The Beauty of Darkness (The Remnant Chronicles, #3) by Mary E. Pearson Review

Beauty of DarknessI really enjoyed The Beauty of Darkness, it was every bit as interesting and gripping as the two previous books and the climax was very satisfying and earned. However, before I started reading, I had read some reviews (very unwise) and while they generally praised the book, they cribbed about Lia and that her character was annoying more often than not but more on that later.

Much like the previous books, the narrative was told in four points of view; Lia, Kaden, Rafe and Pauline. Unlike the those books where it often felt disconnected from the rest of the plot, for once Pauline’s POV felt connected to the larger plot where in the others. The primary focus was still on Lia and her POV drove the narrative forward. The pace was even and consistent with few moments of peace and quiet. Far from feeling chaotic and frenzied, there was instead a sense of urgency and the writing was coherent that made for a rewarding reading experience. The Beauty of Darkness also picks pretty much where The Heart of Betrayal ended which was good because things weren’t looking too positive for our protagonists.

The Beauty of Darkness also had moments which were beyond frustrating but that had more to do with the characters. This time that frustration stemmed from certain characters whose behaviour felt, on the surface, inconsistent with how they behaved previously. But if you look carefully at their prior behaviour , the signs are all there. And this is where I really like Pearson’s approach, she gives all sides of the story and doesn’t condemn anyone, she tries to be objective. I also loved how well-written these characters were. They were fully realized and far from perfect. They were stubborn, proud but also loyal, protective and loving.

I’ve liked Lia since the beginning and she has come a long way from where she was when we first met her, where initially she was impulsive and quick to fly into a temper. She has become someone who waits and observes what’s happening around her. She has grown more confident in her abilities, understands them better and has begun to tap into them. What I also liked about her was her fierce sense of independence. She is truly her own person and makes her own decisions and I especially loved that she refused to let anyone coddle her, even is she loved them. She makes her own decisions and sticks to them. I didn’t see how any of her actions were what those reviews described. I thought she was well within her rights to feel and act the way she did. If anything, Rafe was out of line and his actions were uncalled for, irrespective of how he justified them to himself.

I was glad that we met her mother and understood her better, her actions and the motivation behind them. She loved Lia and all her actions had been to protect her from what destiny had in store for her.

I had loved Rafe in the previous books, he was kind, brave and he loved Lia. But for most of this book, we saw a very different Rafe. He was blunt, stubborn and entirely unwilling to see things from Lia’s perspective. He was so thickheaded that it was close to impossible to sympathise with him. He finally did see sense but by then their relationship already had splinters in it. His actions hurt Lia and broke the trust she had in him.

I really liked Kaden in The Beauty of Darkness, and thankfully he was no longer pining for Lia. He understood that while she cared for him and did love him in some capacity, it was very different from what she felt for Rafe. He tried to make amends for his actions and while he could never wipe the slate clean, it was a fresh start for him. We saw the kindness and courage that Pauline and Lia saw in him. He stuck by Lia when everyone else doubted her and her plans.

Then there’s Pauline, Berdi and Gwyneth. Pauline was a pillar of strength, her friend, someone Lia desperately needed. There were always there for each other. She too had changed, become a harder person. Berdi and Gwyneth were among the first believers in Morrighan. They stuck by her when everyone believed the worst of her. Then there was Natiya, the child who had her childhood stolen from her.

I really enjoyed The Beauty of Darkness, it was a fitting end to the trilogy, it felt appropriate. It left a good feeling and one that didn’t feel forced or contrived. It was a very satisfying end to a trilogy that was thoroughly enjoyable.

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The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles #2) by Mary E. Pearson Review

theheartofbetrayalSummary:

Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape. Desperate to save Lia’s life, her erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komizar that she has the gift, and the Komizar’s interest in Lia is greater than anyone could have foreseen.

Meanwhile, nothing is straightforward: There’s Rafe, who lied to Lia but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom Lia always believed to be savages. Now that she lives among them, however, she realizes that may be far from the truth. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her sense of self, Lia must make powerful choices that will affect her country… and her own destiny. (Via Goodreads)

 

I really enjoyed The Heart of Betrayal. It was fast-paced with a levelheaded heroine. This will be brief since I want to start The Beauty of Darkness.

This time we find ourselves in the dreaded land of Venda with Lia as a hostage and a prisoner. She is surrounded by people who would much rather see her dead. Her captor, Kaden is under the  misguided notion that despite being taken to a kingdom responsible for killing her brother, somehow she would fall in love with him (excuse me while I go throw up) More on him later. Then there was Rafe, the prince who pretended he was a farmer, but he follows Lia only thinking of trying to save her, even if it meant going into enemy territory by himself. We finally meet the Komizar and while there are instances where the reader can see the man he was, the man he is in the present is someone who is ruthless and hungry for power.

