The Kiss of Deception (Remnant Chronicles #01) by Mary E. Pearson Review

kiss of deceptionSometimes I feel like kicking myself for not reading a book sooner. This is exactly what happened with The Kiss of Deception. I’ve had this book for a while and for some reason, I kept putting it off. Although, the advantage is that I’m a wee bit closer to the release date of the sequel (although, the book’s page on Goodreads says nothing more than the year which is 2015, thanks for narrowing it down, makes me feel so much better 0_o)

The Kiss of Deception is about Princess Arabelle — Jezelia aka Lia. She’s a princess from the kingdom of Morrighan. She escapes with her loyal maid-in-waiting and best friend when she can see no other way of getting out of a loveless marriage to a faceless prince from another kingdom. She has a plan that basically entails starting a new life in the small town of Terravin. She and Pauline take up a job and Pauline’s aunt’s inn as a way to pay for their stay. They adapt completely to their new way of life and find happiness in this simple life. Meanwhile, the Prince Lia was supposed to marry is feeling slighted, so he sets out in search for her. He’s not sure what he’ll do once he finds her but sets out anyway, thinking he’ll figure that out when he finds her. Finally, the kingdom of Venda sends an Assassin in search of the Princess to kill her.

The Kiss of Deception reads like two different books, one like historical fiction while the other like fantasy. This isn’t a bad thing because there are hints along the way that there’s more to Lia than what we see. She is professed to have a gift (though she disagrees) but more on that later. Also, the pace gets really slow in the middle but that’s not too bad either because it is meant to communicate to the reader Lia’s own sense of safety in this mundane life. The last part of the book is more or less a journey as Lia is kidnapped and taken to Venda. Journeys can get very dull mostly because they become repetitive and monotonous with the heroine escaping time and again only to get caught every single time. Pearson changes things here a little, in that Lia does try to escape but she’s smarter about it, waiting for the most opportune time to do it. The story involves three points of view though mostly we stay with Lia, the Prince’s and the Assassin’s were fewer but it was welcome because it was nice to get inside their heads for a change. There was almost a love triangle here but thankfully, didn’t last too long. At least in The Kiss of Deception, we know who Lia cares more for and I’m hoping that doesn’t change in the second book because that would be awful.

The characters here are wonderful. Lia is strong willed and stubborn but she doesn’t bow down to pressure and has a mind of her own. She is also brave and not afraid of standing up for what she believes in. What I really enjoyed about her was that once she decided to work at the inn, she worked really hard and didn’t put on any airs. As the First Daughter, she is supposed to have mystical powers but she never manifests them and instead of being bitter about it, she moves on, When she finds out why her powers never manifested, she doesn’t waste time feeling sorry for herself, she starts working on developing them. She was a fun character and I look forward to seeing more of her.

The Prince (I will refrain from naming him and the Assassin though it’s not all that big of a spoiler) I really liked. Sure he had his douche moments but once he committed to how he felt about Lia, he was steadfast. The romance was certainly quick here but I didn’t mind that too much because the characters were likeable besides its not like they were making declarations of undying love. Once Lia was taken, the Prince was dogged in his pursuit of her kidnappers to find and rescue her. Also, he crossed a kingdom in pursuit of her and he went to her when there was no hope of rescuing her which definitely earns him brownie points.

The Assassin is more problematic. He always intended to kill Lia, even when she was being perfectly nice to him. He pretended to be interested in her while the entire time, he had every intention of slitting her throat. Then one fine day he decided that it would be better to take a kingdom with a tyrant for a ruler rather than killing her and by doing this he was doing Lia a favour. I’m sure his pov was meant to make us more sympathetic to his situation but it had the opposite effect on me. After he kidnaps her, he expects her to be grateful that he didn’t kill her and even expects to start a life with him. This guy was delusional!! When you want someone to care for you, it is generally a good idea to not kidnap them and murder their relatives. I’m going to be very disappointed if Lia falls for this spineless idiot in any of the future books. The Prince is far better bet. He was unbelievably annoying. Asswipe!!

