Review: Starfall by Melissa Landers (Spoiler-Free)

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but may reference some events from Starflight, the first book in the series. You can find my (brief) thoughts on Starflight here.]

After two years in hiding, Princess Cassia Rose is returned to her home planet in chains, but Etruria is in a far worse state than she expected; although the war she accidentally caused is over, her people are now suffering under the rule a vicious tyrant. Her tasks are as follows: Reclaim her throne, put down a rebellion, and find a cure for the mysterious disease that’s plaguing her lands. And all the while, her former shipmates – including her best friend and sometimes-lover Kane – are trying desperately to rescue her.

My memories of the events of Starflight are pretty shaky at this point, as it’s been almost three years since I read it, but what I do remember – apart from my overwhelmingly positive feelings about it – is that Cassia and Kane were amazing… So naturally I was excited that they’d be getting their own book!

Unfortunately, however, it was a huge let-down. Cassia and Kane were both significantly less compelling than in the previous book, and the rest of the Banshee crew were more background dressing than anything; Doran and Solara in particular seemed like they barely had a sentence of dialogue between them, a huge downgrade from their main-character status in Starflight. Of the new characters, General Jordan was the most prominent and the best-developed, though that’s really not saying much, as his competition was Belle, who was briefly a plot device and was then just there, and Kane’s mother, who had so little screen time that I had to look up her name (it’s Rena).

And then there’s Marius, the book’s primary antagonist. And although Cassia makes it clear in her internal monologue that he’s a despicable person, we’re not given a reason to think of him as any more threatening than your average petty, entitled child.

In terms of romance, Cassia and Kane’s almost-but-not-quite-relationship from the first book was threatened in Starfall by the introduction of an alternative potential love interest for Cassia, but the love triangle is entirely unconvincing.

The plot is kind of all over the place; the book starts and ends with Etruria, but its main focus is actually on the outbreak of an unknown disease, and the Banshee crew’s search for a cure, which seems like it should have been a side-story at most, as its connection to all the socio-political drama is very convoluted. The other storylines were all under-developed and uninteresting, and the ending was ultimately unsatisfying (but might have been less so if we’d been given any reason to care about a certain character who became very important in the last couple of chapters).

It was also incredibly rushed, especially near the beginning of the book, when Cassia is held captive by Marius for what felt like half a second, making her ordeals at that time seem very insubstantial. The pacing got a lot better as the book went on, but I was left feeling somewhat resentful that what I was hoping would be a really great period of character development for Cassia was instead fleeting and unimpactful.

Giving two stars to a book I was this excited about was almost physically painful, but even if my hopes for Starfall hadn’t been so badly disappointed, it was still more boring than anything else. Luckily, it’s more of a companion novel than a straight-up sequel, so its lack of brilliance needn’t deter anyone from reading Starflight.

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Library Scavenger Hunt: February

This month’s challenge was to read a short story, and my pick ended up being something I actually already had on my (digital) shelf, which may end up as a trend for 2019, as I’d really like to focus on cutting back the number of unread books I own… 😓 So this isn’t entirely in the spirit of the LSH, but oh well. Here’s what I thought of…

THE LOST SISTERS
Holly Black

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but if you haven’t begun the series at all, then click here to check out my review of The Cruel Prince.]

After the events of The Cruel Prince, Taryn writes an apology to her sister Jude, explaining the secrets she kept over the course of the book, and her reasons for keeping them.

Taryn & Jude’s complicated relationship was one of my favourite things about The Cruel Prince, so it was really interesting to finally get Taryn’s perspective on everything that happened, and I also really enjoyed the way that this short story was written; the majority of it was Taryn recounting the book’s events, but she also included bits and pieces of various fairytales from their childhood, all with a slightly dangerous edge born of their less-than-amazing experiences in Faerie.

If I had one complaint, it would be that there were a couple of scenes that seemed like they were mostly just lifted from The Cruel Prince, and Taryn’s perspective didn’t add much to them, but whenever this happened it was for scenes important enough that the story might have felt a bit fragmented if they’d been left out entirely… and in any case, it was a pretty minor issue. Overall, I think The Lost Sisters makes a great addition to the Folk of the Air universe, and I’m left feeling even more excited for The Wicked King than I already was. (Which, given that I’m not likely to be able to read it any time soon, might not be as good a thing as it sounds. 😅)

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

Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett (Spoiler-Free)

Bailey wants nothing to do with her mother and stepfather’s messy divorce, so she’s moving to California to live with her dad. But she has another reason to be excited about her new home town: It’s also the home town of the mysterious Alex, a boy she met online, who may or may not be the boy of her dreams.

