Review: ‘Forest Gods’ by Ryan Campbell

At last! At long, long last! After waiting for a couple years, I’ve read the latest instalment of Ryan Campbell’s ‘Firebearers trilogy’, confusingly called ‘Forest Gods’. I’m telling you that ever since I finished reading ‘God of Clay’ some months ago, I have been itching to know what happened in the cliffhanger I was left on, and what will happen to our main character. Is it better than the first book, and can Ryan Campbell continue making a romantic relationship between a leopard deity and a young human man less uncomfortable than it would sound at first? Read on to find out.

In the wake of the last book, the god of the forest Kwaee has turned his entire domain against the human villagers outside his jungle, killing anyone whom he believes to be allied with the demonic fire god Ogya. And after running for the savanna in the wake of all this, Kwaee’s son Doto and his human lover Clay must embark into the neighboring savannas in search of a god whom they believe will help them find out the truth. Both will have to sacrifice their morals, risk their lives, and maybe even the happiness they may or may not be able to have.

Meanwhile, back in Clay’s home, Laughing Dog has returned in ways too different to explain. His and Clay’s father, King First Claw, has died under mysterious circumstances, and their grieving but slow-minded brother Great Ram has taken the throne in these dark times. Little does anyone know however, that Ogya has taken possession of Laughing Dog, and is using the agnostic believer’s naïveté to cause tension among the other villagers through acts of framing, hoping to rile them into attacking the forest and finally reignite the ancient war with Kwaee.

The only two people who see through the young prince’s actions are the tribe’s elderly healer named Cloud, and the prince’s promised fiancé named Ant With a Leaf. Determined to save their people from unknowingly killing themselves, Any and Cloud must throw aside their status as women and challenge the prince and puppet king before it’s too late. Will they both succeed and save humanity, or will Ogya’s fire consume the village and everything in its path?

It’s very clear in the first several that real shit will go down as the book progresses, and Ryan Campbell brilliantly allows the scenery and emotions to drip together with the narrative. There’s more drama, much darker moments between the line, and I had to stop myself from skipping ahead several times to keep reading each page. As you guess, I absolutely loved it.

The best thing about this book is both the theme and how it has heavily impacted the characters, and it is change. From the last book to this one’s cliffhanger, ‘Forest Gods’ does the right balance of commenting on change while we read about our characters’ journeys. Everyone in the novel talks about how they miss the old days, and feel like an impending doom is coming to their way of life. It is an understandable feeling, as many people in today’s world have the same feeling whether they’re religious or not. However, the novel isn’t preaching to abandon beliefs, but to adapt to the change in order to survive.

Doto and Clay go through a similar situation on their new journey, except it starts to turn into a romantic relationship between a god and a mortal. You might remember from my review of the last book that they both had a sex scene, and I must inform you there are a few in ‘Forest Gods’ as well. However, the book doesn’t go into intimate detail, and focuses more on the story and relationship between the two. Granted, the idea of a human and anthropomorphic leopard being in a sexual relationship sounds very disturbing still, but then again if authors can get away with werewolf romances, why not this? Besides, werewolf romances these days are crap compared to this.

Clay is still the optimistic human from the first book, but learns how the gods have abused their power. He’s emotional, but quick on his feet while keeping good morals. He’s noble, but will challenge kindness when it is needed. And despite his devotion to Doto (both spiritually and romantically), Clay has limits to how far the leopard would go to hurt others in their way.

In ‘God of Clay’, Doto originally treated his human companion as though he’s nothing more than a subordinate worshipper. In ‘Forest Gods’, he still cares for Clay, but slowly learns to consider him an equal. He’s still impatient and serious, but will protect Clay from anything. He’s determined, but learns humility from Clay. He also learns how to have emotions, and doesn’t know how to feel about them, especially in dramatic scenes. The one that tugs at my heartstrings is when Doto finds out someone about his legacy he never know, and how it ties him into the war between Kwaee and Ogya. I won’t give anything away, but you feel the weight that Doto feels once it’s discovered.

Aside from the two couple, but I was strangely surprised to have Cloud and Ant, two minor characters from the first book, become the secondary characters in the novel. I barely even remembered them in ‘God of Clay’, but reading the newest book and getting to know them better has made me wonder why Ryan Campbell didn’t give them more focus? I absolutely love them, as they remind me of some people I knew growing up in my family. Cloud is an elderly woman that’s strong and has a clever wit despite her old age, is independent but knows when to ask for help, and she perfectly mirrors Ant’s will to do what is right for the village. In fact, I remember ‘Bookworm Reviews’ on Youtube mentioning that his only problem with the first book as that Ant didn’t have a personality. This highly makes up for it, and she’s thoroughly entertaining (and David Popovich, if you’re reading this, I highly recommend this for a future review).

That reminds me. The only complain I have regarding characters is this one that popped out of nowhere and wasn’t mentioned again in detail. It was Adanko, the God of Hares and Lies who seemed too amusing to be a background character. At first it seems like he’ll be the comic relief of the story, but he comes and goes without a second though.

