In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

Sarcastic Elliot crosses the wall to the Borderlands, but it’s not like the stories he’s heard before. IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan (5/5)

You don’t even need to read this review, you can stop right now and get your hands on IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan as soon as possible.

IN OTHER LANDS was published on August 15, 2017 and I read it August 23-24, 2017 after reading a Twitter thread posted by Seanan McGuire that fully convinced me I needed to read this book.

Tell me you wouldn’t be totally curious – and the rest of the thread further justifies my feelings. I bought the book based on the thread and tried to put off reading it until I was done with my library books, but I was too intrigued and I totally disappeared into the book. I stayed up until almost midnight on the 23rd to finish it, and actually got up when my alarm went off on the 24th so I could read for a bit before work. I would have picked reading this book over eating food. Luckily, I could do both at the same time.


From Amazon, another (modified) summary:

Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands. 
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world. 

Random things I liked:

-I laughed. A lot. Loudly, awkwardly. I disconcerted people. Elliot is so fantastically sarcastic and snarky, so you definitely laugh with him. However, being inside Elliot’s head you know what he’s not seeing or realizing as he goes through his life that sometimes, you are definitely laughing AT him. IOL also handles the way some portal fantasy ignores technology and the advancement beyond it’s borders to hilarity and explosiveness (literally) – but the native Borderlanders trying to understand Elliot is hilarious. When you get to the scene when Luke tries to describe what computers are, it’s somehow the most incorrect and most accurate description of the internet, possibly ever.

-I pretty much could not stop myself from reacting out loud in general. There was gasping and “oh no!” and some annoyed snorting because in both patriarchal and matriarchal societies, people can be extremely stupid. Xenophobia and cultural difference are the big, obvious themes of this novel right from the beginning. It provides a gentle reminder in the safer context of a fantasy world that it is okay to challenge norms and prejudices, and that it is easier than you think to stand up to them. The kids in this book aren’t just brave because they fight in battle. They are brave because they refuse to let prejudice define their relationships.

-But the relationships and interactions between the teenagers are the most real I’ve ever read, that were tense and emotional without being melodramatic. The tangled webs and impulsive decisions felt so true to high school. Sometimes you kiss someone because you like them. Sometimes you kiss someone because the person you want to kiss does not want to kiss you. Sometimes you kiss people because you know it will hurt someone else. I was simultaneously annoyed with Elliot and also completely sympathetic to some of the decisions he made.

-The world of the Borderlands is big enough to be dangerous, but not so big as to be confusing. And I like that there’s history to the creation of the Border Guard but not a million pages spent trying to explain the existence of the Borderlands. The point of this story is that there is not one Big Bad, one chosen kid who will fix the whole world to exist in peace forever; so ultimately, how the Borderlands were created is irrelevant. The story is about how then got them to NOW, and dealing with the bad things that are happening in the now. I also appreciate the message that peace is delicate, and it takes constant upkeep.

-I was genuinely surprised that someone as verbally brutal as Elliot was a pacifist, but I also think his reasons for being so are clear without him actually explaining how he came to that stance on things. We are given the pieces and can put them together.

-Nothing is perfect. This sometimes gritty world felt more real than some contemporaries I’ve read because even in the best circumstances there are failures, stupid things said, people who don’t care or don’t love, people who do worship violence and do not want peace. People lie and cheat and take things they have not earned. And it questions the most irritating of all occurrences in novels where kids are whisked away to magic school: WHY DOES NO ONE USE PENS?!!?!?! Because honestly, Harry Potter was too damn lazy to be that excited about quills, color-changing ink be damned, and Ron would have adopted that Muggle tool in a hot minute. I defy you that anyone as bookish as Hermione didn’t have a freaking pen and stationery collection. In this instance, Elliot is better than Hermione by a long shot. You heard me.

-This is definitely a book for the people who found themselves agreeing a little bit with Eustace Scrubb. Who found his “WTH?!” reaction perfectly rational. We want to believe we’d be a Lucy, but face it – more of us are Eustaces.

