Review: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

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Title: Sky in the Deep
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Source: Hardcover
Release Date: April 24th, 2018
Rating: ★★

Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield — her brother, fighting with the enemy — the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

img_1926I’ve seen this book described as being action-packed, with three-dimensional characters and a strong protagonist. I feel like I must have read a completely different book.

The beginning sucked me right in with the opening fight scene, but this book didn’t hold my interest much after that. A large portion of it is spent on pastoral activities like peeling garlic and cleaning armor. I didn’t think it was action-packed at all, but rather just some action scenes mixed in with the day-to-day life of Eelyn as the enemy’s prisoner.

The romance is so incredibly bland. Fiske is uninteresting as a character, and him and Eelyn had absolutely no chemistry. One minute he’s shooting her with an arrow, while the next minute she’s blushing and trying to ignore whatever “connection” they have. The enemies-to-lovers thing didn’t make any sense. I also thought that Eelyn’s acceptance of the Riki happened far too quickly. She is captured by the enemy clan that has fought and killed members of her own clan for years, becoming their slave to be bought and sold. She is given a metal collar and is brutally mistreated by the Riki, but somehow grows to love the family that owns her. For a character who is supposedly a vicious warrior, her subservience doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In general, the characters are bland and lacking any depth or complexity. Familial conflicts were mentioned but then never properly resolved. The writing style is awkward and clunky, which kept pulling me out of the story. There’s a lot of telling-not-showing and a lot of passive voice used: two of my writing pet-peeves.
img_1927Overall, I thought Sky in the Deep was shallow and unimaginative. This book would have been great had there been a little more world-building, better character development, and maybe a few more rounds of edits. After all, a Viking-inspired world with a warrior main character would usually be right up my alley. The execution just wasn’t up to par with my expectations.

I always feel bad giving one or two star reviews to books that other reviewers raved about. My opinion should be taken with a grain of salt, as I’m clearly in the minority.

Review: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

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Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Genre: Contemporary/Magical Realism/Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Hardcover
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
Rating: ★★★★
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Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.
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This book was beautiful, heart-wrenching, devastating, and hopeful.

Leigh is half-Asian, with very little connection to her Asian heritage aside from a very small knowledge of Mandarin. When her mom commits suicide and her spirit turns into a bird, Leigh follows clues left by her mom’s spirit to Taiwan, where she meets her grandparents for the first time. What follows is a series of flashbacks as Leigh comes to learn why her mom left Taiwan in the first place and how she had been hurting for a very long time. The topics of mental health and suicide are not glorified or sugar-coated. Instead, we are shown how these issues can affect a family, but how that family can learn to let go and continue on.

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I loved the setting. It was a beautiful glimpse into Taiwanese/Chinese culture, from the food to the customs to the language. Since Leigh is half-Asian, we are shown how she is perceived in America (fetishized and stereotyped) and then how she is perceived in Taiwan (being pointed out by strangers for being “mixed). We also see how there is a stigma surrounding mental illness.

The flashbacks were my favorite parts to read. I loved getting to see Leigh’s family history, from the time her grandmother was born to the time her mother met her father. We also saw the development of Leigh and Axel’s friendship, and how it evolved over time to become something more.
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There are some heavy topics in The Astonishing Color of After, but it ends on a hopeful note. I thought that everything was handled beautifully, and the magical realism never felt over-the-top. Some of the reveals at the end were completely unexpected.

Don’t go into this expecting a light read, but if you are in the mood for something a little sad, a little hopeful, and a little magical, I would recommend The Astonishing Color of After.

Review: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

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Title: The Wicked Deep
Author: Shea Ernshaw
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Source: Hardcover
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
Rating: ★★★
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Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.
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“From the black waters of the harbor, their song sinks into dreams, permeates the brittle grass that grows along steep cliffs and rotting homes. It settles into the stones that hold up the lighthouse; it floats and swirls in the air until it’s all you can taste and breathe.”

The Wicked Deep is a dark, magical, atmospheric read. I enjoyed it, but there were a few things that bugged me.

This book is about a small coastal town in Oregon called Sparrow. This town is cursed by three witchy sisters who were drowned by the town’s residents two hundred years ago. Every year, the Swan sisters return to inhabit the bodies of girls and lure boys out to the ocean where they drown to death.