Then we have Laughing Dog, who has turned from an agnostic child who whines and complains in the last book into an unpredictable beast with his older brother’s kingly position wrapped around his finger. I love and fear how he manipulates the King so easily just by being related to him, showcasing how Laughing Dog isn’t just a tough guy with a knife. He’s a conniver and a plotter, trying to keep a façade of honor and charisma to his people while willingly working for Ogya. The way he puts blame on Kwaee, frames Cloud, twists others words against them, it’s like you’ve entered the infamous McCarthy Trials!

I find aspects like this the most terrifying in a villain, because it makes us wonder when they can be threatening, whether they’re about to strike you down or not. Both are unpredictable, overconfident in their goals, and will not hesitate to kill anyone, even family and loved ones, in their way of success.

Once again, Ryan Campbell astounds me in a fantastic novel of family, beliefs, and love. Enriched with African culture, vast in journeys across landscapes, and seeded with an addictive plot, I highly recommend reading this after taking a gander at the first book.

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Review: ‘God of Clay’ by Ryan Campbell

‘God of Clay’ is the first book in Ryan Campbell’s ‘Firebearers trilogy’, and a personal favorite of mine. This is an intriguing YA(ish?) novel for those like me that love diversity, especially if it’s in African tribalism. I mentioned this book before in my review of ‘The Golem and the Jinni’, and how amazing it was in feeling like a legend or a fairytale, except it has modern story telling with fleshed out characters, a simple storyline, and a mythos that feels too genuine to be fiction. With that said, there are a few things in ‘God of Clay’ that may turn a few heads. It’s not a problem or anything, but it is worth talking about later on.

In a vast African land of animal deities and spirits, a tribe of humans have settled near the edge of a massive jungle next to their savanna home. After losing their lands to a wrathful god of fire named Ogya, they hope to start anew while praying for miracles. And in this nomadic tribe are Clay and Laughing Dog, two brothers (and sons of the tribe’s King) more polar opposites than mine. Clay devotes himself greatly to the gods and worships without hesitation while Laughing Dog believes them to be nothing but ancient legends. After both brothers make a bet that end up with Clay having an injured foot, Laughing Dog ends up being banished by his father as punishment and for endlessly mocking the gods. Clay soon becomes depressed, and prays for a miracle.

That miracle comes to him one night in the form of an anthropomorphic leopard named Doto, the son of the forest god Kwaee, who has been tasked by his despicable father into kidnapping a human and finding out why they have come to his forest. Kwaee loathes humanity, and sees them as vermin who burn and destroy in the name of Ogya. After Doto manages to convince Clay that he himself is (technically) a god, the reverent human ventures with the leopard on their journey. At first, Doto mirrors his father’s views on the human, until he begins to realize how similar he is to Clay, and that they may share a bond that transcends taboo in their world. However, little do they know that the two of them have a shared destiny that will change both them and their worlds forever.

In the three years that this has come out, I am absolutely shocked that this has not gotten that much attention or reviews by other critics. Granted it isn’t published by a massive publishing company, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that this is an intelligently written book that I frankly believe deserves to be adapted into a film someday (I said it, so believe it!).

Let’s firstly talk about the two main characters Doto and Clay. Clay is presented as a meek but confident human who worships his gods with great devotion. He may not be strong or intelligent in the wilderness, but he’s very optimistic when he wants to be. This highly contrasts to Doto who is basically a self-righteous little child that sees Clay as nothing more than subordinate. Even so, he has this fragile belief that he’ll gain the love and attention of his uncaring father by following his bidding. This allows us to understand his mindset and know why he acts the way he does toward Clay, and we begin to warm up to him more as the both of them tear down the barriers of god/mortal to survive on their journey. This eventually leads to both the leopard deity and human mortal wondering why there’s a divide between gods and humans and if it can and should be broken.

Laughing Dog’s story is also very wonderful to read. Here we have a young man who’s convinced that the gods are nothing but myths and legends, and is angered and bitter that the people and elders of his village do not see his point of view. However, he’s not a stick in the mud or an asshole; you understand that he only wants to help his tribe survive in the harsh environment and sees the reliance on gods as an obstacle for progress towards a better life. What I love about this is that Laughing Dog isn’t a one-sided villain who hates religion for the sake of it, he only wants his tribe and the rest of humanity to rely on themselves and not in faith. ‘God of Clay’ wonderfully touches on issues such as the separation of church and state, belief vs. faith, tradition vs. change, and it makes you question (in the words of the novel):

“How far would you go to follow your gods? And how hard would you fight to defy them?”

