Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#CBR8 Review #12-14: Half Bad Trilogy by Sally Green

Half Bad. Half Wild. Half Lost.

It sets itself up to follow the usual young adult series storyline, yet there was something really intriguing about this series to me, and I absolutely devoured all three of the books as fast as possible. It might be that I’ve never really experienced the mythology of witches presented quite in the way this book does, which made it interesting to me. There is also such a survival instinct present in these books, and a connection to nature that is really beautiful, particularly in relation to the protagonist and his father.

I also appreciate how a lot of young adult books nowadays don't feel the need to shy away from serious topics or from things that are a little grim. Of course, that's not for everyone, and despite there being quite a bit of violence in these novels, I found that it worked well with the tone of the story and the themes present. Also, I think it was very much a stylistic choice of Sally Green to describe things in enough detail for the reader to imagine the world, but not in super intense descriptions. This may come across as simple in some regards, but I found that it worked in a lot of ways, given that I personally could then imagine the world and just how gruesome any violence was, in a way that worked best for me. I mean, we are all going to imagine the story differently in our individual minds anyways, there might as well be some leeway. The only time when this sometimes more simple writing may be considered too basic is when the protagonist describes things by saying, "it was good," or "we did things," etc, but I think that really reflects the way a character of that age would actually talk about things. I'm no better at describing stuff at times, either. Sometimes the most basic words are what's best in a situation.

But now that I have that preamble out of the way, let's actually talk about what this book is about. You know the YA drill: a government system with questionable practices meets defiance by a young person who somehow doesn’t fit (or refuses to fit) within the established system. In this case, this takes shape in the form of a Council of witches. White witches, to be exact, who run a council in England that governs the activity of white witches, and also hunts down black witches for capture and trial with a team of trained hunters (all of which are white witches). In some areas of Europe, black and white witches generally just have their own territories and leave each other alone, but of course the influence of the council and hunters extend to these other areas as the story in the Half Bad trilogy progresses. Some half-blood witches exist, though these are mainly half-human/half-witch (black or white). There is only one Half-White/Half-Black witch on record: Nathan, a teenage witch around whom the trilogy centers. (You see what I mean about the typical young adult trope of him being the different one who can therefore defying the current order of things? Don’t worry, he’s an interesting character and there are only a few hints of the “special snowflake” feeling in these books. At least, that’s what I felt while reading them). Nathan's white-witch mother died when he was young, after she had an affair with a powerful and fearful black witch, Marcus, whom fathered Nathan. Marcus has since been on the run, often leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, and never contacting Nathan. Meanwhile, Nathan lives with his white witch grandmother and three half-siblings, who were all fathered by another white witch that was killed by Marcus. For the most part, these family members do not resent Nathan or what has happened, as he is just a young boy who had no hand in what his father did. Though Nathan's one half-sister Jessica obviously hates him, and wants nothing more than to see him suffer. Other white witches that Nathan meets at school or at gatherings, etc, also do not seem to like him because of his parentage, and he has to put up with a lot of cruelty and harassment from other witches.

So that is the setup for Nathan and his background. But where does the action begin? I'm going to give a preemptive *spoilers warning* for everything following, though I will try and be as vague as possible for most of it.
Being that Nathan is the only half-black/half-white witch on record, the Council obviously wants to keep tabs on him, as a way to make sure he can fit into white witch society, and not turn "too black". At least, this is what they say, as Nathan endures assessments year after year and is repeatedly asked about his father, whom Nathan soon realizes the Council wants to track down to kill, given his power and brutal track-record of killing other witches. Basically, the council wants to use Nathan as a tool to capture his father, despite Nathan having never met him. This results in some harsh activity from the Council, including imprisonment and training Nathan to be a fighter for their desires. Of course, because of his treatment throughout the years, Nathan has come to his own conclusions about the Council, and even who he is or where he fits in society. And you can be sure that he doesn't want to comply with everything the Council says, nor to do a lot of other witches (black witches, most notably, but some white witches have also faced poor treatment from the council as well). This ultimately leads to exactly what you might imagine: resistance from Nathan, fleeing the Council, meeting up with others who do not approve of what is going on with the treatment of various witches, and inevitable war and fighting. Nathan makes some serious enemies along the way, as well as some great friends and allies who play major roles in the outcome of everything.

