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.
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.
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.