Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier

Title: Shadowfell
Author: Juliet Marillier
Series: Shadowfell, Book 1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: 11 September 2012

Sixteen-year-old Neryn is alone in the land of Alban, where the oppressive king has ordered anyone with magical strengths captured and brought before him. Eager to hide her own canny skill—a uniquely powerful ability to communicate with the fairy-like Good Folk—Neryn sets out for the legendary Shadowfell, a home and training ground for a secret rebel group determined to overthrow the evil King Keldec.

During her dangerous journey, she receives aid from the Good Folk, who tell her she must pass a series of tests in order to recognize her full potential. She also finds help from a handsome young man, Flint, who rescues her from certain death—but whose motives in doing so remain unclear. Neryn struggles to trust her only allies. They both hint that she alone may be the key to Alban’s release from Keldec’s rule.

Homeless, unsure of who to trust, and trapped in an empire determined to crush her, Neryn must make it to Shadowfell not only to save herself, but to save Alban.

I’d been meaning to pick up a book by Juliet Marillier for years before chance allowed me to get an early copy of Shadowfell. I’m so glad I started here. Ms. Marillier’s prose is evocative and beautiful to read, with lush descriptions that immerse you in the world and make you care about these characters. Shadowfell is a pretty classic quest story, with Neryn setting out to learn her powers, accomplish tasks – which she doesn’t know details about – and finding a place where she can be who she is.

Neryn is a character that I instantly related to. She made the decision long ago to live life, something that is much harder than it sounds in the bleak world that Keldec has made of Alba. On the run for much of her life, seeing atrocities that would break others, Neryn let all of that strengthen her resolve. Added to this, she’s unfailingly kind, protective, and smart – if a bit na├»ve. At just 15 (or 16, the text of my ARC copy did seem to waver on that), it all felt real. She’d experienced some things that made her grow up more quickly than she should have, and she still had an innocence about her that could frustrate me. She did spend a good deal of time sick, and relying on others for help, but I didn’t hold that against her. This was the first time she was really learning about what she was, and assistance was needed. What I loved here was that she still stood strong on her beliefs, needs, and what she needed to do. It endeared me to her. As I’m sure it did Flint – even while it frustrated him to no end.

Flint is a very conflicted character. Though I was fairly sure of his true allegiance throughout the book, there was just enough doubt thrown in there for me to question, just enough that I understood when Neyrn didn’t trust him and took some rather risky chances. I would love to see a bit more from Flint’s point of view, but I think the lack of that made me really appreciate what I did get near the end.

While the pacing isn’t fast there is a lot happening in Shadowfell. It’s a long journey, and Neryn has to accomplish many things along the way. I was pulled along, desperate to see what happened next, and how Neryn would beat these almost insurmountable odds to make it to her destination. One slight warning, while the book does end at a good stopping point, this is definitely not the end of Neryn’s story. There is a lot more to be told in the next two books. I didn’t think anything of this, because it seems pretty common in fantasy novels, but wanted to be sure others knew that the overall storyline is not tied up in these 400 pages.

Shadowfell is the best young-adult fantasy I’ve read in a long time. I enjoyed the story immensely, and connected with the characters. But the world is what will keep me coming back for more. Ms. Marillier has a gift for writing, one that I’m happy to have finally discovered – and I can’t wait for the next book in this trilogy.

Grade: B+

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Review: Archangel's Storm by Nalini Singh

Title: Archangel’s Storm
Author: Nalini Singh
Series: Guild Hunter, Book 5
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Release Date: 4 September 2012

With wings of midnight and an affinity for shadows, Jason courts darkness. But now, with the Archangel Neha’s consort lying murdered in the jewel-studded palace that was his prison and her rage threatening cataclysmic devastation, Jason steps into the light, knowing he must unearth the murderer before it is too late.

Earning Neha’s trust comes at a price—Jason must tie himself to her bloodline through the Princess Mahiya, a woman with secrets so dangerous, she trusts no one. Least of all an enemy spymaster.

With only their relentless hunt for a violent, intelligent killer to unite them, Jason and Mahiya embark on a quest that leads to a centuries-old nightmare… and to the dark storm of an unexpected passion that threatens to drench them both in blood.

Nalini Singh is one of those few authors that nearly always makes me fall in love with her books. I have very rarely ever been disappointed, and most often end up gushing over how much I love each new installment. And Archangel’s Storm absolutely ended up being a book I love.

Jason is Raphael’s spymaster, with a very dark past. We know, from the previous books, that something terrible happened in Jason’s past and the only thing holding him to life is his loyalty to Raphael as well as Raphael’s promise to end his life when the time came. A few other small snippets of history associated with Jason had been doled out, but I had no idea how to connect them. It was a pure, heart-wrenching experience to read the whole thing, broken up in flash-backs throughout the book. There were many times I had tears in my eyes while learning more about Jason. But it was his integrity, honor and kindness that made me root for and love him. With the block of ice encasing his heart, the lack of feeling that he’s lived with for so long, I couldn’t help but hope he would be able to overcome all of that with his heroine, Mahiya.

Mahiya is a fascinating character. Not only a survivor, though she is most definitely that, she managed to retain her sense of joy, kindness, and pure grit and determination. I admit to liking her immediately, and it was easy to see that she was the perfect match for Jason. She suffered many terrible things in her life, forced to live under someone who would love nothing more than to see her dead, punished, ruined. Through all that she retained her heart, her compassion, and a willingness to do whatever she could to have the life she deserved. The thing that cemented her in my mind was that she was so willing to give the free gift of her love to Jason, with zero qualms and no regrets. That takes a kind of strength that I will always respect.

While I loved both Mahiya and Jason, it was the plot that pulled me through the story, anxious to find out what was going to happen, who was the one taunting Neha with deaths of those she loved. I loved that I didn’t figure it out immediately, that I could sit in the suspense of the storyline right along with Mahiya and Jason. There are some truly fascinating and interesting developments that happen in this book, making me anxious to see the repercussions on the wider world.

On top of all that, there were the glimpses – sometimes more – we got of other favorites from Raphael’s Seven. Dmitri and his new bride, Honor, had several sections devoted to them throughout the book, including some huge occasions, and it was fantastic to visit them again. Venom showed up at Neha’s palace and spent a couple of days visiting and helping Jason. And he’s quickly becoming one of my favorites! I would have loved to see more of Illium, but we got small glimpses of nearly all the Seven.

When I started this book I said “Reading Nalini Singh is like coming home.” There’s a honesty and vividness to her words that makes me feel like I’m right there, in the midst of the story, meeting these characters, living in this fantastical world. That’s why I love her books, why I end up reading them time and time again. Ms. Singh has a beautifully evocative way of writing that beckons me constantly. Archangel’s Storm definitely gave me everything I was looking for, and more. The only thing I could ask for is the next Guild Hunter book!

Grade: A-

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