BOOK REVIEW: Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce

Image result for tamora pierce books alanna

Author: Tamora Pierce
Genre: Middle Grade/Fantasy
Series: Song of the Lioness (Complete)

Alanna the First Adventure: ★★★/5
In the Hand of the Goddess: ★★★/5
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: ★★★.5/5
Lioness Rampant: ★★★/5

Summary Alanna the First Adventure: The first volume tells the story of Alanna’s page years. The book describes how she switches places with her brother and first comes to the palace—disguised as the boy “Alan”–, finds friends and makes enemies. She also learns most of the things she needs to know as a knight. Even though she is only a page, Alanna already has to fight the Sweating Sickness and the powerful Ysandir.

Summary In the Hand of the Goddess: Alanna, the squire of the Crown Prince Jonathan IV of Conté and still disguised as a boy, meets the Great Mother Goddess. From her she learns that she has to face her three greatest fears: the fear of the Chamber of the Ordeal, that of Duke Roger of Conté and the fear of love. But she also has to face another problem: Tusaine is declaring war on Tortall.

Summary The Woman Who Rides Like a Man: Finally Alanna has become a knight and removed a great threat to the Tortallan Crown from the land. But the revelation that “Squire Alan” is now indeed “Sir Alanna” isn’t accepted easily by the court. To get away from all the gossip and to find herself again, Alanna and her manservant Coram Smythesson left Corus and traveled through the Great Southern Desert, where they encounter the Bazhir tribe of the Bloody Hawk. There Alanna has to deal with the Bazhir’s customs while teaching three young people the way of a Bazhir shaman.

Summary Lioness Rampant: On trying to save an old friend of Halef Seif’s, Alanna retrieved a map promising the Dominion Jewel which could help Tortall to prosper. Thus, she sets out to find this jewel. On her way she meets the Shang Dragon Liam Ironarm as well as the Sarain Princess Thayet jian Wilima, who both return back to Tortall with her after her quest is complete. But even after she brings the Dominion Jewel home there is still danger for Tortall. Duke Roger of Conté is back from the dead and trying to destroy Tortall.

Review: I decided to do a comprehensive book review of Tamora Pierce’s quartet, The Song of the Lioness, because as she mentions, this quartet started out as a standalone book before she separated it into four separate ones. However, the series itself still reads as one continuous adventure. There is an underlying conflict that hovers over Alanna’s head as the series continues, with each book allowing a smaller conflict to be resolved. Since it felt as though the series was one long book, some books were less interesting than others. Reviewed as a whole, the series is definitely a 4 out of 5 stars for me, but individually some books stood out more than others. My least favorite being The Woman Who Rides Like a Man. The high point of book three was how Alanna truly maintained her independence from the confines of the traditional role of woman. She was shattering the gender norms with grace and confidence. However, the story arch of this book fell a bit flat for me as I continued to anticipate more action, but was greeted with a slow build up.

Comparatively, while I love the world and story that Pierce has the ability to weave through her words, I much prefer her quartet, The Immortals. Set in the same world and years later, it really delves into a much more magical world that I always look for in fantasy books. However, one thing that always remains, is the fantastic growth and character development of the strong female leads as they truly discover their purpose and potential in an unlikely setting. Not only Alanna, but her supporting characters grow alongside her which really pulls you into the world as though it truly exists.

Alanna of Trebond: A strong and determined female lead who is a great role model to any little girl. While she understands her weaknesses, her humbleness keeps her grounded in her successes. She continually shatters expectations and follows the path that is true to her own beliefs. Alanna maintains her honor throughout the entire series and the growth her character makes is one to be awed.

George Cooper: The King of Thieves, despite his title possesses an honor equaling Alanna. I loved their relationship and how George truly accepted Alanna with an unconditional love. He embraced her strong personality and never tried to limit her while providing the support she needed when she felt struggled. This was a respected relationship of equals.

Myles of Olau: I truly loved the father figure Myles became to Alanna. He recognized how special Alanna was and his patience and support was constant. Without a truly compassionate relationship with her birth father, Alanna was able to experience it with Myles.

Jonathan of Conte: I loved Jonathan’s character through the first two books. He was an unlikely humble crown prince. He got down and dirty and never really expected special treatment. However, during book three, the heaviness of the crown began to change him. I struggled alongside him because he backtracked from the person he began as and I hoped for so much more for him. Though he lost his way, he always truly cared for Alanna, though it was apparent that they were in different places and would never truly be able to provide what the other needed.

