Review: Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes [blog tour]

Falling Kingdoms Falling Kingdoms
by Morgan Rhodes

ISBN-13: 9-781595-145840
Publication: December 2012 from Razorbill
Rating: 2.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I enjoyed it well enough

In a land where magic has been forgotten but peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering. Three kingdoms grapple for power – brutally transforming their subjects’ lives in the process. Amidst betrayals, bargains, and battles, four young people find their fates forever intertwined:

Cleo: A princess raised in luxury must embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.

Jonas: Enraged at injustice, a rebel lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country impoverished–and finds himself the leader of a people’s revolution centuries in the making.

Lucia: A girl adopted at birth into a royal family discovers the truth about her past – and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.

Magnus: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, a firstborn son begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword…

The only outcome that’s certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

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What to say about Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes. I don’t know if it’s because I used to exclusively read high fantasy, but I had expectations going into this book and they were just not met. I’m going to try and break this down without getting too spoilery and explain what I liked, what I didn’t and how I felt turning the last page.

Honestly, the beginning and the end are the best parts of the novel. Right away as the book opens, we have intrigue, betrayal, magic and the promise of more to come. This is followed quickly by a murder that starts a young man on a quest for vengeance and you just know is going to lead to bigger issues. All promising, all interesting – but then I started getting that little crease in my forehead as I continue reading showing I’m troubled. First, I didn’t particularly like any of the characters. The main, point-of-view characters are Cleo, princess of Auranos; Jonas, from Paelsia, who’s brother is murdered by Cleo’s intended; and Magnus, prince of Limeros and I couldn’t connect with any of them (including the secondary characters of the kings, Sabina the witch, and Magnus’ sister Lucia). Cleo is spoiled, nervous, whiny and a bit wimpy. Also has a massive case of insta-love at one point which really threw me off. Jonas has no idea what he wants. At first he’s all “vengeance and revolution!” which lasts for a while and then changes into “I’m not sure about this, I’m actually thinking the princess who I until now hated with a fiery passion might be not so bad and need my help because this revolution thing – not such a good idea”. He also has no problems using people for his own gain. And Magnus, I dislike. He’s nice to his sister Lucia because he is completely in love with her (incest, yay. Only not so much) but completely awful and cruel to everyone else. Lucia herself is supposed to be this powerful sorceress yet has little to no character development and questions nothing. She shows bits of a backbone and intelligence at points, but not for long. And Sabina! At the beginning I expect her to have this large roll to play, but nope. Barely in it. And when she is, it’s just to further the plot and provide information for Magnus and Lucia.

Now, Cleo started to redeem herself at the end. Remember, I liked the ending. After everything awful that could happen to her outside of torture and dying does, she starts to actually think and grow a bit of a spine. I also love her quote on page 357: “Can’t a strong person cry?” Yes Cleo, they can. I’m glad to see that at least Morgan Rhodes doesn’t abide by the idea that a strong character is one who never cries. And Magnus even shows a bit of a softer side by helping a kitchen maid leave the castle (albeit after she’s caught spying. For him). But besides the characterization, another factor that threw me about the book was the writing. In the beginning, it is mentioned numerous times that Cleo had a horrible secret – after about the tenth mention, I just wanted to know already. Same thing with Magnus. It’s mentioned and referred to repeatedly that he has a scar on his face. Eventually I just rolled my eyes whenever it was brought up, for no purpose that I could see other than to really ram home the fact that his father the king is a right bastard – which we already know, what with all the killing and torturing he does. The romance in Falling Kingdoms is a bit off. Insta-love, incest, talks of suicide after a love interest has died, other love interests just being used to further an agenda.

But this isn’t all to say I found no redeeming qualities in the story. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the world building, I did enjoy the magic concepts present and the idea of a whole religion founded on two goddesses who actually existed and were powerful witches. And the end of the book really kept my attention (I’m glad I kept reading!). Once the battle started, I found myself much more interested in the events unfolding. Morgan Rhodes provides some bloody, detailed descriptions of the battle and the emotions of the characters experiencing it. Everything is coming to a head and the real intense court intrigue has begun. I’m actually curious to see how everything will play out after such a large scale invasion and conquering has taken place.

2.5 heart

So Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes is one of those books that while I have some misgivings about characters and some plot points, it managed to provide enough interest that I am curious to see where the sequel will take it. I can definitely see the potential in the world that Morgan Rhodes has created, and can only hope that as the series progresses so too do her characters wise up and mature. I think that my reading experience would have been quite different if I had better feelings about the characters. Though I had contrasting emotions, another reader may not. I say it’s worth a try if you enjoy fantasy and want to see for yourself what it’s all about.

ARC provided by Razorbill in exchange for participation in the blog tour and my honest review. Thank you!

