Book Review: The Diabolic

the diabolicThe Diabolic
by S. J. Kincaid
Young Adult Sci-fi
403 pages
Published 2016

I really enjoyed this book. There were twists I absolutely did not see coming, and Nemesis’s confusion over whether she is truly human or not is an absorbing part of the plotline.

The book opens on Nemesis, an artificially created humanoid, as a child, being bonded to her charge, Sidonia Impyrean. The chemically-induced bonding creates an artificial love from Nemesis towards Sidonia – a love so strong she will kill and die to protect her. Many years later, Diabolics – what Nemesis is – are outlawed. Rather than kill Nemesis, Sidonia’s family fakes her death, and eventually sends Nemesis to court masquerading as Sidonia. No one has seen Sidonia before, so the masquerade is fairly easy, other than hiding Nemesis’ real abilities as one of the last Diabolics. Thrown into a world of conspiracies and courtly intrigue, Nemesis flails a little bit, but eventually finds her footing, and I can’t say anymore than that because that’s when the plot twists start!

This is one of the most surprising YA books I’ve read. I only anticipated one or two of the twists; many of the events revealed themselves to the reader at the same time that Nemesis uncovers them, which makes sense, as the book is told from her point of view.

The bond between Sidonia and Nemesis is strong and intriguing, even across star systems. I wish their relationship had been explored more. Sidonia always believed Nemesis was truly human, even when Nemesis did not. The book did not delve deeply into the actual creation of Diabolics; I’m hoping the sequel does. I’m curious if they are actually created, or if they are genetically modified humans and that’s just a closely guarded secret. (Even if they are created, they’re human in every way except their strength and endurance – I’m sure they’re simply modified in the womb. Or test tube. Whichever. I really hope the sequel gets into that.)

I have the sequel, The Empress, requested from the library, but it’s supposed to be a trilogy. I don’t know when the third is due out.

This is a fantastic, surprising YA book with interesting politics and world building. I really want to learn more about the history of this world, and hopefully the rest of the trilogy will cover that.

From the cover of The Diabolic:

A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for. 

Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.

When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.

As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.

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Book Review: Dragon Heart

dragon heartDragon Heart
by Cecelia Holland
Fantasy
286 pages
Published 2015

I picked this up on a whim; the cover and synopsis made it sound like yet another maiden-befriends-a-dragon standard fantasy novel, with her family in the balance. I was wrong. I’d never heard of the author, but apparently she has been writing historical fiction since the 60s, and she took that wealth of experience and added a dragon to make this gothic tale of a family fighting to keep their sovereignty against an encroaching empire.

I actually wish the dragon had featured in the story more than he did; I want to know more about his history and why he was so intrigued by Tirza. Why they could understand each other when no one else could. I’m disappointed that was never explained.

The mysteries of the castle were never really explained, either, though one of the stories Tirza tells the dragon hints at it. Castle Ocean seems to be alive, in some ways, refusing to be altered from its original construction by slowly reverting any changes and luring invaders down dark hallways they will never find their way out of again. The gothic atmosphere of the novel was fascinating.

It definitely absorbed my attention for several hours. I’d give it a 3/5, I think. Not incredibly outstanding, but well done and a little hypnotic.

From the cover of Dragon Heart:

Where the Cape of Winds juts into the endless sea, there is Castle Ocean, which is either haunted or simply alive, and therein dwells the royal family that has ruled it from time immemorial. But there is an Empire growing in the east, and its forces have reached the castle. King Reymarro is dead in battle, and by the new treaty, Queen Marioza must marry one of the Emperor’s brothers. She loathes the idea and has already killed the first brother, but a second arrives, escorted by more soldiers. While Marioza delays, her youngest son, Jeon, goes on a journey in search of his mute twin, Tirza, who needs to be present for the wedding.

As Jeon and Tirza return by sea, their ship is attacked by a shocking and powerful dragon, red as blood and big as the ship. Thrown into the water, Tirza clings to the dragon and after an underwater journey, finds herself alone with the creature in an inland sea pool. Surprisingly, she is able to talk to the beast and understand it.

So begins a saga of violence, destruction, and death, of love and mosters, human and otherwise. 

Book Review: Tortall – A Spy’s Guide

tortall spy guideTortall: A Spy’s Guide
Tamora Pierce
YA Fantasy Guidebook
294 pages
Published October 2017

I was actually very disappointed by this one. I had high hopes – I love Tamora Pierce. I’ve read almost all of her books, and reviewed several of them on this blog, most recently Tempests and Slaughter. I was hoping the Timeline would place the actual books in the timeline, but it’s written completely in character, so only notable figures are named. (Beka Cooper, from the Mastiff trilogy, was not notable enough to get a mention, which I am quite sad about.) I knew this was going to be written in a guidebook style, not a novel, so I was prepared for that, but it still just didn’t mesh well.

