The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) by Katherine Arden Review

I read this book sporadically, that usually happens when I start work and dedicating time to read becomes difficult. There were days when I didn’t read a single word and others where I finished several chapters. I don’t enjoy reading like this as it breaks the flow and this usually doesn’t bode well for the book in question (unless I’m extremely invested) I fell in love with The Bear and Nightingale. It was spellbinding and read like a dark fairy tale.

The book is based in Russia and in the past. One of the things I loved most about the book was the setting and way it was described. Arden really put the reader in the same place as the characters and her description was so good that the setting often felt like another character. The prose was straightforward but not lacking in beauty. And while the pace was slow in certain parts, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. This is the kind of book that once you start reading, you don’t want to stop.

I loved the sheer variety of characters in this book. From the different kinds of domovoi to Vasya’s family, all of them were fully realised fleshed out characters. They were three dimensional and layered. There were no outright villains or heroes.

In terms of the characters, I loved Vasya. I loved that she was this wild spirit that would not be tamed by anyone. She loved fiercely and completely and did not let the opinion of those around her deter her from doing what she believed was right.

I loved that while her family did not always understand her, it in no way affected their love for her. The decisions of the adults often drove me up the wall, especially Anna and then later Pyotr. I loved Dunya and Alyosha, the only two people who perhaps really understood Vasya and did not try to change her.

The character I liked least was Konstantin. He made me so mad that there were numerous moments where I wanted to kill him. He was a weak man and a hypocrite and I cannot believe that he did not die a most painful death. If there was a vile character in this book, it was him.

As for Frost and the Bear, I wish we had seen more of both of them. They didn’t feature as much as I hoped and that felt a little lacking. I hope we see more of them in the future instalments.

I really liked the way Arden didn’t give us a traditional villain. There was a villain but he wasn’t the moustache-twirling variety. The real evil was more along the lines of our own inner demons and weaknesses; hungering for the forbidden, coveting what isn’t yours and fearing what you cannot control or understand to name a few. Arden also brings to light a problematic aspect of organised religion, the need to eradicate existing beliefs to that only faith can survive. And doing that through fear, making people give up their long-held traditions and customs for fear of being damned. But perhaps that is a conversation for another time.

The Bear and the Nightingale took me by surprise. I fell in love with this cold and unforgiving world with its flawed and complicated characters and I look forward to returning to it. Masterful character development coupled with beautiful world-building make this an extremely rewarding read.


Reign the Earth (The Elementae, #1) by A.C. Gaughen Review

This was a fairly quick read and I finished it pretty quickly. While it was a good read, I found it a little underwhelming. The world building was good but I would have liked to see more of the other places. But I guess we’ll see all of that in book 2.

While the narrative progresses at a pretty fast pace, there were portions of the book where not much happened in terms of plot. The book was more about character development and growth than it was about overall plot progression.

I was hoping there wouldn’t be one of those pesky love triangles or insta-love and thankfully both were missing. The characters were all well-written, complex and flawed and yet they all left an impression.

Shalia is the main protagonist, she is the daughter of the clan leader. Her marriage to Calix, the king is meant to ensure peace between their peoples. But things start going wrong from pretty much the beginning. Calix has a casual cruelty that makes it hard to ever trust him. He has a quick and foul temper. My problem with Shalia was that she spent so much of the book trying to hide her power and determined to get rid of it that it was little infuriating. But I also appreciated how quickly she saw through Calix and yet stayed because she wanted to ensure the safety of her people.

Calix was very well-written. Gaughen‘s portrayal of an abusive marriage was fairly spot-on. The way it started, in an innocuous manner and gradually got worse. Also, his sudden mood swings when he reacte rashly and then immediately expressed deep regret and made promises. All of that painted a picture of a man who had issues. And I haven’t even mentioned that he regarded his own people as disposable. He was a misogynist and a homophobe. So truly a match made in hell.

Galen, his younger brother, was the exact opposite of Calix. He was the military commander and cared for the people as well as his men. He had a strong moral compass and stuck to it as best he could. But he was also an enabler where Calix was concerned. Refusing to question him and his choices, he instead carried out those order even if they made him sick. He could see that Calix was no longer the brother he remembered when they were young and yet continued to stay by his side and watch his treat both Shalia and his people with cruelty.

