Book Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass

Throne-of-Glass-book-coverThrone of Glass by Sarah J. Mass  

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: Kindle edition 2012 by Bloomsbury Children’s

Pages: 433

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Meet Celaena Sardothien.
Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

 

This novel is the first in a series, one which I look forward to continuing reading. Throne of Glass really held my attention. I felt engaged and invested in the fates of the characters.

Mass does a really great job at character development. There was a lot more focus on the characters than I was expecting. This isn’t a fast-paced fantasy. Although I really liked that Mass spent time properly developing her characters (something many YA books fall short on), I would have liked to have seen more of the competition. There are many Tests but we only see a couple of them. Including one or two of the others would have heightened the tension for me and made the tournament feel less sidelined. I did begin to lose interest part way through, with the emphasis on character relationships meaning the central plot was secondary at times, but the book always managed to pull me back in before I got too detached. There is a mystery element running through the story which helped keep the pages turning.

I also took issue with the premise of the tournament itself. The idea is brilliant and a great premise for a book. However, I never really understood why the king would want to choose between assassins, murderers and thieves to be his ‘Champion’. The whole idea of the competition seemed a bit contrived. A little more reasoning to this would have made it seem less forced.

Celaena was a great character, though I would have liked to see more of her flaws and more character development for her. She is the kingdom’s best assassin, she plays the piano, is well read and speaks more than one language. While the piano playing scene was a great opportunity to see a different side of her character, I’m pretty sure she only plays the piano that once. That made it seem a bit pushed in there for that purpose. Too much emphasis is placed on how good she is at everything. More exploration of her flaws and weaknesses would make her a much more rounded character. I have read a lot of reviews where people find Calaena annoying, but I liked reading about a main character who is self-assured and vain, rather than meek as seems to be a YA trend. There are a lot of allusions to Calaene’s past and what has made her the person she is now, but I wanted to see more development of her current character. I hope this will happen more across the series.

Dorian and Chaol were great characters and, unlike Celaena, I felt they had strong character arcs. Nehemia was a good character as well and I’m interested to see how her friendship with Celaena develops in the next books.

Unfortunately, the antagonists were not given the same care and attention as the protagonists. While the central protagonists were fleshed out, interesting characters, the antagonists were underdeveloped and clichéd – the tyrannical king, the muscled, bullying competitor, the power-hungry lady and a creepy duke. They were cut out characters given no distinguishing traits or aspects that made them stand out from any other cardboard villain out there.

There is, essentially, a love triangle in this book. Usually that would set my alarm bells ringing. However, it is brilliantly done. This is because the characters aren’t aware they are in a love triangle (or don’t admit it). The focus of the characters’ thoughts isn’t who the girl will choose. So often with love triangles the female character spends a ridiculous amount of time lamenting over who she is going to choose. In this book, it is nothing like that. This is how a love triangle can be effectively done without making the reader cringe. It was actually enjoyable to read! Something I feared I would never be able to say.

Although it wasn’t a five stars for me, I absolutely loved Throne of Glass, and look forward to seeing what direction the series will take.

Book Review: S.T.A.G.S by M. A. Bennett

35912128S.T.A.G.S by M. A. Bennett  

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

Publishing Info: Kindle edition 2017 by Hot Key Books

Pages: 304

Star Rating: 2/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

A twisting thriller for fans of One of Us Is Lying and Pretty Little Liars.

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S.

To her surprise Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ – an invitation to spend the half term weekend at the country m

anor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S.

Greer joins the other chosen students at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, and soon realises that they are at the mercy of their capricious host. Over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying reality that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

 

Before reading this book I didn’t really know what ‘blood sports’ were so I wasn’t really expecting a book about a group of posh, aristocratic teens hunting deer, shooting pheasants and catching fish. I had to adjust my expectations a little as the term ‘blood sports’ and not knowing what it meant skewed my expectations a bit. I hope I’m not the only one who didn’t know what blood sports are…

The first few chapters of the book were written in a way that included a lot of summary, which I struggled to get into. Although reference to a murder on the first page certainly caught my interest. Fortunately, it didn’t continue with lots of summary and I enjoyed the writing more when the book got going.

