Review: Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder (Spoiler-Free)

Some years ago, a devastating plague broke out across the fifteen realms, and healers were blamed for the quick spread of the disease. Avry of Kazan was never able to complete her training as a healer, yet she now finds herself the only one of her kind remaining, as the never-large guild has been mercilessly hunted down, and its members executed. And this could easily have been Avry’s fate, too, had it not been for the interference of Kerrick – her rescuer, but also her captor, and sworn to a prince she despises.

I really, really wanted to like this book. The premise sounded interesting, and I loved Poison Study, so I know I at least am capable of enjoying Snyder’s storytelling – though none of the books of hers that I’ve read have quite lived up to the brilliance of that first one. And Touch of Power did start out quite strong; Avry was quickly established as a likeable character, living in times that were difficult for everyone, but for healers in particular, their persecution entirely unjust – at least as far as Avry can discern. The nature of Avry’s healing powers – taking the injuries of others upon herself – also lends itself to the possibility for some great internal conflict, especially when combined with the deadly presence of the plague…

Sadly, however, the vast majority of the story was just boring. A good chunk of the book was spent with our heroes wandering around various different (indistinguishable) forests, and occasionally going on a short mission, or visiting a town, neither of which (usually) added anything to the overarching plot… And almost all the major twists and turns of the story were utterly predictable, from Avry’s romance to what was clearly supposed to be a shocking betrayal near the end of the book, but was in fact obvious from the moment the character in question first opened their mouth.

In fact, Touch of Power‘s biggest surprise for me ended up being the reason for Avry’s reluctance to heal Ryne, and that’s only because it seems so petty. Granted, rumour doesn’t paint Ryne as the nicest man in the world, but we’re led for a long time to believe that Avry has a powerful, personal reason to believe that the world is better off without him in it – and it would have to be a strong reason, because it’s made clear that she’s willing to risk her life to heal others, even those she doesn’t know.

The worldbuilding – one of the greatest strengths of Poison Study – was also sadly lacking here. There are thirteen different kingdoms in Touch of Power‘s world, and although Avry and her companions only travel through a handful of them, the lack of distinct environments is notable. I’ve already mentioned that there’s a lot bland forests, but they’re accompanied by bland mountains, towns and caves, with the only places that really managed to set themselves apart being the healers’ hidden archives, and Tohon’s palace, which is unusual by virtue of being the only single place that Avry explores in detail. I did see some potential in the Death and Peace Lilies (giant flowers that are identical in appearance, but one is harmless, while the other will eat you alive), but while they were conceptually very cool, they seemed mainly to act as a deus-ex-machina in execution.

As a protagonist, Avry was reasonably likeable, but somewhat inconsistent. I said earlier that I thought her reason for hating Ryne wasn’t worth the amount of energy that she put into it, but since she did hate him so much, I found it rather frustrating that she seemed to change her mind about healing him so easily – and that malleability was a trend throughout the book…

In terms of character development, she (and Kerrick) had a token amount, but the supporting cast were entirely forgettable (it’s been a few weeks since I finished this book, and the only reason I remembered Avry’s name was because it was in the series’ title; everyone else I had to look up). Two of Kerrick’s companions – Belen and Flea – had a decent chunk of screen time, but Loren and Quain could have been removed entirely without consequence to the story progression or even character interactions. Lack of screen time was a problem for a lot of the other characters, too, as they tended to flit in and out of the story quite rapidly, leaving little time for the reader to get to know them (or even want to)… Except for Tohon, who was incredibly one-dimensional, but did at least feel genuinely threatening.

[A brief aside about Tohon: Why does his power make him so irresistible to Avry? Presumably it’s due to some kind of reaction between both of their magic, because it doesn’t seem like attraction/mind control is anything that would be intrinsically linked to a person’s life-force. And why does he even want Avry to sleep with him so badly? Just to annoy Kerrick? I wouldn’t be surprised, but the weird rivalry between the royals in this book was another thing that annoyed me, mainly because I found the boarding-school-for-royals idea so out of place in this medieval-style setting… Anyway, my point is that Snyder spent far too much of this part of the book on Avry trying to resist Tohon’s advances, which really derailed the (already kind of all over the place) story, right as it was supposed to be reaching its climax.]

