Review: Six of Crows

Six of CrowsLeigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first. (Summary from Amazon.com.)

I wasn’t totally enamored with Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy when I read it earlier this year, but I liked the writing style and world-building enough to try Six of Crows, which is set in the same world as the Grisha books but in a new country and with new characters. And I’m very glad I gave it a chance, because I found this book to be a vast improvement on the Grisha trilogy! First of all, I really liked the multiple POVs; each of the six members of Kaz’s crew is given a chance to tell his or her own story, which means I legitimately cared about all of them. I don’t even know that I could pick a favorite, since all six are so fleshed-out and have such compelling backstories. The heist plot was a lot of fun and had appropriately high stakes — not to mention the requisite detours and double-crosses along the way! And of course, there are multiple romances to root for…I can’t decide whether I’m more invested in Matthias and Nina or Kaz and Inej. 🙂 Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book if you like dark fantasy and/or a good heist story.

Review: Carry On

Carry OnRainbow Rowell, Carry On

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here–it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up. (Summary from Amazon.com.)

As you can see, I had A LOT of feelings about this book! So if you just want the short version, skip to the last paragraph!*

Fellow lovers of Rainbow Rowell will remember her novel Fangirl, in which protagonist Cath is obsessed with the Simon Snow series and is writing fanfiction about two of its principal characters, Simon and Baz. While I really liked Fangirl overall, I noted that the “excerpts” from the Simon Snow books and from Cath’s fanfic were my least favorite parts of that novel. So, I was less than enthused when I learned that Carry On would be Rowell’s own version of the Simon/Baz romance.

I had other issues with the concept of Carry On as well. In Fangirl, it’s obvious that Simon Snow is meant to be a stand-in for Harry Potter (which makes the single HP reference in Fangirl extremely jarring!), so Carry On is, in a sense, HP fanfic. That made me feel apprehensive and a little icky, like Rowell was essentially ripping off J.K. Rowling and taking advantage of the devotion of the HP fandom. I don’t attribute any malicious motives to Rowell — I’m sure she would view Carry On as more of an homage than a copy — but the world of Simon Snow is uncomfortably similar to the world of HP.

Then there’s my own stance on fanfiction, which is that I don’t really get it. Not to take away from anyone else’s pleasure in reading or writing it, but I’ve never personally been that interested in it. I do understand the desire to remain in a beloved world and explore it further, especially if the original author left certain stories hanging and you need some closure for them. But I tend to believe the author wrote the stories s/he intended to write, and it’s not my job as a reader to “fix” storylines that didn’t turn out the way I wanted them to. So, to take the most relevant example, I know there’s a lot of Harry/Draco fanfic out there. But in the actual HP series, it’s obvious that Harry is heterosexual, and (spoilers) he eventually marries and procreates with Ginny. So I honestly don’t understand the impulse to pair Harry and Draco in fanfiction. I don’t mean to insult anyone who enjoys fanfic or who ships Harry/Draco, but I would not personally be interested in reading a slash fanfic about those characters — which is essentially the plot of Carry On, just with different character names.

AND YET.

I actually ended up liking Carry On a lot more than I expected to! Yes, the setting and principal characters are all very reminiscent of HP, and that still does bother me. I also wasn’t particularly invested in the monster plot and all the backstory about where the monster came from and all of that. It was predictable and rather generic for a fantasy novel. But one of Jenny’s (of Reading the End) comments really resonated with me: “I think Rainbow Rowell maybe just is not that good at plot.” YES. This is true of all her novels, which generally don’t have much plot to speak of. Where Rowell shines is her characters, who are flawed and struggling but also hopeful and determined to find a happy ending. I sympathized with Simon, who feels crushed by the weight of his “chosen” status and his inability to live up to everyone’s expectations. Penelope was a great friend, practical and loyal, even though she was a bit too Hermione-ish. And I adored Baz, as I always adore disdainful, elitist, painfully elegant antagonists who turn out to be not-so-secret heroes.