There were certainly amusing parts – the Spymaster taking an inordinate interest in someone stealing the royal Chef’s recipes, because he loves the man’s soups, for one. Also infuriating points, like the letters between the King and the man he asks to become the new Knight trainer – a man who really dislikes Alanna and female knights in general. I found the “threat-level profiles” on characters to be mostly rehashing of things we already knew.

The few mentions of Emperor Ozorne do make me want to go reread The Immortals War set of books, which I’d already somewhat wanted to do after reading Tempests and Slaughter. Now that I know they also deal with Ozorne, I want to read them again even more!

So I don’t know. I could see it being a useful reference guide, but it’s not really a good read. I’m pretty ambivalent about it. I would read any other Tamora Pierce book rather than this one.

From the cover of Tortall: A Spy’s Guide:

The secrets of Tortall are revealed. . . .

As Tortall’s spymaster, George Cooper has sensitive documents from all corners of the realm. When Alanna sends him a surprising letter, he cleans out his office and discovers letters from when King Jonathan and Queen Thayet first ascended the throne, notes on creating the Shadow Service of spies, threat-level profiles on favorite characters, Daine’s notes on immortals, as well as family papers, such as Aly’s first report as a young spy and Neal’s lessons with the Lioness. This rich guide also includes the first official timeline of Tortallan events from when it became a sovereign nation to the year Aly gives birth to triplets. Part history, part spy training manual, and entirely fascinating, this beautiful guide makes a perfect gift and is ideal for anyone who loves Alanna, King Jonathan, Queen Thayet, Kel, Neal, Aly, Thom, Daine, Numair, and the unforgettable world of Tortall!

Book Review: Beasts Made of Night

beasts made of nightBeasts Made of Night
by Tochi Onyebuchi
Fantasy
296 pages
Published October 2017

So this Nigerian-influenced fantasy made enough of a splash when it was released in October that I JUST got it in my hands from the library. That long wait….was not actually justified, sadly. The cover is GORGEOUS and the concept is really, really cool – the execution is lacking. I can tell that the author had the world pretty fleshed out in his mind, from the geography to the vocabulary – but he didn’t actually pass that knowledge on to the reader. Kos is a walled city, but I’m not sure whether the Palace is within the walls or not? In one scene our protagonist LEAPS out of the castle and runs back the city – but in another scene he mentions that looking out the castle wall, Kos fits behind his fingernail. Kos is made up of several neighborhood plus a market – it’s not small. So either his fingernail is HUGE or Kos is a pretty decent distance away. But it’s written as if it only takes him about ten minutes to run there? Not to mention that he cracked a rib in the room that he leaped from (which is never mentioned again).

Oh and he winds up landing in an ivy maze out of nowhere – he couldn’t see it from the palace? Let’s see….the King regularly bombards neighborhoods with catapults in what’s called a “baptism” but the people haven’t revolted against this, for some reason. They talk about something called a “kanselo” but never define it. I -think- it’s like an organized group or coalition, but I’m really not entirely sure.

The male protagonist treats every woman his age as a potential love interest, debating whether to give them his heart-stone, or whether people will think he’s already given one girl or another his heart-stone – but never stops to ask if the girls are interested in HIM that way. Because of COURSE they would be, right? He’s the Sky-Fist! The Lightbringer! The one whose tattoos never fade! (Eating sin-beasts causes a black tattoo to appear on your skin – on most sin-eaters these fade eventually.) Also he’s just DUMB. He recalls that the sin-eater who ate his mother’s sin had a certain tattoo, and when he runs across her years later, it takes him three or four encounters before realizing it’s the same sin-eater. (The tattoo is a spider. Covering her FACE. It hasn’t faded.) He makes stupid decisions – after nightmares of one love-interest being attacked by sin-beasts, he LEAVES HER SURROUNDED BY THEM to go run out into the city. He has at least FIVE love interests in this book. And only ONE of them seems interested in him in return.

I really wanted to like this book. The concept of sin-eating is great. But the main character and all the one-dimensional characters that surrounded him, along with the confusing geography, just turned me off. And I’m not even getting into the “ending.” Yeah. Definitely throwing quotes on that because that was not an ending. The book just stops.

Skip this. It was a terrible book wrapped in a deceptively pretty package.

It does tick off my “time of day in the title” prompt for the PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge, though.

From the cover of Beasts Made of Night:

In the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts—lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt. Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family. 

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a member of the royal family, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves—and his own life. 

Debut author Tochi Onyebuchi delivers an unforgettable series opener that powerfully explores the true meaning of justice and guilt. Packed with dark magic and thrilling action, Beasts Made of Night is a gritty Nigerian-influenced fantasy perfect for fans of Paolo Bacigalupi and Nnedi Okorafor.

Book Review: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire

bright smokeBright Smoke, Cold Fire
by Rosamund Hodge
YA Fantasy
437 pages
Published 2016

I read the description of this book somewhere and immediately requested it from the library – a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet in a dying world with necromancers? SIGN ME UP. And it did not disappoint!

