazy on a lot of details. I have to expect that books two-four in the series will add the extra clarification. The first half of the book can be a little slow for those who need big dramatic storylines but for those invested in the characters, it moves along at a nice, relaxed pace. One thing I do wish had packed a little more punch was the story’s climax which felt a little on the flat side, despite the actions of one character which I’m sure will cause tension later on. The group’s overarching goals weren’t fully realised in this book but steps were taken in the right direction so as to show to a degree where the later books are heading. As to how there’s three books worth of plot after this, I’m unsure but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

Writing

On the whole, Maggie’s quality of writing is good. It’s third-person, clear, doesn’t overdo the extraneous details and still manages to paint a good picture of events as well as characters’ thoughts. The chapters aren’t ridiculously long – which is good for those who liked defined places to stop reading – and there aren’t so many characters that you find yourself losing track of them all.  My only minor complaint here is that at some points it can take a little bit of time to work out exactly whose perspective a new chapter is being written from. This aside, she has a lovely style which is easy to spend a lazy afternoon with.Divider

Final Verdict: While The Raven Boys won’t be as forgettable as many of the other 3-star YA reads I’ve tackled in recent months, it still lacks the magic spark needed to bump it up to the greatness of a 4.0, particularly when it comes to a memorable and dramatic conclusion.

3.5 Stars