RIDERS by Veronica Rossi
His dad’s death threw him for a loop, but Gideon Blake’s finally got his life on the right track: he’s in RASP to become a ranger in the US Army. Things are looking good until he finds out he’s War, one of the Four Horsemen.
Gideon’s voice is flawless. He’s angry, but he’s organized– Gideon may have a lot of unresolved issues, but he approaches them always in a way that makes them palatable and draws us into his rage. It’s hard to find an angry character who is logical, strategic, and kind in addition to harboring some heavy-duty emotional stuff behind closed doors, and Gideon is eminently believable. It’s easy to see that great care has been taken with the research aspect on US Army Rangers, and it was really fun to learn more about them and RASP. Daryn I found occasionally frustrating–while the narrative was clear on why she needed to keep secrets, it felt too much like she was withholding information without enough emotional payoff. The only-girl-in-a-group-of-guys thing is here in full force, and without knowing enough about Daryn’s role as Seeker, it often feels more like she’s turning him down over and over to up the tension of the story, instead of for a discernable reason. I think there are enough twists in this that I would be okay with her tipping her hand a little more, and then doing her big reveal at the end to knock us off our feet.
All that being said, this book was hilarious and fantastic. Gideon is the kind of person you want to be best friends with by the end of the first few chapters, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next in the series.
THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig
Nix lives aboard the Temptation, a pirate ship that can sail to any place–real or fictional– as long as they have a map. It’s a good life– except her father’s achieving his dearly held dream may erase her from existence.
Nix’s desire at first is simple: self-preservation. If Captain Slate, her father, is able to get the map that will take their ship back to 1868 Hawaii then he’ll be able save her mother from dying in childbirth. He can live with his wife and young daughter, and the Nix who exists with him on his ship will…vanish. The novel has twinkling details of faraway places, an illuminated peek into the traditions of monarchy-ruled Hawaii, and supporting characters that make the ship feel like home. The trouble starts with Slate. As a parent, Slate ranges from chummy to downright reprehensible: he refuses to teach Nix the art of Navigation, but at the same time corrals her into securing vast amounts of gold or money for him to purchase the latest map of 1868 Hawaii on the auction block. As much as she is the titular girl who can go anywhere, Nix is trapped, both on the ship and in a relationship that is stifling and occasionally abusive. She loves Slate and he loves her, but she hates how he dictates every aspect of her life, forgets her birthday, and says he’ll never hurt her even though they both know he’ll always choose her mother first. Granted, Slate’s opium addiction may color his relationship with his daughter, but their scenes were unsettling enough as the central relationship in the book that it was difficult not to skip them. The stakes are also somewhat low: we know Slate won’t erase Nix after about a third in but Nix continues to fixate.
The crew and Kashmir are well worth all the scenes in between their antics, and the settings and details so well done that you know Heilig has done good research. I’d very heartily recommend this if the parent-child relationship did not put me so ill at ease.
HEIR OF FIRE by Sarah J. Maas
The third in the Throne of Glass series promises adventure, political machinations, and dangerous games as Celaena Sardothien, King’s Champion and Ardalan’s Assassin, must explore an old part of her identity, one she’d thought long dead.
Maas really brings you into this world, making the fantasy realm seem liveable and a place you could lose yourself in. Easily one of the best parts of the books is Celaena’s training: the assassin must now learn how to use the magic that is her birthright, under the tutelage of Fae warrior Rowan, bound to Queen Maeve. The romance, the other area that Maas excels at, felt a bit flat this time around– Chaol and Celaena are separated for the entire book, and while it’s understandable that she and Rowan have a complicated enough relationship without adding romance, I’m so used to seeing it in Maas’ books that it felt weird reading through without her trademark romantic tension between characters. Characters grow, but Nehemia’s arc is frustrating and seems geared to cause Celaena more pain than have a clear purpose. Manon’s sections with her witches add an intriguing extra arc, and it was especially nice to see more women taking the center stage and Maas’ usually male-dominated work. Maas also seems to be making an effort to up the representation of marginalized people in her work across the board in this book. Also interesting are the likenesses between the faeries and magic in the Throne of Glass series and the Court of Thorns and Roses books– we now have enough Maas books that we’re starting to see what her archetypes are, which is a cool thing to analyze in itself.