Much like another small personal favorite of mine named ‘Things Fall Apart’ by the late Chinua Achebe, ‘God of Clay’ makes itself timeless and beautifully descriptive by telling the culture and daily life of this tribe, which it helps us connect to the characters. Campbell even incorporates actual African tribal culture into their world. For example, Clay mentions to his companion that whenever a woman gives birth, it’s tradition for her to name the child after the first thing she sees. Reading the novel, you hear every mosquito buzz by your ear and feel the heartbeat of the African landscape through every page that your fingers touch. Combine all of that with a good plot and complex characters, and it’s an addictive read.

Before you go buy this book (which I still highly recommend), I should probably warn you of a scene that comes up later in the book. It’s not a major spoiler, since it is highly hinted at early on in the novel, but this may be a huge turn-off for a few readers. Remember how I mentioned that the main character’s bond transcends taboo in their world?

See…Doto and Clay have a physical attraction for each other. Yes, a physical attraction between a walking-talking leopard deity and a human. There’s especially a scene in the third act where they get sexually intimate, but only for half a page. Going in, I didn’t know and thought it’d be a general friendship, but Ryan Campbell went the extra mile. And honestly, it could’ve been kept hidden, but I didn’t mind there being a romantic relationship between Doto and Clay, since it makes them even more interesting and makes you wonder if gods in their world are allowed to fall in love with humans, especially if both of them are male. Did a sex scene need to be in there? Probably not, but it didn’t last a whole page and I’ve read MUCH MORE mature content that’s allowed in school libraries.

Overall, ‘God of Clay’ is a perfect novel for the bookworm interested in cultural commentary and the perfect novel for fantasy-lovers. With a twist on African lore and a fictional realm you’ll never want to escape, go read Ryan Campbell’s first book in surely a phenomenal trilogy.

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Review: ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’

Tom Delonge is a man that continues to boggle my mind the more I research about him. Not only is he an author, but he’s a songwriter, a film producer, and a guitarist in his own band ‘Angels & Airwaves’. Combine all of that, and you get the creation of a multimedia project featuring the titular character, Poet Anderson.

And here’s a link to the trailer of the short film if you’re interested in that too:

 

For those who don’t know, Poet Anderson is a character that Delonge created in 2008 and is basically a heroic teenager who has the ability to manipulate dreams and nightmares in a mindscape of sleep. Since then, Poet has appeared in graphic novels, songs written by Delonge, and even an animated short film called ‘Poet Anderson: The Dream Walker’ (which is amazing on its own and I highly recommend looking for online). And now, with the help of New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Young, Tom Delonge gives us a written book that will tell the origin story of Poet Anderson in ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’. Does it hold up?

It does, but it may be clunky enough to turn off a lot of readers.

The book begins with two orphaned brothers named Jonas and Alan Anderson, who travel for work and are secretly Lucid Dreamers, humans who have the ability to become aware of their dreams and control them in the Dream World, a reality shared by humanity’s collective unconsciousness. Unfortunately after a car accident places Alan into a coma, Jonas is left alone in Seattle with no money, no other family, and no place to call home. All he can do is go to school, visit the hospital, and roam the dreamscape in hopes of finding his brother and waking him up.

A few weeks later, everything turns upside down for Jonas when he discovers he is a destined Poet, a Lucid Dreamer who guides lost dreamers from their nightmares to safety along with having unimaginable powers over the dreamscape. News of this has now made him a target for a diabolical Lucid Dreamer named REM (whose design is just creepy!), who wants Jonas’s abilities to escape into the Waking World and plunge it into nightmarish chaos.

Still desperate to save his brother, Jonas takes up the pseudonym ‘Poet Anderson’ and must fight his way through REM’s forces with the help of a Dream Walker named Jarabec in the Dream World, and the support of his love interest Samantha in the Waking World.

After seeing the short film originally and getting hyped on the idea of a novel series involving the memorable Poet Anderson, I didn’t know what to expect. And after reading this, I have to say that even as a stand-alone novel, it can be a clunky read for some people. Sometimes it feels like Delonge and his co-author are not letting scenes play out and are more concerned of letting plot points into the story. For example, the second and third chapters confused me by hastily introducing characters we wouldn’t know about until two-fifths later into the book. It felt out of place and would’ve been better to go through another edit.

Other than that, the rest of the book flows not only smoothly, but surprisingly well, almost like a lazy river fluidly floating to the climax of a ravaging waterfall. ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ not only gave me what I expected from the plot of a dream-related YA novel. In fact, this almost reminds me of an anime movie I watched last year called ‘Paprika’ (directed by the legendary animator Satoshi Kon) about a young woman with two different identities trying to stop the abuse of a dreaming device. Not only did it have the same type of character of having two identities, but it made up for its similar problems by having imaginative dreams, dark themes and backgrounds, and a sense of innovation to the thin line between fantasy/reality. IT was really damn good at what it did best.

‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ does the same thing.

