There are about a million things I love about 'The Silvered Serpents,' the latest in the Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi, and one thing, I absolutely detest. We'll save that for last though, because in no way do I want to allow it to overshadow the rest.
Though the series seems to be billed as Young Adult, the themes are actually very mature and fully developed, as are many of the scenarios the group of characters find themselves in. The relationships don't lack depth or physical contact, the author simply.. easily manages to convey it without getting down into the 'smutty details.'
Her prose is elegant and she deftly swings between intimate emotional sequences and moments of fast-paced action, without interrupting the flow of the story. The pace is constantly in flux, yet not disjointing. This is a genuinely talented writer and I loved the references to the legend of Laila and Majnun.
Severin, the focal point in much of the story, is absolutely sexy. He's the perfect mixture of beautiful, brooding, self-loathing behavior. The darkness and conflict in him, only serving to draw those around him (as well as the reader, in my case), closer and closer with every glimpse. Truly, he breaks my heart, and not just when he's good.
Laila.. is a lovely combination of strength and vulnerability. She has weaknesses, as we all do, but she's a tough girl. Not physically imposing or annoyingly overbearing. She doesn't overcompensate by trying to intimidate or insult (as a rule).. no. She's just tough enough to build those walls out of pride and the self-awareness that sometimes letting things through, might break her.
I often struggle to like more than a character or two in a story.. finding the others to be grating or insubstantial, but that's really not the case with any of Chokshi's characters. I am just as drawn to Hypnos' understated neediness, as Enrique's desperation for recognition, and Zofia's struggle to see things in the same ways as those around her. Even the antagonists and supporting characters are likable in their ways. Good, bad, or neutral, they're all vivid characters that I won't soon forget.. and.. don't wish to.
Now, remember that thing I said I hated? It's a cliffhanger. An utterly unnecessary.. mistake.. in my opinion. If this were some short, weekly serial a la the original release of Stephen King's 'The Green Mile?' Acceptable. If the writer/story were weak.. and the author needed something to capture the reader and bring them back for the next book.. at least understandable. But it's a tactic and nothing more.. and in this case.. it cheapens the work.
The cliffhanger takes a stunning story, filled with rich characters, creative mechanical and magical/alchemical elements, and gorgeous scenic imagery.. and rather than trusting in what it has to offer to draw the reader back.. it forces the issue. I understand that there's a continuing arc here that will carry throughout the books, but there's no reason to double down on that and give us an incomplete Act either. And that's how this feels.
All that being said, I highly recommend this novel. I'm going to go out and buy the first in the series, and I'll buy this one too when it releases in physical formats. I'll eagerly wait for news of a third. I didn't want to put 'The Silvered Serpents' down.. and I'm willing to bet.. you won't either..
'Blood Rose' by Rachael Vaughn
This novel left me conflicted, and it makes sense.. since 'Rachael Vaughn' is actually the pen name for a couple. According to their website bio, Laura Rachael Black and Trenton Vaughn Hockersmith share the writing duties.. and while such a partnership can yield amazing results, it requires the partners to be on equal footing creatively. These two do not seem to be. Though it's difficult to be certain who is responsible for what.. exactly.
Black is cited as the 'wordsmith'.. though the bulk of the writing weaves back and forth between effective use of a decent vocabulary and a really annoying habit of repeating the same word over and over, often within a paragraph, sometimes.. even the same sentence. I don't know if she's responsible for this, but someone is absolutely fixated on the word 'now.' 'Now' and 'now.' And it doesn't just happen with that word, but it is by far the most frequent offender. There's a difference between knowing some extra words and remembering to use them. Also.. someone fixates on references. It's absolutely unnecessary to refer to 'The Rot' by name.. more than once in a paragraph. Same issue. If that's our wordsmith, I'm glad her tattoos are lovely.
Hockersmith is credited as the world builder and plot developer, and here.. the book starts to shine. The imagery.. both realistic and fantastic.. by design, are rich in color and form. Yes, it's easy to compare some of the approach to Alice in Wonderland, but I think that's bound to happen just about anytime certain types of elements come into play. I still felt it was well done and distinctive.
The story itself, while easy to predict (there are no secrets along the way really, even if there are meant to be), is still enjoyable. The characters are robust. Unfortunately, the lead is a bit whiny, which left me more invested in the supporting characters and there's a whirlwind moment at the end that feels very much like an afterthought. There's no real build toward it through the novel and that made it feel almost forced. A moment for the sake of having one.
All in all, it's worth a read for the setting and story.. and I suppose that's what matters.. if you can ignore the repetition of those certain words. It does get easier. Most of the time.
It has been a long time since I have been moved by a somewhat dense fantasy novel.. but Justin Call managed exactly that. In fact, its density slowed my reading pace, but I was never bored. I was engrossed in every word.. every description.. every tale shared.. new and old.
I find, it's very easy in novels similar to this one, for the author's to lose my interest. They allow themselves to get so caught up in focusing on the world they're creating.. how and why it's different.. that they bog down the pages with excessive details. Don't get me wrong.. I love details. But there's such a thing as packing too much into a page too.