To be honest, I didn’t have very high expectations for this book. I bought it primarily because I liked Night Owls (Jenn Bennett’s previous YA novel) so much, but the premise of two old-movie buffs falling in love wasn’t something that particularly excited me… and it turned out to be adorable! 💕

There’s something incredibly addictive about Bennett’s writing style, and I found myself flying through this book, completely immersed; I read nearly the whole thing in one sitting, which isn’t common for me. I was also pleasantly surprised by the lack of film references in the book. There were some scattered about the story, but not an obnoxious amount, and so one of my greatest worries about this book – that it would be full of annoying references to films I didn’t know or care about – was proved needless.

Instead, the book’s main focus was on Bailey – who, as an avoider, was one of the most personally relatable characters I’ve ever come across – and her developing relationships with the people she meets in California, of which there weren’t a huge number, but quality is definitely preferable to quantity in my opinion, and that quality was delivered in spades. I really liked her friendship with her new co-worker Grace, and the dynamic she had with Porter – the third member of this book’s kind-of-love triangle – was really cute, and frequently hilarious. And although there weren’t too many of them, her IM conversations with Alex provided some nice dramatic irony, as well as a slightly different perspective on the book’s events.

And on the topic of Alex: his true identity was very clear, very early on, despite a (short-lived) red herring being thrown into the mix. In the book’s defence, however, that particular plot twist was much more obvious because of romance tropes than because of anything that Bailey was able to find out from her sleuthing – so although I was occasionally a little frustrated about how long it was taking her to figure it out, the feeling usually passed quickly.

Library Scavenger Hunt: January

This month’s challenge was to read a book with your favourite colour on the cover, which in my case is orange, and I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival at the library to be reminded that the paperback version of Release – a book which I hadn’t had specific plans on reading, but which I had a good reason to think I might like (that being its author) – is, in fact a glorious celebration of the colour! 🍊 There were a few other interesting-looking orange books that I spotted, too, but to be honest, it wasn’t much of a competition… thus:

RELEASE
Patrick Ness

Adam’s ex-boyfriend is moving away, and Adam’s not entirely okay with this, even though he’s trying to at least pretend that he’s moved on. But despite the many crises (including but not limited to: his ultra-religious family, his creepy manager, and his own conflicted feelings) that are threatening to tear his life apart, he’s determined to make it to the farewell party. Meanwhile, the ghost of a local murdered girl has emerged from the lake, and is hunting her killer.

If that last sentence seems random, it’s because it is. I really liked this book, but it was despite the supernatural sub-plot, not because of it, and had the ghost-story sections been longer, I probably would have rated the book lower. I get the feeling that Ness was aiming for a Pan’s Labyrinth-style atmosphere, but the two storylines were just too disconnected for it to work; apart from a brief scene at the very end, there was no character crossover, and neither plot had any impact on the other.

However, the main part of the book, Adam’s story, was amazing. His strained relationship with his parents was poignant, and provided a dramatic contrast to the heartwarming bond he had with his best friend Angela, who in my opinion was one of the highlights of the whole book. And although his failed romance with Enzo seemed like more of a focal point of the story than his new relationship with Linus, I found myself surprisingly invested in the success of the latter.

This is not a long book (the entire story takes place over the course of a single day), but it feels incredibly substantial; powerfully written, and dramatically plotted. The two wildly different storylines make it hard to rate, but on the whole I felt that the greatness of Adam’s tale outweighed the book’s more lacklustre parts.

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

Review: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan (Spoiler-Free)

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from previous books in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware. Click here for my reviews of The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy.]

Reunited with his demigod master Meg, Apollo finds his way to Southern California, where another of his Oracles is held captive inside a burning maze, and the third and most powerful member of the Triumvirate is waiting to perform a ritual that will make him the new god of the sun – at the cost of Apollo’s life.

In terms of plot, this series is only getting more exciting as it goes on, and the stakes are continuously getting higher as Apollo begins to care about more than just regaining his immortality… and is put in situation after situation that threatens those things – and people. I also liked The Burning Maze‘s Oracle, Herophile, a lot; her backstory made her symaptheic, and the puzzles that she used to make her prophecies created some interesting obstacles for the characters.

Where most of Riordan’s series have a set core cast, I appreciate the roulette of companions in Trials of Apollo, and in this book it was great to see what Piper, Jason and Grover have been getting up to post-their own series. Grover in particular was a pleasant addition, as he hasn’t been a major character in any of the books since becoming a Lord of the Wild, which one would imagine would cause some dramatic changes in his life. However, I didn’t think that any of these characters had quite as interesting a dynamic with Apollo as Leo and Calypso did in The Dark Prophecy, and although I’ve been trying to like Meg (the only more permanent supporting character in the series), I still find her a little grating.