Those are the basics for the premise though I must admit, a lot more happens in these novels than I was expecting, in terms of both where Nathan ends up and the different relationships that occur and change as time progresses. And with everything that happens, I love Nathan as a character in that he goes through so much, is such a survivor, and yet is given room to be angry: I feel like a lot of the time, the center of a story or the hero people look to has a particular persona and demeanor, but given everything that has occurred in his life, you would expect Nathan to be angry, and he really is, and in fact at times he is a bit unlikable, yet you still want him to come out of this and be fine. His past and what occurs may explain why he is the way he is, but Nathan himself often recognizes that what he does is not right; he may claim that his actions are out of necessity, but there is a conscience and there is hate and a lot of strong emotions that really are present in anyone's life, not just those of a teenager.

Along those lines, something that I also really liked in the last book of this series was the presentation of certain relationships with Nathan, given his personality and all that he strives to do in his anger. One character in particular who loves Nathan deeply wants to follow Nathan and support him in everything, yet does talk about how he doesn't particularly like Nathan at some times. It is a great illustration of the fact that you can love someone and support someone, while still not agreeing with them completely, and in fact even hating them or not liking them at times. There are times when you just need time away from people, even if you love them; you can love someone while still disliking them at certain times. 

I will also mention that I enjoyed how witch "gifts" and their powers were presented in this book. I have not read too many books focused on witches before, so I don't know what a lot of worlds do in terms of their witch mythology, but this one seemed to work really well in terms of how things played out in the novel. These witches do not have their "gift" or power until they reach the age of seventeen (though some do develop the ability to heal themselves before this age). At the age of seventeen, a witch must go through a giving ceremony, which involves the presentation of three gifts to the young witch, and the drinking of blood from an older relation who has already developed their power. From there, a young witch may take some time to determine what particular skill they have inherited. Many times, particular gifts run in families, or they are related to the witch's personality in some way. These may include anything from: potions skills, weather control, shapeshifting, invisibility, being able to immobilize people through sound waves, stopping time, having protective metal skin, or anything else you can imagine, really. Some gifts are obviously more rare than others, but there is such a wide range presented that really anything is possible, and particular gifts may even manifest differently in different witches depending on how they personally apply them. I liked that concept a lot, and was always interested to hear about more and more gifts, even imagining what my own would be (which is always a fun game, kind of like the "if you were an XMen what would your mutation be?" question I always pose to people or no reason whatsoever). 

But now that I've gone on a big sprawl of the things I enjoyed about this series, let us touch on those things that I didn't. First and foremost, there were a lot of characters who we didn't get to spend too much time with, seeing as they died not long after meeting them. Particularly powerful female witches, who were incredibly intriguing and I wanted to know more about them! But alas, they disappeared too soon, and some of them just when I was starting to like them or really want to spend some time with.

Also, while I really enjoyed the progress and overall story of these novels, and can understand why everything that happened happened, something about the ultimate ending just doesn't entirely jive with me. I think that may be a personal feeling of mine, but something at the end just seemed a little out-of-character for a few of the characters. I think the biggest thing was how little of a role Nathan's brother, Arran started to play in his story, and how disconnected they started to feel near the end. Maybe I just thought Arran would end up being a bigger part of everything than he was, and found there to be a shift in Nathan that was warranted but still felt maybe a little... stilted? Not entirely organic? I'm not sure, it might just be me on that one.  

But you know what? It's time to wrap this up. This book gave me feelings and I loved it. I love YA literature, and really enjoyed this series because it wasn't hard to read but still engaging and dipping into some great themes throughout. The pace of the narrative may zip at some points and then slow down at others, yet the pace with which I read it didn't shift one bit. I can't wait until my friend who initially got me to read this series finishes the last book (I overtook her in the reading of the final novel as she's been busy lately) because I need to DISCUSS THINGS that I know she will have strong feelings about as well. So basically, if you like YA series, don't mind the typical premise of them with the obligatory supernatural factor, and like engaging in well thought-out worlds that are still somehow related to our own, then I would definitely give the Half Bad trilogy a look. I certainly plan on rereading them at some point in the future. 