Given everything I’ve said so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if you all thought I hated Touch of Power, but I didn’t; I just found it disappointing, and a big part of that disappointment is my own fault for expecting too much. It was a quick and easy read, and never completely unenjoyable, and although it left me feeling mostly apathetic, fans of Snyder’s other books (as opposed to just Poison Study) may be more inclined to like this one, too. And that glimmer of potential from the book’s original premise is still there, unrealised, so I won’t say that there’s no hope for the series going forward – even if I’m not likely to stick with it myself.

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Upcoming Releases: Summer 2018

Let me tell you, this list was a hard one to put together. When I started writing, I had no idea how I was going to write a whole post about just two books, but the more I looked into what was actually coming out this summer, the more I realised that the actual problem was how to narrow the list down to a manageable length… 😓 The next few months are going to be crazy for new releases, and I’ve barely scratched the surface here (in particular, there were a tonne of sequels that I left off because I’m not caught up on their series, and I had to draw the line somewhere). And of the ones I have mentioned, two are going to be released on my birthday! (No prizes for guessing which, because it’s obvious.) So without further ado, here are the most exciting things coming out in June, July & August.

[All dates are taken from Amazon UK unless stated otherwise, and are correct as of 06/06/2018.]

Night Flights by Philip Reeve (5th July)

A set of three short stories set in the Hungry City Chronicles universe, focusing on Anna Fang, an interesting side character from the original trilogy. To be honest, it’s been so long since I read any of the Hungry City books that I don’t remember all that much about Anna, but I’d be excited to read anything he deemed to write for this universe… 😅 I’m so glad that the world in general seems to be realising how amazing this series is – and if you haven’t seen either of these amazing trailers for Mortal Engines, then what are you waiting for?! Excitement level: 7/10

Bright We Burn by Kiersten White (5th July)

The third and final book in The Conqueror’s Saga, which explores the life of Vlad the Impaler, had he been born a girl. Starting this series is one of the best book-related decisions I’ve made in the last few years, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it’s all going to wrap up (though it’s also sad to think that it’ll soon be over). Lada is such an excellent, bloodthirsty anti-heroine, and her brother Radu (the story’s second protagonist) pulls at all my heartstrings (I just want him to be happy! Is that too much to hope for? 😭)… Whatever direction this conclusion takes, I anticipate epicness, and a lot of feelings. Excitement level: 10/10

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (24th July)

The third book in the Wayfarers series, which follows an entirely new cast, though one of the new protagonists is related to Ashby, a character from the first book. I haven’t read A Closed & Common Orbit yet, so this book almost got cut from the list (or relegated to the honourable mentions section), but I’m just so thrilled to see that Chambers is writing more for this series – and also they’re companion novels, so I don’t imagine it’ll matter all that much if I end up reading this one before AC&CO… 😓 I’m expecting interesting space adventures, and lots of really complex new characters! Excitement level: 7/10

Hard in Hightown by Mary Kirby (2nd August)

A detective novel set in Dragon Age‘s Kirkwall, the city of chains! 😆 The observant among you may have noticed the name Varric Tethras on the cover, rather than Mary Kirby – because this is a book that exists within the DA universe, and Varric (an important character in both Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition) is it’s in-universe author. I don’t usually read crime novels, but I think I can make an exception for this one; I’ve already read bits and pieces of it in the in-game codex, and I’m looking forward to seeing it all put together (and illustrated!). 😁 Excitement level: 9/10

Honourable Mentions: (With links this time!)

Library Scavenger Hunt: May

I’ve taken the last couple of months off from the LSH due to what I’m finally ready to admit to myself is probably something of a reading slump, but since I had some time off work this month, and am feeling a bit less frazzled, I thought it’d be a good time to try to get back into the swing of things – and although this month’s challenge (to read a book with “away” in the title) wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, I’m pretty happy with the choice I made. 😊 The book I ended up reading was…

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Melissa Pimentel

Years ago, Ruby and Ethan were in love, before she broke up with him without explanation. Ruby might still be in love, but she’s not holding out hope that Ethan feels the same way, after everything she’s put him through… Her resolve to stay away, however, is put to the test when they’re thrown together again and again in the lead-up to her sister’s wedding – and could this romantic atmosphere lead to a rekindling of feelings on Ethan’s side as well?