Danae, she was the youngest sibling, the sister that people hardly ever saw. Her relationship with Calix was perhaps the most toxic of all. She’s gay and he forced her to hide that part of herself. He made her do his dirty work and yet didn’t ever stop to ask the toll it took on her. And worse, Galen, her elder brother ddin’t see what was happening right in front of him and didn’t put a stop to it. Her relationship with Calix is where despite everything that Calix has done, she still loves him and thinks it’s her responsibility to love him and keep him safe.

I loved Kata. She was the badass that’s usually reserved for the main character. She was confident in her powers and gave Shalia the guidance she needed to use and trust her own powers. I loved Kairos, Shalia’s older brother. Always there for her with his customary wit and charm. He was wily and dangerous and people didn’t it because he played his part so well.

I’m hoping that in the next book, we spend more time with Kata and the band and Shalia grows more comfortable with her powers. I truly wish you-know-who is safe and rejoins the gang.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour Review

I fell in love with We Are Okay. 2017 was a weird year in that I ended up rereading a lot but didn’t feel like picking up new books, though there were a few exceptions. I’m trying to do things differently this year and We Are Okay was the perfect book to start with.

It’s a very short book and would make for a quick read, but I managed to draw it out and I’m glad I did. It allowed me to fully immerse myself in the story. The narrative moves back and forth in time and LaCour handled this exceptionally well. The non-linear format never felt confusing or disorganised.

At its core, We Are Okay is a simple story. It is a story about loss and many ways in which it changes us. It’s about having to deal with something unimaginable and not having a choice. Marin the main protagonist and she’s struggling to deal with the loss of her grandfather.

We Are Okay sets up a desolate scene, the bulk of the novel takes place during winter and LaCour describes it so well that you can almost feel the bite of the cold. This also serves to amplify Marin’s loneliness and isolation. That isolation and loneliness is palpable.

As the main character, Marin was beautifully written. I could relate to her on a level that I usually can’t with other characters. Her grief was a heavy thing and stayed with her like a fog that never lifted. The non-linear narrative also illustrated just how much she had changed from who she used to be. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, a lot of what we read are Marin’s thoughts, feelings and emotions. This really gives the reader an insight into what she’s going through.

One of the things I loved was the fact that she read as way to cope because the books gave her an outlet that was safe and I so identify with that. I do that all the time, I use books for escapism because they are safe, there is a definite beginning, middle and an end and you know that once the book/series is over, then so is the story. It’s neat and organised in a way that life isn’t and can’t be. I understand the refuge that books can provide. Add to that LaClour mentioned Lady Lazarus and Daddy and they are among my favourite Sylvia Plath poems and I love Anne Sexton.

I liked pretty much all the characters in this book. I loved Hannah, Marin’s room-mate. And even though she’s barely in the book, she is still memorable. She’s perceptive and kind. I really liked Mabel and her friendship with Marin. I appreciated that she kept trying to reach her and when they did meet, she tried to understand why Marin did what she did. There was anger and frustration, but she never let that colour her interactions with Marin.

I loved was the way their sexuality was handled. It was so normal, LaCour dealt with it with sensitivity. I loved the way it unfolded with both of them discovering more about themselves and each other.

Mabel’s parents, Ana and Javier were amazing. Marin’s grandfather was such a wonderfully complex character and with so many layers. I appreciated that he wasn’t perfect, that he made mistakes, huge mistakes but that he also loved Marin deeply.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour is beautifully written and deals with grief and loss in a way that stays with you. Her way of writing is simple and yet beautiful, it feels casual. I absolutely loved the book and I highly recommend it.

P.S. – The cover is stunning

Unearthed (Unearthed #1) by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner Review

I really enjoyed Unearthed and now I can’t wait for the second book to come out. Unearthed takes place in roughly the same universe as The Starbound Series but humans haven’t managed to leave Earth yet, they are still in the process of looking for hospitable planets.

Compared to These Broken Stars, Unearthed starts out very slow. It takes its time, establishing the world, the setting and the characters. In that, the beginning was a little dull and I couldn’t wait for the pace to pick up. And once the pace did pick up, it was even, with more than enough character growth and development.

