Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s been told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training.
Guided by his mother’s visions and committed to avenging his family, Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. But he makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission—and her life. (goodreads.com)
The YAckers are back! After some breathing room hiatus time we’re back to our monthly reads. For January of this glorious new year of 2018 we read THE BURNING SKY by Sherry Thomas. This was a good book. A perfectly fine book. One of those books that I have no problem with, but it just didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.
It deals a lot with destiny and things are already written in the cards and you don’t have a whole lot of choice but to follow along with it because it’s foretold. And I’m also a big fan of self-fulfilling prophecies. I actually believe, to some extent, in psychics. I think there’s talent there. As the same time I also believe they give an option of the future that, if you were to continue on the current path, would potentially come true. Deviate and it’ll change. Here we have Titus who’s effectively making sure this whole destiny thing plays out to the letter because it’s what’s supposed to happen and by golly his mom predicted it and he doesn’t want her to be wrong.
THE BURNING SKY is very much a Chosen One story because, and if you don’t see this coming from the very beginning you’re not reading with your eyes open or you brain on, Iolanthe is set up to be the MOST POWERFUL MAGE EVAR. Or at least since the LAST POWERFUL MAGE up and died. One a generation or whatever. Kind of like Buffy. And since the next powerful mage can’t be born until the last one dies, it’s even more like Buffy. Holy shit. Just realizing that now. Fun. Are there vampires in this world?
I thought crossdressing Iolanthe was going to be more of a thing in the story, but it’s really not. She has the very convenient skill of being able to play the boy because, even more conveniently, she always played the boy in plays growing up. HOW CONVENIENT. And she’s on the thinner side so she doesn’t have big ol’ titties to have to bind down and I guess a rather androgynous face because all that has to be done is her hair gets cut short and BAM. Boy. But that whole aspect of it came with very little risk on her or Titus’s part, ultimately. There were some insinuated situations but they always squeaked out of them. I guess I’m okay with the reprieves since everything else that was going on.
The world was the best part of the story. Of course I couldn’t help but compare it to Harry Potter because wands and magic and spell-casting and all of that. It’s there. Sue me. But aside from those three things there’s really no other similarities. Thomas’s book stands on its own and I liked the sort of magical stranglehold that Atlantis has on the world and how the magic world exists alongside each other without necessarily touching. Like Harry Potter. Okay, four things.
What I didn’t like, though, was that the Bane was this ultimate Big Bad that they were on the road to fight and he was the true villain, however, he never actually made an appearance in the story until the very end. Like Voldemort. Goddammit. They were mostly trying to slap away the Death Eaters, I mean the Inquisitor and her lackeys (not named Dolores Umbridge, at least) because they’re wrangling for the Bane and the Big Bad needs to make a grand entrance and we can’t have it any other way.
Titus was Titus. I don’t really feel one way or another about him. He drove the story even though I think this was supposed to be more Iolanthe’s book, but whatever. He told her where to go, how to act, what to do, and she bucked against him a little bit, but ultimately fell in line. Until the very end where she developed a sense of agency and finally made a decision for herself.
So I totally didn’t go into this review with the intention of making it sounds as snarky as it’s coming off, but I didn’t realize how similar it was to things like Buffy and Harry Potter until I started writing this and now it’s just like, okay. Knockoff? I don’t want to call THE BURNING SKY a knockoff. It’s really not. At least I don’t think intentionally. It’s a perfectly fine story. But that’s pretty much all it is. It left more of an impression in how similar to other things it was than as a book in its own right, unfortunately. It seems, anyway. Because I did mention that it stands out in its own right just a couple paragraphs north. Shows how quickly I can talk my mind out of things.
Six months after the end of Wintersong, Liesl is working toward furthering both her brother’s and her own musical careers. Although she is determined to look forward and not behind, life in the world above is not as easy as Liesl had hoped. Her younger brother Josef is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can’t forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.
