Book Review

After 552 Mornings

Morning Star (Red Rising, #3)Morning Star by Pierce Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first stepped through the gates of the Institute, I wore the weight of the world on my shoulders. It crushed me. Broke me, but my friends have pieced me together.

After almost two years, I finally finished Morning Star. Don’t get me wrong. This book is not dragging or boring. The reason for my procrastination is beautiful in its simplicity (or stupidity): the hardcover edition is so heavy. I often stopped reading just because my left wrist was painful. Hence, I put the book on hold, picked it up after a few months, and then put it on hold for a year. Now, the fifth book in the series is coming out soon. Hahaha. To be fair, back when Red Rising was only a trilogy, I was so afraid to finish Morning Star because I did not want to say good-bye to the world and characters that I had grown to love. After I received an ARC of Iron Gold last December, I motivated myself and reread the first 200 pages of Morning Star. But the wrist problem kept on happening, and I found myself gravitating to other lighter books. It was only last week that I overcame my laziness and got the Audible version. Then, my problem was solved. xD

In a nutshell, Morning Star blew my mind like its predecessor, Golden Son. Pierce Brown is probably the most talented male author I know, and I’ll never get tired of bragging about his gift of crafting epic, evocative, and unforgettable plot twists. I’m telling you, one of the plot twists in this book almost made me cry. And to think that I wasn’t even that fond of this certain character! The last chapter that revealed Mustang’s secret was another tearjerker. Give me a high five if you also didn’t see it coming. Hahaha. With the exception of the dissolution of the corrupt Society, this book is practically unpredictable.

Pierce Brown is also great at creating platonic or romantic relationships. Protagonists at one point can turn out to be antagonists, and vice versa. Darrow was merciful to a fault, but if I were in his shoes, I would probably make the same decisions regarding Cassius, the Jackal, and the other fishy characters. Speaking of Cassius, he was the most intriguing character in Morning Star. I used to dislike him a lot, but now…hahaha. I hope that he will still be a major presence in the following books. Fingers crossed he stays…honorable.

Morning Star was supposed to be a concluding novel, and I loved that the ending was realistic; it wasn’t your typical happily ever after. I was sad that some characters had to die, but I knew that that was the truth about war: it will always have casualties. The same could be said about the demolished Society. I was glad that Pierce Brown emphasized that even though the Sovereign was defeated, there were still more problems to address.

To sum up my thoughts, reading Morning Star was a slow yet worthwhile experience. I loved the unique characters and the unpredictable events that molded them. I wish that I finished this book sooner, but there’s no point crying over spilled milk. May the odds be in my favor when I pick up Iron Gold.

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Book Review

If Mare Barrow Were More Likable

Ash PrincessAsh Princess by Laura Sebastian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Penguin Random House, for giving me a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My mother was known as the Fire Queen, regal and strong. But I am the Ash Princess, a living joke.

From the get-go, I want you to know that this book isn’t very original. It’s a combination of the tropes that we encounter in YA fantasy, such as evil monarchs, warring kingdoms, and love triangles. Interestingly, the cover is also similar to that of Glass Sword. Come to think of it, Ash Princess is reminiscent of Red Queen. With all that said, you’re probably confused why I gave this book a high rating.

Basically, I enjoyed Ash Princess because it utilized some tropes in a way that did not make me feel jaded. For example, I usually hate love triangles because I cannot fathom how they can happen in real life. So I was pleasantly surprised that the romance in this book was plausible and entertaining. The tension between Theo, Soren, and Blaise made the plot seem fast-paced because I couldn’t wait to know whom Thora ended up with. I won’t tell you who’s my bias; just know that my ship didn’t exactly sail.

Another thing I liked was Thora’s character development. Because of the decade of suffering that she had to endure, Thora was already strong at the beginning of the novel. In fact, her only weakness was that she was resigned to her fate as the Ash Princess. However, as the story progressed, she gradually became determined to save herself and her oppressed people. In light of all the expectations on her shoulders, it was hard to believe that Thora was only 16 years old.

The last virtue of this book was its unfiltered exploration of colonialism. In a way, Kalovaxia reminded me of the global powers that conquered and pillaged the resources of Asia. As someone whose country was “improved” by “benevolent” nations, I found myself invested in the story. I really appreciated how this novel depicted the funny thing about colonialism: more often than not, the colonizers are the actual “barbarians.” It’s interesting how fantasy novels like this can teach you something about real history.

As I implied earlier, my sole complaint was the lack of originality. I probably shouldn’t have picked up this book while reading Glass Sword because it made me notice the similarities between their protagonists. Thora, like Mare, was having an identity crisis. And Soren, like Cal, was a prince turning against his own kingdom. To be fair, Thora was a more likable heroine than Mare. (I’m sorry for that unintentional rhyme. Hahaha.)

To conclude, I gave Ash Princess 4 stars because of its entertaining and educational content. I wasn’t pleased that it was similar to the Red Queen series, but thankfully, jadedness did not entirely hamper my enjoyment of the book. I’m confident that the sequel, Lady Smoke, will be much better.

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Book Review

Who Cares about Game of Thrones?

Falling Kingdoms (Falling Kingdoms, #1)Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Magic will find those with pure hearts, even when all seems lost.

Fantasy has always been one of my favorite genres, especially when it features a cast of problematic, vengeful, and power-hungry royals. Thus, when Sasha Alsberg (my crush) recommended this phenomenal book on her channel, I did not hesitate to get my hands on it.