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Review: The Pack: Retribution by LM Preston [blog tour]

The Pack: Retribution
By LM Preston

ISBN-13: 9-780985-025106
Publication: September 2012 from Phenomenal One Press
Series: book 2 in The Pack
Rating: 2.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – it was ok

Revenge doesn’t have a name, but has chosen a victim – Shamira. But she’s never been the type to lie down and let someone hurt her family or her friends. In order to find the mastermind behind the threat to all she cares about, she must give up the one person who’s found his way into her guarded heart: Valens.

Valens refuses to back off easily, and neither will Shamira’s friends. They join forces with her in order to deal with a new enemy who seeks to kill everyone in Shamira’s life that dared saved the missing kids on Mars.

The Pack: Retribution by LM Preston is the follow up story to The Pack and explores Shamira, Valens and the rest of the group as they try to stop yet another conspiracy on Mars while hoping to make it through the Security Force Elites and graduate from cadets.

The book starts right off with the action, with a fire fight in the first chapter and many more following as the story continues. Shamira and the others are questioned about the shooting, and proceed to try and figure out who could be gunning for them (pun totally intended). Besides fire fights, there are some good old fashioned hand-to-hand fights, chases, explosions, computer hacking and the seedy drug underworld of Mars to contend with. Honestly, it exhausted me just reading it all. There was hardly a moment where the characters had time to just exist and breathe. The story does have a really good mystery and some wonderful suspense built up, leaving little clues along the way for the reader to decipher and put together.

While Shamira gets a bit more character exploration and depth in this second book, I still just don’t click with her. And her group of friends? Very little character development outside of how loyal they all are to each other, and how much Valens is in love with Shamira. I still enjoy the society and technology found in LM Preston’s future Mars and Earth, even though a lot of the technology was created very fast and produced some often un-believable results (and Valens has to be a genius of epic proportions to create all the tech that he does). The language and writing is a bit awkward in places with sentences that seem too abrupt, others too convoluted and a mix of swearing next to censured swears (bastard in one sentence, crud in the next), and just some different phrasing and choice of words.

Despite my quibbles with parts of the book, I do have to admit that The Pack: Retribution by LM Preston kept me reading to find out how the twists and turns are revealed and the explanations behind why Shamira, her group of friends and her family are being targeted for death. Picking up the story not too long after the first book left off, readers can look forward to a fast-paced, shoot-em-up ride through the streets of Mars, and even some romantic hiccups as Shamira comes to gripes with her relationship with Valens. Fans of The Pack should definitely enjoy this sequel.

ARC provided by LM Preston in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

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Review: Earthseed by Pamela Sargent

Earthseed
by Pamela Sargent

ISBN-13: 9-780765-332158
Publication: this edition, February 2012 from Tor Teen
Rating: 2.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ (close to a 3) – I basically liked it

The ship hurtles through space. Deep within its core, it carries the seed of humankind. Launched by the people of a dying Earth over a century ago, its mission is to find a habitable world for the children — fifteen-year-old Zoheret and her shipmates — whom it has created from its genetic banks.

To its inhabitants, Ship has been mother, father, and loving teacher, preparing them for their biggest challenge: surviving on their own, on an uninhabited planet, without Ship’s protection. Now that day is almost upon them…but are they ready to leave Ship? Ship devises a test, and suddenly, instincts that have been latent for more than a hundred years take over. Zoheret watches as friends become strangers — and enemies. Can Zoheret and her companions overcome the biggest obstacle to the survival of the human race — themselves?

I have mixed feelings about Earthseed by Pamela Sargent. I enjoyed the story and main character Zoheret well enough, but there were parts that just did not mesh well with me as the reader. I do have to say that the story holds up well to the test of time and does not seem dated at all (despite being written in 1983, and the rollerblading in the beginning). This review may be a little longer than my usual, as I’m going to try and articulate my thoughts as clearly as possible, and I may run into a few spoilers though I will try my best not to.

First of all, the concept and idea behind Earthseed? Love it. Zoheret and her fellow passengers were all born and raised aboard Ship, an AI spacecraft that is on its way to settle a new planet. Ship was probably my favourite part of the story – the AI is both mother and father to these teens living on board, and tries its best to prepare them for what they will face by settling an unknown world, but to also pass on the history of Earth so that they will remember where they came from, and their mission’s purpose. Even Ship is not perfect, though, and things don’t go completely to plan all the time. Ship is a bit mysterious, too, and you can’t help but wonder if it has hidden commands it is following.

I enjoyed Zoheret and the other teens, though they often had me exasperated (especially Zoheret). Zoheret is a pretty independent girl with a smart mind, but she makes some crazy choices. At one point she thinks to herself that she cannot trust Ho, and then not even a minute later, trusts him! Of course it gets her in huge trouble. I found her to be a bit naive and fickle in the beginning, but as she goes through the experience of learning to survive on a planet and the major twists that occur in the plot, as well as not knowing who to trust, she does a lot of growing up and really comes into her own. Ho is definitely one of the “villains” of the story and I quite disliked him. He would threaten others, steal, do things that would get others hurt and could not be trusted.

