ARC Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

Title: Gilded Cage
Author: Vic James
Series: Dark Gifts, #1
Pages: 368
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release Date: February 14th 2017
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review*

      “Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.
      A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.
      Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?
      A boy dreams of revolution.
      Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.
      And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.
      He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

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Gilded Cage by Vic James has a unique premise, but never quite held my attention. It’s always disconcerting to go into a book thinking one thing and finding out it’s entirely something else. From the synopsis, I got the impression this was a historical fantasy; however, the novel is more in the vein of dystopian fantasy. In a world divided between those with unique Skills and those without, the Equals wield power through unconscionable means. Each citizen is required to fulfill ten years of slavery, most in the dilapidated slavetowns. When Abi arranges for her family to serve the Jardines, one of the most powerful Equal families, she hopes the decade passes quickly without incident. But her plans immediately go awry when her younger brother, Luke, is torn from his family and forced to work at the slavetown of Millmoor. Both will discover that Equals are far more dangerous than anyone imagined and there may be no stopping them.

Abi is a character that deserved a better storyline. She’s a hopeless romantic, but she’s smart and keeping her family safe is of utmost importance to her. Unfortunately, much of Abi’s story centers on her attraction to one of the Jardine sons. She spends most of her time inquiring about her brother or swooning over Jenner. Jenner was the least complex of the three Jardine brothers. None of the chapters are told through his perspective and he only shows up in order for Abi to silently wish he felt the same way about her. Abi’s crush is hard in itself to understand. The Equals are not known for their generosity and for whatever reason, Abi seems to forget that Jenner is part of the family that has enslaved hers. They literally treat a man like a dog, though Abi never struggles to reconcile Jenner’s supposed goodness with the acts of his family. There’s never a moment where he needs to prove himself to her as she’s all too ready to admire him based on the fact that he’s nicer than his brothers (which isn’t a hard thing to be).

Luke had the far more interesting storyline when he ends up working in harsh conditions, but finds light when he meets a group of commoners who aren’t ready to give up total control to the Equals. There’s a strong sense of community among them as they look after and provide for one another when those in charge see them as less than human. Their plans begin to expand as they get word that there is a possibility of the slavedays ending for good. Luke learns a lot through his time at Millmoor, but I did begin to wonder why neither he nor Abi had any real understanding of what went on in the slavetowns if everyone in the population, save for the Equals, was required to serve. Luke is just beginning to find his place in this group when he’s suddenly pulled right out of it. His arc comes to a chaotic close at the end of the novel that left me wondering if the rebellion really knew what they were doing to begin with.

The most interesting character was the youngest Jardine brother Silyen. He was manipulative and vicious and it was only when he was yielding power that I felt I had a grasp of what having a Skill meant. But even he wasn’t enough to save this novel. The periodic info-dumping didn’t help either, especially as I struggled to get through these chapters in particular. I was also never sure if this was a universe built upon real-world history or a form of alternate history as it never addressed colonialism and slavery, which I imagine would have an impact on how this new form of slavery would be received.

Rating: 2/5

★★

ARC Review: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

Title: Wintersong
Author: S. Jae-James
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Release Date: February 7th 2017
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review*

      “All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.
      But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.
      Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.”

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Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones has a gorgeous setting that begs to be explored, but its characters failed to draw me in. Liesl has grown up in a family that doesn’t quite appreciate her. Much of her life revolves around taking care of her younger brother, Josef, and helping him grow into a talented musician. Though Liesl once had her own dreams, she chose to bury them deep in order to help her brother succeed. Her relationship with her sister Käthe is much more rocky. Liesl’s practicality is juxtaposed with Käthe’s easy nature. Liesl is haunted by memories of an otherworldly childhood companion, memories that she is convinced are just a figment of her imagination. When Käthe is taken, Liesl can no longer deny these memories and must enter the Underground and claim her sister before she is lost forever.

Liesl is supposed to be a sympathetic character and for the most part, I did sympathize with her. She had loads of musical talent herself, but was forced to play second fiddle to her brother. Käthe was always looked at as the pretty one, while Liesl has come to accept that she is plain. Unfortunately, Liesl spent far too much time bemoaning these things. She continually put herself down and at every turn, denied her own talent because in her mind it would detract from her brother. What bothered me more was Liesl’s insistence on describing herself as plain. She seemed far too wrapped up in this fact and after a while, I tired of her putting such importance on how she looked. Liesl’s character does shine when it comes to music. A talented composer, Liesl has had little time to devote to her art and it was only when she was embracing this side of her, that I really felt moved by her character.

