Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass series) by Sarah J. Maas
I've had conflicting views on this series as a whole, which I've made very clear in my overall series review and my LSQ article "How NOT to Write Romantic Subplots," and all of those views and emotions came to a head in this book.
Mind-bending plot twists? Check.
Aelin being awesome along with Maeve being a bitch? Check.
Unnecessary use of romantic subplots that honestly make me wish several of these characters would just die already? Check and mate.
If you follow my YouTube channel, you may have caught my review for Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, where I was endlessly frustrated not just by the books, but the fact that all of my problems with those books were major spoilers. So I kind of had to dance around them in my review while making it clear that there were some major issues. Well, it's the same thing with KoA: all of my complaints are spoilers, and I pledge myself to spoiler-free reviews. Which means this review is going to be short, with no small amount of frustration on my end.
So let me just say this: Sarah J. Maas needs to learn to kill off major characters. She uses the "saved by last-minute reinforcements" trope a few too many times in this book, and it kills the tension. Not to mention it makes this book incredibly crowded. When she does kill a character, it loses its impact because there are a dozen other characters for us to root for. To be completely honest, this is a big problem in the series as a whole. The only major characters she's killed this entire series are Nehemia and Sorscha. Remember them? I sure don't! Because there are too many goddamn characters!
And that...is my only real complaint, other than the usual "too many romantic subplots, not enough murder" bickering that's usually in my reviews, and I've already slammed into Maas for it on my BitchShelf column.
As usual, Maas has excellent characterization and pacing. I think my favorite part of this book is the temporary team-up between Dorian and Maeve. Yes, you read that right. Dorian and Maeve team up for a few chapters against Erawan, and it is incredible. I love the "bad guy and good guy are forced to work together against a worst guy" trope, and seeing Dorian and Maeve trying to manipulate each other while also manipulating Erawan was the highlight of my day.
I'll stop now because I'm dangerously close to spoiler territory. Bottom line: I do recommend this book and the series as a whole. It has it flaws, but it's still a good read. Anyone who's into YA fantasy will want this on their bookshelf.
Over the Wall by Peter Wartman
Over the Wall is a short, simple graphic novel about a girl searching for her brother. The idea that “no one may enter the mysterious city” is a little misleading, in that every year, every boy who reaches adulthood has to prove their manliness by going into the “abandoned” city, which is less abandoned and more crawling with giant, memory-eating demons.
The girl’s brother is the only one who didn’t come back with the others, so she goes after him. Not only does she have to navigate the maze of ruins without getting eaten by mega-sized monsters, something about what the demons do to their victims means she doesn’t even remember her brother’s name, or what he looks like. If she had waited any longer, she would have forgotten he ever existed.
So, yeah. That’s terrifying.
The good news is it’s a really cute buddy story! The girl manages to talk a smaller, less hungry demon into acting as her guide. He’s the hilarious voice of reason to her noble stubbornness.
Over the Wall is short and sweet, while also managing to give us a world rich in strife, magic, and clashing histories and ideologies. To top it off, the culture is based on Mesoamerican art and history, which gives us something new and uniquely beautiful. The coloring is very basic: white, black, and purple for shadows, making everything stark and mysterious.
Also, the creator lives in Minneapolis. Just like me! Minnesota writer powers activate! :D
Welcome, Over the Wall, to my Favorites list!
With an excerpt from her upcoming novel Incantation
This week, the blog is being taken over by author and blogger Stephanie Barr. Last week she was kind enough to invite me onto her blog Rockets and Dragons for a post about Sovadron. So today, we’re going to be talking about the book Stephanie wrote with Mirren Hogan: Incantation. Including an excerpt from the novel itself!
Sure, you love magic and intrigue and, y'know, dragons. But there are plenty of reasons NOT to read the book I, Stephanie Barr, wrote with Mirren Hogan, Incantation:
Not to mention the fact that you can only find it in the book bundle Rite to Reign, which is a steal for 99 cents, because you also get more than twenty other great books by best-selling and award-winning authors.
And if you preorder it, you can get fifteen books and a custom spell book written by the authors.
And hey, here's an excerpt:
"I have just want you need." She ran to a large trunk in the back and began rummaging through it throwing this and that out over her shoulder. Some of the items were recognizable but plenty were a mystery. "This!" She trotted back, a carved crystal bottle between her withered hands.
"What is it?"
"Elixir of regeneration. One sip, and your magic will replenish. But only take one. If you take a second one in less than a month, you'll likely explode with the power."
David reached for it. "That will be twenty-five gold. Elixir doesn't come cheap you know."
David scrounged in his pocket and had to fish a few extra pieces from his other pocket. She handed him the bottle with a flourish, then turned her beady little eyes on Henry. "Now, for you."
