Review Amnesty: Girl Power YA edition

I have arisen, or rather the Librarian Family has risen from the most evil of evil flu’s. We went down one by one in the past two weeks and last week was my turn. I haven’t slept this much in years (and no I still haven’t repaid my sleep debt) and when I was awake I wasn’t up for much beyond reading and listening to podcasts. But three-fourths of the household are back on their feet, so it is time to post the review amnesty that was supposed to go up last Monday. This time is it is a Girl Power YA edition featuring V.E. Schwab’s This Savage Song, Gwenda Bond’s Girl in the Shadows, and Kate Elliott’s Poisoned Blade

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V.E. Schwab – This Savage Song
There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

This Savage Song is actually the first book by V.E. Schwab I’ve read. And it is not a spoiler for this review to say it won’t be my last, as I already own Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic, and A Gathering of Shadows. I’m actually surprised (and in hindsight annoyed at myself) that it took me this long as there have been numerous people around me who have been singing her praises for the past few years. All I can say is: they were right.

The first in a new series called Monsters of Verity, This Savage Song is a wonderful story about figuring out what makes someone a monster and what makes someone good. It’s a dark story, set in a dark world featuring many awful people, yet this allows our main characters to shine all the more brightly. Kate and August make for an amazing set of protagonists, both having to learn who and what they are and having to learn to trust the other. Their stories would have been interesting all on their own, but it is in the combination of them that magic is made. Kate’s brittle hard-girl persona and August’s earnest desire to contribute to his parents’ cause and to be good are equally appealing and make it easy to root for both of them.

I loved the world the story is set in as well, with its post-apocalyptic feel and the fascinating appearance of the monsters — Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai — creatures born from violence that have made existence even more dangerous for the portion of humanity that remains. But while there are literal monsters in this world, the worst monsters remain human, a lesson that is central to Kate’s narrative. Because violence engenders not only the monsters, but more violence, which in turn begets more monsters, and so on and so forth. The mythology behind the three kinds of monsters is really cool and I loved discovering more about them. August has two siblings, Ilsa and Leo, and their respective backgrounds and the resultant character traits they display are fascinating.

This Savage Song is a grand opening to Monsters of Verity and I can’t wait for the second book, Our Dark Duet, to see where Kate and August’s separate paths will lead them.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Gwenda Bond – Girl in the Shadows
Eighteen-year-old Moira Mitchell grew up in the shadows of Vegas’s stage lights while her father’s career as a magician soared. More than anything, Moira wants to be a magician too, but her father is dead set against her pursuing magic.

When an invitation to join the Cirque American mistakenly falls into Moira’s possession, she takes action. Instead of giving the highly coveted invitation to its intended recipient, Raleigh, her father’s handsome and worldly former apprentice, Moira takes off to join the Cirque. If she can perform alongside its world-famous acts, she knows she’ll be able to convince her dad that magic is her future.

But when Moira arrives, things take on an intensity she can’t control as her stage magic suddenly feels like…real magic. To further distract her, Raleigh shows up none too pleased at Moira’s presence, all while the Cirque’s cocky and intriguing knife thrower, Dez, seems to have it out for her. As tensions mount and Moira’s abilities come into question, she must decide what’s real and what’s an illusion. If she doesn’t sort it out in time, she may forever remain a girl in the shadows.

Girl in the Shadows is the second book set at the Cirque Americain. It can be read as a standalone, but some elements will resonate more when you’ve read the first book set there, Girl on a Wire. I loved Girl on a Wire a lot, so I had high hopes for Girl in the Shadows. And while Gwenda Bond delivers with a page-turning adventure and the same repartee-filled dialogues as before, I didn’t love Girl in the Shadows as much as its predecessor.

As with Girl on a Wire one of the main themes in the book is the importance of family. But unlike Jules from the previous book, Moira has to go it alone at the Cirque as she has to break away from her father and prove that she can make it as a magician. So while family is just as important the dynamics are completely different. What I enjoyed about Moira’s relationship with her dad is that they never stopped communicating. Even if Moira hasn’t exactly told him the truth about what she is doing, they remain in contact throughout the book and he has her back when she needs him most.

The romance in this book, between Moira and Dez is charming and I really liked the way it developed slowly even if the attraction is there from the first. They were really cute together, even if matters get somewhat complicated due to circumstance. But where I adored the background characters in Girl on a Wire, those new to Girl in the Shadows didn’t connect with me as strongly. However, it was wonderful to see Jules, Remy, Dita and the rest again and to see how they were getting on after the end of the last book.

The thing that both did and didn’t work for me was the magic in the book. Where the magic in Girl on a Wire was still vaguely supernatural, in Girl in the Shadows it is far more tangible and ‘real’ and I never got a good grip on the how and the why of it. Yet when I managed to look past that and just accept it as it was, it worked fine and I liked the secret society vibe that accompanied it.

Overall, Girl in the Shadows was a very entertaining read, which I enjoyed a whole lot. I certainly hope that Gwenda Bond will return to the Cirque Americain in the future as it is a wonderful setting.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Kate Elliott – Poisoned Blade
Jessamy is moving up the ranks of the Fives—the complex athletic contest favored by the lowliest Commoners and the loftiest Patrons in her embattled kingdom. Pitted against far more formidable adversaries, success is Jes’s only option, as her prize money is essential to keeping her hidden family alive. She leaps at the chance to tour the countryside and face more competitors, but then a fatal attack on Jes’s traveling party puts her at the center of the war that Lord Kalliarkos—the prince she still loves—is fighting against their country’s enemies. With a sinister overlord watching her every move and Kal’s life on the line, Jes must now become more than a Fives champion…She must become a warrior.

*Excuse me while I shake off my fan-girling* Right, I’m back. Kate Elliott is amazing and Poisoned Blade is a fabulous follow-up to last year’s Court of Fives. Jes is back, but she’ll have to be sharper and wiser to survive not just moving up the ranks of the Fives, but being part of the household of her family’s nemesis Lord Gargaron.

I adored Court of Fives and its rich world and complex social and political structure, elements that remain in Poisoned Blade and are only deepened. Not only do we learn more about the political situation at court in Saryenia, but also out in the countryside and we learn more about the history of Efea. Some of my favourite scenes were while Jes was at court as she witnesses some masterclass scheming, not to mention the ruthlessness of Efea’s ruling class.

Jes’ heartache and homesickness for her parents and sisters was palpable and her scenes with her twin were heart-breaking (Why Bett, why?) They had me in actual tears. With Kal having been sent away with the army being led by her father, Jes is far more isolated in Garon stable than she was before. She certainly has friends and supporters, but none who know who she truly is or know about her mother and siblings. When she reconnects with the Efean underground resistance and its charismatic leader Ro, the relief of not being all on her own is clear, yet I found myself bristling at Ro’s attempts to romance Jes, as I’m firmly team Kal.

Jes’ time outside of the city is a time of growth, not just as a Fives adversary, but as an independent adult and I absolutely loved the part of the book where she tours the countryside, even if there are a number of heartbreaking moments there as well.

For some more coherent reviews of Poisoned Blade you can read Renay’s review at B&N’s Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog or Ana and Thea’s joint review at The Book Smugglers. I’ll just sign off by saying I adored Poisoned Blade as much as I did Court of Fives and I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of Buried Heart, due out in August. Because reader, I need to know how the story ends!

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