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 GATHERING OF SHADOWS by V. E. Schwab
After the triumph that was A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, a book I re-read and savored multiple times and pressed eagerly on friends, Schwab’s latest fell flat.
It starts out strong with our characters bringing us back into what they’ve been doing since we left them and preparing for the Essen Tasch, the Element Games, a tournament of skill for magicians. With so much of the focus on plots and plans at the games, it is surprising that the Games themselves don’t start until around 2/3 through the book, making the bulk of this sequel about preparation and behind the scenes machinations. While I would have normally been on board, I was just bored here: unlike the first book, when everyone is forced to make terrible, tough, and compelling choices, it’s hard to feel anyone’s suffering in AGOS: Kell mopes, Lila reminisces, and Rhy runs. Even the tournament’s magic feels stale: I previously hadn’t noticed that Avatar: The Last Airbender had been such a heavy influence, but with nothing more elaborate than the usual four elements as a base for magic, it felt stifling and unoriginal. Rhys’ love interest disappointed me because I was hoping seeds sown in the first book would come to fruit. The sequel ends on a cliffhanger without feeling like anything really happened besides character development: I would have liked to see more of the explosiveness of the first book rather than shocking us and leaving very little resolved.
Recommended for fans of the series, but a lot will be riding on the third and final book to prove itself and make me not recommend A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC as a standalone.