Mia and Jules are the main protagonists and the authors do a great job of setting them up as complete opposites with such distinct personalities. Mia was the street-smart scavenger, having had to develop a skill-set that helps her survive on the streets. Jules, on the other hand, is the privileged son of a renowned and highly respected scholar, he’s had a comfortable life. That all to comes to a head when they are forced to put aside their differences and work together.

One of the things I most enjoyed in The Starbound Series was that often, it was the women who were willing to make the difficult decisions and were the more practical of the set (a trend that continued in The Illuminae Files series). I’m glad to say that that theme continues here. Mia was the more practical of the two. She was the more ruthless of the two and yet had an inherent sense of decency.

If Mia was the muscle in their partnership, then Jules was the brains. He was the one who could decode the glyphs in order to understand what happened to this ancient race and hopefully survive.

Even though they are very different people who come from very different worlds, they start to see each other as allies fairly quickly. And it felt organic and not forced in the least. They had their ups and downs but they managed to work through their issues. They also worked very well together, picking up each other’s slack. Of course they’re also a romantic pair and there was none of that insta-love nonsense, it grew organically.

The antagonist completely threw me off, I did not see that coming. There were enough twists and turns in Unearthed that just when you thought you had it all figured out, Kaufman and Spooner threw you off. The list of secondary characters was fairly short and of the lot, there was only one character that I liked.

Unearthed was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see more of this story unfold. I’m curious if it will be like The Starbound Series, in that every instalment, will have a new pair of protagonists or if we’ll stick with Mia and Jules, i’m inclined to believe that it will be the former.

Theory time (SPOILERS Lie Ahead): So, the end left me wondering. What if the Undying are actually humans from the future, from the same time-line as characters from The Starbound Series? It would make sense, considering that the ‘aliens’ say something like “let’s take Earth back.” If that’s the case, then they’ve figured out a way to travel back in time. Thoughts??

A Reylo Parallel and Other Musings

So, something just struck me. There are things about Kylo and Rey that either mirror each other or contrast with each other

At the beginning of the film, when Rey finds Luke and tells him that she’s looking for someone who can show her her place in wider scheme of things. She’s spent her entire life on her own and then she discovers that she has all these powers. She’s lost. She doesn’t know what to do with her gifts. She thinks that Luke can teach her and help her figure out her place.

Then you have Kylo/Ben. He’s convinced that he chose the right side. He’s committed to the Dark side of the force and sure that his teacher, Snoke is grooming him to be a powerful user of the Force. He might be conflicted and feel the pull of the Light, but he thinks that his place is with the Dark side.

By the end of the film, they both face a bit of a rude awakening. Rey finds out that Luke is not the legend she believed him to be. He’s not interested in teaching her. Add to that, he’s not completely honest with her when he talks about how Kylo attacked him and his students. Kylo, on the other hand, learns that Snoke was just manipulating him. Using him, just as his father warned him in TFA.

By the end of the film, their positions are reversed. Rey chooses the Light side and goes to the Resistance to help save them. Kylo is left behind, having killed his master, he thinks that he can now take over the First Order and be the Supreme Leader. He think he’s found his place but finds that it offers him no peace. This is reflected in their final scene together. Rey on the Falcon, looking sure and confident. And Kylo on his knees with his father’s dice in his hands, looking defeated. I think that’s the moment that it dawns on him that he made a mistake and he may have chosen the wrong path.

At their core, they’re both looking for the same thing, a sense of belonging. And I think they felt that through the Force Bond with each other. It’s why they gradually grew closer, let their guard down when they were together. They’re two people who grew disillusioned with the people that they looked up to, Kylo with Snoke and Rey with Luke. Rey, at least, having the Light side, is better off because she’s not constantly struggling against her own nature, the way Kylo is. He feels the pull of the light and he fights it and I believe that the pull has only gotten stronger. He’s in a constant state of turmoil.

I don’t think this Star Wars is about absolutes. A Force user who’s pure Light or one who’s pure Dark. Those were the ways of the Jedi and Sith. And as Luke and Yoda told us, the Jedi are dead. That’s not how the new generation of Force users will evolve. The lesson is that there is Dark and Light in all of us. Just as there is Light in Kylo, there is Dark in Rey. Just look at her face when she’s fighting the Praetorian Guards, and compare that to Obi Wan fighting, there is a look of calm on his face, while her face displays rage. She’s not channeling the Light in her during that fight. During TFA, Snoke tells Kylo that he feels compassion for the girl. Anakin defined compassion as unconditional love. The use of the word ‘compassion’ is not accidental.