It took me a little while to realise that this was a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and even then it was only because I saw a review that mentioned the fact – but to be honest, I would consider this story to be loosely inspired by Persuasion rather than an outright retelling. The premise is obviously similar – two characters meeting again after a breakup that neither of them really got over – and there are a few resemblances between Austen’s characters and a couple of Pimentel’s, but the tone of this book is quite different, and many of the complexities of Austen’s story have been left out of The One that Got Away. Familiarity with the source material is certainly not necessary in order to enjoy this book (though, if you don’t know Persuasion, why not? It’s great! 😋). In terms of Austen retellings, The One that Got Away is much closer to Bridget Jones’ Diary than, say, something like Eligible (for which you can find my review here).

The story is structured in two parts – past and present – and yo-yos between the two with each chapter, and it’s a structure that works well, building on the main plot largely uninterrupted, while gradually revealing more of the backstory in a separate storyline; it does a good job of building suspense  for the big reveal of what exactly happened to break Ruby and Ethan up, which is explained to us at almost the exact same time as it’s explained to Ethan – though, being that we are in Ruby’s head for most of the story, a fair number of readers will have already guessed it by that point. Speaking of which, the entirety of the present-day storyline is seen from Ruby’s perspective, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the past storyline was partially told by Ethan, allowing us to get to know him on a more personal level than just through Ruby’s eyes, without ruining the mystery of his present-day view on her… Both timelines seemed very well-crafted, but I will admit that I found it a little easier to get into the past storyline, if only because I found the things that they were both going through at that time to be more relatable.

Ruby and Ethan both made for relatable leads, and although their (very cute) romance is the driving force behind the plot, their own personal growth was just as compelling. It was genuinely upsetting to see Ruby’s downward spiral of (what seemed to me to be) depression in the past timeline, especially when contrasted with the huge bright spot earlier on that was the beginning of her relationship with Ethan. And Ethan got less of a spotlight, but he was incredibly likeable, and grew a lot over the course of the story… Where they both ended up in the present-day timeline was completely believable, and I’m glad to say that their character development didn’t stop there, either.

As you can probably tell from the review so far, I really enjoyed most of this book, but it definitely also has its flaws. The very ending felt incredibly rushed: The chapter where Ruby finally reveals to Ethan why she broke up with him is only four pages long, and is mostly  just Ruby mentally building herself up to it; the actual revelation happens off-screen, which is fine because we as readers witness what happened to Ruby first-hand in the next chapter (which is set in the past timeline), but in the few subsequent chapters there’s very little follow-up to their discussion, especially on Ethan’s part. And Ethan’s reaction to Ruby’s confession is actually quite problematic, as it indicates either that Ethan is not as good of a person as we’ve been led to believe, or else a complete disconnect between what Pimentel thought she was implying about what happened to Ruby, and what she actually implied… and this disconnect (which I think is the more likely answer) left a really sour taste in my mouth, very nearly spoiling what was otherwise a really fun read.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black (Spoiler-Free)

As a child, Jude witnessed the murder of her parents at the hands of a mysterious stranger, who then stole her and her two sisters away to the High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, she lives a life of privilege as his daughter, attending balls in beautiful dresses, attending school with the children of Faerie’s elite… but her mortality sets her apart from her classmates in the most degrading way, and the desire to prove herself above her tormentors consumes her.

I picked this book up purely on a whim. I thought I remembered seeing mediocre reviews for it (though looking back at the reviews now, I think I must have had it mixed up with a different book), so my hopes weren’t particularly high in terms of quality, but I was in the mood for faeries, and melodrama, and improbable romances, and venomous villains (however well-portrayed), which the book seemed to promise. But although I was right on most of those counts, it’s actually a really good book! The plot was full of intrigue and politics (and, yes, romance as well, but that mostly came across as secondary) that was really interesting, and although I didn’t always like Jude all that much, I did find her situation sympathetic.

Her relationship with her two sisters – Vivi (her older half-sister who is the true daughter of the faerie who murdered their mother) and Taryn (her human twin) – was also very interesting, as was the way her closeness to each of them, and her trust in them shifted over the course of the story. Whereas one would expect the shared trauma of having to live with their mother’s murderer would bring them together, their different approaches to dealing with their situation are one of the biggest alienating forces between them, and make for some fascinating familial drama – though that’s definitely not all that the book has going for it.