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Sunday, May 15, 2016

#CBR8 Review #11: Kings Rising (Book 3 of the Captive Prince Trilogy) by C.S. Pacat

After finishing the second book in the Captive Prince series, I scoot right along to dive into this one, rather than taking a break such as I had between the first and second books. And I definitely think that that was a good decision on my part, as I could basically just keep the action going and not forget any plot-points, characters, or intricacies, as there are many within these last two books. 

I must say that I ended up liking this trilogy a lot more overall than I initially thought I would after reading the first novel. I still wouldn’t say it is my favourite, as there are some things about the world in general that make me a touch uncomfortable. That is to say, being that these books are largely centered around the position of sex slaves, that can be a tricky subject to approach to begin with. Albeit, I think illustrating how uncomfortable and gross the world of slavery is (sexual slavery specifically) was the intent of the whole thing, and the author definitely tried to address this in a way that would show it in a negative manner, but at some points it was just a little hard for me to get around.

The plot and intrigue involved in it, however, was incredibly interesting and twisty, and sometimes I even had a hard time wrapping my head around it, but that made it all the more enjoyable, trying to work everything out and keep up with the clever characters. The political stuff in these books was definitely the high-point for me, which is unusual given that I knew going in that there was a romance involved, and that is usually what I like. But more on that later…

So here we are going to give a little *spoilers warning* for the remaining discussion of plot, etc. So turn back now if you don’t want to know! (Though I will try to be as mild with my spoilers as possible?):

Kings Rising begins where the previous book in the trilogy, Prince’s Gambit, left off. Prince Damen’s identity as the former prince/king of Akielos has been revealed, as a coalition is being made between troops from both Akielos and Vere, to go against the Regent of Vere and usurper king of Akielos. Prince Laurent, to whom Damen was acting as the bed slave of, is in the midst of a vicious plot and game of tricks with with uncle, the Regent, and Damen being sent to him as a sex slave is now known to be another piece of the overall puzzle that the Regent has set out to take over the prince’s position and rule Vere. Yet, as it turns out, Laurent was aware of Damen’s identity the whole time: he knew that this was the prince who had killed his brother years ago, and so the relationship between the two and every interaction that took place over the course of the past two novels suddenly takes on all kinds of new meaning. There were so many layers we were not aware of until now, and honestly just the revelation that Laurent knew who Damen was as their relationship developed as it did was a turning point for me.

Actually, the real turning point for me in looking at their relationship—which had previously been a serious sticking-point for me—was a moment where the two just go at it and let everything out and straight up fight. Because up until now, everything had been so cloaked, hidden, and controlled, much like everything about Laurent’s personality. And sometimes you just have to let things rip in order to move forward or get to a new place in a relationship; sometimes you just have to beat the shit out of each other (#CivilWar???) I mean honestly, everything in these books is so veiled and presented under layers of disguise and insinuation, that sometimes I got uneasy with how tense and inscrutable everything was, but once these two guys just had their super intense fight and let their emotions out, I suddenly felt like I could get more on board with it. I may not be 100% sold on their relationship, but I was getting there near the end of this final book in the series.

So overall, I have definitely come around quite a bit on the Captive Prince trilogy. I don’t know that I would read it again (at least not right away), as it is not my favourite and there was some pretty uncomfortable stuff throughout. I’m not saying I need everything to be good and easy all the time, that’s not it at all. I actually don’t know how to explain it at this moment… But in general I found that the plot was engaging, particularly once removed from the court of Vere to focus moreso on the political aspects of ruling and the twisted game between Laurent and the Regent, all while Damen is thrown into the mix. I don’t know that I’ve really read anything like it before, so it was definitely interesting in that regard.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Thursday, May 5, 2016

#CBR8 Review #10: Prince’s Gambit (Book 2 of the Captive Prince Trilogy) by C.S. Pacat

After reading the first book of the Captive Prince series, I was not exactly sold on it, and considered just stopping there. But after a little commenting back and forth with Narfna (aaayooo!) who had indeed read the rest of the series, I was convinced to keep going. And you know what, it has definitely improved and peaked more of my interest. There are still some things that I’m a little unsure of or uneasy about, but I am beginning to see a bigger picture that makes me want to know how everything is going to wrap up in the final book. Some of the “inevitabilities” and other things that I predicted in the first novel have indeed come to be, but there is still a lot that leaves me wondering, as this second book in the series was a lot more plot-driven and filled with so much political intrigue and interplay that I would never have anticipated (much like our protagonist Damen did not anticipate himself either?)