“It’s as predictable as the tide and the moon. It ebbs and flows. Death comes and it goes.”

I guessed the twists pretty early on, but the writing was compelling enough to keep me interested until the end. I really liked that each chapter was separated by short chapters (usually only a page or two long) of flashbacks from when the Swan sisters were still alive. These mini-chapters added to the dark, mysterious atmosphere of the book.

One thing that really bothered me was the fact that there were basically no adults in this book. Throughout the whole thing I just kept thinking, where tf are your parents? All the teenagers aside from Bo and Penny were insufferable and shallow. Despite the death that occurs every year, none of the townsfolk seemed to have any real sense of danger. In fact, they throw parties and celebrate the “Swan season” like its all just a big spectacle, or just a quirky facet of their town. With a population of 2000 people and multiple boys dying every summer, you would think that people would be a little more devastated. After all, in a town that small, everyone knows everyone. Instead, they throw parties, get drunk, and dare each other to go into the water for fun, even though most people believe in the sisters and are aware of the danger.

“For in a place like Sparrow, rumors spread quickly, like small pox or cholera, confusing the mind, rooting itself into the fabric of a town until there’s no telling truth from speculation.”

I never became invested in the insta-love romance, which was a pretty big part of this book, but it didn’t really bother me. I actually like the way the romantic aspects were handled (SPOILER SPOILER highlight at your own risk: Although Bo and Penny have sex, which is all fine and good except for the fact that Penny is actually Hazel? So she’s having sex with someone else’s body? A little icky and a lot wrong.) So yeah.

There were some things that weren’t really answered, but maybe its better off that way. There were also some weird punctuation mishaps, which most people probably won’t care about or even notice, but its something I’m a huge stickler for.
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With all that being said, The Wicked Deep was an enjoyable read. The writing was good and the concept was unique. I would recommend this to anyone in the mood for a mysterious, romantic, atmospheric book about witches and revenge.

Rating: 3.5/5

Review: To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

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Title: To Kill a Kingdom
Author: Alexandra Christo
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Source: Hardcover
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
Rating: ★★★★★
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Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?
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This book is The Little Mermaid, if The Little Mermaid was darker, grittier, nastier, and spent more time aboard a pirate ship than on land. In short, it’s actually nothing like The Little Mermaid. The basic premise is the same, but Alexandra Christo has taken a fluffy fairy tale and made it so much more. As much as I love the original story, I love this twisted version even more.

I adore Lira and Elian. The characters are all so well-developed, even the secondary characters. The witty banter between everyone is just so fun, and I couldn’t help but find all their little quirks endearing, from the arrogant Kye to the strong-minded Madrid to the quiet but fierce Torik. To Kill a Kingdom is split between the perspectives of Elian and Lira, and they both have their own distinct voices and unique personalities. They’re both arrogant, sharp-tongued, and ruthless, but underneath it all, they are caring and good-hearted. Lira especially goes through a huge transformation, from a murderous and cold-hearted siren princess to someone who cares and empathizes with humans.

“His face is roguish when I sneer up at him, nothing like the sweet and gentle princes I’ve taken before. The ones whose hearts are buried beneath my bed.”

The word-building in this book is very well done. You have the cruel and nasty world under the sea where kindness is seen as weakness and savagery is strength. Sirens steal the hearts of their victims and keep them as trophies, while mermaids and mermen are more fish than human and are just as cruel. Above ground, we see many different kingdoms and languages. There’s political intrigue, as everyone seems to scheme for their own benefit and use each other as means to an end.
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I loved To Kill a Kingdom. It’s dark, twisted, and witty. There was romance, but it was secondary to the main story, and seeing the build-up and the character development was way more fun, anyway. As much as I would love to see more from these characters, I appreciate the fact that it’s a standalone because I thought the story wrapped up perfectly. I can’t wait to read more from this author!

“We continue on that way, swords arcing through the air, our breath ragged. Soon there’s sun in the distance, or perhaps even moonlight. Everything is muted and as Lira swoops her blade down on mine once more, I let it all fall away. My mission, my kingdom. The world. They exist somewhere other than in this moment, and now there is only this. Me, my ship, and a girl with oceans in her eyes.”