Right now, both Kylo and Rey are thinking in terms of absolutes. Rey seeks to reject the Dark parts of her while Kylo wants to purge the Light parts of him. Neither will know true peace till they accept all of themselves. And in accepting those parts of themselves, they will grow to accept each other for who they are, without one trying to turn the other.

In my opinion, this new trilogy can’t end without a redemption arc for Kylo/Ben. It would have been too soon for it to happen in TLJ. For someone who has spent so many years under Snoke, working for the Dark side, it would not have been realistic to suddenly renounce everything he believed in. I think TLJ was laying the groundwork for his redemption and we will ultimately see that in episode 9. The cracks are already there and add Rey to that mix and it’s only a matter of time.

In order for true harmony and balance, Rey and Kylo/Ben must come together. They are the ones who are going to establish balance. In the PT, Qui-Gon thought that Anakin would bring balance to the Force and in the OT, Obi-Wan thought it would be Luke. They were both wrong, even Kylo, on his own can’t bring balance. But with Rey, they create true harmony where the Dark and Light are balanced. They need each other. There are too many parallels, too many things linking them for all of it to be one big coincidence.

In TFA, Kylo tells Vader’s mask that he will finish what he started, and I think he will, it just won’t be what he thought at the time. Anakin wanted to bring balance to the Force before he got seduced to the dark side, Kylo will bring that balance with Rey by his side. Two people who understand each other like no one else in the galaxy.

P.S. – I know that Poe and Rey only said hi in TLJ but I will mad as hell if they suddenly develop feelings for each other. I hope JJ Abrams doesn’t do that.. Any thoughts fellow reylo fans?

The Fallen Kingdom (The Falconer #3) by Elizabeth May Review

I really enjoyed The Fallen Kingdom. It works well as the final book in the series and ties up all the loose ends and offers a satisfying conclusion.

The Fallen Kingdom felt like a short read. It was fast paced and yet it didn’t feel hurried. The plot was a little convenient but that can be overlooked because just how much fun it was. It was also action-packed and weaved in well with the over-all plot.

The Falconer Series has some very interesting characters, both good and bad. One of the best aspects of this series is the number of grey characters. These characters change with their experiences. Even Aileana is very blood thirsty and ruthless character, something that she has to deal with. Then there is Kiaran, he is the Unseelie King and it’s in his nature to hunt humans and he constantly battles that. Aithinne and Catherine are probably the only two characters who are genuinely good and decent. Who haven’t let their circumstances turn them bitter.

I was also glad to learn that Aithinne is a lesbian, inclusivity is always good. I also liked the relationship between Aileana and Kiaran. I liked that Aileana refused to treat Kiaran as an object to be won. And Kiaran didn’t undermine Aileana. He saw her abilities and trusted her to get the job done.

I’ve always loved Derrick, he’s been one of my favourite characters since book 1 and he’s just as entertaining as always. Aithinne is hilarious and unflappable. She remains inherently good despite all that she’s gone through. One of the surprises this time was Sorcha. I was prepared to dislike her but The Fallen Kingdom humanises her. We learn of her humble origins and learn that while she is conniving and manipulative, she is a product of her childhood. That she had to be all of these things to survive.

The Fallen Kingdom may not be the strongest book of the series but it is still a fun read and a fitting end to the trilogy.

Reylo Thoughts – Post TLJ

So, I’ve seen The Last Jedi twice now (with the possibility of a third viewing) and I’ve been torn about what it could mean for Reylo going forward. I think there were some great moments of foreshadowing in the film and parallels if one was watching carefully. I will attempt to write about some of them in this post.

