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.
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.
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.
CAM GIRL by Leah Raeder
NA Contemporary Romance
This was one of those books that I was really looking forward to– I’d read UNTEACHABLE, and that was fantastic– and I loved Raeder’s prose (it’s not a Raeder book unless the word “bokeh” appears at least once).
As much as I loved the characters, the unique and complicated world of camming, the point where this fell apart for me was the reveal. It’s fairly obvious from the start what the twist is–who the mysterious Blue is– but a little under halfway we are presented with a scene that makes our leading choice impossible. I’d liked knowing Blue’s identity and drawing conclusions about that other character, so I was scrambling. However, in the end this twist ends up being a red herring and Blue is the person we thought all along, and the machinations felt less like legerdemain and more like a fake-out for one last cheap thrill before an inevitable conclusion. I would have liked this more probably if it had dug down more into the characters without feeling like it had to surprise me with Blue– the mystery of the accident is enough to compel me to keep going, though I would have appreciated perhaps some more complications from the world of camming as well.
The prose is, as always, stellar and incredibly personal, and that alone makes this deserve a spot on your TBR, even if the plot is a little conflated.