There are so many more things that I liked but I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll just say…Sisters, the first Break Up, Being that Person that Is Oblivious to Others Crushing on Them So Often Its Embarrassing.

Anyway, IN OTHER LANDS is absolutely a 5/5 read for me. Get this book, fall in love with it, buy it for everyone you know.

Back to back 5/5 reads for me recently, as I started reading it right after finishing The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. These were excellent books to read back to back as both deal extensively with cultural differences and basically not being a disrespectful boob.

 

Review: the Mara Dyer trilogy

An addictive story of girl meets boy, girl kills people with her brain. The Mara Dyer trilogy by Michelle Hodkin (5/5)

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, the Evolution of Mara Dyer, and the Retribution of Mara Dyer are written by Michelle Hodkin and published in 2011, 2012, and 2014 respectively. I read Unbecoming on November 27, Evolution on November 28, and Retribution on November 29-30, 2016.

I had Unbecoming and Evolution, and halfway through Evolution I bought Retribution and even paid for one-day shipping. I have literally never done that before in my life. I could not wait for the resolution to this trilogy. This post is a wee bit spoilery but only for the first book.

This post should potentially be called “We Need to Talk About Noah Shaw” but it could also be called “Mara Dyer: Badass Heroine Extraordinare” because Noah is a character begging to be quoted for all the romantic shit he says that makes your goddamn toes curl, and Mara is so badass that I’m both terrified and kind of want to join her army. I’d follow Mara into battle, no question.

I also want to note that despite the fact I have been totally sunk by Noah Shaw, my fictional boyfriend remains Richard Campbell Gansey III.


From the Amazon summary for the Unbecoming of Mara Dyer:

After Mara survives the traumatizing accident at the old asylum, it makes sense that she has issues. She lost her best friend, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s sister, and as if that weren’t enough to cope with, her family moves to a new state in order to give her a fresh start. But that fresh start is quickly filled with hallucinations—or are they premonitions?—and then corpses, and the boundary between reality and nightmare is wavering. At school, there’s Noah, a devastatingly handsome charmer who seems determined to help Mara piece together what’s real, what’s imagined—and what’s very, very dangerous.

The course of the trilogy is discovering the truth – not just about Mara, or Noah, their personal histories – but about something happening on a global, even historical level. When I finished the trilogy I scoured Michelle Hodkin’s website for her perspective on the trilogy and was so happy to see that she’s writing more (the Shaw Confessions – due sometime in 2017), and described the original trilogy as “an origin story.” That’s how this feels – what Mara experiences is the start of something, and she’s not alone. I cannot wait to read about more Carriers, and see how the world changes because of Mara and Noah.

Reasons they are awesome:

  • You don’t have to suspend your disbelief that much to buy into the science.
  • You can’t decide if you have a bigger crush on Mara or Noah.
  • But, just to put it out there: Noah. F***ing. Shaw.
  • Representation! Diversity!
  • Did I mention Noah Shaw?

The science in the Mara Dyer books is really cool, even if you have only a passing interest in genetics and mutation, and especially if you’ve ever thought about the possibility of genetic memory. It doesn’t go so far down the sci-fi road that what’s happening seems impossible. The fact that it’s so close to the realm of possibility makes it exciting. The fact that the big picture is revealed and doesn’t feel too ridiculous or like too much of a stretch makes the danger feel real, and the potential for more to be exhilarating.

Mara is amazing. I loved being in her head, her reactions and responses. I liked that sometimes Mara was a coward, and her fear stopped her. She’s snarky, dark-hundred, and doesn’t take any shit. It was kind of refreshing to be inside the mind of someone who was so angry but wasn’t shouting (looking at you, Harry) and that took that fury and channeled it into something else. Mara is the villain and the hero, it all depends on perspective. That ambiguity is what makes the trilogy especially compelling – sure we could read a narrative from the perspective of an obvious villain, but it’s far more complicated than that. We root for Mara because she’s our eyes into the story; we get so wrapped up in her experience and her justification that it’s only when we encounter another character that we have to decide, as a reader, if we think Mara was right. It’s an excellent moral dilemma. For me, I do think that Mara is the villain, but I don’t think that she’s evil.

