Furyborn [Review]

Furyborn is a 2017 YA dark action/adventure novel by Claire Legrand. When two queens rise, the gate will fall. The story is told from two perspectives. There’s Rielle, a girl from Celdaria gifted with the power to control all the elements. After causing the fire that killed her mother when she was five years old, her father and a young member of the church, Tal, teach her how to hide and control it. One thousand years in the future, Eliana is living under the tyranny of the Undying Empire. She’s the Dread of Orline, a bounty hunter for the empire who tracks down its enemies. She’s skilled with a blade and a body that can heal from most damage. The story switches between their perspectives through the onset of war, rebellion, and self-discovery.

There are a ton of things I love about this book. I love how Legrand writes her characters. They were complex in ways that I haven’t encountered in a long time. Rielle and Eliana are the “heroes” of their respective narratives but they also deeply flawed and deeply human. Rielle, as she tries to earn the designation of the Sun Queen, tries to show herself as noble, pious, and in control to inspire her people as the threat of war looms over them. But she’s also impulsive and has an underlying darkness that tempts her towards vengeance and murder. Eliana describes herself as, first and foremost, a killer. She does what she has to do to survive and buries any feelings of compassion or guilt for her actions to prevent them from swallowing her. Even when faced with the consequences of her actions, she shows little remorse and even lashes out. The plot of both of these storylines hinges on the ascendency of a Sun Queen who will guide their people to light, and the Blood Queen who will bring ruin. They’re either one or the other. Perhaps both?

My main complaint with this story is that this story drags in a few places. When switching back and forth between both Rielle’s and Eliana’s perspectives, the stakes at times aren’t quite even. The trials are a good example of this. I found myself asking why these trials were important. They seemed more padding than anything. I was acutely aware that this story was the first part of a trilogy. Enough of a story to entice but not enough to satisfy. This wasn’t a major issue to my enjoyment of the overall narrative however and actually made me curious where the story would go.

Overall, I quite loved this story. I say pick up this book if you want to read a kickass story with lots of high action, high stakes, and an interesting cast of characters that experience it all.

My Rating

4 stars

City of Saints & Thieves [Review]

CityofSaintandThievesThe City of Saints and Thieves is a thrilling YA murder-mystery that takes place in bustling Sangui City. Tina and her mother, Anju, are Congolese refugees who flee to Kenya as different warring factions start terrorizing the region. Her mother takes up employment as a maid on the estate of Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most prominent business leaders. That is until she’s murdered under mysterious circumstances.

The story starts five years later.  Tina’s now a thief among Goonda ranks, a gang that operates in the city’s underbelly. She’s hell-bent on revenge against Greyhill believing him responsible for her mother’s death.  During an operation for the dirt to ruin him, Tina’s caught red-handed and learns that not all is as it appears. The story is searching for the truth behind her mother, her own origins, and the machinations of greater forces that frame it all.

I have to admit that this book is quite different from YA books I’ve read in the past. Near the end, I kept being shocked back to the realization that all the murder, human rights abuses, and other really risqué themes were being discussed in a YA novel. The central conflict and drama from the story draw from real-life horrors and international abuses. Things like violence against women, the ways greed and corporate interest work in tandem to tear nations apart, and how young men enter into the culture of violence and toxic masculinity due to the circumstances surrounding the violence they’re raised in caught me off guard. I would expect topics like these in hard-hitting documentaries, traumatic memoirs or blockbuster dramas. I’m not saying that I didn’t think YA could cover these topics. This is just the first time I’ve encountered them in this genre.

With all that being said, I think this book does an excellent job of tackling them. The author has clearly shown her knowledge and research in these areas. According to Natalie C. Anderson’s bio, she’s worked extensively with the United Nations and non-government organizations with refugee resettlement efforts. That work definitely comes through here and she has given the reader an entertaining story to boot. I swear I breezed through the last 200 pages of this thing. I couldn’t put it down because the story just became a series of stunning realizations, heart-stopping suspense, and brilliant action sequences.

The characters were…decent. They had very likable personalities and their motivations, particularly Tina’s, were very clear throughout the narrative. There were even some great character interactions between various members of the cast.