The characters and their designs (both in and outside the novel) are just very imaginative, and show off their personality in a way that you can hear and know what their voices sound like in your ear. Jonas/Poet’s voices can differentiate from an awkward but kindhearted loner into an independently semi-confident badass with a bowler hat, black suit, and umbrella. Jarabec is also very likeable being the wise old man who doesn’t sound monotone in his writing because he wants to sound important, but knows what he says is important. He’s the one who’s seen what his role as a Dream Walker can do to a person in the Waking World. He knows the risks, and is warning Jonas that becoming a Poet can be dangerous and is meant to not be taken lightly.

Then we have the villain of this named REM. How do I start with this guy? I didn’t see or hear of him until I read the book, but this is a very mysterious villain. He always talks to Poet/Jonas like he has absolutely nothing to fear; the nightmarish villain almost reminds me of Bill Cipher from ‘Gravity Falls’, being a dream villain who is powerful enough to destroy his foe, but also has a dark sense of humor mixed with ruthlessness. He’s even intimidating enough to have his creepy face larger than Poet’s on the front cover!

The Dream World in the novel is incredible based on the words of our authors, even if you haven’t seen or read anything Poet Anderson-related. It’s bright and shiny in some places, and is obviously a metaphor for the Internet and doing whatever you can’t do in the Waking World. One of the things I loved reading this is how in the Dream World Jonas and Sam are more open to each other than they can be in the Waking World and it feels natural. They’re actually adorable sometimes.

Surprisingly, my only other complaint with ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ besides the first few chapters is that I was hoping to explore more of the Dream World. I mean, this is a place where the impossible can become reality and is endless with creative possibilities, but I often feel like I’m in a futuristic setting. But you can make the argument that since the Dream World is a collective unconsciousness that it would make sense it’d be formed as a giant city for people to do random things, much like any other city.

Overall, Tom Delonge and Suzanne Young’s first co-authored book is fun. Another edit may have helped this flow better in the beginning, but ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’ is an exciting read for anyone interested in the idea of Inception meeting Blade Runner.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

 

Review: ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ by Helene Wecker

Merry December everyone!

I may have said this before, but I adore fictional books that dive into different cultures, such as ‘Milan’, ‘Things Fall Apart’, and even very fictional novels such as ‘God of Clay’. I love how we learn about traditions, taboos, the attitudes of the people, and especially some history and religions behind it. Add two different cultures to it, and you have got an amazing historical read such as Helene Wecker’s ‘The Golem and the Jinni’.

Before I talk about the plot, I should probably explain what a golem and a jinni are. In Russian-Jewish folklore, a golem is a clay humanoid creature made by mystics to serve as slaves to a master. They can be shaped to look like an ageless man, woman, or even a child. As for a jinni, they’re beings of fire in Syrian legend who are said to be both angel and demon while roaming the desert, and can be caught in an iron oil flask (Aladdin inspiration much?).

In this novel, we follow a quiet female golem recently created named Chava, whose master died at sea on their voyage to 1899 New York City. Masterless and longing for a purpose, she’s greeted by a kind rabbi named Meyer who knows what she is and does his best to help the golem with her situation. Our second main character is a passionate jinni named Ahmed, who awakens from a millennial-long slumber inside an iron flask to find himself in Manhattan’s Little Syria without any memory of how he got there. After taking a job as a tinsmith’s apprentice, Ahmed and Chava meet by chance one night and discover that the other isn’t human. Confused on what they are, they decide to help each other out, as both of them are in a predicament as Ahmed is bound to the flask he came out of, and that unknown to them Chava’s creator (a man named Yehudah Schaalman) is out to destroy the rogue golem.

As a first novel goes, I have to say I am thoroughly impressed with Helene Wecker. While her writing style isn’t exactly memorable or stands out compared to other authors, the idea of tying two different creatures from two different cultures is brilliant! I haven’t seen a perfect match made in heaven forever. From afar and while reading the story, ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ feels almost like a fairy tale of its own, in the same way books like Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’ does. It feels very refreshing to read a story that came from the mind of a talented person, and the idea alone gives this book a unique identity.

The golem and jinni characters in this are well-written and memorable, and surprises me the more I think about how different but similar they are. With Chava, she’s a clay creature that was made to live forever in servitude, and the idea of not having a master and feeling the needs and desires of every New Yorker she passes gives her a real character as she builds herself to be independent if she wants to survive. However, she can also be curious, loyal to her acquaintances, and is genuinely confused on how she can live a normal life even though she isn’t human. Then we have Ahmed, who is a creature of fire that is akin to passion and desires. He can be cheeky, cynical, yet has a confidence that makes him not only entertaining but also interesting in the mystery of his backstory. I especially love how Ahmad often risks himself in danger knowing he could be outed as a jinni, but he still does dangerous things like have sex with an upper-class woman or jump across the rooftops of Manhattan. This proves that while he is careful, he doesn’t want to be entirely hidden from the world. Writing this fantastic is especially showcased with the conversations Ahmad and Chava have talking about the differences and similarities between their cultures

This so easily could’ve been turned into a standard Romeo-and-Juliet story, but I was impressed when the author decided to not have them become romantic partners, but actual good friends. That’s rare, especially the way it was building up.