Rating: 5/5

Review: Everless by Sara Holland

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Title: Everless
Author: Sara Holland
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Publisher: HarperTeen
Source: eBook (Kindle)
Release Date: January 2nd, 2018
Rating: ★★★
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In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

(Cover and synopsis taken from Goodreads)
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I really wanted to love this book, really. The premise sounded so interesting! Everless takes place in a world where time is currency and people bleed years of their lives to pay for basic necessities, like food and rent. Unfortunately, it just didn’t do it for me. I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it… not the characters, the plot, and especially the cardboard romance. Seriously, I was about as invested in the romance as I was in the pizza box that I threw in the trash bin this morning.

That isn’t to say that this book is poorly written, or even that it isn’t good. This rating is entirely subjective, and I know that there are a lot of people out there who loved this book. Personally, I found the plot to be formulaic and the romance to be very predictable and unnecessary. You really mean for me to believe that Jules held onto a childhood crush for a decade? That’s not a thing. I’m sorry. I also feel like there are a lot of conflicts that could have been easily solved (spoiler: when Jules’ dad came to warn her and she was concerned about how much time he had left, why couldn’t she have just given him some of those time coins that she carried around with her literally everywhere and had absolutely no use for??)

Some positives to note: The writing was good, the world-building was well done, and there were some moments that had me genuinely intrigued. Still, I found myself speed-reading toward the end just to get through the book since it wasn’t holding my interest.
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Take this review with a grain of salt, because I know that there were a lot of reviewers whose opinions I admire that adored this book. This is a book with a very interesting premise and characters that some may find endearing, but it adds nothing new to the fantasy genre.

Rating: 2.5/5

 

 

Review: Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones (ARC)

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Title: Shadowsong
Author: S. Jae-Jones
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Source: NetGalley
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Rating: ★★★

*ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

“Once there was a little girl, who played her music for a little boy in the wood. She was an innkeeper’s daughter and he was the Lord of Mischief, but neither were wholly what they seemed, for nothing is as simple as a fairy tale.”img_1923Six 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?

(Cover and synopsis taken from Goodreads)img_1922There’s a certain kind of person that would love Shadowsong. This kind of person would love beautiful prose, thoughtful and emotional introspection, and star-crossed lovers. This kind of person would adore musical analogies and find resonance with characters that struggled with mental health issues.

Unfortunately, I’m not that kind of person.

Wintersong and Shadowsong were not the right books for me for multiple reasons. I can see why some people love these books, and I’m really disappointed that I wasn’t able to enjoy them the same way that others did. I had a lot of issues with Wintersong, which I started off loving, but then almost didn’t even finish. The first half had the same dark, mysterious, and mind-bending feel of the Labyrinth, which Wintersong was roughly based off of. In the first 50%, I really thought that it would be a four or even five star read for me. Unfortunately, the second half was like an entirely different book. It turned into an angsty, confusing, contradictory romance in which the two leads barely even seemed to like each other, let alone love each other. Then it just kind of… ended.

I wanted to read Shadowsong anyway, hoping that it would have more of the qualities that I loved from the first book. It was actually quite different, and this worked well for me in some ways and not so well for me in other ways.

There was very little action and a great deal of introspection and emotion. The main character was less irritating to me than she was in the first book, as the majority of her thoughts didn’t revolve around her ugliness and desire for sex, like they did in Wintersong. There was also much less focus on the relationship between Liesl and the Goblin King, and more focus on the relationship between Liesl and her brother.img_1921This book wasn’t for me, but S. Jae-Jones is an incredible writer, and I look forward to reading more of her books in the future.

(Side note: I hear she’s coming out with an East Asian-inspired fantasy series based on Sailor Moon, so um, count me in)

Rating: 3/5

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

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Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Source: Kindle
Release Date: January 13th, 2015
Rating: ★★★★img_1925
Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

(Cover and synopsis taken from Goodreads)img_1926After reading and loving The Cruel Prince, I wanted to try out another Holly Black book. This one certainly didn’t disappoint. I can’t wait to read more books from her!