It’s just that…I didn’t quite connect with them. When I pick up a book, I really want to feel for a character and their struggle. Though this book had its moments, sometimes the fast pace-ness of the plot and the leaps in narrative got in the way of that especially as I saw cliche character moments manifesting themselves in the little details (tough as nails narrator who learns how to trust, a supportive gay friend where no other LGBTQ person can be seen, a hate/distrust relationship to love…) Each one wouldn’t both me on their own and it’s not too distracting but at moments I caught myself taking notice of them.

There’s also a strange dynamic between two major people in the cast that I wasn’t quite on board with. Slight spoiler warning, it seems like a romance was more or less shoehorned in the last few chapters that didn’t make logical sense to me. It doesn’t majorly impact the plot but I was more or less bewildered when it did come up.

Otherwise, this is a really good action-packed story. If you want to read a unique YA story with lots of intrigue, I say pick this one up!

 

 

My Rating:

 

3 half stars

Burial Rites [Review]

burial rites

Burial Rites is a haunting historical fiction exploring the last months of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person beheaded by the state in 1830. Convicted because of her involvement in murder and arson, she’s sentenced to spend the rest of her days with a family who is horrified at the prospect of sheltering a murderess under their roof. At first, only Toti, a local priest that Agnes chose to prepare her for the afterlife, would have anything to do with her but as those around warm up to her, they come to realize that not all is as it appears to be.

I’m really glad I picked up this book. It’s haunting, foreboding, and as you’re reading you can feel the weight of everything that’s happening. The setting of a dark and harsh rural Icelandic landscape was so visually expressed, I could feel the sting of the cold.

One of the themes of this book explores the nature of gossip and how it does much to influence how other’s perceive characters. How someone can be ostracized by what is simply said about them. The setting is similar to a big small town. Everyone knows everybody and one public transgression of societal norms can brand someone for life.

One of the things I loved about this book is how narratives can be twisted. Even as Agnes was giving her account, she commented how her words were taken from her. Used, abused, and turned around to reflect a reality that is ascribed to her.

I remained quiet. I am determined to close myself to the world, to tighten my heart and hold what has not yet been stolen from me.

Due to this, she finds herself cold. She doesn’t try to protest the ways people perceive her finding some solace in the quiet and manual labor.

This theme is what kept me hooked into the book. I loved how the story does the work of bringing to life this historical character. It most sharply does this by giving her a first person voice in contrast to the third person narrative. The reader is privy to the mental throes she goes through as she thinks on her past, her present, and the future that ebbs shorter with each passing day.

But I still didn’t love the book.

When I give a book a four-star rating, I try to really question what, if anything, prevents me from loving it. Oftentimes, this is hard to articulate. In this book’s case, it was the ending.

The ending is a foregone conclusion. Agnes Magnusdottir is executed. This historical record tells us this and since historical fiction draws heavily from that, it has to stick to it. This isn’t what I had a problem with. The central question of the narrative is the “how” and “why” to the murders in Illusgastidir. It hangs over most of the cast and does a lot to influence what the audience takes away from Agnes’ character. But I felt neither of these things had an impact on the course of events. It doesn’t necessarily have to but it says something that these details were thrown in as a plot dump near the very end.

This one little issue didn’t detract to the whole experience, however. More of the point of the story was to give a voice to a woman didn’t get much of one during her actual time. In this, the story is really successful and I recommend it highly on this alone.

My Rating:

 

4 half stars

Pachinko [Review]

pachinkoThe Skinny: A sweeping epic of a Korean family that starts with the Japanese colonial acquisition of Korea in 1911 in Yeongdo to around 1990s Tokyo. In the years in between, the reader is introduced to several generations that try to make the best through poverty, discrimination, and struggles with identity.

“History has failed us, but no matter.”

It says something that a book manages to hook me into the thick of its narrative by the power of its first line alone. Historical fiction has come to define my year in books thus far. Here’s another one and it’s soooo good!

This book highlighted a part of Asian history that I haven’t quite explored before. I don’t know much about Korea. I’ve been a big enthusiast of Japanese culture since middle school. It started out as an obsession with anime that bloomed to a love of the country’s history, culture, and music. I was only introduced to the country’s racial and ethnic tension fairly recently.

My last semester of college actually where I took a Japanese film class. One of the first movies we studied was a 2001 drama called Go! It told the story of a Korean/Japanese teenager growing up in Japan. It was when I first learned that most Koreans in Japan are treated as foreigners in the land where they were born. It was quite eye-opening and showed me the different ways around the world people are othered and it’s internally manifested in othered populations.