Additionally, while the leader of the Triumvirate (whose identity I won’t be revealing) made for an intimidating villain, he was somewhat underwhelming compared to Commodus, whose history with Apollo made facing him in the last book feel really personal – which was my favourite thing about The Dark Prophecy

So, I didn’t enjoy The Burning Maze quite as much as its predecessor, but it was still an excellent entry in the series, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one (The Tyrant’s Tomb, which is due to be released in September).

Review: Enma the Immortal by Fumi Nakamura (Spoiler-Free)

1866, Kyoto, and a young assassin named Amane Ichinose finds himself at the door of the legendary tattooist Baikou Houshou, clinging desperately to life – a life which, unbeknownst to him, Baikou can save, but not without consequences. Afterwards, burdened with immortality, the newly-named Enma Houshou remains unchanged, running from his mortal companions as they age and die, and caught in a seemingly endless struggle with the one person who shares his curse, the murderous Yasha.

Enma the Immortal is told in an episodic fashion, but although the chapters don’t naturally follow on from one another, they share a lot of themes; I wouldn’t be surprised to find any of them as standalone short stories, but each one does still add to the experience of reading the others. I tend to be somewhat put off by very episodic stories, and true to form, I was not always that invested in each chapter’s self-contained plot (though the overarching storyline did hold my interest), but I enjoyed the characters and relationships a lot, and their emotional arcs flowed very well between chapters.

Enma himself was an excellent lead character, and his immortality made his relationships with those around him wonderfully complex. I particularly liked his interactions with the book’s two most prominent supporting characters, Natsu – a woman who he raised as his younger sister – and Nobumasa, a client-turned-patron of his tattoo business, whose friendship Enma is reluctant to accept. Yasha, though incredibly important to the plot, feels less present for much of the book, but he appears more as the book goes on, and the occasional parts of the book that are told from his perspective provide an interesting contrast to Enma’s worldview.

Nakamura writes in a matter-of-fact style that is present (though perhaps coincidentally) in many books I’ve read that have been translated from Japanese, and can be a little tough to get used to, but which I usually find quite refreshing. The English translation is by Neil Nadelman, and naturally I can’t speak for its accuracy, but I never got lost, despite the book’s foreign concepts, which speaks to its clarity.

Even given how intrigued I was by the concept of this novel, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It’s a shame that the sequel that is mentioned on the back of the book (Vertical, 2012 edition) does not appear to have been translated, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the comic book adaptation that was published by Dark Horse under the title The Immortal: Demon in the Blood.

Library Scavenger Hunt: December

The final LSH challenge of 2018 was to read a book with a lamp on the cover, and although I had a backup pick in the form of The Bedlam Stacks, in case my reservation didn’t arrive in good enough time, I knew pretty quickly what my first-choice book was going to be, as I’ve been wanting to read more from this author for a while now. And as luck would have it, my library came through for me again this month, so I’ve spent the last week or so reading (and pondering)…

THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES
Yuri Herrera
(translated by Lisa Dillman)

An epidemic is spreading across the city, and a young man and woman have died, but whether it’s by chance or design is up to the Redeemer to discover – and his also is the faint (and growing fainter) opportunity to keep their feuding families from all-out war.

My decision to pick up The Transmigration of Bodies was based primarily on my previous enjoyment of Signs Preceding the End of the World; it’s a very short book, with a heavy focus on crime, and none of these are things that I would usually gravitate towards, but I was drawn in by my appreciation for Herrera’s writing (and further reassured to see that Transmigration and Signs also share a translator)… And although I didn’t like this book as much as Signs, I’m glad to have read it.

As I almost expected, I didn’t really like a lot of the characters. The Redeemer – our protagonist – grew on me after a while, but I particularly disliked our introduction to him, where he comes across as an old man perving over his young neighbour (though in fact I don’t think we’re ever told how old he actually is), and most of the other characters came in and out of the story very quickly, which is to be expected from a novel this length, but disappointing nevertheless, as some of them seemed quite interesting. (The sister of one of the two deceased, known only as the Unruly, was my favourite.)

That said, what I was hoping to get out of Transmigration was not pure enjoyment, so much as a thought-provoking reading experience, and that was something that Herrera delivered in spades; he’s an absolute master of making a huge impact in a tiny amount of space. In this case, the story’s dark premise allowed for some really interesting discourse on violence and its consequences, and the eerie emptiness of the unnamed, plague-ridden city makes for an excellent backdrop, and was a huge highlight of the book for me.

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