Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Reading Challenge: Reviews on Station Eleven, The Witch's Boy, The Inheritance Trilogy and Stranger

Time to play catch up on the book reviews!

And to start with, we'll go with Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I'm not sure how I ended up hearing about this book but I thought it sounded interesting and the cover art definitely drew my eye. The story jumps timelines and follows an almost set course of characters from Arthur Leander, who died on stage performing King Lear; Jeevan Chaudhary, who rushed on stage to save him; and Kirsten Raymonde, a child actress who stood in the curtains and watched Leander die during his performance. The story continues for the rest of that night at first, following Jeevan as makes his way home after the performance all while he is hearing reports about a flu that is spreading through the city. Working with the information he has, Jeevan stocks up on food and water and barricades himself and his brother inside an apartment to wait out the disease. After those events, the plot jumps around, occasionally going back to Arthur, exploring the ins and outs of his life before he died on stage and the various people who were important to him. The story also zeroes in its focus on Kirsten fifteen years later when she's working with the Traveling Symphony and they return to a place called St. Deborah by the Water, where they find a man who calls himself a prophet and realize it would be safer for them to get away while they still can.

And that's basically it. Honestly, the summary to the book is really practically everything that happens in the contents. The only big reveals in the book were just how everything was connected together in all the twisty people relationships that you have to read about to understand. While I did find Kirsten to be an interesting character, I thought the plot involving the prophet was a little weak. Whenever I see a character who has managed to establish some kind of cult in any book, I'm always left disappointed by the big revelations behind why this character came to be. Not to mention, the threat that the prophet posed ended up being a bit of a letdown and the conflict seemed to just end with a snap of your fingers. It was okay at the time that I read this but it didn't make a lasting impression on me. Also, I couldn't help looking at all the characters involved in that prophet storyline and thinking about how if only one of them had made a different choice, things could have changed in big ways for the better. Unfortunately, I'm not one of the many readers that adored this book but I am one of those readers that enjoyed the talent behind the writing, the sense of space and time that the author put into their work, and the use of realistic characters for the most part. And because of that, I'll be checking out other books by Mandel in the future.

Rating: 6 Stars

Next up, The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill. I always keep an eye out for a good middle grade novel, the kind of story that is rich and interesting, dealing with life and death situations and grand adventures but just happens to have middle school aged kids as the lead characters. That's what this book is. It doesn't mince the harsh realities in the world and it doesn't make the children seem weak or put them down in any way.

This story follows Ned, who at the start of the book fell into the river with his identical twin brother and Ned was the only one to survive. His mother is a witch, who has the task of protecting a certain jar of magic, but when she's unable to protect that magic, Ned has to step up to keep the Bandit King from getting his hands on it. The other half of the story follows Áine, the daughter of the Bandit King who is desperate to save her father from making the wrong choices and dooming himself in the process. Ned and Áine eventually have to join forces to figure out the source of the magic the Bandit King is so interested in, working with a friendly wolf for assistance as they do that, and try to stop a war before it starts.

As soon as the book started with the death of Ned's brother, I knew this was going to be a book that worked for me. There wasn't a sense of talking down to children or changing story points for the sake of coddling kids. There is death and battles and struggles for Ned and Áine and the point of the book was to watch them grow up in new ways and overcome the obstacles in their path. Their friendship grew from distrust to true companionship, and their strength helped others to work out their differences and strive to save themselves. I loved the story, I loved the characters, and I hope Barnhill has something more in store for Ned and Áine in the future.

Rating: 9 Stars

For the sake of conserving space and ensuring that I don't repeat myself over and over about the worldbuilding, this next part of the review will focus on the entire Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin along with the novella that was released as a companion to the trilogy.

First off, book one is The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and follows Yeine Darr, a young woman who has been summoned to the palace and named an heiress to the king. While there, Yeine has to work against her cousins who are also heirs to the king, trying to survive in a world she doesn't understand. She ends up catching the attention of the Enefadah, who are gods forced to works as slaves for Yeine's relatives after they lost a war with the Lord of Light. It turns out that the Lord of Light, Itempas, killed Enefa, the goddess of Twilight and Dawn, and then sent his brother, the Nightlord Nahadoth, to be human and a slave in the mortal realm. But Nahadoth wasn't the only god forced to be a slave and there are others who have no choice but to do as the ruling family commands them. Now Yeine has to survive the battle she's in with her cousins for the throne and figure out how to help the Enefadah, who seem to be willing to help her but for a price.