One of the best things about Kiss of Deception was the friendship between Lia and Pauline. Once they left the capital, they immediately did away with the formalities and they were just two good friends travelling together. Pauline was loyal and she was strong as well. She was patient and made a good foil for Lia who was quick to fly off the handle. Good female friendships are so rare in YA fiction that I’m always overjoyed when I come across a good example. They picked up each other’s slack. It is a testament to Pauline’s loyalty that she helps Lia escape and accompanies her despite the fact that, if caught, she faces execution. She stays by her side. I hope we see more of her in the next book.

Of the others, Berdi and Gwyneth were fine, they were warm and took in Lia and Pauline and formed a bond between them. Walther, Lia’s brother, made an impression even though we saw so little of him. He was caring about Lia and protective. Of the Assassin’s crew, most of them were no-good louts, but perhaps, there’s more than meets the eye with one or two of them.

The Kiss of Deception took me by surprise. I expected something that would help me pass time and instead it sucked me right into its plot. It is very entertaining, engaging and fast paced, there is enough happening that it will keep you hooked right up till the end and make you look forward to the next book even though it doesn’t end with a cliffhanger.

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Bryke: Female Characters and Other Random Thoughts

G1858 Kelvin Graphics-Form.eps.pdfOne of the best things about both The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra is just how amazing and well-realised the female characters are. In so many shows and books (and sometimes even in those where the girl/woman is the main protagonist) they so often get side-lined or get undermined in favour of the male characters. Not the case here. Bryke have consistently given us characters worth rooting for and the women were no exception. it is almost possible that in some cases they outshine the male characters (Toph and Azula in ATLA)

 What’s also great is that these characters are layered and multifaceted, they all have their own individual struggles but they overcome them. What makes Korra especially amazing is the struggle she has undergone pretty much from the very beginning. When she first enters Republic City, she encounters the Equalists, in the second season, she battles Unalaq, who doesn’t think that the Avatar should be the bridge between the physical and spirit world, in the third, she encounters the Red Lotus who want to kill her and end the cycle of the Avatars. Having said that, it is the way that her character is handled that is truly commendable. They did not shy away from taking bold decisions (even when it was at the cost making Korra annoying to the general fandom, like Book 2) She has had an amazing graph which makes for a much better central character. She went from being very secure in her role as the Avatar to someone who doesn’t believe in herself anymore and finds herself asking the same questions that the Equalists and the Red Lotus asked: Does the world need the Avatar. She has had so many knocks and had the resilience to get up again and again but everyone has their limits and Korra has reached hers.

And let’s not forget Asami. She had to come to terms that her father was a criminal and then had the responsibility of running her company. She accomplished both. She could so easily have turned into a vamp or been bitter with Korra about Mako, but she chose to look beyond that and in doing so, she and Korra became great friends. I love female friendships for the simple reason that there aren’t many of them around. Asami was underused and overlooked for most of Book 2 but it was so gratifying to see her in a very active role in Book 3 (Book 4 only just started so I’m going to hold my opinion in that regard) She is intelligent, driven, loyal and ambitious and I love her for these very reasons. She is easily one of my favourite characters on the show.

But there are so many other amazing characters on the show: Lin, Suyin, Ming-Hua, P’Li, Katara, Jinora.. They are all exceptional characters in their own rights with distinct personalities. Above all, they are all strong women, which is especially gratifying.

Korra has also had a far tougher journey than Aang did. Yes Aang went through his sets of trials and personal and spiritual journey but in comparison to Korra, it was much simpler. She has had her life threatened in every season and almost every time, she either came close to losing her ability to bend, the Avatar Spirit or her very life.

We are now in the final leg of the journey and I for one, am not ready to see it end. I love Korra in a way that i didn’t love Aang. In his own right, he was a great character and I am not comparing the two series simply because they are so different, especially in terms of tone of the series. But Korra holds a special place in my heart and the thought that it might be over soon, is enough to send me into withdrawal mode. But i digress, in the final season, I want to see Korra bloom into the kind of Avatar she has the ability to be. I also want to see her, for once, in all her Avatar glory (like Aang in the ATLA finale) and with a nemesis like Kuvira, we might just get an epic showdown. I don’t much care for Makorra, I think Korrasami make a far better pair, not to mention that it would be especially awesome to have that in a mainstream animated show (though for those very reasons I am not very optimistic)

I love this series and while I am in no way ready to see it end, I think I would like to see where it ultimately leads Korra.

P.S. – I hope we get graphic novels for Korra the way we do for ATLA. Those are great in their own way, awesome artwork, engaging stories and a fine way to keep these characters alive..

