Book Review: Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: November 2019, Illumicrate Edition, Harper Voyager  

Pages: 454

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.

You may or may not be aware that there was some controversy around this book prior to its publication. A Twitter backlash resulted in the author deciding not to publish the book initially, and later, having made some changes, going ahead with publishing it. There was a bit of a Twitter pile on by people who hadn’t even read the book, which seems completely ridiculous. If you’ve read the book you can form an opinion on it, but I don’t get it when people hadn’t even read the book. Besides, people shouldn’t be going round attacking authors on Twitter. I’m glad the author did decide to publish in the end. This post is going to be purely a review of the book. If you want to know more about what happened, a quick google will pull up a tonne of articles on the subject.  

Blood Heir hooked me from the start, with a tense and compelling opening few chapters. Ana’s Affinity means she can control blood. She can sense it in other people and use it to kill people. There is the potential for her to use it to heal too, but she’s never been taught how to do this. Since her Affinity revealed itself, she’s been viewed by others as a monster, meaning she also views herself as a monster. Ana’s internal conflict revolves around the view of herself as a monster, and trying to accept that it’s how she uses her ability that shows who she is, that she isn’t inherently bad because of her Affinity.

The world in which Ana lives – the Cyrilian empire – is one that misunderstands and mistreats Affinites. Those with abilities are used for their magic and are looked down upon by society. When her family learn she’s an Affinite, Ana is locked away and attempts are made to ‘cure’ her. Due to being kept hidden in the palace, it’s only when Ana is outside of its walls that she discovers her Empire isn’t as good as she had thought, but is actually very corrupt. Affinites are trafficked and the Empire’s own soldiers are complicit in it. Many Affinites come to Cyrilia looking for a better life, but are separated from their families and trapped in work contracts they can’t escape. The author has drawn on her own multicultural experiences in writing the book. She moved from China to the US when she was 18. Amelie has stated that Affinite indenturement in Blood Heir reflects the issues of human trafficking in Asia. As the reader uncovers the truth of what’s happening in Cyrilia alongside Ana, it’s an eye opening experience to the corruptness of the Empire’s system and the conditions the trafficked Affinites endure.     

Read More »

Book Review: Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray

Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction           

Publishing Info: March 2018 by Hot Key Books

Pages: 394

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Noemi Vidal has returned to her planet, Genesis, as an outsider – ostracised for refusing to end the Liberty War by sacrificing Abel, the most advanced mechanical man ever made. She dreams of travelling through the stars again, and when a deadly plague arrives on Genesis, Noemi gets her chance. The only soldier to have ever left her planet, it will be up to her to save its people. If only she wasn’t flying right into a trap.

Abel, now fully aware of his soul and captaining his own Vagabond ship, never dreamed he’d see Noemi again, not when the entire universe stands between them. But when his creator Burton Mansfield delivers news of Noemi’s entrapment, Abel knows he must save her, even if it means risking his own life.

Danger lurks in the dark corners of the galaxy, and Abel and Noemi will discover a secret that could save Genesis and Earth… or destroy them all.

In this thrilling and romantic sequel to Defy the Stars, bestselling author Claudia Gray asks us all to consider what drives us, and where we truly belong.

The first book in this trilogy, Defy the Stars, was absolutely gripping and thrilling to read. I liked that it also explored complex issues and topics such as what it means to be human. Defy the Worlds continues to do that. While it was a little slow at the start, the stakes are quickly ramped up. Claudia Gray is great at getting her characters in difficult situations and forcing them to think of ways to get out of them.

I love Noemi and Abel as characters, and their relationship with each other. Noemi is so headstrong and determined to defend her planet. Meanwhile Abel, as a mech, is still trying to work out his human side in many ways. They have a few differences in opinion, but there actually isn’t much character development for either of them in this book. In Defy the Stars, Noemi has to overcome her preconceived notions of mechs, and Abel has to fight an internal battle against Directive One (his programming). There seemed to be a lot more character development in the first book. However, saying that, the events of this book seem to lend themselves to greater character development in the final installment.

