Review: The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse
Marie Rutkoski

Farrar Straus Giroux
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Released March 4, 2014
355 pages

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Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

Winning what you want may cost you everything you love

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Some books just grab you from the first few pages and refuse to let you go. I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly why Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse hooked me so quickly, but within the first two chapters, I had a hard time putting down this epic fantasy full of conspiracies and adventure. It’s full of fantastically developed characters within a world that is both familiar and a little strange. While it feels as though the plot is pretty straight forward, slight alterations to what is expected kept me on my toes and kept me hooked from the start.

Kestrel is a smart girl with a General for a father, who is pressuring her to join the military due to her keen instinct for war strategy. While wandering the shops with her best friend, they find themselves pressed against the walls of an arena where a slave auction is taking place. A rough teenage boy with a defiant nature is on the auction block and not attracting much interest until Kestrel betrays all sense of propriety and bids for him. Once she gets him home, she finds that he’s a bit more than she could have expected.

Arin is a boy with a mysterious past, who hates Kestrel, her father who conquered his people and all the nobles that surround his new owner. He has a unique talent as a smith and quickly proves his worth not only as a slave, but as a reluctant companion to his mistress. Kestrel doesn’t quite understand why she enjoys his company, but has a strong desire to know Arin as an equal instead of just as a servant. Kestrel goes through hoops to protect him and rumors quickly spread that he’s her paramour, a bit of a social faux pas if found out in public. Of course there is another suitor, who is equally attractive and luckily a nice guy, to create the requisite love triangle.

Trouble comes midway through and the budding friendship between Arin and Kestrel is turned on its head until no one truly knows where they stand. The final 50 pages contain one surprise after another as conflict comes to a head and Kestrel and Arin continue to discover reasons why they can’t bridge the gap between their two people to form a friendship. It’s the beginning of a series, so of course there are doors wide open with so much potential for more adventure and heart break with just a tiny sneak peek of hope that maybe everything will work out in the end.

This is a great entry into epic fantasy for someone who isn’t prepared to keep track of dozens of different characters across multiple countries. The Winner’s Curse has intrigue and tension with political maneuvering without needing a chart to keep everything straight. It has quick pacing and memorable characters that will hang around with you long after you’ve finished the book. I really look forward to seeing where Rutkoski takes Arin and Kestrel next.

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Thanks to Farrar Straus Giroux. Opinions are my own.

Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom
Rae Carson

Greenwillow Books
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Released August 27, 2013
448 pages
YA / Fantasy

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The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny. 

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.

I’ve had an up and down relationship with Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The first book was a middle of the road fantasy adventure novel with a ridiculous ending that almost made me quit the entire series. The second book swept me away and refused to put me back down. So how was the third book going to fit into the mix? Would it revert back to the moderately entertaining first book or grab me by the shirt collar and take me on a crazy ride?

It landed in the middle. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the series and all the ends get tied up in interesting ways. I didn’t call all the twists and turns, and the cliff hanger of the second book was resolved much more quickly than I expected. It did have that same lagging feeling at times from the first book where the characters are walking and walking and walking and Elisa is having the same sort of thoughts over and over again, but overall I really enjoyed this final book.

SPOILERS FOR GIRL OF FIRE & THORNS AND CROWN OF EMBERS

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Review: The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

The Bitter Kingdom
Rae Carson

Greenwillow Books
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Released August 27, 2013
448 pages
YA / Fantasy

Find it on Goodreads

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indie Bound

The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.

I’ve had an up and down relationship with Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The first book was a middle of the road fantasy adventure novel with a ridiculous ending that almost made me quit the entire series. The second book swept me away and refused to put me back down. So how was the third book going to fit into the mix? Would it revert back to the moderately entertaining first book or grab me by the shirt collar and take me on a crazy ride?

It landed in the middle. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the series and all the ends get tied up in interesting ways. I didn’t call all the twists and turns, and the cliff hanger of the second book was resolved much more quickly than I expected. It did have that same lagging feeling at times from the first book where the characters are walking and walking and walking and Elisa is having the same sort of thoughts over and over again, but overall I really enjoyed this final book.

SPOILERS FOR GIRL OF FIRE & THORNS AND CROWN OF EMBERS

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Review: A Feast for Crows & A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin

I have been missing for several weeks now. I’m blaming these two books for my absence. I quickly burned through my backlog of books to review and then found myself at a loss for material to post. It also didn’t help that work has been burning my brain out, but that’s a totally different subject. Anyway here is my joint review for A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, the fourth and fifth books in the A Song of Ice & Fire series by George RR Martin.

 

A Feast for Crows & A Dance with Dragons
George RR Martin

Bantam
Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Dragons

AFFC on Goodreads | ADWD on Goodreads

AFFC on Amazon | ADWD on Goodreads

A Feast for Crows

With A Feast for Crows, Martin delivers the long-awaited fourth volume of the landmark series that has redefined imaginative fiction and stands as a modern masterpiece in the making.

After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.

