alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 59: Endless Knight by Kresley Cole

“Evie has fully come into her powers as the Tarot Empress, and Jack was there to see it all. She now knows that the teens who’ve been reincarnated as the Tarot are in the throes of an epic battle. It’s kill or be killed, and the future of mankind hangs in the balance.

With threats lurking around every corner, Evie is forced to trust her newfound alliance. Together they must fight not only other Arcana, but also Bagmen zombies, post-apocalyptic storms, and cannibals.

When Evie meets Death, things get even more complicated. Though falling for Jack, she’s drawn to the dangerous Endless Knight as well. Somehow the Empress and Death share a history, one that Evie can’t remember—but Death can’t forget.”

Despite kind of hating a lot of Poison Princess, the first book in this series, I decided to read the sequel, since PP ended with a bang and gave me enough confidence to soldier on. I’m glad I did, because this book had a lot more of the parts of the first that I liked: action, expansion of the cool Tarot concept, Evie not being a complete muppet. Oh, also, there are probably spoilers for PP in this review, so tread with caution. Despite it being a slight stretch of the imagination that Evie went from having literally no idea what she was capable of to suddenly displaying a massive show of power, it was kind of fun that we didn’t have to trudge through a literary training montage. In a fluffy book like this, sometimes it’s just more fun to accept that her magic is natural to her and she just needed to unlock it.

I was also curious to meet Death (the guy doing his best Spike impression up there on the cover) since I wasn’t a huge fan of Jackson, the first point of the love triangle. Kresley Cole, having quite a formidable background in PNR (just ask Malin and Mrs. Julien!) draws on traditional archetypes to set these guys up against each other. Jackson is definitely a rogueish Protector, while Death is a romantic Tortured Soul who initially lashes out at Evie because he’s all Damaged like that. It’s an interesting study in contrast, because while both have moments with her where they alternatively treat her like dirt then do something intended to be completely swoon-worthy, their actions come from decidedly different places. I guess it’s just up to readers to pick their favorite type of hero, because neither one is obviously a better choice in my opinion.

This series is meant to be Cole’s foray into YA, by virtue of having younger protagonists and fewer love scenes that are also slightly less explicit. More interestingly, writing for the YA set gave Cole an opportunity to really flex her high-concept plot muscles, which is something I think she’s done well at. She may even be better at this than traditional PNR, since in that area she comes across as having creative ideas that are weighed down with genre tropes like weird gender issues and gratuitous rough sex. And I’m not saying gratuitous rough sex doesn’t have a place in PNR, but I’ve gotten the sense from her that she almost enjoys building new worlds more than writing love scenes (see as evidence: her many sprawling high concept series for which she seems to never run out of ideas, but sex scenes that are mostly the same when you really get down to it. SEE WHAT I DID THERE) Anyway, read if you’re curious, a fan of Cole, the genre, etc.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 13-14: Daughter of Smoke and Bone + Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

laini taylorGoodreads summary of “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”: Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

I’m not going to summarize the plot at all for the second book, “Days of Blood and Starlight,” because that gets into spoiler territory, and this is one of those YA series where if you read the first book and like it, you’re probably going to read the whole series. So up there is the hook for “Smoke and Bone,” and I’ll just more generally opine on concepts and themes across the two for the rest of the review.

One of the first things I found myself quickly enjoying was the female friendship between Karou and Zuzana. There was an authenticity to it that struck me as somewhat unique for the genre. In my experience, a lot of the female protagonists from the ‘high-concept’ YA of late (I’m thinking about the various urban fantasy, dystopian, etc series that are ubiquitous now) are either lone-wolf types or their closest friend is a guy. And that shouldn’t be notable, except that it’s essentially a trope now that the closest-guy-friend is inevitably one of the points in the coming love triangle. Anyway, Karou is a would-be lone wolf: she literally leads a double-life, and since the hidden part of her life revolves around things of a supernatural nature, she isn’t exactly forthcoming to anyone, at first, with personal information. However, her strong-willed best friend Zuzana eventually becomes familiar with Karou’s secret life, and though Zuzana isn’t equipped to be an active participant in that world the way Karou is, she’s a great tether for Karou to the human world. These girls have a friendship based out of genuine mutual respect and fondness for each other, so their dialogue and banter seemed strikingly real and not always forced by a requirement to advance the plot.

As far as Karou herself: I like her, but I wouldn’t say she’s my new best friend. There’s no concrete reason for that, really. She’s got the qualities I like for a female protagonist in this genre: among other things, she’s capable, pragmatic, creative, thoughtful, brave, and a little sassy. It’s possible that how she develops as a character becomes a little too fantastical for me to relate to her, directly, but that’s fine. I don’t need to be drinking buddies with every heroine of every book.

Taylor’s writing is really descriptive and beautiful, so her world-building is pretty top notch. I liked that she used an unusual location like Prague as the backdrop for her story, as opposed to a more commonly selected city like London or New York. I’m definitely interested to check out other books of hers based on what I’ve read here. I think the weakest aspect of the story, for me, was actually the romance. It’s partly my bias as a reader, because I don’t always respond well to the star-crossed lovers narrative, and that’s what is happening here (with characters explicitly referencing “Romeo and Juliet” in case it wasn’t already obvious enough.) I like to read about love being built on something a little more than “He saw her across the square, and she was beautiful, and he was drawn to her in a cosmic way.” (That’s just me, not a quote from the book. Taylor did it better than that, I promise.) Even across two books, not much of a foundation for their One True Love is built, though at least in the second it’s arguable that they both influence the other’s actions for the better, so that’s something.

All together, this is another very fun YA urban fantasy series, and I’m looking forward to the next book/books. I have no idea how many books it’s going to be by the end, but it’s certainly not done at the end of Blood and Starlight. So overall this is recommended, especially if you are a high-concept YA lover like me.

Katie′s #CBR5 Review #7: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Title: Born Wicked
Author: Jessica Spotswood
Source: bought on amazon
Review Summary: A creative, engaging alternate history with great characters but not a very proactive protagonist.

Imagine there were witches and that they came to the new world, lured by the promise of religious freedom. Imagine next that, in a backlash against the witches leadership, a male dominated society was formed in which women were expected to be uneducated and subservient. This is the world in which Cate Cahill and her sisters, born witches, struggle to survive. As the time for Cate to choose marriage or  the Sisterhood, her promise to protect her sisters becomes ever harder to keep.

Read more at Doing Dewey…