I hate starting the new year with outstanding reviews to write. Twenty reviews. Four days. It’s crunch time, and it’s going to get ugly. Here are the first five.
The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling is way too charming for its good. Vivienne is totally capable, smart, sweet, and powerful. Rhys is the perfect blend of handsome, smarmy, and obnoxious. Together, they smolder. Sweet and sexy with plenty of mystery, it was the perfect seasonal read.
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire is weird. Dare I say it might be too weird for me. Part science fiction, part magic, part history lesson, and part feminist story, the elements do not blend well together. All of the characters are creepy, although I believe that is the point. When the story focuses on the characters, I was able to get into it. Unfortunately, when the story focuses on the allegorical aspects, it takes on an otherworldly quality that never obtains clarity. I know others love Middlegame, but for me, it is a little too esoteric.
When Night Breaks by Janella Angeles is better than the first novel in Kingdom of Cards duology, which I thought was weak and confusing. This is in large part because we finally get answers, something that was severely lacking in that first novel. Plus, the magic makes sense this time, something that should be automatic for any fantasy novel. I read this for closure, and that is exactly what I got, so I call that a win.
The cover for Heart of the Impaler by Alexander Delacroix is amazing. The story itself is not. I have SO many issues with this butchering of Vlad Dracul II. First of all, the timing is wrong. Delacroix does not have Vlad and Radu becoming prisoners/wards of the Ottoman Empire until their teens. WRONG. Granted, the author does admit to playing with the timeline to prove his point that Vlad had issues before he was a prisoner. (I think there is a strong argument for the opposite, but it’s not my novel.) Even worse, Delacroix does his best to create strong female characters but ends up using every single cliche and stereotype there is about such characters. Strong-willed but submissive to parental figures, chafing at the injustice, intelligent beyond the pale, skilled at something stereotypically unfeminine. His female characters end up being one-dimensional and weak. As for Vlad, I can’t even talk about it. I usually can give a book the benefit of the doubt, but the liberties the author takes with one of my favorite historical personages leaves this firmly in the NO column for me.
The Excalibur Curse by Kiersten White is a fitting end to the trilogy. All three books made me rethink the entire Arthurian legend, but this final book got me looking at it long and hard from many different angles. In true White fashion, I ended up switching my sympathies from Arthur to the Dark Queen as she fights to maintain magic in the world. I wasn’t expecting Guinevere to change as much as she did, and the ending was equally unpredictable. I love how White manages to take such a famous, very masculine, story in which the women do not fare well at all and turns it on its head to make it fresh and exciting and very feminist. Well done!