Then we have the side characters, who are fleshed out and seem like actual people. Rabbi Meyer kind of reminds me of the priest from ‘The Fifth Element’, where he thrives on faith, yet likes to keep to himself. He’s welcoming to strangers, and is determined to help the mysterious girl despite the risks involved. The villain in this is also entertaining and deviously intimidating, also determined to take Chava for himself as her new master.

The only thing for other readers that may confuse people is the complications of how Ahmed is tied to the flask and the reveal of his master. While I thought it was an excellent reveal, they never hinted at it or that it is possible or even believed in the Syrian culture. I’m not sure, but maybe it’s a useless nitpick.

Besides that, ‘The Golem and the Jinni’ is a beautifully written fairy tale set in historical New York that will brighten the hearts of readers everywhere. With two great main characters, a wonderful dive into two opposite cultures, and a timeless window to the year 1899, this book is an adventure I would personally recommend to everyone.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

Sorry for the delays.

No, I’m not dead, I’ve just been having a couple of busy weeks ahead of me. As of this moment, I have exams looming over me for this semester, I’m in the final stages of a personal project of mine, and I’m reading a couple of books. For my next review, I’m doing a fairy tale-ish story set in the end of the 19th century, about two creatures from different cultures meeting in New York City. Can you guess what it’s called?

Review: ‘A Thousand Pieces of You’ by Claudia Gray

The idea of parallel universes in fiction isn’t that new, where the main character goes on an adventure through space and time and sees different parts of himself in different situations. In fact, it has almost been done to death whether it be TV, film, books, or even video games. So if you’re going to do this sort of genre in science fiction, it’s best to do it from a differently creative angle. ‘A Thousand Pieces of You’ kind of does that, where the author Claudia Gray does have some imaginative ideas, but I was expecting a little bit more. Maybe I’m a bit picky?

The book follows an eighteen year-old girl named Marguerite Caine, or Meg for short, whose parents are brilliant scientists who became famous for reportedly discovering a way to travel through the multiverse. The way to do this is with a locket-like device called the ‘Firebird’, which the traveler wears to occupy the body of their other self in another universe. With this, a large corporation called Triad is willing to fund their project.

Unfortunately, tragedy strikes when it’s discovered Meg’s father is murdered and the culprit is a research assistant of her parent’s named Paul Markov, who escapes from the authorities with the help of a Firebird. Determined to exact revenge on her father’s killer Meg and another research assistant named Theo build two more Firebirds and use them to travel across parallel universes. Even with evidence pointing at Paul as the killer, Meg slowly begins to find out there’s a conspiracy that spans across dimensions, and it may lead to no one being safe.

Probably the strongest elements of this book is the characters, settings, and atmosphere as a whole. Claudia Gray has done her homework on giving enough background descriptions to provide a clear picture of the magnificent environments, but doesn’t commit solely to scenery porn. There’s basically enough to showcase the splendor and unique dimensions our characters. Meg and Theo travel to a dimension where the Tsars still rule Russia, where London is 100 years more advanced, and much more.

Meg herself is a fairly interesting character, especially since she wants to be an artist as opposed to scientists like the rest of her family. She’s determined and self-confident, but also patient and understanding towards other people when her emotions don’t get the best of her. She can be calm and seemingly innocent one moment but be quick at escaping a nasty situation the next. Even when Meg is questioning Paul being a murderer with bad intentions, she can’t deny the connection and attraction she has for the grad student turned fugitive.

Speaking of which, Paul’s also a magnetic person. At first, we’re not so sure what to make of him other than an eccentric protégé of Meg’s parents, but he warm up to him eventually once we learn the truth of what’s going on. As for Theo, he seems like a nice guy as well, but I often feel like he didn’t get as much time of connecting to him as we have with Meg and Paul.

Before I go on with the review, I should state I find it refreshing how the main characters of this book are Russian (in Meg’s case, she’s a Russian-American) protagonists. Aside from one other book I’ve read in the past, the only novels I’ve read with a Russian character have them portrayed as either a stick-in-the-mud Cold War spy or xenophobic sociopath with anti-hero qualities. Personally, I like how these characters are the opposite of that and are likeable without going into the cliché.

The rest of the book is fairly adventurous and imaginative on its own. The way it paces itself and goes it reminds me of a book called ‘Summerhill’ by Kevin Frane. It was about an anthropomorphic coyote born on a strange planet who possesses the ability to travel through space and time. Much like this book, there was never a sense of urgency, but it did have the moments of intense action and heartache when drama came.

Unfortunately, my nitpicking mind got the best of me and I was expecting a bit more imagination, like how ‘Bioshock Infinite’ or Cloud Atlas’ journeyed to a whole new level in the idea of multiverses and how one decision can make a difference in time. I loved these dimensions the characters travel to, and maybe even make it more adventurous? Still, I can’t complain since

Anyone who does not know much about the multiverse theory or Schrodinger’s Cat may not get at first how this all works, but I have to give ‘A Thousand Pieces of You’ credit for making it simple enough for our generation to understand. There’s especially a disturbing flaw to the Firebird: if a trans-dimensional traveler removes the Firebird around his or her neck, they’ll slowly lose their memory of being from another dimension, and be trapped in their other self’s body…forever.