The Heart of Betrayal was fast-paced and engrossing. Most of the chapters were from Lia’s perspective but there were some that were from Rafe and Kaden’s point of view and the odd chapter from Pauline’s perspective. The world building is good and the characters are excellent, especially the secondary characters. They were memorable and you couldn’t help but care about them. Pearson made the kingdom of Venda more hospitable through the people who greet Lia, from the servants to the various clans. We come to care for these weary and hardy people, they are far from the monsters that the other kingdoms think them to be.

I loved the characters. I really liked Lia, she was cunning and willing to bide her time. She was willing to play on the insecurities of those who had captured her. She was playing the long game. She used the gift to her advantage and also gained the loyalty of the clans and those believed in the Gift.

Kaden was someone I wanted to hit on the head repeatedly for his obliviousness. He was convinced that Lia would fall in love with him and she could live out her life in Venda. This couldn’t be further from the truth. She was constantly in danger, if not from the other councillors, then from the Komizar himself. And yet Kaden refused to see what was in front of him.

Rafe, in contrast was like a breath of sunshine. He played his part and he too played the long game. Gaining the trust of those around him. And while, he had moments of being overprotective towards the Lia, he soon saw sense and trusted her to take care of herself.

I was initially concerned about a love triangle but thankfully, Lia chose Rafe and stuck with him. And truly, in my opinion there was no competition. One kidnapped her while the other rode into certain danger to try and rescue her, was I meant to conflicted?

Starting The Beauty of Darkness now, can’t wait to see how that turns out.

Suicide Squad (2016) Review

SSDirector: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Cara Delevingne, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbage, Joel Kinnaman, Karen Fukuhara

Run time: 123 minutes

Spoilers below…

I wanted to like Suicide Squad, I really did. I haven’t had a great track record with the previous DC films, I hated Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman, but the Suicide Squad trailers gave me pause. They were vibrant, energetic and chaotic (in a good way) and the best thing? If the trailers were any indication, we were in for a rare DC treat, a film that was actually fun. Alas, it was not to be.

Suicide Squad was a hurried and disjointed mess. It was a film about a bunch of anti-heroes forced to work together by a manipulative woman who works in the shadows. There was so much potential and most of it was squandered. DC doesn’t really know how to introduce characters (remember the way Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg were introduced via an email attachment?) well, the introduction in Suicide Squad was marginally better. Their introductions were messy and what was with all that text? Suicide Squad tried very hard to go the Deadpool way but lacked the will. Where Deadpool was daring, Suicide Squad only teased those moments of badassery but failed to commit fully. The film, therefore, feels half-baked.

The music and editing are both awful. Don’t get me wrong, the choice of songs is great, their usage, not so much. More often than not they seemed to be randomly assigned to characters, so as long as you can appreciate the song and the visuals separately, you’re good. The editing, though, is what really brought down the film. It was so choppy and clunky, it was meant to look stylised and dynamic, it didn’t. It only succeeded in making an otherwise tolerable film, borderline insufferable. It jumped from one character to another with no apparent design or logic. The chaotic cuts might have worked well for the trailers but that doesn’t mean that they also work for the film.

DC casting choices are also nothing short of baffling, they cast actors who are great in other films and yet horrible in their films (case in point, Amy Adams) but for once, the casting choices seem to work in Suicide Squad. Not that they have much to do, even here there is a mess. DC doesn’t know how to equitably divide screen time so all characters are developed and grow and this inability plagues Suicide Squad. They have a group of competent (and some very good) actors on their roster and most of them feel underutilized. It’s not entirely their fault; the script just doesn’t give them a lot to do. Slingshot, the token Native American was killed, mere minutes after being introduced. Katana, played by Karen Fukuhara, didn’t have much to do, which was sad, because she seemed so badass in the trailers. Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang was actually likeable, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo was also engaging as the reluctant anti-hero.

Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress was plain weird, I initially liked the way June Moone turned into the witch but pretty much everything after that was painful to watch. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why her body kept moving, almost as if she was doing some strange dance. It was distracting and made it impossible to take her seriously. Also, they should have stuck to her initial look, her ‘powered-up’ avatar just looked bad with that weird disk thing on her head. We were supposed to care about her relationship with Rick Flagg but it was so rushed and just had no time to grow organically. The audience was basically told that they spent time together and then they fell in love, that’s not how you get emotionally involved. Joel Kinnaman’s Rick Flagg was also frustrating, for all his high-handedness to Deadshot, they were more similar than he cared to admit, they were both killers, only their paymasters were different. Viola Davis as Amanda Waller was also great and every bit as despicable as she is in the comics.