He took a step back. "I don't know. I think maybe I'm fine after all." He didn't feel like exploding from using something wrong. He could endanger himself perfectly well without help.
"Come, come, the price has already been paid. You need only choose a card."
Henry sighed, but turned his face and tugged a card free. "It better not be the death card." He knew enough about tarot to know it only meant change, not literal death, but he still didn't want to see it.
"Strength," she said, her eyes brightening. "Aren't you the hidden treasure? Well, well." She gripped his hand before he could return the card. "Yes, yes, I feel it. So much strength. You only need the key. The key!" She tossed his hand aside and fetched an ornate jewelry box off the shelf, cackling to herself.
Henry wound a hand in the air near his ear, gesturing to David that he thought maybe she was at least a little bit crazy. They might be too, for listening to her.
"What kind of key?" he asked, not bothering to try to sound like he bought it.
"Well," David whispered to him, "she did know control is one of my weak spots."
"A-ha!" she exulted, swinging a silver chain over her head. "It's here," she said with great portent. "The key."
And there it was, a tiny silver key on a long thick silver chain.
"Well it's a key," Henry replied. "What does it do?" It looked like the kind which opened a child's diary, not a magical artifact of any actual use.
She ignored his reluctance and slipped the chain over his neck. "When the time is right," she said in a whisper with a blast of smoky breath, "it will let you open up the heart of your power."
"How much," said David, fishing the last of the coins from his pocket.
She waved a hand. "You've been such good customers. Call it a bonus."
Henry shrugged. “Thanks, I guess.” It probably wouldn’t do anything anyway. “We should get going.”
David nodded, but thanked the creepy old woman a little too warmly. Then, just before he left, he said, "Hey, do you know what unicorns eat? Is it the same as regular horses?"
"Of course not. Unicorns eat shit. They like cow and horse shit, but nothing makes them happier than dragon dung."
"Really?" David said before he was jerked out the front door.
"I think she was full of shit," Henry said, once they were out of earshot. "Who ever heard so much rubbish?"
So, if you want to read more, despite all the reasons not to, you can find it here.
And, if you do, don't forget your freebies:
We are still moving at a snail's pace with this series. Right now we only have the first few pages polished and done. So rather than publish little pamphlets on Amazon, I've instead decided to publish the series on my Patreon page for my patrons. Once we have enough for a whole chapter, then it'll hit Amazon Kindle.
For now, click the button below to join my army of patrons and enjoy Sovadron as it unfolds.
The Adventure Zone Graphic Novel
Is there anything better in life than free books? My roommate is a fan of the podcast, bought the graphic novel, and ended up giving it to me for...I don’t know. Friendship? Fun? A poor attempt at bribing me to do the dishes? One of the three.
I found this graphic novel hilarious for two reasons. The first is that I myself will be publishing a graphic novel series loosely based on my own family’s Dungeons & Dragons adventures (see, Sovadron), so seeing someone else take that very same premise in a completely different direction is just good fun.
The second reason this book is so funny is because it is legitimately funny. I admit, the modern tone and swearing coming from characters in a medieval-ish setting threw me off a few times. And several of the jokes and at least one scene would not make sense to someone who is unfamiliar with roleplaying games. Especially the first battle, where Magnus hesitates for five whole minutes and debates with the DM on how exactly to kill the goblin. In the real world, of course, Magnus would be dead. But for D&D players, we are all intimately familiar with pausing the game while we try to figure out the best way to commit murder.
Pacing-wise, the story starts a bit slow. The characters had to find their footing and get properly motivated to go on an actual quest. But once it picks up, it's lightning quick.
A related note on tone: while about 75% of the story is funny, every now and then it takes an unexpectedly dark turn. There are several characters who die (for good reasons as well as stupid ones), and we’re dealing with Merle’s fucked-up family, including his very straight-laced cousin. If they were aiming for something like Cable from Deadpool 2, they missed by about a mile, namely because Cable at least lets Deadpool play off of him while the funnier Adventure Zone characters don’t really manage it.
But that’s honestly my only complaint about the story: exclusive humor with occasional sharp turns into grimdark territory. The plot is cohesive and gripping: there’s a large mystery that all falls neatly into place in the end (on a cliffhanger, of course, because they want us to buy volume two in 2019). While we know very little about the three main characters’ backstory, we are still very invested in them not getting stabbed, mutilated, or set on fire. The whole thing is just an excellent homage to Dungeons and Dragons and all of its fans.
I read this book in two large settings. It’s one of those reads where once you finish the last page, the only viable response is “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHH!”
