Review: “Stormdancer” by Jay Kristoff

Review: “Stormdancer” by Jay KristoffStormdancer by Jay Kristoff
Series: The Lotus War #1
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Published by Macmillan on September 18th 2012
Format: Hardcover
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A DYING LAND
The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.


AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger – a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

A HIDDEN GIFT
Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.

But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.

Gaaaah. How to review this book? Reviewing books you love can take a long time but it’s immensely satisfying; reviewing books you know exactly why you didn’t like can be simple, and even cathartic. But reviewing the books that you did mostly enjoy but had some flaws that you aren’t sure how to feel about? Incredibly frustrating, because you want to air out all your feelings, but you also need to impossibly pin down exactly how you felt about the book without giving the wrong impression.

With that said, I want to start off with my assurances that I really did enjoy so much about Stormdancer.   Some of the complaints I have about the book aside (well, they’ll be later on), I’m so glad I read it after reading some great reviews for it — they’re just so much about it that I’m glad to have experienced.

“LOOK AROUND. GAME DEAD, RIVERS BLACK, LAND CHOKED WITH WEED. SKIES BLEEDING, RED AS BLOOD. FOR WHAT?
YOUR KIND ARE BLIND. YOU SEE ONLY THE NOW. NEVER THE WILL BE.
BUT SOON YOU WILL. WHEN ALL IS GONE, WHEN THERE ARE SO MANY MONKEY-CHILDREN THAT YOU MURDER FOR A SCRAP OF LAND, A DROP OF CLEAN WATER, THEN YOU WILL SEE.” — Buruu to Yukiko

To me, one of the inescapable facts about Stormdancer that makes it so great is how it just feels so much like a story that unquestionably needs to be out there in the world. It’s a little bit indescribable, really. You know those books that you finish and think, why is this published, really? Never did this cross my mind when reading. If I were the editor or agent who was reading Stormdancer as a manuscript, I would’ve immediately found my assistant and yelled, “Get me Jay Kristoff on the phone!”

Stormdancer just feels like this rich, epic tale, fully-formed and imagined, that I somehow can’t believe wasn’t already in existence until Kristoff created it. I think it’s a mix of a lot of things: the Japanese mythology come to life, the use of Japanese words and hints of its ancient culture, and the incredibly seamless world building. A lot of time (and a glossary in the back) is dedicated to transporting the reader to the Isles of Shima, and it pays off. I feel like I really know the kingdom of Shima inside and out, and that I could tell you how everything in its society works.

Yet I won’t sugar-coat it — the beginning was really slow going, and I was tempted to DNF. There’s an action-packed prologue flash-forward to keep you turning pages until you reach the moment where it actually happens, but it’s tough going. Because I’m the kind of reader who has to know everything, I spent a lot of quality time with the glossary in the first part (eventually, I felt comfortable enough with everything to stop checking it). It’s great to learn so much about the capital city of Kigen and about Shima, but even after the “impossible quest” begins, I had yet to come across something that would truly make me want to keep reading. The power dynamics and the environmental issues were intriguing, but I barely managed to keep going on the promise of a legendary thunder tiger…

….a promise which delivered 110%. Seriously guys, Buruu is where it’s at. Why the kingdom of Shima worships anything else besides thunder tigers is beyond me.

“It was power personified. The storm made flesh, carved from the clouds by Raijin’s hands […] The hindquarters of a white tiger, rippling muscles bound tight beneath snow white fur, slashed with think bands of ebony. The broad wings, forelegs and head of a white eagle, proud and fierce; lighting reflected in amber irises and pupils of darkest black.”

He is proud, he is fiercely loyal, and he is everything. His abrupt and honest way of speaking and his banter with Yukiko is powerful, heart-warming, and hilarious. Trust me (as I trusted reviewers before me) when I say that Buuru is what brings this book alive and gives it heart. Enemies at first, Yukiko and Buruu form an unbreakable bond like that of siblings and would surely die for each other. Their unified fight for freedom is what drives this book.

“WHEN IT IS DONE, WE WILL FLY FAR FROM HERE. FAR FROM THIS SCAB AND ITS POISONED SKY.
WE WILL DANCE IN THE STORMS, YOU AND I.” — Buruu to Yukiko

But while I loved Yukiko and Buruu together, and the epic richness of the story, there were other things that held me back. Often times I felt like the writing wasn’t always as sharp and powerful as it could’ve been. Kristoff uses a LOT description in some of his passages — description that didn’t always flow easily and was actually descriptive to the point of distraction. My sister read it too, and she whole-heartedly agreed with me. I would read a few pages and then put it down, and almost forget to come back to it. I read this book INCREDIBLY slowly, which really isn’t my style. And even after the initial slowness of the beginning, much of the rest of the book never moves that fast, either. This is not a book to rush through, but rather to savor.