Much has been said about Jared Leto’s Joker, ranging from his ‘method’ acting to the strange things he did on set while he was in his ‘Joker’ frame of mind. All I can say is that it was an utter waste. His performance as the Crown Prince of Crime was lackluster and failed to inspire anything. It was hard to see why Dr. Harleen Quinzel would fall for him or how he inspired terror in those he dealt with. There was something very cumbersome about his performance.

This film actually belongs to Will Smith and Margot Robbie. They were superb in the film and fit their roles perfectly. Especially, Robbie’s Harley Quinn was spot-on. She was irreverent, unapologetic and absolutely nuts and you could see the fun Robbie was having with the role. And yet she also infused the character with vulnerabilities, made her more human, someone you could relate to (kind of). However, she was the most fun and engaging when she was with the group, her scenes with Joker, in contrast, seemed stilted and added nothing to the broader plot.

The Joker-Harley relationship is extremely abusive and while I was relieved that they didn’t play the relationship quite the way it turns out in the comics, it was still toxic and that should have been addressed. The film actually presents the Joker in a sympathetic light, as someone who loves Harley Quinn, but doesn’t hesitate to abandon her at the bottom of a lake after she screams that she can’t swim. And while she did have some agency, it was negated when Joker chose to torture her, knowing full well that given the choice she would have helped him of her own accord. The relationship in the film is even more troubling because of the mixed signals the film gives out.

Smith’s Deadshot was a similar story, he made his character someone you wanted to root for. Smith played Deadshot with his customary wit and charm and elevated the character’s personality. He also probably had the best dialogues of the entire lot. Smith and Robbie also had amazing chemistry (far better than Robbie and Leto’s)

The strongest aspect of the film was the ensemble cast, the scenes where the group spent time together were among the best in the film and actually made the film fun and watchable. The group played off each other really well and they were entertaining. It would have been far better if they had focused more on the actual Squad. Case in point, there were moments between Harley and Deadshot that spoke of friendship and solidarity and it was done well. We needed more moments like that in the film. We could have done without Leto’s Joker entirely, he added nothing and only served to slow down the narrative and bogged it down.

Suicide Squad is worth one watch at least. It is so much better than Batman vs Superman, there were moments in the film that were actually funny and engaging, great moments between the different characters. Sadly, it was bogged down with bad editing and bad writing. The trailers for Suicide Squad were uniformly amazing and set the expectations very high. If your primary motive for watching the film are the trailers, you should skip the film because you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. The film had so much potential and it was all squandered. So far DC isn’t inspiring any confidence in their Cinematic Universe and if they don’t start fixing whatever it is that’s broken, they’re only going to make things worse for themselves.

P.S – Fervently hoping that Joker doesn’t show up in the Harley Quinn film, instead, let’s have Katana show up or even Poison Ivy..

The Abyss Surrounds Us (The Abyss Surrounds Us #1) by Emily Skrutskie Review

the-abyss-surrounds-usSynopsis:

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she’s not about to stop. (Via Goodreads)

More like 3.5 stars. Went in with no expectations and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it considering that I had finished Endsinger not too long ago.

The world building was solid and coherent and the characters were well written. I really liked how the romance was portrayed. That the characters wanted to be on an equal footing even though they were clearly attracted to and were starting to fall for each other. Skrutskie really managed to convey the frustration of the characters as well as their inner turmoil.

There was also a lot of moral ambiguity which is always a plus. Initially, Casandra is convinced that the pirates are the bad guys and having their vessels destroyed doesn’t really bother her. It is only when she starts living with the pirates (as a hostage) that she realises that the lines aren’t as clear as she was led to believe. She starts seeing them as people with families of their own. Even with regard to Swift, she’s definitely a grey character, someone who doesn’t take pleasure in the more violent aspects of her duty but who does them just the same.

I would have liked to see more of the other Reckoners and hope that that’s something we see in the next installment. I am also curious how the issues between Cas and Swift are going to be resolved. I also loved that their sexual orientation was dealt with so casually and in a matter-of-fact manner. That was very refreshing.

The Abyss Surrounds Us was just what I needed. It was fun, though a bit on the short side (which works in its favour)

Endsinger (The Lotus War #3) by Jay Kristoff Review

endsingerSummary:

A TREMBLING EARTH
The flames of civil war sweep across the Shima Imperium. With their plans to renew the Kazumitsu dynasty foiled, the Lotus Guild unleash their deadliest creation—a mechanical goliath known as the Earthcrusher, intended to unite the shattered Empire under a yoke of fear. With the Tiger Clan and their puppet Daimyo Hiro in tow, the Guild marches toward a battle for absolute dominion over the Isles.

A BROKEN REBELLION
Yukiko and Buruu are forced to take leadership of the Kagé rebellion, gathering new allies and old friends in an effort to unite the country against the chi-mongers. But the ghosts of Buruu’s past stand between them and the army they need, and Kin’s betrayal has destroyed all trust among their allies. When a new foe joins the war tearing the Imperium apart, it will be all the pair can do to muster the strength to fight, let alone win.