The other character who really needs to be talked about is the titular Cruel Prince, Cardan, who is the youngest prince of Faerie, and the chief of Jude and Taryn’s tormentors. Given his moniker, I was expecting him to be rather crueller than I actually found him to be; except on a few, brief occasions, he was little more than your typical entitled teenager, petty and rude more than actively cruel, and certainly nowhere near the level of viciousness that some of the other characters reached. Later in the book, he even seemed to be the one in his group of friends who’d put a stop to the bullying (or at least limit it) rather than instigate it… (Don’t get me wrong, he was definitely a git; I was just expecting worse) I also felt that the reasoning behind his fixation with Jude was rather obvious, and it was a little frustrating that Jude herself took so long to figure it out – though perhaps it was just something that she was not able to wrap her head around. I did, however, really like his character arc over the course of the story, as well as the way his relationship with Jude developed, and that’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to seeing more of in the next book – especially given the dramatic turn it took towards the end.

(An aside: Weirdly, the two stories I was most reminded of while reading this were a K-drama I was watching a little while ago, Boys Over Flowers – though The Cruel Prince is a lot more serious in tone – and Jane Austen’s Emma – for a specific reason that I won’t go into because it’s super-spoilery. They seem like they should be pretty far apart on the fiction spectrum, but somehow it works. 😅)

March Wrap-Up

Once again, March was not a heavy-hitter in terms of the number of books I read, though it was strong on quality, with two of the three books getting five-star ratings – and one of which was a behemoth of an (audio)book that I’ve been slowly making my way through for a couple of years now. 😁 I almost finished a fourth book, too, which is quite astonishing considering how preoccupied I’ve been with Zelda for the last couple of weeks… 😅 But anyway, here’s what I thought of my March reads:

Dune by Frank Herbert. The epic tale of a boy whose family is embroiled in a bitter power struggle involving the planet Arrakis and the strange – and expensive – drug that’s produced there, known as spice. That’s a massive oversimplification, by the way, but the plot and the characters and the world that Herbert creates in Dune is far too complex to explain properly in just a sentence or two… It’s taken me about two years to finish this book, not because I wasn’t enjoying it (I was), but because until the last couple of months I just didn’t listen to audiobooks that often – but I’m so glad that I finally decided to buckle down and finish it; it’s such a great book! I loved all the characters, the story was wonderfully intriguing, and the book as a whole made such a strong impression on me that it was really easy to pick back up where I’d left off, again and again! 😊

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce. The first book in a prequel series to The Immortals quartet, which tells the story of Numair’s years at the Imperial University in Carthak. Returning to this world was such a joy, and Numair’s backstory is something I’ve always been curious about, so it was really nice to learn some more about that, too. 💕 I wouldn’t say that this is one of Pierce’s strongest books, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless, and am looking forward to the rest of the series. You can find my full review here.The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout. A contemporary novel about two teenagers, Mallory and Rider, who lived in the same abusive foster home as small children, but were separated later on… and then reunited by chance in high school, when Mallory decided to attend a public high school in an attempt to overcome her severe social anxiety. I picked this up mainly because of Armentrout’s name on the cover (her Lux series was great fun), but although I enjoyed The Problem with Forever, and it definitely had its poignant moments, I didn’t find it all that memorable. It’s solidly-written, the romance was sweet, and I feel like Armentrout did a good job of portraying the crippling severity of Mallory’s anxiety… but it’s not up to the standard of the other books of hers that I’ve read.

Thematic Recs: Loathsome Villains

Most of the villains I’ve come across in the last few years have been sympathetic ones, and while there’s definitely something to be said for reading about a villain that you like, or understand, or even feel sorry for, the book I’m reading at the moment has reminded me just how great it is to read about a villain whom you utterly despise; to be outraged by every terrible thing that they do, and satisfied by all the poetic justice that (hopefully) comes their way. So, for today’s post, I’ve compiled a list of books with some of my favourite fantastically-written horrible people! 😋

1) The Poldark series by Winston Graham. The series that inspired this post’s main antagonist is George Warleggan, but while he’s pretty hateful at times, he has nothing on Osborne Whitworth (known as Ossie), who is present in the early books as an admirer of Demelza, but becomes an important part of the plot in the fifth book, The Black Moon. I won’t tell you exactly what makes him so repulsive, as that would be a fairly major spoiler, but in The Four Swans (which I’m currently reading) we get quite a few scenes from Ossie’s perspective, and every jaunt into his head leaves my skin crawling.