Noah Shaw says the most sexy, cheesy, romantic things. It’s terrible. In fact, its borderline pornographic. For example:

“I’m not sure you can appreciate how much I want to lay you out before me and make you scream my name.” (Evolution)

What. even.

But then he says stuff like this:

“If I were to live a thousand years, I would belong to you for all of them. If we were to live a thousand lives, I would want to make you mine in each one.” (Evolution)

If a tiny part of you didn’t swoon at that, you might want to go to a doctor and check that your heart is still beating. And these quotes are just a tiny fraction of the searing love story between Noah and Mara.  It’s weird because the best way I can describe Noah is kind of Edward Cullen with fewer control issues and a death wish. The common thread is that both Edward and Noah blame themselves for what happens to the people they care about, and think they’ll never fall in love. The difference is that Noah doesn’t try to interfere or control every single aspect of Mara’s life, and only offers what he can to protect her with her permission. He helps her because she asks him to, and all he wants is for her to be free. He might blame himself initially if something bad happens, but a lot of the time he comes around. Noah is meant to be the hero. I still haven’t decided if that’s the actuality.

I won’t say much regarding representation, other than to say it is there in a way that’s seamless – there’s no giant sign saying “look, a POC! oh, someone LGBT!” Good representation doesn’t pat itself on the back or tokenize.

I must also add that the fanart as inspired by this series is fantastic. I’ve pinned enough already that it might get it’s own board.

Things that are bothering me:

  • Noah’s sister, Katie. She just falls off the face of the planet. She has the same parents, the risk, the same ability to pass on what they’ve discovered. And then…nothing. Obviously, with the next books being the Shaw Confessions, the chances of Katie reappearing and her role being further addressed is highly likely. The first two books cover the family stuff well, but given the plot of Retribution, some of the family/school/still being teenagers what the hell is happening things go way off the rails. It got more adult than I think most teenagers could handle, but the internal logic of the world held, so I let it go.
  • The change in Mara’s parents in the last book. They went from being super over-protective, kind of annoying, and definitely invasive to…nothing. Even with some of the other context going on when we see them in the last book, something just wasn’t right. Hodkins starts to go down that path when talking about Daniel, but then it just stops like it doesn’t matter. That was really frustrating.
  • I will admit that Retribution feels a bit rushed, like halfway through she changed her mind about how they got to the end. The last third of the book feels completely different, and more in-line with the rest of the trilogy. I think it made up for the odd feeling of the first two thirds. As long as the ending comes back, I’m still hanging in there.

Regardless, M.A.D./N.E.S.S. is so damn shippable.

Also, I noticed because of the way the annoying Spanish teacher says her name that “Mara Dyer” kind of sounds like “murderer.” Coincidence?

But “Noah Shaw” sounds like “no show” and the doesn’t seem to mean anything.

The last intriguing thing for me is that there is no guarantee of happily ever after for Mara and Noah. It’s actually pretty much guaranteed that things are going to end very badly between them, someday, in some future. That future will end the whole damn world, I just know it.

These books are like a drug. Or maybe like an ocean, and I’m desperate to drown.

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom

Listen, you’re going to like these, so no quip is needed. Read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.

I read Six of Crows on October 22-24, 2016. I read Crooked Kingdom on October 26-27, 2016.

I have so much to say.

I was never really interested in reading the Grisha trilogy (I have rethought this decision,) but something about the gritty sass that was apparent in Six of Crows drew me in. This duo has been so hyped on Instagram that my expectations were really high and I must say I was not disappointed.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom start in the city of Ketterdam on the island nation of Kerch – a place where trade is both God and good; where economics and capitalism are the work of both the wealthy merchant class and the illegally wealthy underbelly of the Barrel. The Dregs are one of the many gangs that control the gambling in the Barrel, and Kaz Brekker is their leader in everything but title. Kaz is offered the heist of a lifetime with a payoff big enough to do whatever he wants. Through various means, Kaz recruits five more members to create the titled Six: Inej (the wraith/spy/acrobat), Jesper (the sharpshooter), Wylan (the bomb maker/hostage?), Nina (the Heartrender, rogue member of the Grisha Second Army), and Matthias (rogue druskelle, large blonde man.)