Some of my disappointment was also wrapped up in the romance. For most of the book it didn’t even matter much, which I was fine with. Then we got hints of a romance from two different guys. One was so see-through and cliche that I hoped it wouldn’t happen, and the other was quiet yet intriguing. But instead of being well-developed, I felt like the romances served more as plot devices (as another reviewer mentioned, and I truly agree with it).

What else can I say? Despite its flaws, I know I will eventually read the entire series. And I don’t think I’ll regret it, either. Something about the story and the way it is told is frustrating, but also incredibly compelling. A slow burn. I was just short of satisfied upon finishing the book, but I have my hopes that with the world-building set and the plot in full motion, the next two books can potentially jump right in and be faster, tighter, and maybe develop the romance better.


The writing and pacing sometimes bog the story down, but the epic richness of the story and the magnificence that is Buruu makes everything so worth it. I hold high hopes for the sequels.

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Review: “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

Review: “Vicious” by V.E. SchwabVicious by V. E. Schwab
Genres: Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Published by Macmillan on September 24th 2013
Format: Hardcover
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Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

My love for this book is a quiet thing. Except, of course, when I was screaming WHAT JUST HAPPENED as my mind exploded without a sound. Kinda contradictory, I know.

I think that’s because the writing is nuanced and inconspicuously brilliant. Schwab never gives too much, but rather only what is needed. What is given though says so much, especially if you really stop to think about it. Her writing is rather stealthy, as it builds tension slowly until WHAM! everything is happening and you don’t know what hit you but you really can’t draw enough air to formulate your feelings but damn. It’s pretty magnificent.

I really enjoyed the way the story was told, too. The chapters were pretty short (again, Schwab never gave us too much) and flashed backwards and forwards in time, from ten years ago when the two MCs were in university (some of my favorite parts), to a couple days ago leading up to the present and about a day past that point, with a few other scattered looks into the past. Normally, this method can be excruciatingly frustrating, but it really was done so well. * claps * I have nothing but applause. The story also had alternating POVs, though at uneven intervals, which I thought was, for the most part, a well-used method.

Vicious is very character-centric, and I myself just COULDN’T GET ENOUGH OF THEM. Above all, I deeply appreciated the way that Schwab managed to portray them not as psychological cases, but as people. Sure, maybe there were symptoms of some syndrome or disorder, but coming to a diagnosis is hardly the point — in fact, it would only discredit and obliviate the depth and development put into these characters. I was surprised by how earnest and believable the characters were (especially Eli and Victor), considering that, when viewed from afar, it all seems pretty desperate and drastic.

“If he’d had to judge based on the two of them, then ExtraOrdinaries were damaged, to say the least. But these words people threw around–humans, monsters, heroes, villains–to Victor it was all just a matter of semantics.”

Victor was such a unique and complex character, and just the kind of person you want to get to understand. I totally understood the way Sydney (the young, powerful girl mentioned in the synopsis) believed in him and stayed by him. We got such little peeks into his life and thoughts, but I do feel like I understood at least some core aspects of him. He doesn’t lend himself to easy characterizations of “good,” as he can be rather violent, unforgiving, moody, and arrogant… yeah, not-so good. But “good” is most certainly not the point of this book as I’ll talk about later. Though he’s twisted, he is an undeniably compelling character.

Sydney was a great character too — she was very believable for her age and situation, and yet also very much her own person. Her unconventional relationship with Victor, and also the motley, riff-raff group Sydney, Victor, and Victor’s ex-cellmate Mitch form is one of my favorite parts of the book.

“’Sydney, look at me.’ He rested his hands on the car roof and leaned in. ‘No one is going to hurt you. Do you know why?’ She shook her head, and Victor smiled. ‘Because I’ll hurt them first.’”

And of course, Vicious brings up all sorts of moral questions related to hero/villain stories whose answers we usually take for granted. Mainly, does the good/bad dichotomy really exist? Vicious shows us that it’s a lot less real than we make it out to be. Both categories are rather fuzzy, but “good” perhaps the most. Believe me, this reads a lot better in the book than I can describe!

“The paper called Eli a hero. The word made Victor laugh. Not just because it was absurd, but because it posed a question. If Eli was really a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain? He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that.”

The slight issues I have with Vicious is the pacing and the ending. Neither of these issues mean that I didn’t love the book, but they’re still there. The WHAT IS HAPPENING moments happened before the halfway point in the book, and the rest of the book felt markedly different in terms of pacing. I was never bored, but it’s hard to keep the same kind of crazy energy going.

I was also little surprised by the ending, because, well, it was a quiet ending. Again, quiet, and probably more brilliant than I know, which is why I really want to reread again soon. But I think I expected some sort of moral epiphany being reached, and there isn’t one, which I also understood. And a bit more that I’m not sure is a spoiler but I don’t want to reveal too much about: View Spoiler »

But after the last page I just wanted MORE. I rarely do, and I love a good standalone, but I think even though it’s ending says a lot very simply, it also leaves a lot unsaid. I think it could’ve stood for at least a very short prologue, HEA or not. But this could change if I’m satisfied with it upon rereading.