Hodge has written a few other books – Cruel Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and Crimson Bound, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. (She also has a novella that spins Cinderella.) You all know how much I like my redone Fairy Tales! Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, is a little different in that it’s a Shakespeare play, instead of a fairy tale. I recently read and reviewed Miranda and Caliban, another Shakespeare reskin, but this, I think, is much better.

The Capulets have become the Catresou, and the Montagues the Mahyanai in this dark fantasy. The Ruining has killed every human outside the city of Viyara/Verona – only stopped by the mystical walls put up by a long-dead priestess and maintained by a mysterious cult of nuns.

My favorite characters in this book – and arguably the main characters – are Runajo (Rosaline) and Paris, rather than Romeo and the Juliet. (It’s a title, not a name – her name was stripped from her as an infant when the magic was worked to make her “the Juliet.”) The original play doesn’t give either of them much time, and they are both fascinating characters in this novel – Runajo a little more than Paris, in my opinion. Runajo is a member of the Sisters of Thorns – the cult of nuns keeping the walls of Viyara up against The Ruining. When she accidentally brings the Juliet back from death, she becomes – or at least thinks she becomes – that which she and the city fear the most. A necromancer. Runajo and the Juliet both believe they will (and should) die for this crime, but still use the time they have left to try and save the city from the necromancers operating within.

Meanwhile, Paris and Romeo have found themselves bound by the magic that should have bound Romeo and Juliet, had it not gone terribly wrong. They can feel each other’s emotions, see each other’s memories, hear each other’s thoughts. This is understandably awkward for Paris as he feels Romeo’s grief for the Juliet’s supposed death, and occasionally catches flashes of more intimate moments between the two. They decide to take on the city’s necromancers in memory of the Juliet.

I liked how, similar to the play, Romeo and Juliet both operate for the entirety of the book under the assumption that the other one is dead. They both take risks and agree to things they would not have done if they didn’t each welcome death in their own way.

I also very much enjoyed a side, non-binary character who I really want to see more of!

The book ended on an upsetting cliffhanger, which is really my only problem with it. The sequel is due out this summer (Endless Water, Starless Sky) and I will definitely be picking it up.

Great book, but you may want to wait a few months so you can immediately follow it with the sequel!

From the cover of Bright Smoke, Cold Fire:

When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the city of Viyara was left untouched. 

As the heirs of Viyara’s most powerful – and warring – families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life. But the magic laid on the Juliet at birth compels her to punish her clan’s enemies, and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die. 

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding the Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong, killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his clan.

Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city – but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls the Juliet from the mouth of death and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl, only to learn she might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara. 

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the city’s walls, death is waiting.

Book Review: Dividing Eden

dividing edenDividing Eden
by Joelle Charbonneau
YA Fantasy
336 pages
Published June 2017

Dividing Eden is a little trite – it’s the typical teens must compete for the throne kind of fantasy, but this time it’s twins who are both guarding each other’s terrible secrets. You don’t LEARN their terrible secrets until almost 100 pages in, which was frustrating because they were alluded to multiple times before finally revealed to the reader. I almost stopped reading, I was so frustrated at the mention – AGAIN – of Andreus’ DARK SECRET THAT NO ONE MUST EVER KNOW. Seriously. Don’t do that to your readers.

The fact that they were protecting each other’s secret while competing against each other for the throne was rather unique, and while I don’t like Andreus much, I did enjoy Carys and her friends enough that I’ll probably pick up the sequel when it comes out this June.

Everything happened very quickly, but that tends to be the case in YA. Adult fantasy seems to take its time and develop its characters more fully, which I enjoy.

The windmills and electricity was surprising, and I’d really like to know more about their religion of Virtues, and the Wind and Seeing Magic. I wish she had described her forest monsters a little earlier; they were only referred to by name for most of the book and I was left wondering if they were monsters or human raiders of some sort!

Verdict is – it’s typical YA fantasy. If you’re looking for a quick read, you might enjoy it.

This also fills my PopSugar Reading Prompt for “a book with characters who are twins.”

From the cover of Dividing Eden:

Twins Carys and Andreus were never destined to rule Eden. With their older brother next in line to inherit the throne, the future of the kingdom was secure.

But appearances—and rivals—can be deceiving. When Eden’s king and crown prince are killed by assassins, Eden desperately needs a monarch, but the line of succession is no longer clear. With a ruling council scheming to gain power, Carys and Andreus are faced with only one option—to take part in a Trial of Succession that will determine which one of them is worthy of ruling the kingdom.

As sister and brother, Carys and Andreus have always kept each other safe—from their secrets, from the court, and from the monsters lurking in the mountains beyond the kingdom’s wall. But the Trial of Succession will test the bonds of trust and family.

With their country and their hearts divided, Carys and Andreus will discover exactly what each will do to win the crown. How long before suspicion takes hold and the thirst for power leads to the ultimate betrayal?