The worldbuilding was just wonderful to me and I was awed by the idea of the World Tree, which can be seen on the cover art for this book. I was so intrigued by the story of what happened to these gods and why the Lord of Light decided this punishment and whether or not Nahadoth and Sieh, the god of mischief, and the other Enefadah would ever be able to break free from their punishment and fight back against Itempas. I was especially charmed by Sieh, who Yeine grew to care for over the course of the story thanks to his charming and childish ways. By the time I got to the ending, I had the next book ready for me to start immediately.

The second book was The Broken Kingdoms and it followed Oree Shoth, a blind artist who decides to take in a homeless man who shines like the sun in her unique way of seeing magic. It also follows the story of someone murdering the godlings around the city. Oree knows the man she's nicknamed Shiny has something to do with what is going on around her and now she has to work out who is doing the killing and why, and how much danger she really is in.

For me, this seemed a little weaker than book one. After reading the first book, in this story I knew immediately who Shiny was and I had little to no interest in reading a story with that character front and center. It also took me some time to really start to like Oree. She seemed a little stubborn and reckless at times, and her ability to see magic and make art despite being blind seemed a little far-fetched to me. Eventually, the characters grew on me and I ended up liking it well enough but I still enjoyed Yeine's story just that much more than Oree's.

The third book was The Kingdom of Gods and it followed Sieh, the god of mischief first seen in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Finally, Sieh got a story of his own. After the events of the last two books, Sieh's story focuses on his bond of friendship to twins Shahar and Deka, which makes Sieh start to become mortal and as a result, start to grow and mature. But because he's the god of mischief and childhood, this transformation is a struggle and the end could mean death for him. Sieh has to work through everything that has ever affected him, from his time as a god, his time with Itempas and Nahadoth and Yeine, and his new growing friendship with the twins. I wasn't expecting the ending to this book but it definitely gave the entire trilogy a feeling of wrapping up most of the loose threads and giving a true ending to the series.

Last for these books was The Awakened Kingdom, which followed Shill, the first new godling born in thousands of years and the godling who will seemingly become the next god of mischief. It's a short story, following Shill's attempts to figure out her place in the family and whether or not she could compare to Sieh as the god of mischief. Shill ends up going to the mortal realm and becomes entangled in the life of Eino, a young man who wishes to be able to do what he wants for a change.

The story is very quick, it moves at a decidedly fast pace and Shill works hard to figure out who she's supposed to be and she does a lot of growing up over the course of the story. I would have liked to see more of what she would become but I was satisfied with what we got to see of her story for this novella.

Ratings for these books >>
Book One: 10 Stars
Book Two: 7 Stars
Book Three: 8.5 Stars
Novella: 8 Stars

Last up for review today, Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith. The background of the story involves a cataclysmic event that devastated the world and made people have to rebuild society. There's also been a mutation, called "the Change", which gives some people interesting powers. The main focus of the book is Ross Juarez, a teenager on the run with a book that has a bounty hunter on his trail with the intent of trying to get the book back to its owner. Ross ends up in Las Anclas, where they take him in, but because of the book, the bounty hunter and the original owner are willing to do whatever it takes to get it back.

The book has several different points of views and definitely gets points for a having characters that are more realistic and representative of teenagers today. The source of discrimination in this book turns out to be whether or not you have a power due to "the Change", which apparently can rub people the wrong way in this world. I liked certain characters more than others however, and with the shifting around, I found that I didn't truly invest in the book, especially in the middle section where Ross is learning his way around Las Anclas, which dragged for me a bit until the ending hit and the action picked up. My favorite character was Yuki, a survivor from a city that was on an aircraft carrier and who misses the ocean. I would have wanted to see more of his story, and his romance with Paco, instead of Jennie and Mia and their mutual admiration for Ross and I didn't like the manipulative Felicite's point of view. I hope to read the next book eventually, especially to find out what happens to the characters I really cared for in this book.

Rating: 6.5 Stars

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