Vicious quietly stole its way into my heart, and something tells me I’ll be needing a re-read soon. I can’t wait to read more by V.E. Schwab!

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Review: ‘Of Poseidon’ by Anna Banks

Review: ‘Of Poseidon’ by Anna BanksOf Poseidon by Anna Banks
Series: The Syrena Legacy #1
Genres: Fantasy, Legends, Myths, Fables, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Published by Macmillan on 2012-05-22
Format: Paperback
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Galen is the prince of the Syrena, sent to land to find a girl he's heard can communicate with fish. Emma is on vacation at the beach. When she runs into Galen—literally, ouch!—both teens sense a connection. But it will take several encounters, including a deadly one with a shark, for Galen to be convinced of Emma's gifts. Now, if he can only convince Emma that she holds the key to his kingdom...

Told from both Emma and Galen's points of view, here is a fish-out-of-water story that sparkles with intrigue, humor, and waves of romance.

This book definitely surprised me! While I was expecting your average mermaid tale, what I got was a fierce and funny story featuring the Syrena. Of Poseidon is witty and light — so it was the perfect vacation read for me!

Though I usually find it distracting to read on planes, this book drew me in within the first few pages. Between Anna Banks’ humorous writing and the great dialogue, I liked all of the characters from the get-go. 

Emma is especially brilliant, definitely ranking as one of my more preferred MC’s. The reader gets to see a lot of Emma’s internal dialogue (which is hilarious, by the way), but I was never annoyed by her. She strikes a fine balance between bewildered and taking-things-in-stride when it comes to accepting her possible Syrena heritage, managing to be appropriately confused while also keeping her calm. This really made Emma stand out to me among the crowd of YA MC’s that completely flip out when they discover they might be a little more than human. Of course, her fiery temper and desire to do exactly what people tell her not to just because it irks her also make her a little bit of a rebel and all the more likable.

Rayna, Galen’s sister, is quite belligerent and has a temper that puts Emma’s to shame. Rayna provides for some of the funniest scenes in the novel, whether she is teasing her brother or attempting to fend off the advances of her accidental fiancé, Toraf, though she doesn’t find him as completely detectable as she makes out (it’s a long story). She definitely rocks her secondary character status and adds some spice to the novel.

And then we arrive at the love interest, Galen. Ah, Galen, you are the perfect guy — but perhaps too perfect? The boy possesses rock-hard abs, violet eyes, super-speed, a considerable amount of concern for Emma’s well-being, and a pretty strong protection instinct. Sometimes he really come across as too good to be true — but to be fair, he isn’t really your average teenage human anyway. As he enrolls in high school to try to stick around town and convince Emma of her heritage, the contrast between him and other guys his age is even more startling. While he does have his humanizing moments (failing at his math homework, for instance), and his frustration with Emma is understandable and even endearing, he still seems unbelievable at times.

But when it comes to romance, oh boy does this book deliver. However unbelievable Galen make come across at times, his chemistry with Emma is obvious — as a matter a fact, it’s even legendary. Yes, the intense attraction these two is called ‘the pull’ among the Syrena, and is thought to attack one’s true mate, though it is said to be myth. Due to royal obligations their romance is forbidden, but that doesn’t stop these two from falling for each other, though they stubble to fight their feelings.

Though it pains me to do so, I feel that a connection to this book must be brought up. I saw a few too many parallels between Galen and Emma’s romance to Edward and Bella’s in Twilight.  Not in the sense that it wasn’t original per se, but that it brought up some things that nagged me just as when I read Twilight. Forbidden romance, a chemistry that is impossible to resist (practically written into their DNA), guy who is not in high school enrolling just to stalk (okay, maybe a bit harsh) the girl, guy with an extreme protection instinct… these elements to their romance had me worried that they would turn out to be another Edward and Bella in an unrealistic and possibly unhealthy romance.

But really, I had nothing to worry about. Galen and Emma ARE NOT Edward and Bella because of their drastically different personalities that change their love story into something different (and much better). In retrospect, I’m kinda embarrassed two compare the two (but really, my brain couldn’t help it! There were just so many similarities). Galen has a rather positive attitude about everything, and I’m not sure he could pull off brooding and silent even if he tried. And Emma, of course, is anything but passive and would be disgusted with herself if her life became unlivable without Galen. Emma’s spunk and refusal to comply with Galen’s orders really won me over and made their romance unique.

I also loved the twist that Banks added that made Of Poseidon different from most ‘mermaid’ books. Though not explicitly Greek mythology, the Syrena are divided into to houses, with one descending from Poseidon and the other from Triton. Tons of history is also spun into the story (Banks is obviously a history buff!). Ever wondered about the lost city of Atlantis or wished to visit the shipwreck of the Titanic? Let’s just stay that you’ll love this book.


A great romance, a kick-ass and hilarious MC, elements of history/mythology, and an ending that completely surprised me. Odds are that I’ll be checking out the sequel!