P.P.S – This article/essay originally appeared on my Tumblr page. For those interested, I tend to be more active on Tumblr than on wordpress. These are my pages:

http://rukizaki.tumblr.com/ (here you’ll find stuff that usually has to do with Korra and additionally art (usually fanart but you’ll also find other really interesting stuff)

http://shewholovestoread.tumblr.com/ (this blog has to do with book reviews, a lot of them are the ones I post here since I’ve synced the accounts, but you’ll also find stuff about other books and links to other blogs)

So, if you’re interested, take a look. 😀

Cast in Flame (Chronicles of Elantra #10) by Michelle Sagara Review

urlI am very fond of the Chronicles of Elantra and now, nine books down, I feel more invested than ever in its characters (yes, even some of the more unpleasant ones) whenever I begin a new book in an ongoing series, I am overcome with dread that it will disappoint and it never ceases to amaze me when that doesn’t happen.

This series (and perhaps Sagara’s wirting) are not everyone, for one, her sentences and style of writing, can seem unusual and abrupt. I know that when I started it, it took me some time to acclimatise to her style, but having done that, I found her books very enjoyable and vastly entertaining. For a series with a wide cast of characters, they all seem very well established and realised with very different personalities. Even among the Barrani (possibly the most uniform race of people, both in terms of physical appearance as well as superficial behaviour) Sagara manages to infuse a distinct personality in their various characters. The pace, as with the previous book, remains uneven, but I think that that’s intentional on Sagara’s part. Cast in Flame starts slowly, at an almost sluggish pace and then suddenly, as it closes on the climax, the pace gets almost frenzied. It is chaotic and very busy; with something happening almost all the time, it is exhausting. I felt that more keenly with this particular book than the rest (although that may simply be because I haven’t re-read them in a very long time.) I sometimes have to revisit the previous books to reacquaint myself with the characters and the setting, but Sagara’s characters and world are so well developed that they remain firmly etched in my mind.

The events that occur in Cast in Flame are a direct consequence of those that occurred in Cast in Sorrow. All is not fine with the newly returned Barrani (the Lost ones) and they are not what they seem to be. They appear Barrani and indeed consider themselves to be Barrani as well, but that’s not what they are. Annarion and Mandoran are chief among the Lost ones that are at the centre of most of the trouble. Said trouble starts in the Keeper’s Garden, spreads to the fief of Nightshade and finally ends in a terrifying showdown that threatens the entire city.

As far as main protagonists go, Kaylin is among my favourite. She has a sense of humour, she is self-deprecating and has a barely developed sense of survival. What I like most about her, is that she’s not afraid to speak her mind (often at the expense of her safety) She doesn’t back down from a difficult task and holds life very precious. She has a keen sense of justice and I am glad to say, even nine books down, that hasn’t changed. It is difficult to develop a character over a period of time, while at the same time, not changing the core of that character. Sagara manages this very well. Kalyin continues to grow into her powers while at the same time, staying true to herself and her own personal ideals. Of course, being stubborn also helps.

Teela had a lot of screen time this time around, much like the two previous books, and she remains one of the my favourite characters. It is clear that she cares very deeply about Kaylin and that comes across, clear as sunlight, in their exchanges. There is almost a sense of indulgence with which Teela treats Kaylin (though, even that isn’t completely accurate) She is strong but doesn’t charge into dangerous situations (as so many female characters tend to do) and when she does, she can take care of herself, more often better than most the male characters. Yet, she too has a sense of humour and her interactions with Kaylin, remain as entertaining as ever.

Bellusdeo, the new dragon and the only female dragon, also spent most of the book with Kaylin. Bellusdeo is an interesting character, she too cares about Kaylin, I might go so far as to say, that she considers Kaylin to be her friend (in as much as an ancient Dragon is able to) She also treats her with respect and this comes across when she appeals to the Dargon Court on Kaylin’s behalf so that things might be easier for her. Yet, her claustrophobia also comes across in her interactions with both Kaylin and other characters. She is being stifled by the life in the Dragon Court. She is viewed less as an individual, and more for what she can do for the Dragon race; produce babies (or eggs) Her frustration is palpable and there is a sense that if something doesn’t give soon, she might take some drastic action.