Liesl’s relationship with the Goblin King is confusing. Der Erlkönig is many things, beautiful and dangerous, one moment he is callous and the next surprisingly shy. Unfortunately, this made me feel like I was reading about two different characters that I was never able to reconcile. These contrasting traits made it even more difficult to feel anything when it came to the romance. Liesl and the Goblin King’s exchanges were at first filled with tension and it kept me reading, but quickly became tedious, especially when the protagonist didn’t quite understand her feelings and never really seemed to question them. We are told these two were friends when they were children, but are given little to no backstory regarding this. I would have liked a couple of flashbacks, just to put their relationship into perspective.

I did appreciate that Liesl finally came into her own and Jae-Jones had such beautiful descriptions when it came to the Goblin King’s world, but in the end I was left wanting more.

Rating: 2/5

★★

ARC Review: The Lovely Reckless by Kami Garcia

The Lovely Reckless by Kami Garcia

Title: The Lovely Reckless
Author: Kami Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Imprint
Release Date: October 4th 2016
**I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review**

      “Seventeen-year-old Frankie Devereux would do anything to forget the past. Haunted by the memory of her boyfriend’s death, she lives her life by one dangerous rule: Nothing matters. At least, that’s what Frankie tells herself after a reckless mistake forces her to leave her privileged life in the Heights to move in with her dad—an undercover cop. She transfers to a public high school in the Downs, where fistfights don’t faze anyone and illegal street racing is more popular than football.
      Marco Leone is the fastest street racer in the Downs. Tough, sexy, and hypnotic, he makes it impossible for Frankie to ignore him—and how he makes her feel. But the risks Marco takes for his family could have devastating consequences for them both. When Frankie discovers his secret, she has to make a choice. Will she let the pain of the past determine her future? Or will she risk what little she has left to follow her heart?

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Kami Garcia’s The Lovely Reckless starts off interesting enough, as a story about a girl trying to recover memories from a tragic night, but quickly becomes frustrating with an unlikable protagonist and a romance that moves far too quickly. Frankie Devereux hasn’t been the same since her boyfriend Noah died, she’s isolated herself from her friends and struggles to be the person her parents think she is. After a bad decision, Frankie is forced to move in with her father, who lives in the Downs, the poor side of town. From the get-go, it was hard to like Frankie when she seemed to resent both her parents for punishing her for her own stupid mistakes. She had this mindset that because she said she was sorry for driving while drunk that any consequences for those actions didn’t seem to apply to her.

Frankie’s romance with the bad-boy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks was part cringe-worthy and also unhealthy. Aside from being very cliché, Marco Leone had some violent tendencies and exhibited bad decision making, which made me question the protagonist’s judgment as well. There is an instant attraction between the two, which in itself wasn’t an issue, but this combined with Marco’s instant “protectiveness” of Frankie (which came across more like possessiveness) and the speed at which their relationship went from “I find you attractive” to “I can’t live without you” had me shaking my head in dismay. Frankie is so focused on Marco’s softer side that she can’t understand why people like her father would ever object to their relationship. To Frankie, her parents are always trying to ruin her life rather than look out for her future. While I would agree that her parents didn’t always go about things the right way, Frankie was so ready to forgive Marco his mistakes, but was never willing to give her own parents the benefit of the doubt.

I wasn’t too fond of the minor characters in this novel. Frankie’s two best friends Lex and Abel did manage to have their own character arcs, but it was hard to sympathize with so many characters who were making bad decisions at every turn. Just like with Marco, we as readers are supposed to be forgiving when the true motives of these characters are revealed. This was a very contrived way to create conflict when the characters could have and should have been honest in the beginning. There is one minor character that I actually did enjoy. Cruz became an unlikely friend to Frankie. She was tough and struggled with some difficult family issues. I really wish we could have learned more about her and several times wished the novel had focused on her instead.

The Lovely Reckless was a hard read to get through. The swoon-worthy moments induced major eye-rolling on my part and the patched-up ending left me unsatisfied.