I think the main thing to take away from The Song of Lioness is the relationships and growth between the characters. There is a little bit of something for everyone–love, passion, greed, friendships, heartbreak, sadness. This fantasy book truly touches upon the different relationships currently and in the future.

BOOK REVIEW: The Darkest Minds by Alexndra Bracken

thedarkestmindsbyalexandrabracken

Author: Alexandra Bracken
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian/Romance
Series: A Darkest Minds Novel (Book 1)

The Darkest Minds: ★★★★ (3.5)

Buy it on Amazon

SUMMARY: When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that had killed most of America’s children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She is on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who have escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at having a life worth living.

REVIEW: This is my first read of 2016 and it was a solid novel. I typically do not like to read young adult dystopian books, but I heard a lot of good things about this one (plus the fact that I stumbled upon a hardcover copy for only $3), I decided, why not? “The Darkest Minds” earned 3.5 stars from me. Overall I found the book enjoyable and interesting, but something about the journey kept me from giving it a higher rating.

Bracken’s writing is spectacular. No doubt about it, this author has a talent. She was able to provide descriptive explanations without being too wordy or confusing. She builds the world and sets the tone early on in the story. The beginning was a bit slow for me, but I understood she wanted to emphasize the darkness early on by revealing a little bit about the main character’s background from her experiences. I did appreciate the fact that the author did not literally write everything out for readers and would allow them to discover things on their own though.

The world she builds is somewhat believable, but there were times I found myself thinking it was a post-apocalyptic one, only to remember that the government was still somewhat running and the older folk were still working and living life. It is a bit unbelievable that parents would send their children to a camp believing they were being rehabilitated and accept the fact that they’re NEVER allowed to visit them again. The fact that most of the thousands of children inside the camps are just shipped somewhere by their parents willingly is still a bit hard for me to believe.

Basically, children who don’t die from IAAN (this disease the government makes up) they develop special abilities which are defined by color:

Green: great memory and very smart

Blue: ability to move things

Yellow: ability to manipulate electricity

Orange: ability to play with the mind

Red: ability to manipulate fire

Ruby: Ruby is an Orange, one of the last in the world, and the protagonist of this book. She starts out as a nervous, unsure young girl as she is sent to Thurmond for “rehabilitation.” After she escapes, she begins a journey that is destined to change her forever. By the end of the book, Ruby is more resolute and “cutthroat,” I guess you can say. But throughout the story, I did find her to be a bit whiny. One of my my pet peeves is when characters insist on keeping a secret because they’re afraid of being shunned, which is what Ruby does for a majority time. Overall, she wasn’t a terrible heroine, but she also wasn’t one of my favorite.

Liam: Liam is a Blue and the charismatic leader of the pack Ruby ends up joining. He’s tall, ruggedly handsome, and looks older than he actually is. Liam’s heart is huge and he’s always thinking of others before himself, sometimes at a fault. (No one can be perfect after all). The Skip Tracers and Psi Officers are all after him because he organized a breakout, not to mention the $250,000 bounty on his head, but you know you can rely on him because he’s so capable.

Charles “Chubs”: Chubs is also a Blue and the comedic mean kid of the group. He doesn’t like outsiders but is extremely loyal once he accepts someone. He never lost sight of what needed to be done and wasn’t blinded by the temporary “happiness” at East River like the others were. And even though he was upset, he was loyal until the end.

Suzune “Zu”: Zu is a yellow and the cute, young Asian girl of the group. She doesn’t have much control over her abilities so wears rubber gloves all the time to protect the others. Because of her traumatizing past (that isn’t fully revealed) she’s mute and interacts with them with expressions and motions instead.

The romance is introduced near the later end of the book. I found it strange that in the beginning of the book, the author emphasizes how uncomfortable Ruby is with boys because she was separated from them for six years. Then all of a sudden, she’s on a journey with two of them and becomes more comfortable pretty quickly, as she’s sassy with one and starts to like the other. Her character was very vanilla, and the conditioning she experienced in the camp for SIX YEARS would not disappear in a few weeks or a month even…

The reason I didn’t rate this book higher is because the whole story was basically a long road trip. There were some car chases and close calls with Skip Tracers and Psi Officers trying to recapture the group, but it consisted of them just traveling in a car trying to find out where East River was to find the Slip Kid (Rumored to be an Orange kid who was able to get in touch with parents). I also didn’t like how it ended. I understand why it had to be done and I can just assume what is going to happen later, but still it’s not a very “feel good” ending.