Anyway, it was great. There is a love triangle (groan), but it’s handled very well and is actually relevant and useful to the plot. Mare is the “standard” YA protagonist, in that she’s a poor girl from an oppressed class thrown into the deep end of the privileged class and has to balance her compassion with her desire to bring justice and the ultimate bloodbath that it will cause. It's thinly-veiled racism in a fantasy world and good social commentary on our real world.
While there is racism (bloodism?), there is surprisingly no sexism. Not even in the subtext. The main character (Mare) is a girl, as is the leader of the Scarlet Guard. The men--Reds and Silvers--treat the women as their equals. And the fighters are all co-ed! There's a scene where Mare is learning to use her gift with the Silvers in the training room, and ends up fighting Cal's fiancee, who's basically Magneto with an unhealthy obsession with knives.
You could argue that Aveyard, who's obviously trying to do a social commentary on oppression with her book, fails to talk about intersectionality, the overlap of social identities and all the privileges and oppressions associated therein. And to a certain extent, she does. At least in Red Queen, racism and classism are interchangeable (when in truth, they are not) and the LGBTQ+ community isn't present at all.
But in terms of women being able to fight, rule, and be otherwise kickass without being questioned at every turn, it's a nice breath of fresh air.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the grayness--the moral ambiguity--of the characters. The love triangle Mare finds herself in is, of course, between the two prince brothers: Cal and Maven. Maven is like Mare, believing that there needs to be change now, that radical action is needed to bring equality between Reds and Silvers. On the other hand, Cal ultimately agrees that while the injustice done to Reds cannot stand, he takes a more moderate approach. He points out that the other countries would likely punish them for bringing equality and that moving too fast will bring far more violence and chaos than they’re prepared to handle.
And then there are characters like Maven's mom, the queen, who's just an all-out bitch.
The pace is breakneck speed. I mentioned earlier that I read this in two settings, and that's just because I couldn't put it down. It's not like the slow burn of Lord of the Rings where you can casually pick it up, read a few pages, put it back down to return to cooking dinner, and then pick it up again while you're baking cookies. No, Red Queen is the kind of story where you don't want anything else going on around you. If you pick this up while you're cooking or baking, your food is going to burn and probably take a large chunk of the kitchen with it.
The book is first person POV, told entirely through Mare's eyes. Which means we learn everything about the world of the Silvers right along with her. As such, most of the book is dedicated to exposition. It’s kind of like Harry Potter: book one is an introduction, the end of which includes the gauntlet being thrown and the Big Bad Guy being revealed. The biggest difference between Red Queen and Harry Potter is that while Rowling kind of eased us into the character deaths and injustices, Aveyard cracks out the angst right away, while still leaving us with a hopeful ending.
The next books are Glass Sword, Cruel Crown, King’s Cage, and finally War Storm. So, if you’ll excuse me, I now have to raid a bookstore.
Want more? Become a patron!
Christina "DZA" Marie's Favorite Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I don’t even get dressed up in a costume and bang on people’s doors anymore. No, I love this because I love horror. And candy. But mostly horror. And this time of year, you turn on the television at nine in the morning and at least five different channels have horror movies playing.
We’ve all heard of (and have hopefully seen) the classics: Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, et cetera. And these are great. Nobody is denying the awesomeness that is the classic horror movies of the 1980s. But they tend to eclipse the modern horror movies of the 21st Century.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. The 21st Century sucks in terms of new, creative movies. Everything is either a remake or a sequel, or it’s all fake blood and pretty blondes with no actual substance.
Well sir (or ma’am), this list is for you. Because I decided to expel sequels and remakes from this list--which is a shame, because 2017’s It was incredible. These five movies were all made within the last decade, and all of them are new, creative, and downright terrifying.
Get Out is one of those insidious movies that gets under the skin and stays there long after you leave the theater. This is in part because the big theme is about race, and how seemingly nice white people still play in active role in oppressing black people. However, there are some real terror elements here. There’s hypnosis, brainwashing, liars and schemers.
One of the freakiest moments is during a party, where Chris (the guest of honor and the main character) leaves the room. Everyone is chatting and otherwise acting normal, until he goes upstairs. Then everyone stops talking and looks up, listening to him and following his moments. I literally shivered just remembering and writing this down.
The Cabin in the Woods
You know those comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland that make fun of horror movies? Cabin in the Woods does the same thing, and still scares the shit out of you. It’s the same guy who wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so there is strong comedic elements--especially with the “villains.” (I’m using quotations here because, in the end, you have to ask yourself if they are truly the bad guys.) But it’s still terrifying. The idea of every one of your movements being watched and manipulated by people who want you dead. The risen zombies who worship pain and therefore go out of their way to make every moment as agonizing as possible. The fact that any decision or possible outcome that happens is a shitty one because it’s just that big of a clusterfuck. This one will probably remain a favorite of mine for a long time.