Rating: 1/5

ARC Review: The Graces by Laure Eve

The Graces by Laure Eve

Title: The Graces
Author: Laure Eve
Series: The Graces, #1
Pages: 352
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: September 6th 2016
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review* 

      “In The Graces, the first rule of witchcraft states that if you want something badly enough, you can get it . . . no matter who has to pay.
      Everyone loves the Graces. Fenrin, Thalia, and Summer Grace are captivating, wealthy, and glamorous. They’ve managed to cast a spell over not just their high school but also their entire town—and they’re rumored to have powerful connections all over the world. If you’re not in love with one of them, you want to be them. Especially River: the loner, new girl at school. She’s different from her peers, who both revere and fear the Grace family. She wants to be a Grace more than anything. And what the Graces don’t know is that River’s presence in town is no accident.

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Laure Eve’s The Graces had its ups and downs, but ultimately ended up being more intriguing than I thought it would be. The protagonist of the novel is a character hard to like. From the beginning I didn’t quite understand River. She keeps a lot of who she is and what’s she’s been through guarded from outside eyes. As a reader, I found this frustrating, especially when the story is told in first person. And while this does seem like a deliberate choice on the author’s part, for a large portion of the novel, I found it difficult to connect with her, especially when it came to her reaction to the Graces.

When we first meet River, she is fascinated by the Graces, a family rumored to be witches. I was initially wary of the three Grace teenagers because of the way other people reacted to them. Everyone, including River, puts them on a pedestal. When Summer, Thalia, and Fenrin walk by, people stop to watch them. Everyone wants to be their friend or date them. These three Graces understand this and if River’s narrative is to be believed, they take advantage of this adulation bestowed upon them by others. What I didn’t expect is that by the end, I really started to like these characters. Yes, there are moments when they seem to look down on those who aren’t Graces and they have a tendency to cut people off when they no longer feel they are worth their time, but there was something very tragic about them as well. As the story unfolds, the Graces become more than the idolized version we’re first presented with.

River’s motivates are suspect from the beginning. She wants an in with the Graces and seems obsessed with getting Fenrin to notice her. She declares herself in love with him and despite knowing every girl at school is also in love with him, is convinced that she offers him something different. River schools her behavior in order to draw their attention, pretending not to care when she very clearly cares too much. It took a long time for me to figure out if the author was deliberately presenting River in this unflattering way or not, which affected the way I read her character and the story.

Laure Eve’s writing has a lot of potential. There were moments where her descriptions were really beautiful, but there were also very cliché and cringe-worthy language that worked against the narrative. The ending of the novel really surprised me and left me wondering if I’d have rated it higher if given all the answers from the beginning.

Rating: 2/5

★★

ARC Review: Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond

Girl in the Shadows by Gwenda Bond

Title: Girl in the Shadows
Author: Gwenda Bond
Series: Girl on a Wire, #2
Pages: 370
Publisher: Skyscape
Release Date: July 5th 2016
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review.* 

      “Eighteen-year-old Moira Mitchell grew up in the shadows of Vegas’s stage lights while her father’s career as a magician soared. More than anything, Moira wants to be a magician too, but her father is dead set against her pursuing magic.
      When an invitation to join the Cirque American mistakenly falls into Moira’s possession, she takes action. Instead of giving the highly coveted invitation to its intended recipient, Raleigh, her father’s handsome and worldly former apprentice, Moira takes off to join the Cirque. If she can perform alongside its world-famous acts, she knows she’ll be able to convince her dad that magic is her future.
      But when Moira arrives, things take on an intensity she can’t control as her stage magic suddenly feels like…real magic. To further distract her, Raleigh shows up none too pleased at Moira’s presence, all while the Cirque’s cocky and intriguing knife thrower, Dez, seems to have it out for her. As tensions mount and Moira’s abilities come into question, she must decide what’s real and what’s an illusion. If she doesn’t sort it out in time, she may forever remain a girl in the shadows.”

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Gwenda Bond’s Girl in the Shadows, the sequel to her novel Girl on a Wire, tells the story of a girl who longs to be a magician like her father, but is destined for an even bigger stage. I haven’t read the first book in this series, so I was a little nervous going into this one, but this novel focuses largely on a different character and doesn’t necessarily require you to read the first. Moira wants more than anything to work magic for audiences, but her father has always been against the idea, despite the fact that he is a talented magician himself. I admire Moira’s drive, even with her father’s disapproval, she still continues to pursue her dream and becomes a gifted magician. One major drawback for her character though is her relentless need to take huge risks that didn’t feel necessary. She never seemed to learn from her past mistakes and even when another character pointed out that she didn’t need to take certain risks, she would inevitably do it anyway.