2) The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. Alexander’s so-called friend Dimitri is a stand-out character in the first book of Simons’ dramatic, emotional trilogy, as a character who claims to be a friend, but never behaves like one – something which is always frustrating, but is particularly awful in this case because of how often he plays the “if-you’re-my-friend-you’ll-do-this-for-me” card, and how much danger his “favours” (which are actually demands) put Alexander in. And let’s not forget how he refuses to take no for an answer when it comes to Tatiana, even though the only reason he’s really interested in her is because he knows that Alexander likes her… 😤

3) The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. This novel tells two stories: that of a Chinese-American woman called Pearl, and, at greater length, the tale of her mother Winnie’s life in China, and the events that led her to flee to the US. The truly horrible character in the book is a part of Winnie’s tale; her first husband Wen Fu, in fact, whom she is given little choice in marrying, and who treats her – and their children – abominably throughout their relationship, to the point where his memory haunts her long after she’s free of him. This is such an intense, wonderful story, and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who’s even remotely interested in the subject matter. It starts a little slowly, but it’s well worth pushing through those first couple of chapters.

4) The A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. And of course, I couldn’t possibly write a post about loathsome villains without mentioning A Song of Ice and Fire, where even the heroes are not always what you’d call good people, and so the villains have to be truly awful in order to provide a significant contrast… To be honest I could have made this whole list up of characters from this series: Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton, Walder Frey, Melisandre… but for the sake of brevity I decided to go for Joffrey Baratheon, the cruel and sadistic prince – and later king – of Westeros; there’s no character I love to hate quite so dearly. 😉

Review: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (Spoiler-Free)

[This is a spoiler-free review, however I may allude to some events from other Tortall-based series – particularly The Immortals quartet, to which this book is a prequel.]

Numair Salmalín is one of the world of Tortall’s most powerful mages, but at the age of 11 – then a student at the Lower University of Carthak, and going by his birth name, Arram Draper – he was only just beginning to learn the magic that would help him so much in later years. Talented, but frequently in trouble with his instructors, Arram’s life is changed forever when he is befriended by the charismatic Prince Ozorne and his lovely friend Varice, now two of the University’s brightest students, but who will eventually go on to become the dreaded Emperor Mage and his head of entertainment.

This is the first book in a new trilogy called The Numair Chronicles, which acts as a prequel to the Immortals quartet by explaining the history of one of its most prominent but enigmatic characters: Numair, and focuses on events that are alluded to parts of that series, but never really explained in much detail. The nostalgia comes across very strongly in this book, with plenty of cameos from the original series, including one particularly great one that snuck up on me (the gladiator Musenda, who I had thought was a new character, but was suddenly revealed later on to be a familiar face), and although the young Arram is very different from his older counterpart, we can clearly see his character being shaped over the course of this book, from his growing doubts about remaining in Carthak, to his fascination with obscure magic that many more academic mages refuse to believe in…

That said, the story itself is quite fragmented. There’s no strong overarching plot, and there doesn’t seem to be much indication of one to come in the later books. What there is is a few strong story arcs, such as a brief murder mystery towards the end, and a couple of vaguely medical-drama-y sections, while the bulk of the novel concentrates on character and relationship development. There’s also quite a bit of political intrigue, but it’s focused on Ozorne rather than Arram, and so mostly stays in the background.

(An aside: Of these mini-arcs, I probably enjoyed the medical sections the most. My favourite Pierce books are actually the Emelan-based ones, and of those, I like Briar’s stories the best – something that I’d assumed was primarily because I like Briar. But although I do really like his character, reading this book has also driven home for me just how good Pierce is at writing engrossing historical sickroom-based stories.)

While I do hope that there will be a stronger plotline in the sequels to Tempests and Slaughter, I also found that the slow start to the series really gave me time to get to know these characters in their present incarnations, while still providing enough interesting action to keep me engaged throughout the book. After all, most readers will know how things are going to turn out for Arram before they even open the book, and the interest in reading it is seeing all the little things that lead up to that point. Perhaps there will also be one giant straw that breaks the figurative camel’s back (in the form of an overarching story), but even if there isn’t, I think that more of what Tempests and Slaughter has already offered will be enough for me to love this series. 💕