The extent of this truly didn’t hit home for me until I picked up Pachinko. It tells the story of how several generations of a Korean family struggled throughout the 20th century. From colonization to the Pacific War to the modern day. Amidst the everyday struggles of poverty, desire, subjugation, and despair, they scratched out the best living they could.

It’s a beautifully written historical epoch with a cast a wholly memorable cast of characters. It was a great book which also serves as a good primer to begin learning about the social and historical issues confronted in the narrative.

My Rating:

 

4 half stars

Kindred [Review]

KindredThe Skinny: Dana, an African-American woman in the 1970s, finds herself constantly forced back into the antebellum South. Each time she saves the son of a plantation owner’s son, Rufus, and forced to play the part of the slave until she’s transported home. But each stay proves increasingly dangerous.

Kindred was an interesting book to dive into. I’ve been meaning to dig into an Octavia Butler book for a few years now and after an eventful bookstore trip, I decided to pick up this one first. It took several months after to unearth it from my TBR pile and I wasn’t disappointed.

One of the things that I found most interesting about this book (and what it’s most often remarked on in reference to it) is how it blends genres. Of course, there’s sci-fi with its time-traveling element but there’s also historical fiction. It uses futuristic elements to explore the past which I always find an interesting premise. The story more specifically fashions itself after the traditional slave narratives where former slaves recount the horrors of their experience. At the time, they were more utilized for advocacy purposes by abolitionists to bring an end to the institution. Think Harriet Jacob’s Incidents from the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) or Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845).

Articulating how I feel about books like these are difficult. I’m not quite sure about my decision to read this so soon after Homegoing.  I was hit by the same feelings, hurt by the emotional rollercoaster, musing over the same thoughts long after finishing.

It’s another book that touches on the impact of chattel slavery and its dehumanizing effects on the human soul. How slaves are forced day by agonizing day to making the best from a terrible situation. Like Homegoing it also takes on the impact of erasure, where family lines are cut, blurred or erased completely due to the institution. I would like to say that this was a difficult read due to the brutality of the narrative but I’ve read books like this before both fictionalized and not. It was hard to read but it was a harshness that I’ve grown used to.

Despite the last statement, this book does manage to set itself apart by its characters and how they interact with each other. The relationship that develops between Dana and Rufus was one plagued with strife (to put it extremely mildly) but it was underpinned by an intrinsic trust built on the other’s preservation. Seeing how this plays out throughout the course of the narrative kept me engaged throughout. Dana coming to terms with the era, interacting with the various people within and her place within it was also something that kept me feverishly turning through the pages.

This book has a lot of heavy moments–a lot of painful moments–but I recommend it to anyone curious about the period. It’s an excellent historical narrative and a great introduction to Octavia Butler.

My Rating:

 

4 half stars

Dark Matter [Review]

dark matterYou all will find out pretty quickly that one of my favorite genres of literature (movie, podcast, what have you) are thrillers and mysteries. It was why I was so excited to dig my teeth into this book.

Dark Matter is wild. It’s more than wild, it’s improbable and yet I couldn’t stop reading.

It’s a thriller with a sci-fi twist. A sci-fi twist with a romantic subplot. A romantic subplot with an underlying universal message about the dynamics of choice and finding your own meaning on what makes life worth living.

The main crux of the story deals with the multiverse theory and it deftly handles the subject. It’s accessible enough to not get lost in the more sci-fi elements because its story is rather simple once you strip it down to its basic elements.

It’s a love story—simple and sweet. Jason Dressen just wants to get home to his wife and son. This one hope carries him through all the strangeness and horror that he’s confronted with.

I’m also fairly intrigued by the convolutedness that is this story’s multiverse theory. Touching this beast of a concept could make or break a story but with this one there was never a time where I sat back and thought “Now hold on a minute….” I did stop but it was with going through the motions of the character where we were both struck by the odds that are continually stacked against him. Based on the craziness set up, I think it ended satisfactorily.

There are loose ends but the story avoids definitive conclusions. The whole premise underlying the narrative is that we can never be sure of the choices we make—we can never be sure if they were the right ones and there’s no true way of knowing.

Regret is unavoidable but we can’t wallow in it. Life moves on but so must we. The problems begin when we continually beg the question. The story begins when someone rather close to the narrator gets selfish and wanted the “what if” and built something to cheat the system.

If it wasn’t obvious, I loved Dark Matter in all its craziness.

My Rating:

4 Stars_2