Book Review

If George Lucas Were Asian

Empress of a Thousand Skies (Empress of a Thousand Skies, #1)Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

 

If he’s trying to kill me, he won’t expect me to come looking for him. โ€”Rhiannon

After so many months of consuming fantasy and contemporary literature, I finally picked up a sci-fi book. I was particularly interested in Empress of a Thousand Skies because it was penned by a fellow Filipino. YA literature is generally a Western construct, so the least I can do is to feature/review books that shine a light on my dear Asia. With that in mind, I honestly think that this book is something that I can take pride in. ๐Ÿ™‚

Empress of a Thousand Skies is an exciting space opera about a girl and boy from opposing planets. Rhee is the crown princess of Kalu, while Aly is a refugee from Wraeta. On the day of Rhee’s coronation, someone attempts to assassinate her, and Kalu becomes the prime suspect. Both of them are then forced to go into hiding. Eventually, they realize that they are pawns in a game, a conspiracy that may usher the galaxy into another state of war and destruction.

Reading this book was like watching a Star Wars movie. I’ve been a fan of the latter franchise since I was a kid (thanks to Papa and Mama). Hence, I really enjoyed all the political drama set in a variety of planets. Although Rhee was a unique character, I couldn’t help but imagine her as a younger version of Princess Leah. As for Aly, who was described to be a POC, he made me think of Finn (from Episode VII). With that in mind, my reading experience was fun and nostalgic, making me a satisfied fanboy. I guess my family would enjoy this book, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

I specifically loved the first part of EOATS because it was fast-paced. I constantly wanted to learn more about the protagonists and the dangers that they were about to face. It also helped that each chapter (told by Rhee and Aly alternately) was relatively short. However, what really kept me flipping the pages was my desire to find out who wanted to get rid of both Rhee and Aly. Some readers were able to predict the identity of the villain, but I was honestly taken by surprise. Looking back, I didn’t feel jaded about any of the plot twists.

Racial discrimination was one of the important issues tackled in EOATS. It was implied that Aly was framed because of his dark skin and the supposedly belligerent behavior of his people. Although he managed to attain fame through a reality show called The Revolutionary Boys, Aly was convinced that people (i.e. Kalusians) were expecting the worst of him. Hence, he did his best to act friendly and charming in fear of being deported to his ruined planet. I loved this aspect of this book because it was a powerful depiction of how we Filipinos were seen as barbarians during the Colonial Period. I don’t need to say what nation(s) reinforced such propaganda. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are still people nowadays who think that Filipinos are the “little, brown brothers/sisters” of You-Know-Who. Although I myself haven’t experienced racial discrimination, I found Aly to be a very relatable character. His development will surely speak to any reader who knows what it’s like to be colonized.

Rhee was a great character in her own way. She was also discriminated, but it was because of her youth. Some of the side characters treated her with condescension, not knowing that Rhee had an abundance of inner beauty and strength. Of course, she wasn’t perfect; she was impulsive and quite easy to manipulate. Nevertheless, I admired her attitude toward failure. She was always determined to learn from her mistakes and use them as stepping stones to maturity and even victory.

I only encountered problems while reading the second half of the book. The pacing began to falter, bordering on uneventful territory. This was probably caused by the introduction of a third protagonist, who would then have an instalovey romance with…someone. Unfortunately, instalove will always be one of my pet peeves (at least when I don’t expect it). :3

To sum up, I highly recommend Empress of a Thousand Skies. Believe the blurb in the jacket that says this book is perfect for fans of The Lunar Chronicles and Red Rising. Kudos to Rhoda Belleza for writing a space opera that Filipinos can be proud of.

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Book Review

A Booknerd Bored and Ranting

A Poison Dark and Drowning (Kingdom on Fire, #2)A Poison Dark and Drowning by Jessica Cluess

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thank you, Penguin Random House, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

People do what they think is right, but that does not make it good.

I can’t believe that it took me almost three months to finish this book. I did not have high expectations because I gave the first book 3 stars. Still, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by…a lot of things. I’ll try not to be too salty, but just know that this book was…meh.

A Poison Dark and Drowning resumes the story of Henrietta Howel, the not-so Chosen One of Victorian England. After visiting the home of one of the founding fathers of “magicianhood,” she discovers a set of mysterious weapons that can help her defeat the Ancients once and for all. Meanwhile, Rook’s transformation into a monster is accelerating, and everyone seems to think that he’s a lost cause. Of course, Henrietta fiercely disagrees. In this lackluster sequel to A Shadow Bright and Burning, readers follow Henrietta as she struggles to save both the world and her first love.

My first problem with this book was its lack of originality. For example, I knew that the author was a fan of Harry Potter (like most people), but I was bothered that one of the places in the book felt like a replica of Diagon Alley. Considering all of the tropes utilized in the first book, I expected the sequel to be a little more refreshing.

My second problem was the predictable content. One of the plot twists in this book was so unsurprising. I could see it coming from a mile away, and instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment, I was overwhelmed by jadedness. You really don’t need to think hard if you wanna figure out the identity of Henrietta’s father.