A Dance with Dragons

In the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance — beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys's claim to Westeros forever.

Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone — a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.

My one review of both these books: Ugh.

I am not a fan of George RR Martin’s pointless ramblings. The only reasons I’ve pushed myself through these thousands and thousands of pages is because A) I can’t stop things in the middle, B) I need to read things before I see them on screen and the most important one, C) Fernando really loves this series. He sits through so much of my stuff that probably bores him to tears, so it’s only reasonable that I share his favorite series with him. I grumble, he defends. We bond over geek stuff.

In total these two books are over 2,000 pages and that’s counting the large hardback pages as an equivalent to the small trade paperback pages. If these were both paperbacks, it would most definitely push the 3,000 mark. You’d think with so many pages, TONS of things would happen.

You would be wrong.

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I Do Not Read Books (7): A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin

It's Halloween so Fernando decided to step in while I eat a lot of candy and "awww" over little kids in superhero costumes. Funnily enough he decided to review the book I'm currently in the middle of reading! Anyway he doesn't read a lot of novels, thus the title of the series, but you can read all the reviews he's written here. However, if he continues to enjoy the books he reads, I might turn him into a reader yet!

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice & Fire #4)
George RR Martin

Bantum Books
Released October 2006
1060 pages
Epic Fantasy / Magic

Find it on Goodreads

Order it from Amazon

With A Feast for Crows, Martin delivers the long-awaited fourth volume of the landmark series that has redefined imaginative fiction and stands as a modern masterpiece in the making.

After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce. But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather. Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—emerge from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead. Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors. 

Well, this review has been a long time coming. I read this book a long while back. I waited such a long time because I wanted some objective space between me and the review. Doesn't sound good, does it? The previous three books in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire make up a nice, neat trilogy package. And then you get this fourth book. First I did enjoy the fourth book. Second, I knew before going into that some of the characters that I have enjoyed so much were not going to be in this installment. What?! For those of you who do not know, here is the back story.

George had planned his epic to be 2 trilogies. One trilogy is made up by his first three books, and the second trilogy was meant to happen some 5 years later. However Martin abandoned that, and instead he picks up the forth book after the third book and writes and writes and writes. His manuscript ends up so large that it must be split.

This is where Martin makes a bold choice. He splits the book by character geography not by character chronology. So, a majority of the plot from this book overlaps with A Dance with Dragons, the next book. Follow that? The crux is that this results in many chapters that focus on new characters and some of the favorites are left for the next book.

This book should not be thought of as a sequel. Instead it is an expansion of the universe and adding some great new characters. I had a tough time with this book. It does bring in some great elements, but it does so by sacrificing the buildup that has been going on for the last three books. I may feel differently after the conclusion of the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Had I written this review immediately after I finished the book, I would have been very disappointed. I won’t spoil it by telling you the characters that are not in this book.  So, I will concede it’s not the best book in the series thus far; however, my thoughts have changed because I don’t think of it as a sequel. Instead I look at it as the introduction to different plot points in an ever expanding universe.

If you have read the first three books in the series, then you are going to read this book because it’s an important piece in the plot and a necessity before reading A Dance with Dragons. Do not let the pace of this book or the lack of some of your favorite characters deter you from finishing it. Now that I have finished both A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, I appreciated this book much more. It’s not my usual stunning endorsement of the series, but it’s also the first blemish.

Mini Review: The Girl of Fire & Thorns by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire & Thorns
Rae Carson

Greenwillow Books
Released September 20, 2011
423 pages
YA / Fantasy / Magic

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Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

I really hate when a book builds all this good will and then smashes it to sand with some ridiculous action of an important character or with something that happens that creates such a ridiculous scene in your head that you just give up. I was liking The Girl of Fire and Thorns well enough, maybe finding bits of it a little repetitive, but then the absolute most crucial moment of the story created a scene so ridiculous and comical in my head that I almost set the book down and walked away even though I only had about 30 pages left. All my warm and interested feelings for these characters and this series was wiped away with a sentence.

SPOILERS OF RIDICULOUSNESS AHEAD

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Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J Maas

Crown of Midnight
Sarah J Maas

Bloombury
I received an e-ARC of this book from the publishers in return for an honest review.
Releases August 27, 2013
432 pages
YA / Fantasy / Adventure

Find it on Goodreads

Preorder it from Amazon

An assassin’s loyalties are always in doubt.

But her heart never wavers.

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king's bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon -- forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice.

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

While I enjoyed Throne of Glass, I didn't become a huge cheerleader for the series, mostly because I went in with all the Game of Thrones comparisons in my head and they didn’t fit with what I ended up reading. Despite that I really enjoyed the characters of Celaena and Chaol enough to go with them on another chapter of their adventure together. I’m really glad I did as Crown of Midnight takes what worked in Throne of Glass and skips all the slower boring parts to create something that really puts down some roots towards building an epic world.

SPOILERS FOR THRONE OF GLASS FOLLOW

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