I like how this series questions what it means to be human. Despite how Noemi has come to see Abel as having a ‘soul’ despite being a mech, some other humans still treat him differently and as lesser. This is a really interesting concept to see played out. Even as the books progress, Abel’s own understanding of what and who he is changes as he learns more about his unique life state through his experiences. The book also explores elitism, poverty and biological warfare, so there is some pretty deep subject matter amongst the action.

Read More »

Book Review: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

37834731._SY475_

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: May 2018 by Gollancz (first published 2017)

Pages: 432

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

Dragons are what attracted me to this book. I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember. The concept of dragons being attracted to stories is an interesting one, and I liked that this provided a different angle to the well-trodden road of dragon rider novels. Riding dragons wasn’t the focus of the book for the majority, as dragons have in fact been hunted for some time.

Kristen Ciccarelli doesn’t use much description in her prose, yet I was still able to visualise every scene. This also meant it wasn’t bogged down in in-depth description like many fantasy books get lost in, and it kept the book fairly fast paced. I would have perhaps liked a bit more sensory description, to make the settings come alive more and create more atmosphere in some of the tense scenes.

Read More »

Book Review: Frostbite by Richelle Mead

19258492Frostbite by Richelle Mead   

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal

Publishing Info: Kindle edition 2008 by e-Penguin (first published 2008)

Pages: 336

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

Rose loves Dimitri, Dimitri might love Tasha, and Mason would die to be with Rose…

It’s winter break at St. Vladimir’s, but Rose is feeling anything but festive. A massive Strigoi attack has put the school on high alert, and now the Academy’s crawling with Guardians—including Rose’s hard-hitting mother, Janine Hathaway. And if hand-to-hand combat with her mom wasn’t bad enough, Rose’s tutor Dimitri has his eye on someone else, her friend Mason’s got a huge crush on her, and Rose keeps getting stuck in Lissa’s head while she’s making out with her boyfriend, Christian! The Strigoi are closing in, and the Academy’s not taking any risks… This year, St. Vlad’s annual holiday ski trip is mandatory.

But the glittering winter landscape and the posh Idaho resort only create the illusion of safety. When three friends run away in an offensive move against the deadly Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them. But heroism rarely comes without a price…

Frostbite is the second book in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series. Although I rated this 3.5, the same as I rated the first book, I did think it was a little stronger. Just not quite edging to a 4 for me compared to other books I have given a 4 star rating.

The friendship between Rose and Lissa was a little sidelined in this book, which I think was a shame as it was one of the strongest aspects of Vampire Academy. I hope their friendship will continue to evolve through the rest of the series. Other relationships were explored more, such as Rose and her mother. As we didn’t see much of Janine in book one, it was interesting to see how Rose interacted with her mother and how their relationship shifted over the course of the book.

Read More »

Book Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

beforeifall_movieeditionBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver   

Genre: Young Adult

Publishing Info: Kindle edition (first published 2010)

Pages: 484

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.

After I finished reading this book I really had no idea how I would approach writing a review for it. I went through so many different emotions as I read it. There were times when I hated, times when I loved it, times it made me sad, times I was frustrated by it. It was a rollercoaster.

The main character, Sam, was really irritating. At first I found that annoying, but then I realised she couldn’t be a nice person at the start, could she? How could there be a redemption arc (which is what Oliver seemed to be going for) if Sam was a good person from the start? So I accepted that I didn’t like her character, thinking that she would grow on me as she developed.

However, for most of the book she was still annoying. She was just so selfish. When she realised she was living the same day over and decided to do something good it wasn’t because she wanted to help the other person, it was because she thought it might be her ticket out of this endless loop. And even in the last section of the book, although she didn’t seem quite as selfish, I didn’t get the feeling she was doing the ‘good’ things totally selflessly. Maybe that’s the point though. Maybe if her character had done a complete arc from popular mean girl to selfless good girl in seven days I would have thought she changed too quickly or would have found it too cliché.