Obviously, all does not go entirely according to plan. In fact, one of the most enjoyable things about these books is that pretty much nothing goes to plan but you have no idea how it’s going to go wrong, so you think maybe everything will be okay and then it’s totally not but not in the way you expected. Or Kaz is so smart that he sees how it will go wrong so many layers deep that the wrong becomes the actual plan all along.

It’s a world of racism, human trafficking, violence, and magic. It’s a world where everyone is a little bit broken in their own way but you love them anyway. A world where someone can recover from brainwashing, from intolerance and ignorance, and where people are kind of horrible but you can still find the good ones if you look.

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Perhaps the most interesting relationship is that between Inej and Kaz. And some of the things that happen make me really frustrated with Inej – and it’s a frustration that I think Bardugo chose to create.

There’s a line in Six of Crows that people love in which Kaz is sort of starting to tell Inej that he has feelings for her and Inej responds: “I will have you without armor Kaz Brekker, or not at all.” So either lay yourself open for me physically and emotionally, or it ain’t happening.

This is problematic because both Kaz and Inej are struggling with major PTSD. Kaz wears gloves and cannot stand the touch of human skin; the reader learns why and completely understands this feeling. The other thing is that Inej is someone who was sold into sex trafficking and was repeatedly hurt and raped; she’s only been free for a year. Does Inej really think that she can expect to be touched by Kaz in a romantic or sexual way without also feeling panic? Does she not sympathize with Kaz’s aversion? While she doesn’t know the reason Kaz wears gloves, she knows it’s not just an affectation – if it was that would be armor I can accept her asking him to remove.

And yes, she’s asking him to remove his emotional armor as well – and that’s something she absolutely should be asking of him. But the gloves? That’s removal that takes time and trust – time she doesn’t seem to be willing to give him. Just as Kaz touching Inej in a way that she can respond to from a place of love and attraction will take time.

In the end I think there’s a better understanding between the two of what they really need to let go of in order to be together, truly together, and not just broken people who don’t know how to love. Ultimately I appreciate the damage of those two characters because it demonstrates that you can recover from trauma – you can move on to the next thing when you find a reason to make yourself heal. So, I forgive Inej for saying something wildly insensitive.

I was blown away by this duology, and it is absolutely deserving of the hype and craze it gets on Bookstagram and everywhere else. I hope it never gets made into a movie because the cast in my head is so weird and specific and has aged out of their ability to play some of the roles they have in my head, and no one can ever be Kaz for me except Reeve Carney.

Anyway, back to why the story is amazing. It’s so complex and complete and has crazy specific details and plotting. I would definitely walk around inside Leigh Bardugo’s head if it meant I could wander around Ketterdam. I might even be willing to gamble a little, which is something I kind of despise. This world feels so real you could touch it, you can smell it, and sometimes even taste it.

The characters are your new best friends by the time you’re done. You want for them to get what they were after, and to feel safe to try and to dream. You want them to be happy, whatever that means.

My favorite running gag is when Kaz asks a question and they all reply with a different answer (always the wrong answer). My most favorite is the first time this happens and Matthias responds with “you’re all horrible.” I crowed with laughter because it was true, but also displayed how disgruntled and stubborn he is.

My first instinct is that Nina is my favorite character, followed closely by Kaz and Matthias, but then I’m like, wait – Inej, and Jesper, and Wylan. It’s like choosing a favorite finger.

If I keep talking, I’ll ramble. Six of Crows 5/5 and Crooked Kingdom 4.5/5 because, listen Leigh, you did NOT have to kill that one character and even plotlistically I cannot find good enough justification for it. READ THESE NOW.

Girl of Nightmares

What price would you pay to save the one you love? Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake.

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake was released in 2012 – I read it October 21-22, 2016.

My initial thoughts:

  • Anyone who thinks this should be more than a duology is crazy. The only justification I can see is that the third book’s cover would have Anna facing full forward. I have imagined the third image in my mind and it looks badass, but alas, this has ended exactly as it should.
  • If the first book made me scream, this one made me cry.
  • I’m kind of okay with this version of the afterlife.