A Quiet Place
Some people are skeptical when they find out a horror movie is rated PG-13. Not me. The Ring (another favorite of mine) is PG-13, relying on dread and suspense instead of blood and guts. A Quiet Place uses similar strategies, and it does it beautifully.
It’s a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has to make as little noise as possible to avoid being killed by these horrifyingly fast (alien?) monsters who operate on sound. So 95% of the dialogue in the movie is American Sign Language, which the characters probably already knew because the main protagonist (and the actress who plays her) is deaf. The movie deals with guilt, family, and how to survive a world overrun by terrifying monsters. A good time all around!
I literally couldn’t even watch this one. I kept ducking behind my hand and looking away from the screen as the characters entered dark rooms and got hunted by the ghost-lady. The main character’s mother spent her childhood in a mental health institution, where she met another, much more disturbed girl around her age who also had a rare skin disease that made her ultra-sensitive to light. An experiment gone wrong ended with that girl being dead, but not gone, as she continued to haunt and emotionally abuse her “friend” throughout her life.
There are some concerns about this movie being less-than-friendly to those with mental health problems, particularly depression, which is one of the conditions the mother suffers from. It’s not nearly as bad as, say, Halloween or The Roommate. But it’s enough to warrant a heads-up.
This is a movie that took a mildly ridiculous premise--a haunted mirror--and executed it to perfection. It also has a dual timeline: we see the main characters as children encountering the mirror for the first time as it drives their parents insane, while simultaneously watching those characters as adults try to destroy the mirror.
I love this movie because it’s smart. There are zero stupid horror movie mistakes, and the only (ultimately fatal) mistake made by the characters is that of pride, which is a legit character flaw. The kids did what any child could do in that crappy situation, and then proceeded to spend ten years researching the shit out of the mirror and coming up with a plan of how to destroy it. The acting is great, the writing is better, and the results are horrifying.
But wait, there’s more! If you want a list of all of my favorite horror movies, head over to my Favorite Movies page. I update it every time I hit the theaters.
Have a happy Halloween! :)
Chapter One of Sovadron will be released on November 16th, 2018!
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.
The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. But something evil dwells in the castle of glass--and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival, and a desperate quest to root out the evil before it destroys her world.
With the seventh and final book of the Throne of Glass series (Kingdom of Ash) coming out this month, I thought I’d take the opportunity to review books one through six, plus the prequel anthology The Assassin’s Blade.
I hesitated to get started on Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series, simply because the descriptive blurb of the first book makes it obvious that there’s a love triangle involved (it says something along the lines of Two men love her, the whole world fears her, and only she can save them all). That triangle gets resolved very quickly and maturely, thank God. And while I do have several complaints about Maas’s overuse of romantic subplots that I talked about in my Luna Station Quarterly article last month, overall this is an excellent series.
When talking about this series to friends, I tend to describe it as “the YA version of Game of Thrones, without the incest.” There’s a mile-long list of characters in a carefully crafted epic fantasy world facing an apocalyptic threat few people are ready to believe is real. The main character at the center of it all--Celaena--is an intriguing protagonist. She’s in many ways a reluctant hero. Despite her natural tendency to help and protect the innocent, she’s spent the last decade of her life as an assassin and has been running from her larger destiny. She’s arrogant, spoiled, a bookworm, self-hating, terrified, and charismatic.
She’s probably my second-favorite character, right behind Manon. We don’t meet that lovely badass or her coven--The Thirteen--until book three. Technically, they’re bad guys, being allied with the evil king. Manon is part of a clan called the Ironteeth witches, and those women are vicious. And they ride wyverns. Because why not? Manon and Celaena’s meeting is as explosive as you’d expect for two powerful women who balance hidden hearts with bloodthirsty tendencies and are on opposite sides of a war.
Maas has the character development down pat, but her true strength lies in total mind-fucks. Starting in book two and picking up in intensity, Maas regularly gives jaw-dropping plot-twists at least once a book, and they get crazy starting in book four. Sometimes it’s something Celaena does, as she becomes a master of setting up elaborate plans without telling anyone until the last minute. Sometimes it’s a big reveal as to a major character’s backstory. Sometimes it’s the real answer to the mystery that supposedly got solved four chapters ago. I can no longer read these books in public because I start swearing out loud when one of these twists comes out.
If you like fantasy mysteries with diverse characters and way too many romantic subplots, then this is the series for you. Fair warning: you should probably buy all the books at once, and you’re going to want to read them in this order:
Books 1-3 (Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire)
The prequel anthology The Assassin’s Blade
Books 4-6 (Queen of Shadows, Empire of Storms, and Tower of Dawn)
Today is about re-writing and research.
For those of you who are new to this series, check out parts one and two below.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!