The last straw was the chaotic romance, which resulted in a lot of corny dialogue. I couldn’t understand how Henrietta could attract nearly all of her male peers. Indeed, she was powerful and resourceful, but she also made a lot of stupid decisions that caused a lot of collateral damage. My fondness for her was diminished every time Henrietta acknowledged her own flaws and engaged in self-pity. Hence, I really didn’t care about her relationship with Rook, Blackwood, or Magnus.

I don’t want this review to be a complete rant, so let’s look at the bright side, shall we? I stopped myself from giving this book 1 star because I was a fan of the deep friendship between Henrietta and Maria. They were practically like sisters even though they came from different backgrounds. Their interactions were somehow my lifeline while reading this mostly boring novel. Also, I gave a few additional points to the diversity of characters. I really appreciate that many YA books nowadays aren’t whitewashed.

With all that said, I’m not sure if I’m still invested in this series/trilogy. I pushed myself to finish it just because the publisher sent me a galley. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in reading it, I won’t stop you. Who knows? You might end up enjoying it.

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Book Review

Choose Your Side

Renegades (Renegades, #1)Renegades by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Hero or villain, all prodigies were powerful. All prodigies were dangerous.

Renegades is actually the first book I’ve read about superheroes and villains. Novels about such characters (e.g. Batman and Wonder Woman) have been trendy nowadays, but I never bothered to add them to my TBR because the film industry has already made me so familiar with the Marvel/DC universe. With that in mind, I probably wouldn’t have requested this book from the publisher if it wasn’t penned by one of my favorite authors. Marissa Meyer never fails to make me happy, so it should go without question that I’ll read anything written by her.

In her brand new novel, Marissa Meyer deconstructs the notions we have about heroes and villains. Logic dictates that heroes are “good” and villains are “evil”. However, after reading Renegades, you’ll most likely find yourself questioning the validity of such reasoning. There are two organizations in this book: the Renagades (heroes) and the Anarchists (villains). In spite of their many differences, they have one thing in common: the desire to make the world a better place. Nova Artino, the female lead, is an Anarchist who justifiably yearns for the destruction of the Renegades. Adrian Everheart, the male lead, is a Renegade who only wants to solve the mystery of his mother’s demise. When the paths of these two teenagers converge, you’ll have a difficult time choosing your side.

While reading Renegades, I found myself partial to the Anarchists, who were supposedly or strictly malevolent. Most of the book was told from Nova’s POV, and her musings about the Renegades were surprisingly accurate and thought-provoking. For instance, her main complaint against the Renegades was that they were making ordinary people so lazy or passive. Since the Renegades were there to solve everyone’s problems (they were just a call away), people became unwilling to help others and even themselves. Nova couldn’t help but see this psychological phenomenon (diffusion of responsibility) as a disadvantage, and I totally agreed with her. In fact, one of my favorite sayings is “God helps those who help themselves.” The Renegades were inadvertently weakening the agency of ordinary people, so I sympathized with Nova’s desire to stop them. Maybe Nova’s childhood would have been happier if the people around her hadn’t been so passive.

I also sided with the Anarchists because there were Renegades who didn’t deserve to be called “heroes,” in the truest sense of the word. Some Renegades abused their privileges and saw themselves as superior to Nova and the other Anarchists. Of course, as their name implies, the Anarchists weren’t totally innocent. Still, they didn’t deserve to be treated inhumanely. Also, if I were to focus on Nova alone, I would say that she was the one who deserved to be called a Renegade. She belonged to a villainous group, but many of her actions reflected heroism.

It was no surprise that Adrian made me think twice about my loyalty. He wasn’t one of those narcissistic Renegades. As much as he wanted to attain justice, he wasn’t willing to compromise his integrity. Furthermore, even though he was the son of the founders of the Renegades, Adrian wasn’t smug or complacent. He treated his peers with warmth and respect, and he even managed to be compassionate to his enemies. The best thing I liked about him was his willingness to listen to other people’s opinions or suggestions. Despite his elevated rank as a Renegade, he didn’t believe that the Renegades and their policies were perfect. In retrospect, his only flaw was his gullibility. :3 All in all, Adrian was a perfect example of what a Renegade should be like. And let me tell you, Nova acknowledged this fact.

Putting Nova and Adrian side by side, it was utterly difficult for me to stay loyal. I deeply sympathized with Nova, but I didn’t want her to succeed at the expense of Adrian’s happiness. With that in mind, I really loved this book because it gave me moments of deep, philosophical introspection. Marissa Meyer wrote Renegades in such a way that categorizing characters into heroes and villains wasn’t as easy as pie. I had so much fun practicing my critical thinking skills.

Honestly, I couldn’t find major flaws to discuss in this review, but for objectivity’s sake, I felt a bit jaded about one of the plot twists because it was reminiscent of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising.

In conclusion, Renegades is one of the most thought-provoking books YA has to offer. Anyway, you’re probably a silly person if you expect me to give a Marissa Meyer book less than 5 stars. HAHAHA. Even though it didn’t exactly reach the bar set by The Lunar Chronicles, I can say that I genuinely loved this book. If you’ve read it, too, please don’t hesitate to fanboy/fangirl with me! ๐Ÿ˜€

P.S. Other noteworthy virtues of Renegades include:

1. Diversity (i.e. Nova is half Filipino <3)
2. An almost romance-free plot
3. A mind-blowing ending that more than compensated for the mentioned “flaw”.

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