Of the others, Severn was around as well, though not as much as in some previous books, he remains very much a secondary character but someone Kaylin can depend on unconditionally. He remains her sole link to her life in the fiefs and understands her better than Kaylin herself. Their shared life in the fiefs, also makes their bond stronger.

It was nice to see Tara and Tiamaris as well as Sananalis and the Arkon (among the Dragons) and the Consort, the High Lord (among the Barrani.) Of course, there were other Barrani around as well, like Evarrim and Ynpharion, the former was as odious as ever and the latter was little more sympathetic this time.

Then there is Nightshade; he is as mysterious as ever. His motives are entirely his own and he remains one of the more enigmatic characters. He is untrustworthy, yet strangely enough, quite likeable. I look forward to seeing more of him in the next book.

Helen is the newest character we are introduced to in Cast in Flame, and she is a building, similar and dissimilar to Tara. Helen is not a Tower but like Tara, she too was built/created by the Ancients. One of the most unique things about this series, is its view of buildings, some of the ancient ones (Towers like Tara and the Hallionnes) are sentient and these too have very distinct personalities and have very human needs (companionship, to be needed, etc.) Helen, like Tara, is very much a character, and an interesting one at that.

As for Kalyin’s familiar, well she could finally speak with him, the downside is that she can only do it when he turns into a huge translucent dragon.

And after eight books, we finally meet the Emperor, or rather, Kaylin meets him. He is one of the primary reasons behind Bellusdeo’s unhappiness, he and Diarmat. Bellusdeo is instrumental in the outcome in the fight for the city and far from lauding her bravery, he criticises her for putting herself in danger, which does not make her very happy. The Emperor finally meets Kaylin, at the behest of the Arkon so that Kaylin might drum some sense into his head with her customary lack of tact or self-preservation. And it is particularly pleasing to read their interaction, that Kaylin is not afraid to speak her mind (ok, she is, but she does it anyway) and stands up to him and tries to make him see sense. She does have some success and manages to at least partially convince the Emperor, that his current approach with Bellusdeo is not going to work in his favour. It was also a rare moment of vulnerability on his part to admit that (notwithstanding the colour of his eyes)

Cast in Flame was a solid entertainer with its usual cast of interesting and engaging characters. If you’re willing to be a little patient, this will be a very interesting and fun read.

The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus #05) by Rick Riordan Review

UK BoOThe Series has finally come to a close. The Blood of Olympus was a fun read (in typical Rick Riordan fashion) and while I had some reservations about the final book, he did not disappoint (at least, not too much) So let’s get on with the review.

In the Blood of Olympus, the quest comes to a close but a whole lot of things happen before that. We have two separate narrative arcs: one that’s taking the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half-Blood and the seven demigods who are on their way to Athens to stop Gaia from rising. It is a race against time for both of them and they barely make it. I absolutely loved House of Hades and it remains my favourite book in the entire series, but this time, for some reason, I found it a little hard to get back into the story. Part of it was that I had just finished the third Mercy Thompson book (by Patricia Briggs) and I still found myself thinking about Mercy and those characters even though I had already started this book. The other was that my favourite characters’ POV was missing (we’ll get to that later) So, initially, I kind of had to work hard to continue reading. I could have taken a breather and set it aside temporarily, but I have this bad habit where if I put aside a book, it is next to impossible for me to pick it up again (although that has happened a time or two) As it was, I am glad I stuck with it because it was very rewarding and so much fun to read. Riordan is a master at building suspense and tension and I couldn’t help but be sucked in eventually. I found myself getting stressed out about whether or not these characters would make it or if Camp Half-Blood would survive and plenty of other things along the way.

The climax was explosive and the end was satisfying. Of late, some of the final books (in their respective series) have been very disappointing, where the author gets the initial books right but then completely loses the plot as the series progresses. There were so many things that could have gone wrong and thankfully Riordan did a great job handling it. It was a good end that didn’t feel contrived or silly. It was bittersweet and I think that’s the best kind of ending.

The books in this series are told from multiple points of view and Blood of Olympus was no different except this time we focused on some characters who hadn’t been getting too much attention and some who’s POV hadn’t been in the previous book at all. The House of Hades focused on Percy, Annabeth, Hazel and Frank (and maybe Jason, to a lesser degree, though I’m not sure) but this time, the focus was on Piper (almost front and centre), Jason, Leo, Nico and Reyna.