When troubling signs arise that the barrier between worlds is crumbling, Liesl must return to the Underground to unravel the mystery of life, death, and the Goblin King—who he was, who he is, and who he will be. What will it take to break the old laws once and for all? What is the true meaning of sacrifice when the fate of the world—or the ones Liesl loves—is in her hands? (goodreads.com)
So without the ridiculous love of Labyrinth to ride me through WINTERSONG’s sequel, SHADOWSONG, I find I enjoyed this book a lot less than the last one. It just doesn’t really hold together all that much.
The pacing issues I had in WINTERSONG are still there in SHADOWSONG, but it’s a different kind of pacing problem. In the former the pacing was such that is felt like two books smashed into one, with two distinct beginnings, middles, and ends that created a rather disjointed story. In the latter there’s nothing. Very little actually happens for about 95% of the book. It’s a lot of Liesl pining over a Goblin King that’s next to non-existent in this story and lamenting about her lost relationship with her brother. It’s this flat line of nothing, no real movement, no agency, and then 96% of the way into the story Lisel finally makes a decision that ultimately makes for a great ending to the story, but there were 350 pages of not a whole lot in order to get there.
The repetition of descriptions was diminished, but still. The only way for Liesl to describe the Goblin King is as her austere young man. Literally the only description. And it’s repeated over and over and over again. It got old in the last book. It’s downright ancient here.
Jae-Jones did preface the book with information about how SHADOWSONG was about her dealing with her bipolar disorder and that’s why it’s so dark. I don’t have a problem with dark. And this book had peeks of it, especially as Liesl was trying to make her way through the hedge maze at the ball. It had excellent moments of dark whimsy that I really did love. But the otherworldliness of the last book is lost here. You get it in snips and fits and starts, but nothing like the beauty of the last book and that’s a shame.
Take this next opinion for what is it because I don’t have a mental illness. However, the illness that Liesl suffers, I’m assuming the same bipolar disorder as Jae-Jones although it’s not expressly named, felt very flat. She seemed to just alternate between using the words mania and sadness or depression, but I felt a detachment from Liesl that kept me from feeling much for her. She talked about her own illness in a way that felt like she was trying to gloss over it and at the same time hammer it home it using very basic language. Where the rest of the book had flourish that aspect of it, that was supposedly so personal to the author, felt flat and simply forced into the story.
Quite frankly I felt this story more belonged to Josef than anyone. He had far more compelling things to say, a better character arc, and a more tragic end. Not that the current ending was bad. I just didn’t feel all that much for Liesl here. I didn’t really care. She didn’t really change much from beginning to end, she had little to no agency throughout the entire story, and when she did try to get personal everything felt all the more distant. It just didn’t work for me.
SHADOWSONG had its moments. There are some truly beautiful descriptions littered throughout the book and I really did love the ending. But ultimately I think this series is hinging way too much on Labyrinth love to drive it forward. There are major pacing issues in both books, and in SHADOWSONG Liesl isn’t much of a character. Those around her are far more compelling as she simply spends most of her time lamenting her current condition as outside forces shove her along in life. It got old and it was a lot to read for so little return.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Looking across the breakfast table one morning, twelve-year-old Liza feels dread wash over her. Although her younger brother, Patrick, appears the same, Liza knows that he is actually quite different. She is certain that the spindlers—evil, spiderlike beings—came during the night and stole his soul. And Liza is also certain that she is the only one who can rescue him.
Armed with little more than her wits and a huge talking rat for a guide, Liza descends into the dark and ominous underground to save Patrick’s soul. Her quest is far from easy: she must brave tree-snakes, the Court of Stones, and shape-shifting scawgs before facing her greatest challenge in the spindlers’ lair, where more than just Patrick’s soul is at stake. (goodreads.com)
I tried really hard not to draw comparisons between Oliver and Neil Gaiman but I couldn’t help it. There was just such a heavy hand of Coraline in THE SPINDLERS that is was hard not to. I mean, it wasn’t a bad book by any stretch of the word. THE SPINDLERS was whimsical and dark and full of adventure. But it lacked that lyrical quality that Gaiman’s work ultimately has. It was a good book, but it wasn’t great.
There was also a bit of Labyrinth in there as well, as the older sister travels into the underground to save her little brother. Only no goblin kings are present here. Just nasty spider people that eat children’s souls for breakfast. Literally.