All of the characters were painted really vividly, even if I didn’t like all of them. Even characters who featured only a small amount felt like real people not just anonymous faces. The friendship between Sam and her friends was portrayed especially well.

Read More »

Film Review: Love and Friendship

Film Review: Love and Friendship

Release date: 27th May 2016

Director: Whit Stillman

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevingy, Xavier Samuel, Tom Bennett, Morfydd Clark, Emma Greenwell

Runtime: 94 minutes

Genre: Period Drama, Romance

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

 

Love and Friendship is based on Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan which wasn’t published until after her death. There is also an epistolary book called Love and Friendship, but the film takes the plot of Lady Susan with the title of Love and Friendship. I know, confusing. Why not just call it Lady Susan? Why take the title of another Jane Austen work and confuse everyone?

Lady Susan is a tactical widow who sets her eyes on finding a suitable husband for her daughter, with the help of an American friend, also aiming to bag herself a man in the process. I enjoyed the plot and it was certainly humorous at times, most of the laughs coming from Lady Susan’s scandalous and outrageous lines. Kate Beckinsale definitely stood above the rest as Lady Susan, delivering her lines so well. The obliviously stupid Sir James is also a great character who provides a lot of humour. In many ways it is different to other stories by Jane Austen with a somewhat unlikeable, scheming protagonist who is somehow at the same time captivating.

If is somewhat odd that it is a U-rated film, but which is most definitely about scandal and affairs. It’s odd but somehow works.

The acting was good at times but in places it was stilted and like they were reading off a script. There was nothing striking about the scenery and imagery, and the music wasn’t anything special and felt oddly out of place for some reason. Actually, what was most odd was the costumes. I’m no expert on period fashions but the dresses didn’t look at all right for the time period.

It was thoroughly entertaining, charming, and passed some time, but there were some elements that were just…off. The production let down a story with potential to make a great film. I don’t have much to say about this one. An average but enjoyable film.

Film Review: Allegiant

Film Review: Allegiant (Divergent Series #3)

Release date: 10th March 2016

Director: Robert Schwentke

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoe Kravitz

Runtime: 121 minutes

Genre: Science-Fiction, Dystopia, Action

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

 

Allegiant is the third film in the Divergent series. Allegiant is the third and final book in the series put as per the popular move at the moment it is being split into two films, the first titled Allegiant and the second titled Ascendant (slightly different to calling them Part One and Part Two I suppose). At the end of the previous film the people of Chicago received a message from the outside world inviting them to go beyond the wall. Former leader of the Factionless Evelyn has essentially taken over and stops people from going over the wall. Tris, Four, Christina, Peter, Caleb and Tori get past Evelyn’s defences and go over the wall to find what is left of the rest of the world.

The book was undoubtedly my least favourite in the series. I felt it went massively downhill in quality from the first two books and was quite disappointed by it. So, unusually, I was happy for them to make changes to the film in the hopes of making it better. The film was fairly similar to the book, though with some changes obviously.

One of the best aspects of the film was the set designs. The design of the future world outside the wall was amazing and really imaginative. Unfortunately though it felt like a step down from the previous film, which itself wasn’t quite as good as the first film. I can’t quite place my finger on why it wasn’t as good. Perhaps it was the acting that wasn’t quite as sharp in this one. And obviously they had a flawed novel to work from, although I think they took a lot of the better aspects from the book to use in the film.

My confusion lies in where they are going with the fourth film, Ascendant. The third film was pretty similar to the book in terms of the plot arc, concluding in a kind of similar yet also different way to the book. So I’m not entirely sure where they are going with the fourth film. It will have to contain new material, as they have used up almost all of the book.

Overall I enjoyed the film but it wasn’t spectacular. It could have been better and although I really liked some of the things they added I felt they also left some important ideas out. I’m most intrigued to see what they will do with the last film, and to look back on this film once the last film has been released in terms of their adaption of the final book in the series.