Overall, ‘A Thousand Pieces of You’ is fun. It isn’t as deep and thought-provoking as ‘Summerhill’ or ‘Bioshock Infinite’, but Claudia Gray gives us enough thrills and written visuals to mix well with the character development. The story is well-paced, the ending plot twist incredibly good, and the book is more than entertaining enough to make you want to read the upcoming sequel.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

Review: “The Rose Society” (The Young Elites #2) by the awesome author Marie Lu

Holy. Crap. Do. I. Love. This. Book.

If you remember my review for Marie Lu’s ‘The Young Elites’ a month ago, you may remember me praising it as becoming one of my most favorite novels of all time, from the anti-hero Adelina, to the settings, to the villains, to the story, to everything that makes this fantasy series so addicting to read. And now we have the sequel to Marie Lu’s bestselling novel from last year, ‘The Rose Society’.

After the events of the first book, Adelina Amouteru is cast out of the Dagger Society and is roaming the sea and land of Kenettra all alone with her sister, Violetta. Betrayed by her friends for the last time, the Young Elite with dark emotions is bent on tearing down the Inquisition Axis, the cruel and unforgiveable Lead Inquisitor Teru, and the Kenettran Queen for all the wrongs done to her, her sister, and all the malfettos of the world. She’ll need to form an alliance of warriors and other Elites, one that will put the Dagger Society to shame. Among those who’ll join her are an infamous kleptomaniac Elite named Magiano with the ability to mimic other Elite’s powers, and an ex-Dagger member named Sergio with the ability to control rainstorms.

However, poor Adelina will have to work against the clock, as she discovers that the Daggers are working with the Beldains, a rivaling country of Kenettra that wishes to turn the beautiful nation into a puppet state governed by the Daggers, with the Queen of Beldain controlling the strings. However, war isn’t what truly disturbs Adelina, it is the fact that the Beldish Queen is a Young Elite herself with a power probably more disturbing and otherworldly than hers.

I cannot get enough of Adelina in this book. This young girl is the epitome of a villainous female hero in literature, and it is unbelievable how scarred and badass of a character Adelina molds herself into. This is what Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars should’ve been in the prequels, being a badass most of the time and a vulnerable human being in the most important moments. You don’t have to make a character overly whiney and then reveal they’re the villain. What sets Adelina apart from Anakin is that she’s a teenager with a power that feeds off of fear and suffering, which shows us that her personality is tuned to her powers, which in turn damage her psyche and moral reasoning. I can just fall in love with her memorable quotes over and over again.

“The world’s deadliest mercenaries choose to serve you, the whispers say, because they have yet to meet me.” ~Adelina Amouteru

However, just because she’s a ruthless anti-hero with dark intentions doesn’t means she’s less than human. Adelina can be insightful to her allies one minute and then order her soldiers to kill captured guards without a second thought. She can be calming her little sister during a thunderstorm one moment and then murder a king with her help the next day. I don’t know how Marie Lu manages to balance all of this and make Adelina’s character look so easily but somebody give her a freaking Pulitzer Prize!

The side character have gone through significant changes as well. I love how lite touches here and there further establish the characters and what they’ve done through simple gestures and words. For example, it’s revealed that the Beldish Queen is in love with a girl in the Dagger Society who can control the wind, but through clever writing, we immediately know how she cannot marry her due to her royalty requiring her to give an heir. It’s simple things like that that make us understand these people more and more.

Teren from the first novel is back with more madness than before, even questioning his devotion to Queen Giulietta of Kenettra when it is revealed she doesn’t hold the same views as he does on what to do with malfettos. He wants to commit genocide on all abominations to the gods, whether they be malfetto or Elite, and cleanse them from Kenettra. However, Giulietta only sees them as a small problem, and only wants to force submission in her kingdom instead of inciting a revolution. . At first, we’re forced to believe that Giulietta is no worse of a tyrant and radical monster than Teren, but Marie Lu incredibly portrayed us two conflicting and powerful people with conflicting and powerful beliefs.

The same is said with the side characters and people that live in this beautiful yet treacherous world. Underneath the Mediterranean-esque architecture and among the beautiful creatures that roam this fantasy land are individuals with unique but dangerous personalities that can clash at any moment on the streets and in alleyways. It is a dark world where people are burned alive at the stake, murdered ruthlessly when undermining authority, religious zealots willing to hurt children in the name of God(s). This would make ‘Game of Thrones’ blush.