A FINAL BATTLE
The traitor Kin walks the halls of Guild power, his destiny only a bloody knife-stroke away. Hana and Yoshi struggle to find their place in a world now looking to them as heroes. Secret cabals within the Lotus Guild claw and struggle; one toward darkness, the other toward light. And as the earth splits asunder, as armies destroy each other for rule over an empire of lifeless ash and the final secret about blood lotus is revealed, the people of Shima will learn one last, horrifying truth.

There is nothing a mother won’t do to keep her children by her side.

Nothing. (Via Goodreads)

I finally finished the series and I am still processing everything that happened in Endsinger. Finishing Endsinger was a bittersweet experience tinged with equal parts frustration and heartache. While the two previous installments had moments of levity, there were precious few to be found here.  I can see Jay Kristoff’s evil laugh at his readers’ despair as the characters that they have come to know and love are lost one after another.

To call Endsinger brutal would be an understatement, it was that and then some. The stakes were even higher (if that were possible). What struck me was that no one was safe in this world. Every character had close shaves and not all of them made it. Like Kinslayer, the pace of the narrative here was just as frenetic. The narrative is also chaotic (and not always in a good way) because of the sheer number of character POVs, there were far too many that made, sometimes, for a disjointed narrative. It really hampered the pace, breaking the flow as the chapters flowed from one POV to another and they were often unrelated. This was especially frustrating when the chapter ended on a cliffhanger.

Where Endsinger really shines though, is its characters. They are all so well realised and so flawed. Every single one made mistakes (some more horrible than others) and yet they were always relatable. There were some characters who were more interesting and some who, while not as interesting as the others, still had their moments to shine.

Remember the heartache bit I mentioned (and this is where the things get a tad spoilery) well, it was because of the characters we lost in this journey. Notably among them Michi, Akihito and Buruu. Michi was easily one of my favourite characters, ferocious and capable and yet never cruel. She fought even when the odds were stacked against her. I loved her. Then there was Akihito, the big bear of a man but one who was kind and gentle. The last remnant of Yukiko’s past and then even he was gone. It was so sudden that I had to read the paragraph twice to make sure what I had read was correct. And the most heartbreaking of all, Buruu. The heart of the series and another favourite. The bond between him and Yukiko was the real love story here. Their love for each other and the fact they each protected the other from both physical injury as well as emotional. I hated these three deaths above the rest of them simply because of how much I loved these characters.

Now, onto the ones who lived. Yukiko, the principle character, one of the better YA Fantasy heroines I’ve read in a while. I loved her spirit. That she kept going even when it would have been easier to just fly away and leave the war behind her. She was unselfish but also cautious on the battlefield. And she was fierce. She didn’t lose her humanity and compassion when it would have been so easy to do so, to lose herself in anger and hatred. And yet, she was flawed and made mistakes like the rest of them and she always learnt from them. She was a warrior and a hero.

I always had a feeling that there was more to Kin’s betrayal than met the eye and I was happy that he hadn’t simply switched sides. That he was willing to let everyone think that he was a traitor if it meant that he could help win the war and also protect Yukiko in his own way. His was a selfless love, one where he willing to do anything for her even when he wasn’t certain that she loved him. I didn’t always like him and I was wary of the romance sub-plot but it was well done and at the end I didn’t mind it at all.

Hana and Yoshi were the other Yokai-kin and they both had important parts to play in this final showdown. Hana was the other stormdancer and had another power not yet discovered. However, she lost that other power when she slept with Akihito. I was more than a little irritated by this. Why she had to be a virgin to be a Priestess I don’t understand. I expected better than that. As for Yoshi, he was as irreverent as ever but also tempered by what he had done and almost become in Kigen City. He never fully recovered from losing Jurou the way he did and that pain didn’t dull. In the end, his actions made sense and while it was sad, it was also a release for him.

I actually liked the chapters that were from Hiro’s perspective. It gave an insight into how torn he was and that he actually did see that was happening was wrong. And while he had gone too far in his pursuit of vengeance against Yukiko, I was happy that he had a chance to redeem himself to a degree. I actually liked him.

Kaori was another character who got a second chance. After her terrible decision that almost got the Guild rebels killed, it was a pleasant change to see her realise that she made a horrible mistake and make a conscious effort to repair what she had almost destroyed.

If I had to pick a favourite from among these 3 books, I would have a very hard time because they are all quite different, each installment getting darker as the series progressed. The trilogy actually warrants a reread simply because there was so much packed into these books. The Lotus War Trilogy was a great mix of fantasy and steampunk with a ingenious plot and characters you can’t help but fall in love with. Honestly, it’s almost as if I am in withdrawal, thoroughly enjoyed the series.