The previous novel in the series focused on Prince Damen of Akielos, who had just been usurped by his brother and sent to be a slave for the Prince of Vere, Laurent. Vere and Akielos have had a longstanding conflict, but at the current time there is tentative peace and treaty action. Regardless of this, Damen has been in danger trying to keep his identity secret, as he knows that if his true identity is discovered in enemy territory, this would likely be the end of him. Yet over the course of the novel, the cold as ice Prince Laurent has slowly come to trust Damen’s judgments and values his knowledge of Akielos, which may come in handy for him as he faces conflict with the King Regent (Laurent’s uncle) which is playing a game in attempts to garner himself more power.
 Where this second novel begins is exactly where the previous one left off, and I’m just going to go ahead and give a *spoilers warning* for everything following this point, though they will be very mild (at least I think they are mild):

Laurent and his troops are now riding to a fort which Laurent has command of for some patrol duties, at the insistence of Laurent’s uncle. Damen is coming along, as he knows some of the area near Akielos in the south of Vere better than most of the other men. Laurent and Damen, having spent so much time together begin to trust one another slowly, as they try to keep control of an unruly and little-trained group of soldiers who were given to Laurent by the Regent in a very strategic manner. In essence, this novel is entirely a huge game of chess between Laurent and the Regent, trying to constantly outmaneuver the other. Both slip back and forth between having the upper hand, and Damen is always the last to figure out the strategy upon strategy, which sometimes made it a little confusing for me as the reader, always being one step behind everyone else. It also does not help that I had taken a bit of a break between this novel and the last (reading a few in another series that I hope to finish and review altogether soon!), so I had forgotten a few of the characters names and positions, and therefore their importance in certain regards. That was my mistake, as I think it would be better to keep reading these all through as one, as they do continue on as one big story from one book to the other.

The political intrigue and movement of the army, including a few different battles makes this novel a lot more plot-driven than the previous one, so while there was a bit more confusion on my part, it was also a lot more interesting to see where everything was going to go next in terms of action. The setting was also removed from the atmosphere of the Vere court which improves things significantly for me, as the culture there made me a little uncomfortable in the previous novel. While I do think there is likely an end-game to this, or message regarding how normal things can seem when you are brought up in a particular culture, at the time it just came across as shocking for the sake of it.

Yet there was still a lot of unnerving tension, sexual violence and manipulation that makes me a tad uneasy in this novel as well, particularly in regards to the treatment of the young Aimeric, and also how is always so calculating in all of his moves. There is such a coldness and manipulative nature there that makes it hard for me to like him, even though his hard exterior does come down at some points. It is because of this that I am still conflicted about the relationship between Laurent and Damen (which I had thought was pretty inevitable to develop in the previous novel, even though I did not enjoy the prospect of this one bit). I can see how they could come to know each other and trust each other easily after spending so much time together, but Laurent is always so cold and has so much hidden that it’s hard to know what is honest and what it strategy. It is clear that he has suffered in his life at the hands of his uncle but there is still such a sting to everything he does and it’s hard for me to get past some of his actions (as well as those of Damen) to truly be okay with them coming together. But I guess that is kind of the point: they both have a lot of baggage and conflict between them that it’s hard for them to come to realize and accept how they feel about one another. And of course, Damen, from whom we get the point of view of the book, does not have all of the information at any given point, which makes it hard to know what exactly is true, exaggerated, or entirely at play at any given time.  

And so, I am definitely going to find out what happens at the end of this series! There is just so much interplay going on with double-cross over double-cross and strategy after strategy. So while I am perhaps not entirely sold on some of the relationships and interplay with characters, I am quite engaged now by the overall plot and want to see how this all plays out.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]