If you like young adult dystopian novels, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. I do plan on continuing the series to see how it finishes.

Buy it on Amazon

BOOK REVIEW: The Realms of the Gods by Tamora Pierce

Author: Tamora Pierce
Genre: Middle Grade/Fantasy
Series: Book 4 of Quartet (Complete)

The Realms of the Gods: ★★★★★/5

Summary: During a dire battle against the fearsome Skinners, Daine and her mage teacher Numair are swept into the Divine Realms. Though happy to be alive, they are not where they want to be. They are desperately needed back home, where their old enemy, Ozorne, and his army of strange creatures are waging war against Tortall. Trapped in the mystical realms Daine discovers her mysterious parentage. And as these secrets of her past are revealed so is the treacherous way back to Tortall. So they embark on an extraordinary journey home, where the fate of all Tortall rests with Daine and her wild magic.

The last book of the Immortals series! Ah. This was bittersweet. The battle between Tortall and Carthak, which even brought the gods into the mix finally comes to an end. Daine and Numair is brought into the Realm of the Gods and she finally meets her father, the God of Hunt, Weiryn.

The book starts in immediate conflict as we find that Tortall is in constant war with Stormwing Ozorne and his forces who is playing a dangerous game against the gods. Daine and Numair get pulled into the realm of the gods and need to find a way back to the mortal realms in order to help Tortall win a battle they seem to be losing. It starts a bit slow as they make their way to the dragons to hitch a ride back.

DAINE: Daine finally meets her dad, the God of the Hunt, Weiryn. There’s not much of an exchange between them and I kind of wished they had a conversation or two, separate from the other gods. In this final book, Daine has become a young woman. She’s strong, independent, and powerful. I love how, even though she’s only sixteen, she takes the initiative and is comfortable in her own skin(s). Daine is blunt and a refreshing protagonist.

NUMAIR: Ah…I love Numair. I will definitely miss him after this series. Despite his age, he has a young soul and is absolutely adorable. He finally makes a move too! He does everything in his power to keep Daine safe and never gives up on her even though there’s a possibility she’s dead. He cares for her as a student, friend, magical partner, and love. He’s extremely respectable as he continues to try and protect Daine’s innocence, though she won’t have much of it as she is very blunt with the matter.

RIKASH: I appreciate that Pierce developed a sort of humanity in the Stormwings when you hated them in the first parts of the series. Rikash is an honorable Stormwing and even Daine finds a friend in him.

DARKINGS: In the beginning you hate these little things and curse Daine for being naively kind to them. But by the end of the book you love these little inkblots. I love how each of our characters had one as a companion. It’s absolutely adorable that even King Jonathan had one.

Ok, so I’ll finally talk about the romantic relationship between Numair and Daine. I know some people criticize it because of the age difference (14 years). And, believe me, I am not a personal advocate of age differences in relationships. BUT, readers should remember that this is set in an age where girls are married extremely young and it is not uncommon for them to marry older. Plus, Numair possesses a young, pure soul and Daine is much more mature than her age reflects, so I calculate they meet somewhere in the middle and true age difference is around 4 years. I love the fact Daine realizes that Numair loves her with the little locket he’s been keeping and that she’s not all shy about it and is very upfront. They have been through so much together in the past 3-4 years that I really believed the development the relationship made. They struggled through life and death situations and at the end of each battle the first person they look for is each other, which does not change in this last book.

Pierce really developed the magical realms in this finale. You learn more of the immortals and the gods and their rules. It’s nice to see that even within the existence of gods there are limitations and rules and punishments. Overall, I loved this series. It was a reread from my middle school years, and it definitely renewed my love for fantasy.

BUY IT ON AMAZON

BOOK REVIEW: Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce

Author: Tamora Pierce
Genre: Middle Grade/Fantasy
Series: Book 3 of Quartet (Complete)

Emperor Mage: ★★★★.5/5

Summary: Sent to Carthak as part of the Tortallan peace delegation, Daine finds herself in the middle of a sticky political situation. She doesn’t like the Carthaki practice of keeping slaves, but it’s not her place to say anything — she’s just there to heal the emperor’s birds. It’s extremely frustrating! What’s more, her power has grown in a mysterious way. As the peace talks stall, Daine puzzles over Carthak’s two-faced Emperor Ozorne. How can he be so caring with his birds and so cruel to his people? Daine is sure he’s planning something. Daine must fight the powerful Emperor Mage, knowing that the safety and peace of the realm depend on stopping Ozorne’s power-hungry schemes.