I had been getting the feeling that Piper was a little shortchanged and that she was getting overshadowed by the other characters. Not so here, we saw her in all her ass-kicking glory. Moreover, she became someone whose opinion mattered to the rest of the group; she made a lot of really important decisions this time around that may have more than one demigod’s life. I especially liked the friendship between her and Annabeth. It was built on mutual respect and both had each others’ backs.

Jason still leaves me feeling a little indifferent, I can’t get myself to care about him, but he was fine too.

Leo is an absolute sweetheart and more than once, through the course of this book, I was worried about his fate. He always had surprises up his sleeves and when the time came, he was not afraid to make difficult decisions. SPOILER – And it was so gratifying to see him finally get together with Calypso. I was glad she got her happy ending as well, it was high time and they were so cute together.

It was nice to finally get inside Nico’s head, to know why he left Camp Half-Blood and treated people the way he did and just how far he was willing to go for those he cared about. He was brave and pushed himself to the limit to make sure that he completed his quest.

Reyna was a real treat and I was so glad to get her POV. What little I had read about Reyna (from others’ POV) painted her to be a very interesting character. She was brave even when she knew she was outnumbered but she always kept a cool head. She was a Roman Preator through and through. She listened to Annabeth and trusted her even when she had no reasons to and undertook a difficult task that was by no means her problem and made sure she saw it through. She was absolutely awesome!

But I was so disappointed to read that there were NO Percy or Annabeth chapters!!! These two are my absolute favourite characters and I was disheartened to find their POVs missing. I got over it eventually but I’m still not thrilled about. In a way, it did made sense, this series started with Piper, Jason and Leo and that it ended with them, like they came full circle. But still….

The Blood of Olympus was a fitting and thoroughly enjoyable end to one of the most entertaining and consistent series I have ever read. It is highly recommended to anyone who likes great characters, ass-kicking girls, gods with identity crises and a whole of other things.

Revised Thoughts:

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while but somehow couldn’t actually get around to doing it. Well now that the dust has settled and the hoohaa has died down, I have to revise my opinion of Blood of Olympus. In hindsight, I didn’t like it half as much as I originally thought I did. Also, now I think that certain key characters were short changed.

Characters: I originally thought that Percy and Annabeth not being in the book was ok considering how the series started, but now I think differently. They were integral parts of the previous books and here not only were they absent but their characters also suffered. Percy turned into a bumbling fool and Annabeth into an insecure and scared girl and I was very sad to see this turn of events. These two were my favourite characters in the entire series and to see their characters so badly mangled makes me very sad and angry. I don’t know why Rick Riordan did this. I did not like that they had been sidelined. Hazel and Frank got completely lost in the series. Now that I think back on the series, I can’t remember them at all. In The House of Hades, it seemed that the two of them became a couple (but I can’t be sure because I can’t remember) and then there was absolutely no follow up of any sort with the two of them. I still think that Frank is perhaps the most underdeveloped of the seven. I never cared for Jason and having him stuffed down my throat didn’t make me like him any better. Piper, Leo and Reyna were the saving grace of the book, if not for them, I probably would not have even finished the book.

Final Battle: There was so much talk about the final showdown with Gaia, it was supposed to be this big boss fight and it ended far too soon and with a whimper. As far the fights go, Annabeth and Percy’s fights in Tartarus were far more intense and the stakes were much higher. The final battle was built to such epic heights and it just didn’t deliver. It almost felt like Riordan got fed up with the series and decided to wrap it up. The end seems sloppy and lazy. Sure there was a lot happening but when you compare that to the rest of the series and even the finale in The Last Olympian, Blood of Olympus just seems hurried and not very well thought-out. In The Last Olympian, the battle took up a considerable portion of the book and there were serious injuries so even though, as readers, we knew that Percy and Annabeth would survive the series, there were a couple of close shaves that had us holding our breath. No such thing here.This was the epic showdown we were all waiting for with bated breath and there was so much scope, so much that Riordan could have done with it, but to see it handled so poorly was truly disappointing. I think at some level everyone knew the seven would come out of this alive and while most times I am happy about this outcome, it also results in lowered stakes. At no point was I actually worried about Leo, I knew what was going to happen with him.