One of the things that struck me immediately was Ren’s demeanour in the Force Visions. In ‘real life’ he has a volatile disposition, quick to lose his temper, but in the Force Visions, he’s eerily calm. In fact, it’s Rey who is the more turbulent of the two. She even fires at him in their first encounter while he’s just sitting there. And even after that, Rey runs out, clearly still intent on attacking him while he runs out and skids to a stop. There’s no aggression in his body language. This is echoed throughout their Force Bond exchanges. It changes when Rey goes into the Dark pit and comes back shaken. She talks about how she felt so alone and Ren replies that she isn’t. His facial expression is very important here. It didn’t strike me during the first watch, but when I saw it again, his eyes were wet, like there were unshed tears. This was not a warrior of the dark side. We saw him open up to Rey long before she opened up to him. He never retaliated against her verbal assault, even going so far as to agree with her when she calls him a monster.

We know from the TFA that he felt even more conflicted after killing Han. And that conflict is worsened with his interactions with Rey. I think it’s safe to say that it’s not Kylo Ren she’s talking to but Ben Solo. Another key scene is when he goes after the Resistance after destroying his helmet. He knows Leia is on the bridge and there is a very specific cutaway to his thumbs on the trigger, he starts to press it but then chooses not to. And is shocked when his back-up fires anyway. See that scene carefully, his reaction is one of shock. Even in the build-up of the scene, there are tears in his eyes and he can clearly sense his mother. If the point of TLJ was to establish Ren as a villain, they did a very shoddy job of it.

Another thing that struck me was that Ren never lied to Rey. When Luke told Rey of how Ben turned on him, he wasn’t being completely honest. It is Kylo who offers more insight into the situation. Of course, his version is also incomplete and muddled because of what Snoke must have told him following that incident. I think it’s also important to understand, that Kylo thought his own uncle and mentor tried to kill him in his sleep, that has got to hurt. Even outside of that, he never tries to manipulate Rey.

Then there’s the scene of a shirtless Kylo Ren. This is a very typical trope, we’ve seen in so many romantic films/tv shows. It always involves people who are meant to be a couple. I’ve read the ‘official reason’ as to why that scene is there in the film and I call BS. That’s a flimsy excuse if I ever heard one. At no point did he have to be shirtless. And Rey’s reaction is to be flustered, she’s not unaffected here. There is no way this scene plays out as platonic. And when Rey says to him, right at the beginning of that scene something like she’d rather not do this now, his tone is telling. It’s dry with just a hint of humour. But she’s still mad at him.

I think the other thing that the Force Bond served to do was bring them closer. It made Rey see him as more than someone she hates. She finally sees him a human being, as someone who was let down by people he needed. Someone who’s as lost as she is. She sees someone who understands her pain, her loneliness, the isolation she’s felt all her life. In a lot of ways, they parallel each other. They’re the only two people who can truly understand what the other is going through.

The throne room scene is a very important one in the film for a number of reasons. First, I think that when Snoke reveals that he bridged their minds, that was a lie. If that was the case, that link would have ceased to exist with his death, but that clearly did not happen. I think they bonded when Kylo tried to read her mind in TFA and she read his mind instead. I think they inexplicably bonded without realising it and Snoke noticed that and tried to use it to his advantage. But he made a fatal mistake. Right before Kylo kills Han, Han tells him that Snoke is only using him for his powers and Snoke proves him right. Till then, Kylo thought that Snoke saw him and his potential and respected that. But that was not the case at all, Snoke was using him, exploiting his ‘weakness’.

The fight scene is also very interesting. The one thing that jumped out at me was the part where Rey seems to grab Kylo’s thigh/hip while leaning on his back and he literally lifts her with his butt, giving her the leverage to fight off one of the Praetorian guards. I mean, what was the point of that particular move? These fight scenes are meticulously choreographed and they’re very precise and it’s interesting that they chose to with that move. Can you imagine, during rehearsals and training, while they were coming up with ideas for the fight, someone brought up this idea and it was okayed by Rian Johnson, assuming it wasn’t his idea to begin with.

They also fight like they’ve been training together their entire lives. They’re so in sync with each other. They know where the other is at all times and are aware when they’re in danger. When Kylo sees that Rey is having a hard time, there is an urgency to his moves, like he wants to get to her faster. Similarly with Rey, when she notices that Ren is in danger, she doesn’t hesitate and throws him the lightsaber. That scene is also drives home the point that they had to work together. On their own, neither would have made it out, but together, they defeated the guards.