In this third book, I was reminded that Daine is still a young child compared to her company. Though she does hold herself more mature than most children, there did seem to be a separation when peace talks were taking place and the emphasis on her behavior. Necessary, but just a small reminder.

DAINE: She begins to get frustrated with a new power bestowed upon her from one of the gods as she’s used as a vessel for this god’s deed. Daine also becomes closer to Prince Kaddar as she spends most of her time with him during this book. I did wish there was a bigger romance conflict with the both of them and Numair. (There was one little one). You also discover more about Daine’s parents.

NUMAIR: I just love how clever this fellow is. You end up meeting one of Numair’s former lovers, which irks Daine (a little). But even throughout this book, Numair continues to show his feelings for her when he goes to Prince Kaddar and has a little “talk” with him. That part made me smile. heh

PRINCE KADDAR: The prince is an honorable and sweet young teen. He feels open and vulnerable around Daine (as most people/animals tend to feel) and readers will come to enjoy his presence.

KING OZORNE (EMPEROR MAGE): Readers finally meet the villain in person, the Emperor Mage. Daine is torn between his two faces–the animal lover and the evil ruler. He hates Numair and has an ulterior motive against him. He is evil. Hate the guy.

The conflict really gets a kick start in this third book. You find out that the workings in the mortal world are causing a drift even in the immortal realms. And there is a foreshadowing that this problem is bigger than anyone can even imagine. Also, this huge event happens at the end that makes Daine go ballistic, it’s merited of course. I won’t spoil it, BUT I do think that the effect would have been better if Pierce really emphasized it a bit more.

BUY IT ON AMAZON

BOOK REVIEW: Wolf Speaker by Tamora Pierce

Author: Tamora Pierce
Genre: Middle Grade/Fantasy
Series: Book 2 of Quartet (Complete)

Wolf Speaker: ★★★/5

Summary: When humans start cutting down trees and digging holes in peaceful Dunlath Valley, the wolves know that something is wrong. They send a messenger to the only human who will listen — Daine, a fourteen-year-old girl with the unpredictable power of wild magic. Daine and her closest companions heed the wolves’ cry for help. But the challenge they are about to face in the valley is greater than they can possibly imagine…

Now Daine is 14-years-old and has a better handle on her powers. She’s called to Dunlath Valley where the wolf pack she first connected with needs her help. In this book she learns a new facet of her wild magic. I was definitely glad to see Daine growing up. There is a clear difference in Daine’s maturity in this second installment compared to the first, from her actions to her thoughts. She is also making the transition from student to friend with Numair!

I finished the whole quartet, but I decided instead of reviewing it as a whole, I would review each book individually. This book was my least favorite of the four, not to say, I still enjoyed reading it, but you always have a least favorite. I guess it has to do with the fact that I thought it dragged a little bit in the middle while Daine was waiting for Numair to return, though it was necessary to move the plot along with the two different perspectives. However, once the action did pick up, it didn’t stop and I couldn’t stop reading until I finished.

DAINE: Daine is growing more confidence in herself and her power. She continues to venture further to see where her wild magic will lead her. Her thoughts have become more complex as a 14-year-old and she still remains loyal to her beliefs. She has a deep concern and love for all the animals and is still learning the balance between asking for their help and sending them to die. Daine has a tender heart and it is very endearing because of her tough past.

NUMAIR: Numair’s feelings for Daine continue to grow. He cares for her and is constantly making sure she’s safe. However, I do appreciate the fact, despite her age, he trusts her in important situations. He worries for her but believes that she can handle more than the average teen. You can see the small signs that Numair is developing deeper feelings for her.

MAURA: Maura is the runaway princess who wants to warn the king of an uprising. She’s mature for her age and very open-minded as she befriends a Stormwing named Rikash. Even though she is only ten, she has a noble sense of responsibility and right and wrong.

WOLF PACK: These wolves are smart, smarter than the typical animals. It is mainly due to the fact the wolves had a deep connection with Daine, who seems to have that affect on the animals she comes in contact for in long periods. They act more like humans and have developed complex thoughts for their problems. Whether for their own good or not, you’ll have to find out.

The conflict is getting deeper and more complicated. Readers start to find out that Carthak is making a move against Tortall. I love the relationship developing between Numair and Daine and it’s one of the main reasons I continue to read!

BUY IT ON AMAZON