Ultimately it’s a predictable story. You know how it’s going to end up, even with a wrench thrown into the plot that really isn’t much of a wrench. I did like the darkness that Oliver had in the story and how Liza was crawling through some truly nasty things in order to get to her brother (or his soul, rather). This was not a light story despite the fact that it’s written for children.
THE SPINDLERS is one of those stories that it’s a good enough story when you’re reading it, but it doesn’t leave much of an impression and it ends up being just okay. A good read for younger kids but something that’s not ultimately going to leave a mark on anyone. It almost felt like Oliver wanted to write older for the story for the sheer amount of dark things that were present, but she was committed to a middle grade novel and had to tone it down. In hindsight there are a lot of nasties in here, but they’re watered down and don’t leave the impression that they otherwise could have had they had a chance to flourish under more robust writing.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Barbara Thorson is your new hero: A quick-witted, sharp-tongued fifth grader who isn’t afraid of anything. Why would she be..? After all, she’s the only girl in school who carries a Norse war hammer in her purse and kills giants for a living… At least, that’s what she’ll tell you – but where does the fantasy end and reality begin in the heart of this troubled girl? And what if she’s telling the truth? (goodreads.com)
I was less than impressed with I KILL GIANTS. The blurb leads you to believe there’s something else going on and this is all about a troubled girl making up stories. But from reading the first issue it just seems like she’s a quirky little girl with a bitchy older sister who doesn’t feel like dealing with the world so she plays tabletop games. Maybe if there was more here I would get into it more, but I wasn’t all that endeared to any of it.
I did like the art. A little goofy, a little serious. It seems to be in line with the intent of the premise. Unfortunately the art alone isn’t going to get me through a comic. The story needs to be there too and it’s just not doing it for me. The real life “drama” seems overly dramatic for the purpose of the story but isn’t actually that dramatic. I just feel like I’m being led to think a certain way about what’s going on, but that’s not what I’m actually seeing on the page.
I received a copy of this comic from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan’s search takes an unexpected detour when he travels ‘within’ guided by a mischievous and often maddening young girl named Nekko. Nekko’s origin is a Zen mystery, but her devotion to Hatter’s quest to find the lost Princess is unwavering. After Nekko kidnaps his Hat and leads him on a fearless chase across the rooftops of 1871 San Francisco, Hatter must acknowledge her as a teacher. It is written that when you are ready the teacher will appear, but if the teacher is a 12-year-old girl and you are a High Ranking Bladesman you may discover that all you can do is laugh.
Hatter and Nekko’s adventure around the ring of fire begins when they track a stolen samurai sword with a Wonderland connection to San Francisco’s styling 19th century hiphop crime madam Missy Tong and her eager protégé, the outspoken Lil’ Dick. A stowaway trip aboard a shanghai sailing ship ends on the Hawaiian Islands where a surfboard becomes Hatter’s vehicle to illumination. And then on to Japan! Good grief it’s Chikao and the gang, schoolhouse demons, cosplay, manga, noodles and a long lost brother from another world. Duality? No. Milliners.” (goodreads.com)
This was probably my least favorite for the series so far, mainly because it made me cringe with how stereotyped everyone of non-white ethnicity was. From the very stereotypical Chinese/Japanese accent to the mystical Japanese girl functioning solely to bring the white man to enlightenment, it was all so . . . stereotypical. It really clouded the story for me to the point where I’m having a hard time remembering around the stereotypes.
The thing is I’m not even sure if this sidetrack storyline was even necessary for the story arc itself. It just seemed like a way for the author to jaunt through history to a self-serving time period to mix things up a bit. This was more about Hatter trying to find himself, but I feel like there are better ways he could have done that. Or at least ways that didn’t employ Long Duk Dong-level stereotypes coupled with Matt Damon’s The Wall/white savior elements.
ZEN OF WONDER doesn’t really add much to the whole storyline so if you’re looking for one to skip, this would be it. It’s not like there’s any Hatter growth in it at all. It’s just all rather pointless.