The story monopolized my attention from start to finish. I’ve been a devoted fan of Final Fantasy, so I easily became familiar with the book’s elemental magic system, medieval setting, and multifaceted characters. Honestly, reading this was like playing a video game because it was just so hard to put down, even for valid reasons like eating and sleeping. In other words, I loved Falling Kingdoms because it made me bookishly stoned.

I have not read nor watched Game of Thrones, so I have no qualms regarding the book’s originality. In fact, I found it to be very refreshing because of its unpredictable, fast-paced plot. Although I did encounter some tropes along the way, they were rendered insignificant by the countless moments of oooohs, aaaahs, and awwwws. And when that ending came…I was utterly and beautifully mind-blown.

Overall, you may call me unbelievably subjective in this review, but I really have nothing but praise for this novel. I’m currently reading its sequel, and I’m confident that it won’t disappoint.

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Book Review

Crows Are Not Better than Roses

Lost Crow Conspiracy (Blood Rose Rebellion #2)Lost Crow Conspiracy by Rosalyn Eves

My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars

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

You think because I am a girl, I am weak. Because I speak for those who are given no voice here, my voice should matter less. You are wrong, on both counts. —Anna

Sequels are very unpredictable. You never know if they’re gonna hit the mark or miss it completely. I loved Blood Rose Rebellion when I read more than a year ago, so I was eager to dive into this book, believing that it would be even better. Unfortunately, most of my expectations weren’t met. To be optimistic about it, at least I enjoyed this book enough to give it more than 3 stars.

For the most part, Lost Crow Conspiracy was a very educational read. Just like the first book, it integrated much history into its fantastical plot. I rarely pick up historical fiction, so reading this book was an opportunity to widen my horizons. I enjoyed how the author retold the Austrian-Hungarian War and its global repercussions. She did it in a way that was unique, refreshing, and comprehensible. In other words, it was anything but info-dumpy. I was particularly fascinated by discriminated praetheria because their standpoint in European society was similar to that of the Jews during World War II. I wasn’t sure if this allusion was intentional. Nonetheless, I really appreciated it as someone fond of Christian history.

I also enjoyed Anna’s character development in this book. Anna continued to be underestimated because of her sex, but she didn’t hesitate to address the corruption in her society. Breaking the Binding definitely made her more mature because it pushed her to be a voice for the weak and oppressed. In a world ruled by men, she was one empowered female. Truth be told, the only thing I didn’t like about her was her tendency to lie to her loved ones; her refusal to tell anyone about Matyas’s “death” resulted in much undue stress. xD

As for Matyas, I was surprised that the author decided to keep him. I totally didn’t expect him to be resurrected. I had already become used to the idea of him being dead, so I didn’t care about his story arc. It didn’t help that his chapters were less interesting than Anna’s. In a way, his chapters felt like…fillers or padding. However, in light of his new powers as a shaman, it was clear that he still had much to contribute to the plot. I guess Anna would have had no allies if he hadn’t been there.

This book’s main weakness was its pacing. Oh my, the last 100 or so pages were difficult to get through because I almost fell asleep with boredom. It was weird because the climax was supposed to be the most exciting part of the novel. Anna had a price on her head, and her journey through various forests and villages was a drag. There was hardly any interesting confrontation since all she did was run and hide.

Overall, Lost Crow Conspiracy was intriguing and educational. I loved Anna’s character development and the book’s rich historical content. Still, some parts of the book were utterly boring. I gave the first book a higher rating, so I guess this one suffered from second book syndrome. Hopefully, the third installment will be better. 🙂

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Book Review

This Is Not About Animals

The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All the ancient classic fairy tales have always been scary and dark.

—Helena Bonham Carter

The Bear and the Nightingale was delightful to read. I’ve always been a fan of fairy tales (and their retellings), so I was more than eager to delve into the story. From the get-go, I want to say that this book is not for everyone, especially for readers who dislike slow story lines. On the other hand, if you love character-driven books, then you would probably enjoy this novel like I did.

I primarily gave this book four stars because it became my personal primer on Russian culture. Before I read it, I practically knew next to nothing about the latter. I was exposed to variety of Russian names that were both fun and difficult to memorize. I was also introduced to the old government and religion of Russia, which confuses (if not intrigues) me until now. Finally, I was thrown into the fascinating world of Russian folklore and its treasury of dark creatures. In totality, The Bear and the Nightingale was very educational, but it was not in a boring, academic way. The author said she isn’t Russian, so I was very impressed that she still knew Russia like the back of her hand.

The plot of this book was quite reminiscent of The Queen of the Tearling. Vasya, a supposedly plain/ugly girl, was given a pendant that would supposedly help her overcome a “great evil.” I actually liked this similarity, because I was once again caught up in solving the mystery of a simple trinket’s power. In retrospect, the pacing was undeniably slow, and it was because of one, major reason: too many POVs.

I am normally fond of books with multiple perspectives. However, my brain can only handle so much. The Bear and the Nightingale had an abundance of characters, and almost all of them were given their own chapters to narrate. This resulted in a broader sense of objectivity because it felt like I wasn’t missing any of the characters’ thoughts and actions. Still, I was more interested in Vasya’s chapters, so I sometimes became frustrated when I did not know what was happening to her anymore. Given her sporadic appearances in the book, one would think she wasn’t the main protagonist. Nevertheless, I applaud the author for the outstanding development of her characters.

Ultimately, The Bear and the Nightingale had more virtues than flaws. I enjoyed it a lot because of its dark yet enlightening content. I’m not sure if this is just a stand-alone novel, but I am highly anticipating a sequel.

*The featured image was contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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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. —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. 🙂

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. 🙂

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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