Call doesn't do that. Oh.. he gives you plenty of information. He offers enough to dig down inside and eat at you with worry over the characters' paths.. collisions you can see (or think you can see) coming.. and crises of conscience.. but he knows where and when to deliver it. He trickles those bits of information throughout his story with a skill I rarely see in modern writers. He finesses them.
The story is filled with foreboding and tragedy.. love and loss.. and not always in the ways you would expect. His characters grow and change, sometimes for the better.. others.. not so much. Some of them seem to waver on the verge of something great or horrible.. and surprise.. surprise.. not all of them take the same turns.
I loved this book. I'm not an emotional person really.. but it brought tears to my eyes at least once. It's not fast paced, it moves with the trepidation of it's main character.. young Annev, like it too.. is unsure what it will become. But every step is worth following.. and I cannot wait for the next book..
I wanted to give this book a try because I love a good horror anthology and it's been years since I've read one. Normally, the ones I read are also a collection of various different writers (preferably laced with a story from Stephen King or Graham Masterton), but this one is exclusively Tullius' writings.
That being said, it was really fun. The stories were full of the usual twists, sometimes graphic and other times just kind of sad. But horror takes on many forms and sometimes sad results are scarier than others.
There were moments where I cheered a little (even if I probably shouldn't have) and others that put unsettling ideas in my head before I fell asleep. Not the kinds of things you think about while you're trying to fall asleep per se.. no. The kinds you wake up dreaming about in some even more distorted fashion.. breathing too hard and having to settle back down.
Throughout the collection, I found the stories to be predictable.. and sometimes they ended almost too abruptly, but the substance was there and neither of those things really mattered. I definitely had my favorites though.. Wrong Side Tavern, Lethal Injection, and Book of Revelation.. were especially delicious.
For anyone wanting a quick fix of chills, I definitely recommend checking out Twisted Reunion. Mark Tullius' anthology is delightfully creepy.
After reading the synopsis for this book, I was so excited for a good 'them against the world' ghost story. Unfortunately, that isn't quite what I got, though I do think that was the intention.
To be fair, in the background out of sight much of the time, Max and Claire are working toward a common goal.. even if we don't realize it for a long while.
I will say that Galindo has a good grasp on story structure. I found his ideas within, to be creative and interesting. For a teen/young adult title, he played with some very adult concepts about zealotry and predetermined social assessment.
The story is nicely dark and the one thing I noted that I really like, is the author doesn't give in to the need to answer everything. At the end of the story, I did have a couple lingering questions, which is fantastic and rather rare.
It would have been nice, however, if he had prolonged the precise nature of her situation. 'Max knows and he's not telling' -- that's what the synopsis said. Yet we were told almost immediatedly. First by way of the tale she shares with him, then again right afterward through.. sort of a flashback of her actual experience. Frankly, the two together were overkill anyway.
Also, while I'd hoped for that story of the two friends fighting side by side to save her, and that is the impression we're given.. it's not what happens. What does go on in between the times we see both of them together, is incredibly boring and not at all indicative of what's to come.
It was not awful. It was not great. For someone this might be worth a read, but not me.
I expected this book to be a really fun, light read.. since it was published as a middle-grade title. To be honest, I think the writer just seems very inexperienced. While the approach of the topics seems geared correctly, the writing itself is unnecessarily convoluted in places.
That's not to say the story is complex. The main theme is a very clear, quest-driven path. The concepts are airy and magical. The creatures.. perhaps given a chance to enjoy them.. would be lovely.
Unfortunately, that's the biggest problem. The author doesn't seem to understand how to provide character and backstory information in an effective manner.. allowing the reader to absorb it and carry it forward in their mind throughout the read.
Literally, the first 20% of the book is spent massively downloading information to us. The opening pages begin with one of the many species we'll be seeing.. and the author goes through all of the defining characteristics of them (right down to varying colors/and what that means.. if there's an elemental connection).. piece by piece. Stopping, only to move onto the next species and do the exact same thing. Pages and pages of details that when delivered en masse, you have no hope of recalling properly.
The next 10% is a battle, which sounded like it might have been fantastic. If.. if.. again.. the author hadn't been tripped up by the need to overexplain everything. I don't mean giving us a good visual.. I'm talking.. letting the reader know exactly where every single named (often 4-5 within each species) character is and what they are doing.. during the battle. In fact, throughout the book, she's terrible about having to name and interact with every single character present in a scene. There are five weredogs.. of course.. they all have to be spoken about individually.
Ultimately, I wanted to love this little book. Even with all it's problems, there were characters I liked and there were moments of tragedy that I felt. I just think this title could have been served far better by simplifying the delivery and cleaning up the scenes. Also, I really felt like the Blue Bottle didn't live up to the value assigned to it.. but.. that's just me. Hopefully, you'll feel differently. For me, it was just 'okay.'