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In the town of Fairfold, there is a horned fey prince in the woods, asleep within a glass casket. For years, people have been visiting him, partying around him, and speaking to him. Then, one day, he wakes up. As faerie mischief becomes more egregious, siblings Hazel and Ben must team up with the mysterious horned boy to save their town.

The Darkest Part of the Forest takes place in the same world as The Cruel Prince, as well as some of her other books. Our own mortal world is mixed in with the magical realm of Faerie, which exists on a different plane. This makes for a unique combination of normal and magical.

This story is atmospheric, haunting, and dark. The fantasy is blended in well enough with the realistic aspects that the inclusion of magic isn’t at all jarring. The characters are all endearing in their own way. You have the strong and brave Hazel, her adorable and slightly insecure brother Ben, their changeling friend Jack, and the mysterious fey prince Severin.

The romantic inclusion in the story is cute, but a little rushed. I loved the connections with the two pairings, and wished that a little more time was spent building the relationships. I wouldn’t call it insta-love, but just a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes that I would have liked to read about.

I also felt like the action scenes were a little lacking in depth. There was a huge focus on backstory, to the point where I felt like it almost bogged the story down, and the climax and resolution all felt crammed into the ending. The characters would do something great, but then the story seemed to instantly move on without giving the reader time to absorb what happened.

Also, I just want to say, I hate Ben and Hazel’s parents. It was established that they were very neglectful of both of their children from the time they were very young, and even though Hazel claims her parents “grew up”, I don’t think that level of neglect is redeemable. Seriously, they let Ben and Hazel stay out all night in the cold as young children and eat out of dog bowls. Not okay.img_1927All in all, I really enjoyed this story. I can’t wait to read more great books from Holly Black!

Rating: 4/5

Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Source: Kindle
Release Date: January 2nd, 2018
Rating: ★★★★★
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Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

(Cover and synopsis taken from Goodreads)img_1926“What could I become if I stopped worrying about death, about pain, about anything? If I stopped trying to belong? Instead of being afraid, I could become something to fear.”  

I’m ashamed to admit that this is my first Holly Black book. Why didn’t anyone tell me how much I’ve been missing out? The way she writes is absolutely phenomenal. This book demanded to be read, and I couldn’t put it down!

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The story primarily takes place in Faerie, but the magical world exists within our own familiar one. Jude, her twin sister, and her part-faerie half-sister, are brought to Faerie as young children after their parents are brutally murdered in front of them. As a human living in a fey world, she is bullied and belittled, despite the high-standing of the father figure who brought them there. The majority of the bullying comes from Cardan, a nasty and self-important fey prince, along with his group of close friends. While Jude’s twin sister is timid, Jude tackles the bullying head-on.

“If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.”

Soon, she becomes entwined in the politics of Faerie, and what ensues is political intrigue, scheming, and lots and lots of Red Wedding-esque murder.

I love Cardan. He wasn’t redeemed in this book, by any means, but there is some backstory given that makes you feel sorry for him. Also, I’m a huge sucker for the hate-to-love-you trope. His obsession with Jude makes the story so much more interesting.

“Most of all, I hate you because I think of you. Often. It’s disgusting, and I can’t stop.”  

And omggggg the feels. This book is dark, vicious, and delicious, and I’m about 99.9% sure that it was written for me. Jude, is everything you want from a main character. She’s smart and strong, but also entirely believable and relatable. She’s fierce, and her strength and determination only grow stronger with every horrible thing that’s done to her.

“I am going to keep on defying you. I am going to shame you with my defiance. You remind me that I am a mere mortal and you are a prince of Faerie. Well, let me remind you that means you have much to lose and I have nothing. You may win in the end, you may ensorcell me and hurt me and humiliate me, but I will make sure you lose everything I can take from you on the way down. I promise you this is the least of what I can do.”  

This world that Holly Black has created is magical, beautiful, and savage. No one is particularly good, but they all have unique voices, personalities, and motivations. It’s almost like a faerie version of Game of Thrones.

I could probably spend all day quoting this book, so let me leave you with this gem:

“Nice things don’t happen in storybooks. Or when they do happen, something bad happens next. Because otherwise the story would be boring, and no one would read it.”  

Rating: 5/5