I think one of the major reasons I didn’t mesh quite so well with the book is the fact that many of the characters, like Ho, Manuel and the group they run with become fairly violent and dangerous (Ship does little to stop it, too) and I just don’t like to believe that our default as humans is to be aggressive, despite the desire to survive. One would think that cooperation and kindness would go a long way in making sure everyone survives on the new planet – not fighting and dissent. But even though I would have wished for a more happy outlook on how we could turn out stuck in space, I appreciate that Pamela Sargent did a great job of using growing up on a spaceship to showcase human nature, and to present the idea that maybe violence and negativity will always be present in us as parts of our personalities. Every one person is different and with unique views on how best to survive and adapt, even if that means stealing, kidnapping and general mayhem.

It seems like everything that could go wrong (or at least make things difficult) does, and Pamela Sargent does not shy away from the violence or tough stuff. And don’t take me the wrong way from my remarks above, I don’t object to the violence being present in the book – not everything is puppies and roses, no matter how much we (I) wish it to be, and violence can be a fact of life. There’s frank talk of sex and partnership (they are colonizing a planet after all), alcohol use (one of the teens makes his own still, but Ship even provided beer at a party) and the teens are faced with the deaths of friends, and I’m glad to see these things not being glossed over to save sensibilities. There were a few huge twists that while they are awesome and made me go “holy crap” also made me go “what, really?” (you’d think that growing up, at least one person would have stumbled across the secrets on board).

There’s a bit of an odd romantic arrangement between Zoheret and Manuel that I did not agree with, but suppose fits into the feel of the story. We don’t get to see much of Manuel’s character, but what we do see is generally thrown in with Ho, causing nothing but grief for Zoheret and the others. Zoheret and Manuel have such an abrupt get-together once in the new settlement, it took me by surprise. I did really like the descriptions of the new settlement and how they set up their governing, and there is a lot of action in the last third of the book before they reach the planet that really drives the ending.

But, despite all my quibbles over characters and decisions, I basically enjoyed Earthseed by Pamela Sargent. If you like sci-fi I definitely would recommend picking it up, since not everyone is going to have the same reading experience I did. Also, I’ll be looking to get my hands on the sequels. I’d like to see how the new colony/planet is turning out, and to see if Ship has any more surprises for the new characters we’ll be introduced to, and the old ones.

Paperback copy provided by Tor in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

This has no baring on the story at all, but I did want to mention the cover. In the book, Zoheret is described as having black hair and olive skin, as is Manuel. Gowon is described as having worn “a brown shirt almost as dark as his skin” (page 26), Lillka’s parents lived near the Black Sea (page 22), “Ho’s parents were from the south-east part of the Asian continent” (page 65), Anoki is Native American (page 65), Kagami is Japanese (page 65) and Arabic is often used throughout the story. I don’t see the cover as representative of the wonderful diversity present in Earthseed.

Review: The Amulet Chronicles 1: The Journey Home by Erika Ely Lewis & Anne Tibbets

The Amulet Chronicles 1: The Journey Home
by Erika Ely Lewis & Anne Tibbets

ISBN-13: 9-781419-675829
Published: May 2011 from Premier Digital Publishing
Rating: 2.5 ♥ / 5 ♥ – I basically liked it

Joey Thompson doesn’t know the significance of the necklace she finds in her Aunt Camille’s apothecary until it start spinning. In a rush of white light she is transported into the past! Forced into the job of a Tempes Soudeour, or Time Soldier, Joey must return the existing time line continuum to its rightful order, or be stuck in the past forever! Facing a Time Pirate, conspiracies beyond her control, and in an era she is far too unfamiliar with, Joey must discover and complete her mission with her only help coming from The Amulet.

The Journey Home is a promising start to a teen time-travel series. One morning, Joey picks up a strange amulet at her Aunt Camille’s shop. By the end of the school day she has been whisked away into the past, with no idea how she got there or how to get home – if she even can get home.

Though I didn’t love this book, I enjoyed the concept. Joey’s Aunt Camille, and her grandmother, belong to a society that keeps watch over Time and makes sure history runs its course. By picking up the amulet and it activating, Joey has unwittingly joined the society early. Though there was very little surprise or suspense for me, a feel a younger reader may enjoy the story more. For example, Joey makes frequent mention of how she finds history boring, and the history class we see in the beginning of the book is all about the Underground Railroad. For me, it was quite apparent that this is the time period to which Joey would be sent. There was no surprise in who the villain of the story is, and Peter’s – a Time Soldier sent to tell Joey what’s happened to her – uncertain intentions are never that uncertain.

Joey is a likeable character. She’s a tad whiny and complains a bit, makes some blunders in the past that could have screwed everything up, but she’s kind, determined and smarter than she thinks. So while I found the story a bit predictable and I wasn’t a fan of some of the writing (mostly during dialogue), Joey is a memorable character and the history woven in with the plot line is interesting and well done.

Paperback received from author Anne Tibbets in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!