One of my favourite scenes was right after the fight when Rey asks him to call off the attack. When she realises that he won’t, there is such heartbreak on her face. But let’s look at it from Kylo’s point of view. His master and mentor had tried to kill him (Luke), he had killed his own father and then realised that Snoke had been using him all along. He was never going to with Rey, This was a man who’s entire world had just tipped over. Everything he believed about himself and his new teacher was a lie. When he says that he wants to destroy the old, he’s talking about all the things that held them back. Told them what was possible and what wasn’t. He was done with the First Order, with the Republic, with the Jedi and the Sith. He essentially chose no side. But more importantly, there is such desperation when he asks Rey to stay by his side. He is desperate, he’s finally found someone who didn’t lie to him. Who was his equal in power and truly saw him, not as a weapon to use but as person. She saw him. And you can see it in her face, she’s torn, there is a part of her that wants to take his hand, not to rule the galaxy, that’s not her ambition, but to simply stay with someone who truly understands her as well. But it’s the ‘please’ that gets me every time, the way his voice breaks when he says it. That’s what I mean that he’s desperate and hurting.

Also, can we talk about the fact that Rey woke up before Kylo and did not kill him. She even gave him back his lightsaber. If she truly thought he was evil, that was the perfect moment to get rid of him. He was unconscious. But she doesn’t kill him. I think it’s because she can still sense light in him, that there is a chance that he’ll come back to the light.

In episode 9, Rey will be back with the Resistance and I think she will still be plagued by her feelings of loneliness and isolation. There are no Jedi in the resistance, not even people who are force sensitive. And add to that, she and Kylo are still linked by the Force Bond and that will definitely play a roll in episode 9. I don’t think TLJ set up Kylo as a villain, if it wanted to make him irredeemable, they really messed up because the Kylo Ren we see at the end, is a broken man. He’s on his knees. When he and Rey look at each other, again, there is no rage on his part when only moments before he had been lashing out. He stays on his knees, his posture doesn’t change. And Rey also pauses, she doesn’t immediately shut the door on his face. She doesn’t lash out at him. She looks at him for a moment and then shuts the door. We then see him again, still on the floor, a tight close up of his eyes, tormented and torn, looking down at Han’s dice that Luke gave to Leia. When they fade, his hand curls around them. I think the big take away is that ultimately Kylo has to save himself. He started that process when he killed Snoke and ended the film even more conflicted than before.

Star Wars is big on foreshadowing and these films are so carefully crafted that you can’t discount anything as an accident. There aren’t any, everything you see in the film was intended to be there. The Skywalker line has been at the center of the first two trilogies and we know that Kylo and Rey are the central figures of this trilogy. There is no way that Kylo stays a villain or that he dies in episode 9. We already saw Anakin fall to the dark side, I don’t see Kylo falling for the same trap. The original trilogy ended with Vader’s redemption and death. I think episode 9 will end with Ben coming back to Rey. She is the light to his dark.

Just before leaving Ach-To, she asks Luke to come back with her one last time when he’s trying to convince her that going to Kylo is a bad idea. When he refuses yet again, Rey says that with him not participating, Kylo is their only hope. That’s not a random statement. Luke effectively ascended and therefore can no longer help the Resistance, that brings us back to Kylo. Rey is a badass and a prodigy, I’m not undermining her abilities, but she can’t fight the First Order alone, she needs Ben by her side, fighting the way they fought against the Praetorian guards.

I think Kylo Ren as the big bad is a misdirect. He is going to find his way back to the light. I think the character that will emerge as the big bad is General Hux. I don’t know how many people noticed this but he looked positively sick in the film. More pasty than in TFA, he had dark circles and he looked gaunt. I think there is a slim chance that Snoke survived being skewered by being linked to Hux. Even if that’s not the case, he’s still very much a threat to Kylo. He hates his guts and would have happily killed him had Kylo not woken up when he did.

As far as love interests go, TLJ paired Rose and Finn and Kylo/Ben and Rey. I am worried that episode 9 may try to force a Poe and Rey romance but that would be bad writing, for one, they had their first encounter in TLJ. Setting up a relationship in episode 9 is simply too late. There are no stakes for the audience and no emotional investment, the way we are invested in Rose and Finn and Kylo and Rey.  Besides, i think Poe’s journey is different, that of becoming a leader.

But tell me what you think? This meta is nowhere as organised as I wanted it to be. But I am looking forward to reading what you guys think.