A worthy successor to the series, if very long, and while the romance may not catch you this time around the adventure and excellent training scenes will.
THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S by Lee Gjertson Malone
A funny romp that explores standing out and owning one’s differences.
Jeremy Miner is the last boy remaining at an all girls’ school after it tried (and failed) to go co-ed. It’s actually quite hilarious; from Jeremy’s mother’s harried comments to his dad’s erstwhile but not very helpful advice from his boat exploring the ocean, Jeremy’s circumstances are very relateable: how do you stand out in a good way when you’re going to stand out? The book is also very girl-centric: as much as it seems like we’re reading a book about boys, it’s really about the titular character’s relationships with the girls in his life, from his sisters to his best friend, the new girl, and all their classmates. Quickly paced, it also explores more nuanced issues of gender on the down-low. Some of the pranks may get a little tiring, but the humor and well-drawn characters are enough to keep you turning pages all the way to the finish line.
It’s not a re-read book for me, probably because I’m less into MG than other categories, but it has a lot of heart and had me laughing.
BLACK IRIS by Leah Raeder
NA Contemporary Romance
Beautiful prose with a complex storyline, though perhaps overcomplicated by its timelines.
The hazard of switchback time, let alone more than two timelines, is that clarity is essential. It’s very easy to lose yourself in BLACK IRIS, and if you think that you’ll muddle through without being cognizant of the dates at the start of each chapter, then you’re wrong. Raeder’s prose is effervescent and her characters immediately compelling, it’s just hard to keep what everyone knows and doesn’t know straight from about halfway through onward. Part of the satisfaction in a complex plot is being able to unfurl it with the characters; here it felt like we were robbed of the rush of discovery by never being given the clues we needed to scent it in the first place. Some revenges are clear and very satisfying, others blindside us and seem too brutal until a reason is revealed conveniently in-scene. Laney’s addiction and drug use is carefully fleshed out and her relationship with Blythe burns on the page.
An immensely satisfying story of female friendship and romance that explores the dark places of the human psyche without losing its footing on the way down, even if its bloated plot occasionally stumbles.
A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES by Sarah J. Maas
An exercise in pacing and character-driven romance with a knife-sharp edge of sensuality.
Beauty and the Beast meets fairies– it’s hard to think it’ll work, especially in a saturated market, but it does. Maas’ fae are dangerous and beautiful, and often the most beautiful people are the most dangerous. Everyone suffers from something in this book, right from the start: Feyre’s family presents a complicated conflict that Feyre must work through, but she does, and never loses her edge and her ruthless drive even as she finds her own (brief) happiness before going off to rescue her beloved. Maas, always, presents a wide variety of guys for her protagonist to choose from and her descriptions bring you just enough into the world to make it real without bogging the reader down in detail, perhaps a holdover from her fanfiction days. Still pretty staunchly heteronormative, and I would have liked to see more women doing things.
This book draws you in and does not let you go until the very end; everyone is scheming amidst luminous details, and while you may figure out how things’ll go before Feyre does , you’ll still enjoy the whole ride to the finish.
THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT by Seth Dickinson
A young and brilliant mathematician is sent to oversee a nation on the outskirts of the Empire of Masks as Imperial Accountant, as well as sniff out plots of treachery.
At first blush, it may seem like the “traitor” part of the title tips Dickinson’s hand too much, but the beauty of this book is that the reader never knows who Baru will betray at any stage of the book. Will she turn her back on the Masquerade and forfeit her dreams of rescuing her island nation Taranoke from its rule? Or is the northern country of Aurdwynn one more stepping stone on her journey to power? While the bank plots and tactical decisions may seem daunting, they are always carefully explained and made easy to follow, and Baru’s ruthlessness and its toll on her make her and especially compelling character. Baru’s sexuality is never paraded or made light of; instead it reads like a weapon, a double-edged blade that could be her downfall but is also her greatest solace as she destroys the world around her to achieve her goals.
A long read, but an immensely good one: it digs deep into ruthlessness, revenge, and all the cold calculation of having a goal more important than anything, while also understanding exactly the prices that must be paid and their toll on the human psyche.