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Girl of Nightmares picks up almost 6 months after Anna Dressed in Blood. Cas can’t let Anna go. He starts seeing her and the visions are awful and violent enough that he begins to believe she’s calling to him from the other side. Anna is not safe, and this time it’s Cas’s turn to do the rescuing. Girl of Nightmares takes the gang to London and then the Scottish Highlands where the true history of Cas, his powers, and the athame are revealed.

This book is a bit more gore over creep factor than Anna, but it was always justified and further created the power and the tension in the story. The tension creates intentional frustration – the reader feels what Cas is feeling about the lack of straight answers and information, or even truly understanding what the athame and the other side are. Cas is his usual reckless self, and everybody else seems a little bit more at peace with that, if a little less tolerant of it. I liked him even more in this book because I felt like his journey was more internal – there were things he had to figure out about himself, revisiting his knowledge of his identity and his place in the world, and I liked knowing that I could trust who he is at his core.

Like all good horror, we explore regular life via the supernatural – love, loss, and change. It had to end the way that it did – it was the realistic and the powerful way to end it. If it had ended differently, it would have really ruined both books for me and I would have felt that it was very unhealthy. The reality of life is that things don’t always work out and we lose people – sometimes to change and sometimes to death. The power is in letting go. There are so many specific tiny moments that would be total spoilers during the final battle that I find so powerful.

Most important line, from new and dynamic character Jestine:

“Your morality isn’t the only morality in the world. Just because it’s yours doesn’t mean it’s right.”

Also, I think Cas totally should have yelled at Carmel. And I was frustrated by that storyline in general – maybe because it was what an unsure teenage girl would do and I expected more of Carmel, or maybe because it felt pushed in to create extra conflict. However, I did enjoy that we see Cas-as-third-wheel to Thomas and Carmel. I don’t think we get the perspective of the third wheel who is also the narrator very often in a way that isn’t whining or pining after one half of the couple, and his frustration over Carmel but holding back is something I think everyone has experienced at some point. It points out in a subtle way why it’s hard when your friends date. When they hurt it hurts you too.

Blake is an excellent writer and a craftsman of story – there’s just no overloaded exposition – you discover things instead of being told them, you inhabit Cas very completely and feel what he feels, and she trusts her reader to take leaps. On that level alone Blake has earned a fan for life – a pre-order, book signing, tell-everyone-to-read-this fan.

On a personal level, this book spoke to me the way Blake’s other books have because of my own loss. One of my best friends died unexpectedly in February – it’s part of the reason I started this blog – and I have been using books (and Criminal Minds for some reason) to help me move forward. Anna and Girl did that because while I am a religious person, the view of the afterlife presented felt very grounded and unattached to any school of thought and that was comforting. Three Dark Crowns did that for me because I can just feel it would be a book that we would have obsessed over together (she would be Team Arsinoe, I have embraced being Team Katharine) and it makes me feel connected to her again.

Anyway, read. Go to your library, get tons of books, and read! But especially read Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares.

 

Come Closer or How I Choose What to Read

There’s an itch.

I don’t want to do a review of Come Closer by Sara Gran because there’s no way to talk about this book without giving away too much. The short version: Amanda might be possessed by a demon. I got this from the library and returned it in the same day (10/20) because it only took two hours to read and I didn’t feel safe having it in my house. It’s that good/scary. So yeah, it’s 5/5.

I don’t know if other people are like this, but when I find the book I want to read it’s a feeling – like a tug from my brain to the title, the cover, or the synopsis. I go from mood to mood but I try and follow where it takes me. I can’t do TBR jars like some people because I know as soon as I would pick the piece of paper it would make clear to me what I actually wanted to read. I need that feeling or I can’t finish the book. I put it away and wait for the feeling to come.

For example, this past summer I wanted a book like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves but didn’t want to do the mental gymnastics of reading House of Leaves again. (I also want to note that for a time I was so spooked by HoL that I turned it spine-in on my bookshelf. I’d get a shiver just seeing the title.) This caused me to start googling for best haunted house books.