Moira’s love interest Dez was a character that felt largely incomplete and also graded on my nerves. When we first meet Dez, he’s exactly what you’d expect from a run-of-the-mill cocky, hot love-interest. His smiles are irresistible, his attention is flattering, and he’s hiding this softer side that only the female protagonist can see. What really annoyed me the most was that Dez was in constant need of reassurance. He continually would point out to Moira that he wasn’t good enough for her, that he didn’t deserve her, and they were too different. She in turn had to continually tell him he was worth it. This would have been fine if it happened once, but it felt like it kept happening over and over. I did not care much for their relationship, as it takes off rather quickly and really felt like it had no real depth.

There is an element of real magic to the novel that probably would have been more interesting if Moira had met someone with the same kind of ability she had, who was also an ally for her. Instead the protagonist must discover how to use her abilities on her own, with only vague clues to work with. The magical system felt very incomplete as a result. The adults were another part of this book that I didn’t like. Most of them seemed to be either infuriatingly passive or frustratingly overbearing. For the most part, they functioned as obstacles in Moira’s story and didn’t feel well-rounded enough. One saving grace for the novel is Moira’s dedication to her female role-models. Before every performance, she would take the time to dedicate her show to a real life female magician that she drew inspiration from.

Rating: 2/5

★★

ARC Review: The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

Vanishing Throne_final front cover.pdf

Title: The Vanishing Throne
Author: Elizabeth May
Series: The Falconer, #2
Pages: 384
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: June 21st 2016
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review* 

      “Aileana Kameron, the Falconer, disappeared through the portal that she was trying to close forever. Now she wakes up in the fae world, trapped and tortured by the evil Lonnrach. With the help of an unexpected ally, Aileana re-enters the human world, only to find everything irrevocably changed. Edinburgh has been destroyed, and the few human survivors are living in an uneasy truce with the fae, while both worlds are in danger of disappearing altogether. Aileana holds the key to saving both worlds, but in order to do so she must awaken her latent Falconer powers. And the price of doing that might be her life.

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It’s been nearly two years since I read Elizabeth May’s The Falconer and with the way it ended, its sequel The Vanishing Throne is long overdue. Aileana grew up sheltered from the evil of the world until the day she witnessed her mother being murdered at the hands of a monster. Discovering that fae existed and that they live to hunt humans was a tremendous revelation to begin with, but Aileana also discovered that she was a Falconer, a human with the ability to fight and kill fae. Along with her fae mentor Kiaran, Aileana has been battling these monsters, confident that she could put a stop to the chaos they’ve unleashed upon her world. With the barrier between worlds threatening to break, Aileana was tasked with sealing it for good, but then the unspeakable happened, she failed. The wall between the human and fae worlds collapsed, leaving her trapped in the fae realm and separated from everyone she loves.

Rare is the novel that allows a protagonist to fail to save the world, but May did just that at the end of The Falconer. At the beginning of this second book, Aileana is imprisoned in the fae world, devastated by her own failure and haunted by the knowledge that all those she loves may be dead. Lonnrach, a malevolent fae, wants something from Aileana and will do anything to get it. At his hands, the protagonist undergoes horrific torture, stripping her of strength and any hope for escape. Unlike many books I’ve read where the protagonist quickly overcomes being held against their will, Aileana struggles throughout the entire book with the aftereffects of being trapped and tormented. She has a specific coping mechanism she uses to help her through the trauma that she falls back on even after escape. These terrible experiences become a significant part of who Aileana is, gives her a greater understanding of another character, and drives her forward in her fight against the fae. In the first book, much of Aileana’s motivation to destroy the fae was bred from hate, but in this sequel, Aileana gains a better understanding of herself, able to control her emotions rather than letting them control her, helping her to realize her full potential as a Falconer. 

One of my favorite parts about this novel is the world-building. While we really only got a glimpse into the fae world in the first novel, this second book does an amazing job of broadening our perspective. Characters like Kiaran become more well-rounded because of the backstory provided and new characters like his sister Aithinne are easier to understand and sympathize with. I really enjoyed their relationship, despite their complicated past, their connection brings out a more personable side to them. This is essential, especially when dealing with characters like fae, who are often depicted as otherworldly and untouchable.

In The Vanishing Throne, May gives her readers a greater understanding of Aileana’s role as the Falconer and just what’s at stake for everyone in the final book. Her battle scenes are as epic as ever and her characters once again shine.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★