*The short version: I was nervous about Carry On, and if anyone other than Rainbow Rowell had written it, I definitely wouldn’t have read it. But I decided to trust Rowell, and I’m glad I did. For me, the positives (great characters and dialogue) outweighed the negatives (most notably, the extensive similarities to HP). If you’re on the fence about this book, I would encourage you to give it a try! And I’ll note that you definitely do NOT have to read Fangirl first, although you should read it anyway because it’s really good. 🙂

Review: A Curious Beginning

Curious Beginning, ADeanna Raybourn, A Curious Beginning

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth. (Summary from Amazon.com.)

I’ve read and enjoyed the first few Lady Julia Grey books, so I was excited to learn that Raybourn has begun a new mystery series featuring intrepid lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell. Unfortunately, this book really didn’t work for me. It’s a good read in the sense that it’s well written and moves quickly, but I couldn’t get over my dislike of both Veronica and her partner/love interest, Stoker. Historical fiction can be difficult because the protagonists should be realistic for their time period but also sympathetic to modern readers. Veronica errs on the side of being far too modern for her era. She pursues a scientific career by traveling all over the world without a chaperone, and she engages in a variety of sexual affairs, apparently without any consequences to her reputation as a gentlewoman. I simply didn’t find her believable. As for Stoker, he’s a generic brooding alpha male type, and that’s basically all you need to know. It’s not a bad book, by any means, but it didn’t deliver what I look for in historical fiction.

R.I.P. X Wrap-up

Art courtesy of Abigail Larson.

Art courtesy of Abigail Larson.

I’ve fallen so far behind on blogging (11 reviews behind, you guys!) that I forgot to do my wrap-up post for R.I.P. X! But better late than never, right? I ended up reading four books that fit within the challenge guidelines, thus completing Peril the First. Here’s what I read:

  1. Dorothy L. Sayers, Unnatural Death
  2. Deanna Raybourn, A Curious Beginning
  3. Rainbow Rowell, Carry On
  4. Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

I liked all the books, more or less, although A Curious Beginning was probably my least favorite (the heroine was far too modern). Six of Crows was my favorite for sheer entertainment value, and I also liked Carry On more than I was expecting to. Yet another fun year for this challenge, and I’m sure I’ll be participating again next year!

Review: Unnatural Death

Unnatural DeathDorothy L. Sayers, Unnatural Death

While dining out one day, Lord Peter Wimsey and his friend Inspector Parker are discussing so-called accidental deaths that might actually be murders. A young doctor overhears them and joins their conversation. He shares the story of a former patient, an elderly woman with cancer who died rather suddenly. She was terminally ill, and no signs of foul play were found on the body, so everyone believed her death was natural; but the doctor was nevertheless suspicious because she had seemed to be improving lately. The woman’s great-niece and presumed heiress was living with her at the time, so she had opportunity, but her motive was questionable because the old lady would die soon enough from natural causes. Lord Peter is intrigued by the case and decides to investigate. He employs Miss Climpson, a chatty but intelligent spinster, to temporarily relocate to the dead woman’s village and do some discreet investigating. Meanwhile, he and Parker search for other suspects, motives, and possible methods of the murder.

After rediscovering Dorothy Sayers earlier this year, I’ve embarked on a project to read all her Lord Peter Wimsey books in publication order. This is book #3 in the series, but if I recall correctly, it can be read as a standalone. I enjoyed this book a lot, but I feel like it’s a very unusual detective story. Despite a high body count, it doesn’t feel very action-packed or plot-driven. The main mystery is not whodunnit, but why and how. One of the biggest clues to the motive is a tiny change in an obscure property statute. Nevertheless, I found the mystery compelling and was eager to solve the complete puzzle of how and why the murder took place. Also, Miss Climpson is delightful; this is her first appearance in the series, but I believe she’ll be a recurring character in future books. She reminds me somewhat of a Jane Austen character — one of the good-hearted chatterboxes, like a more intelligent Miss Bates. I wasn’t completely on board with the characterization of the villain, whose psychology didn’t ring true for me. I doubt this will be my favorite Sayers mystery, but I did enjoy it and look forward to reading the rest of the series.