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My book seance.

And that’s how I found the Elementals by Michael McDowell which has become one of my favorite books ever. It was everything I was looking for when I started that google search, and it satisfied the itch in my brain for a scary story about a scary house and all I can hear is “Savage mothers eat their children up!” and it’s wonderful.

Then I just wanted to read more horror – it’s a genre I explore more in film than in reading although I do love reading scary stories. So I followed recommendations based on the Elementals which got me to Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix and then A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. After A Head Full of Ghosts my need for horror was slightly abated because sweet jesus it ruins you at the end. I read a few more cheerful things after that.

But the cool thing was that Paul Tremblay included a little appendix at the end of the book with reading and viewing recommendations and sharing the works that shaped his book.

One of those books was Come Closer by Sara Gran. It was one of the things on the list I thought was interesting, made a note of it, and moved on.

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In the last week, somehow that book has come up twice on another blog about books, and then in a movie review. And I took that as the sign that I needed to read this book. The itch was light, but I knew that if I could find it I would want to read it right away. It was in the library, I had extra time during my lunch break, I checked it out immediately. I got home from work and in a trance-like burst read the whole thing, took a picture, and then took it back to the library. I had other itches to scratch.

But that’s how I choose what to read, and what to read next. I never make myself stick to a plan because the books all tie together somehow, even if it doesn’t always seem obvious. Even to me.

Anna Dressed in Blood

What happens when the one boy who can kill ghosts falls in love with one?

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is the kind of book that attaches to you. My blog name has never been more appropriate because this book, Cas and Anna, are taking up residence to haunt my bookish heart.

Shortly after finishing I went down a hashtag rabbit hole and learned they’re making a movie. For the first time in ages I was actually picturing a specific actor while reading.  Tanner Buchanan was the Cas in my head, which ended up being kind of hilarious because every time I would get really anxious I’d say “Charlie Gardner!” like Maya from Girl Meets World – which was often. I am actually really happy with the casting of Cameron Monaghan (I love a talented ginger) and Maddie Hasson (the Finder was so underrated). Either way, I hope the movie is scary as shit and that I cry a little because I’m scared. Is that too high of an expectation for the adaptation of the book that scared me so bad I screamed out loud? That I thought my growling stomach was my attic door opening and I was about to be killed by a ghost? Probably.

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Anna Dressed in Blood is about Cas Lowood, who has inherited a magically imbued athame and a talent for killing spirits. Cas goes after the dead who kill – he leaves benign spirits alone. The thing is, his dad was killed by a spirit, and so Cas picks up the legacy with the hope of one day avenging his father. Cas and his mom move around for his “work” and when they head to Thunder Bay, Ontario so Cas can take out Anna everything feels different. First, Cas makes friends. Second, Cas makes enemies. Third, Cas meets Anna and knows she is unlike any spirit he’s ever faced. Just when he thinks he can save the day…his past comes back to bite him.

It took a bit for Cas to grow on me, mostly because he appeared to be kind of a weenie to his mom. However, the more you learn about them both and understand their dynamic, the more obvious it becomes that they both do this to protect themselves. Cas has to do this, even when they’d rather he didn’t. Cas loves his mom, but it hurts him to show it because it might seem like he doesn’t love her enough to stop.

The tension-building in this book is fantastic. When the start of the third act comes, wooo. Things are happening really quickly and you only have enough information to have suspicions but not enough to understand what that suspicion means and then when the scary things comes you don’t even know what the scary thing IS you just know you’re really effing scared. Blake is masterful at only giving you as much information as you need to keep you reading, so you never have a moment of calm knowing. You are always facing the unknown.

I love that she doesn’t over-explain the mythology – I have a feeling that is one of her trademarks – she assumes her readers are smart enough to make the logical leaps about what things mean. I know enough to understand why the plot proceeds the way that it does and to know when things are not going the way they planned. Exposition is used sparingly – it’s all action.  She is also really talented at getting me to feel super righteous anger at jerkfaces. Take that, Will.