I have no complaints at all; this is one of those perfect books for an audience that wants dram, heartache, hope, fantastical environments, and a story that twists and turns at any moment. Is there a downside? Yes. This book trilogy isn’t getting as much attention as it should be. I’m sure you’ve read some reviews that tell you to read a book as soon as you’ve got free time, but I’m recommending this because you’ll never find a book series with such a tortured and complexly villainous hero in any form of recent literature. This is a series that must be known more, especially when it’s been recently revealed that the same people who adapted ‘The Maze Runner’ into a film trilogy is putting this on the big screen. I have no idea where and how this incredible jewel of YA literature will end in the next novel, but I will not hesitate to read the next one.

(Btw, I bet you’re wondering why I brought up Anakin Skywalker in this review. Well, according to Marie Lu herself, she based Adelina’s character off of Darth Vader and Magneto. Nope, I am not joking. Look it up.)

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

Review: “Sorceress Revealed” (Clio Boru series #2) by Evan Michael Martin

It’s October, and let’s celebrate Halloween with a book about Wiccans and battles against the forces of evil. If you remember my first review on Reader’s Boulevard, I praised Evan Michael Martin for his ‘Sorceress Rising’ novel, and that I wanted to get my hands on the sequel. I ended up getting my wish with ‘Sorceress Revealed’, and even some new surprises regarding the Clio Boru series.

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Review: “The Young Elites” (The Young Elites #1) by the awesome author Marie Lu

Marie Lu is probably what many consider one of those gifted authors that come out of nowhere. She started off working as an employee for Disney Interactive and quit her job to become a young adult novelist, soon becoming a New York Times bestselling author after publishing ‘Legend’, ‘Prodigy’, and ‘Champion’, her first book trilogy. Heck, her books became so well-loved that a movie for the first book is being discussed as we speak. I remember first reading ‘Legend’ back in high school and instantly falling in love with her works, and came to look at her as an inspiration for writing. She’s smart, talented at character development, and a prodigy when it comes to world-building.

However, I wasn’t looking forward to her next book series when she announced it was going to be a fantasy. If you personally know, I consider the fantasy genre the least favorite of genres I know. To me (aside from ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’), fantasy has become so overdone that it’s become its own cliché. Because of this, I thought ‘The Young Elites’ was gonna be a real bore. Still, since I heard Marie Lu was releasing its sequel this coming October, I had to read it sooner than later. And what’d I think after finishing?

I have to stop doubting my favorite authors.

Over a decade after a blood fever ravaged the island nation of Kenettra, children affected by the plague are left with scars that people across the land believe are omens of bad luck and destruction. Those seen with unusual hair color and markings on the skin are given the name ‘malfetto’, an abomination of the Gods. Not only that, there are some malfettos that are believed to be cursed with paranormal powers at their fingertips (i.e. fire-conjuring, fast healing, talking to animals). They are referred to as the Young Elites, and are wanted by Kenettra’s Inquisition Axis to be executed.

One of the Young Elites is a sixteen year-old girl named Adelina, whose powers of conjuring illusions result in her killing her abusive father. Before she’s burned at the stake though by the Inquisitors, Adelina is rescued by the mysterious Dagger Society, a group of powerful Young Elites led by the fire-conjuring banished prince of the royal family named Enzo. Their mission is to incite a revolution and help Enzo seize the throne from his older scheming sister. If they succeed, the prince can enact laws protecting the mafettos and give their right to exist.

Unfortunately, the Dagger Society’s members are reluctant to have Adelina as one of them, as not only are her abilities powerful, but maybe too powerful for her dark emotions to handle. Not only that, but Adelina herself wonders if the Dagger Society truly rescued her out of kindness, or as a means to an end.

Where do I honestly start?

I should probably talk about the main character, as she’s central to the book and molds this all together. Adelina Amouteru is one of the most well-developed, intimidating, emotional, epically written antiheroes I have ever seen. She is everything we want in a character that walks along the grey line of right and wrong. She has the pity and tragic backstory of Zuko, the naiveté emotional problems of Draco Malfoy, and the twisted yet powerful grasp of vengeful desire Alucard has from ‘Hellsing’. She’s emotional, she’s confused, she’s vengeful, she’s angry, she’s awesome, she’s vulnerable, she’s practically everything you ever want in an antihero. And while some of the things Adelina does are questionable, we know her reasons and why she does it. Hell, there are two dozen moments where we root for her, and we understand how much of a train wreck her life was growing up emotionally and physically scarred. You don’t know whether to be afraid of Adelina, feel sorry for her, hate her, or just hug her.

All the other characters in this are well-written as well. We have Enzo, a banished prince (much like Zuko, but a bit more suave and less serious) that is also friends/in love with a Young Elite named Raffaele who has the ability to sense the energy connecting malfettos and other people. Both are presented as handsome, smart, and really tactile guys that want to create a world where malfettos can walk free unashamed, whether it be achieved through murder or revolution.