I liked that it was set in England, that made a nice change, and how Greer often thought in terms of films as she has watched a lot of them with her dad, so her sphere of reference fit her interests. I enjoyed Greer’s character and her narration. Other characters, however, were not given much personality. The ‘villains’ of this book were very one-dimensional, quite clichéd, and given no individual motivations. They’re rich and evil and that’s basically it.

The novel is told retrospectively, from Greer looking back on events, giving her an awareness in her narration of what is going to happen next, with the ‘hook’ (non-intentional fishing pun…) of the book always being references to a murder (right from the beginning this is mentioned). There were often suggestions that something worse was going to happen in the next chapter. This is a good way to keep a reader’s interest, but the problem is you build it up so much that it’s hard to live up to the expectation you’ve built up in the reader.

There was no romantic connection between any of the characters, yet two end up together at the end (no spoilers as to who), which feels put in just for the sake of it, to tick the romance box, rather than because there was actually any chemistry between them. It would have been better if they had just been left as friends.

The ‘twist’ that came a couple of chapters from the end was a bit farfetched to me. I don’t want to give any spoilers so I won’t linger, but it wasn’t one of those exciting, heart-stopping twists. It was a ‘really?’, rolling my eyes kind of twist. It was too sudden, there was no set up for it, so it felt forced. The epilogue was very choppy and all over the place like it was thrown together. The twist in the epilogue did surprise me a bit more, but was kind of an obvious decision to make.

There was an incredibly clichéd therapist at the end that just made me sigh. Why do authors keep reverting to stereotypes and clichés for these characters? At least have a realistic therapist, not just some hippy caricature (yes, that is what is in this book).

One thing I did like (because I seem to have said a lot of negative things so far) is how the book explores the issue of technology, how it dominates our lives, and the idea of living without it. The contrast between the ‘Savage’ world and the absence of technology in the ‘Medieval’ world is really interesting.

Nothing really surprised me about this book. It’s pretty obvious what the ‘sinister’ stuff going on is fairly early on. I think the author could have gone darker with this, could have made it so much more suspenseful than it was. The idea had a lot of potential. Perhaps my hopeful expectations of this being an amazing book were too high, but I was left kind of disappointed and deflated.

Book Review: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

9781595141743Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal

Publishing Info: Kindle edition 2013 books 1-3 set, Penguin (first published 2007)

Pages: 336

Star Rating: 3.5/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Only a true best friend can protect you from your immortal enemies . . .

Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth’s magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires – the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa’s best friend, makes her a dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.

After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger . . . and the Strigoi are always close by.

Rose and Lissa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guard down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever . . .

 

I watched the film adaptation of this before reading the book. Having seen the film a couple of times, I could remember most of it, so there weren’t really any surprises when it came to reading it. Especially as the film is pretty faithful to the book compared to a lot of adaptations. Even so, I enjoyed reading the book and am glad I picked it up. There weren’t any points where I felt bored; Mead kept my interest all the way through even though I knew the story.

I like the world Mead has created, with the two different kind of vampires – Moroi, who are alive, and the Strigoi, who are dead and more like the kind of vampires readers will be familiar with – and their half-vampire guardians, the dhampir.

Rose’s voice came through in the first person narration strongly right from the start. I had a clear picture of her character early on which showed great characterisation. Lissa was also a good character, along with Dimitri and Christian. Other characters ended up falling into stereotypes and clichés a bit too much, unfortunately.

The focus in this novel was more on the friendship between Rose and Lissa than romantic relationships. There was romance, but it felt like friendship was put before romance which made a nice change for a young adult paranormal novel. Others I have read have been focused on a main character and a romantic interest, often with friends sidelined. So it was refreshing to see friendship explored more in this one.

The biggest weakness in Mead’s writing was the action sequences. This book wasn’t driven by action, there were only a couple of fight scenes towards the end, but these were very weak. The action was described very vaguely which meant there was no suspense and it wasn’t at all exciting. Even in a book where action isn’t the focus, if you’re going to include a fight scene it needs to be written well. In this novel, they weren’t described well at all.

I was really torn between a 3 or 4 star rating for this one, but since I’ve given books I liked a lot more than this 4 stars, I figured it had better get 3.5 stars. I did, however, very much enjoy reading it.

There’s not much indication at the end of this first book what direction the series is going to go in. With six books in total, there must be some new plot threads introduced in the next book to keep the story going. I’ll be interested to read the next one, especially as I won’t know what to expect since there isn’t a film adaptation.