At this point, I have basically become smitten with Kendare Blake. I had checked Anna out of the library and less than 24 hours after reading it I had purchased a copy (hardcovers even!) of it and Girl of Nightmares, and put Antigoddess on hold at the library. I’m sunk, y’all.

Review – Three Dark Crowns

Three sisters must fight to the death to be queen – but is it worth it? A review of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake was released on September 20, 2016 and I finished it on October 10, 2016.

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I have not read a fantasy novel that took place in an imaginary kingdom in a long time. The last one I read, which I will not name, just disappointed me so hard that I stopped reading those kinds of books. It needed to be sideways to our own reality for me to read it – urban fantasy, stuff like that. I have my suspicions that the island of Fennbirn does exist sideways to our reality, but that’s not the point. I had stopped reading a whole sub-genre because one author broke my heart. Kendare Blake opened that door back up for me.

The queendom in Three Dark Crowns exists in a pattern – three triplets are born to the previous queen, each with a gift. On their 16th birthdays the young queens begin a fight to the death to determine who will become THE Queen. This generation’s triplets – Katharine the poisoner, Arsinoe the naturalist, and Mirabella the elemental – are at the dawn of their 16th birthdays and preparing to follow the rituals that will lead to their attempts to murder one another. Obviously, things get crazy. I don’t want to say much more – but it’s all intrigue, conspiracy, and desperation. It’s fantastic.

I loved all three triplets, although like many so far I was pretty fond of Mirabella. However, it’s Arsinoe’s story I am most excited for in the next installment. I must also make a confession – I like to read the last page or last paragraph of books when I’m about halfway through them. DO NOT DO THAT WITH THIS BOOK. Usually those last lines aren’t a huge spoiler. This time, it TOTALLY WAS. I mean, it kept me really, really excited to finish but seeing it coming did dim the revelation a little bit. By the end of the novel you don’t know which triplet to root for or who to trust in their lives.

And you don’t like most of the people in their lives by the end either – you are rooting for all three queens to survive this nonsense. It’s a talented display of the complexity of people – the way we can both care and conquer someone, that we can disregard their humanity if it suits our own purposes, and the reality of loving two people at the same time. I really hate the Arrons. I have to call them out as specifically horrible. I don’t mind Katharine, and I’m excited to see how she changes in the next book, but I feel the most pity and anger on her behalf. For all her belief that she has any sort of control, Natalia either turns a blind eye or is completely ignorant to the cruelty aimed at Katharine. That won’t make a queen, it makes a victim. It’s fitting that the poisoners would be cruel. I want to see the Arron family crash and burn, and I want to see what happens with Katharine and her love interest, Pietyr.

I really loved Mirabella’s friends Bree and Elizabeth – they were not stereotypical sidekicks, and they expanded Mirabella’s agency by encouraging her to take action and make decisions. It’s a contrast to Arsinoe’s dear Jules, Joseph, and Billy – she is so undecided that they end up deciding for her, or taking action in her place. She’s not the character you’d expect that from, and that’s what makes it a delight to read. No one is who I expect them to be – while there are so many hallmarks of a fantasy kingdom in Three Dark Crowns, Blake manages to put just enough of a twist to keep surprising.

I have so many theories about what’s going to happen next and the conspiracies surrounding the sisters. I need someone to talk about this with! I made notes in my journal so when I read the next book a year or more from now I can go back and reference if I was right.

The mythology of the world is really excellent as well – a matriarchal society that worships the goddess; very unique gifts/powers and how they apply to the island and impact the outer world. I liked that it felt that the history of Fennbirn was so deeply established – by the time you’re done you can talk about the Queens of the past, their powers, their importance. And when you start to have your suspicions about how the present situation came to be, you really start to wonder about those Queens – especially the Queen who was mother to our triplets.

I just finished Anna Dressed in Blood and I’m mad I’ve been missing out on Kendare Blake for the last half decade, apparently. Geeze friends, why didn’t you say anything?!

I can’t even rate this book because my personal tastes are too confused with my more objective assessment. It was awesome. Read it.