Even the so-called villain of this story is likeable and relatable. Teren Santoro is a member of the Inquisition Axis (and a secret lover of the queen), and wants to rid his nation of the depravity malfettos have caused on Kenettra. He despises everything about them, and will stop at nothing until his nation is considered pure by the Gods again. However, he also holds a secret of his own, one that he considers more as a plaguing curse rather than a useful gift.

What I find the most refreshing about ‘The Young Elites’ is the fact that unlike other modern fantasy novels, this one is set in a world you want to live in, but also fear of. This world is filled with dangers around every corner, fathers willing to sell their daughters as mistresses to settle debts, harsh people in a savage world, and a deep prejudice towards people who look different (social commentary much?).

It’s weird how an author as extremely talented as Marie Lu went from writing a futuristic dystopian novel to a fantasy novel that throws your expectations and emotion around you like a rollercoaster. In my opinion, what I’ve talked about makes an epic, especially an epic fantasy. We have a complex antihero with emotions that control her complex powers, fantastic world-building ruled by an unforgiving tyrant, funny and likeable side characters that add to the plot, fantastic visuals written page by page, and amazing commentary of social issues today and in the future.

Marie Lu, I cannot wait for the upcoming sequel to my favorite fantasy series!

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

Review: ‘Seconds’ by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim fans rejoice as I read a graphic novel* made by the famous cartoonist named Bryan Lee O’Malley. I personally never read his ‘Scott Pilgrim’ series, but after reading one of his newest graphic novels recently, I’m a little curious. The one I’m reading today is a timeless yet modern supernatural graphic read simply known as ‘Seconds’ by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Katie is the owner of a popular restaurant in town named Seconds, and dreams of owning another restaurant after spending four years of her life renting the place. She tries to renovate a run-down spot named Lucknow, but has trouble coming up with the money after so many things start to get in her way, like her boyfriend breaking up with her, contractors paying too much, and realizing both Lucknow and Seconds have house spirits that guard their homes.

After a new waitress at Seconds named Hazel gets badly burned, a guilt-ridden Katie suddenly find a mysterious girl in her room with a mushroom in her hands along with a notebook. The girl reveals herself to be the house spirit of Seconds named Lis, and tells Katie to eat the mushroom, write down a mistake, and wake up to the mistake being erased. She write down that Hazel never got burned, and to her shock, Katie wakes up the next day to see Hazel’s burns gone.

Suddenly, after finding more of the mushrooms under the restaurant’s floorboards, Katie begins eagerly making massive changes to her life, despite Lis’s warning not to tamper too much with her life. Of course Katie ignores her, and soon finds her life and her world spiraling out of control. With the help of the waitress Hazel (who tells Katie of house spirits in the first place) and Lis, it’s up to Katie to make things right.

Main characters are an important piece of writing, and Katie here is probably the highlight of ‘Seconds’. She has everything a memorable character should have. She’s optimistic, sarcastic, a goofball, quirky as a twenty-something woman, and selfish, but never to the point of being an anti-hero. She’s shown to have a good heart, be very determined to construct her new restaurant, and knows when she’s made a mistake that needs to be fixed, even if it may not need to be fixed. In fact, Katie often reminds me of an older version of the protagonist in ‘Coraline’ by Neil Gaiman.

The drawing in this is nothing short of spectacular. The artist’s favorite color in this is obviously red, but the angles and coloring in this gives way to wonderful designs and characters with personalities. The style even allows for good comedic edge without making the characters look like something out of the funnies in a newspaper. A good example would be with the waitress Hazel, who’s considered to be the most beautiful in the restaurant, yet is unbelievably shy and awkward to the point where her reactions always made me grin. Even the design given to Lis is pretty neat, as she comes off as creepy and intriguing at the same time.

It is amazing how much detail and imagination is in ‘Seconds’. Not just the restaurant, but also the book feels like an otherworldly modern place. The climax alone rarely uses words from the narrator, and constructs a visual medium for what the lesson is: we cannot fix everything that is broken, and the past is in the past.

Are there flaws? A few. But they’re more humor-wise where a couple of jokes felt inconsistent or unnecessary. For example, I found it weird how the narrator of ‘Seconds’ sometimes broke the fourth wall with Katie, yet she ignores him/her throughout most of the time until the end. It’s still funny with her reactions, but feels like something from another book.

Also, I’m gonna sound unfair, but I didn’t think Katie’s ex seemed interesting.

Back in the 20th century, graphic novels weren’t considered a form of art yet because of them being seen as childish and innocent. Then came works such as ‘Maus’, ‘Nordguard: Across Thin Ice’, ‘Blacksad’, and even ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’. And much like ‘Seconds’, they came with clever writing, a solid sense of humor, wonderful artwork, good storytelling, and likeable characters. And while ‘Seconds’ has a few basic flaws, and I never read O’Malley’s ‘Scott Pilgrim’ series, I may thanks to the second thoughts ‘Seconds’ gave me.

*To answer your question, yes I will review graphic novels for Reader’s Boulevard, as long as it meets the criteria of being more than 150 pages in length.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!