Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Wow. I haven’t read a book I’ve enjoyed as much as Graceling in ages. If you’re looking for a book to get you out of a slump, or just a really fantastic little YA fantasy, you can’t go wrong with this one.

TL;DR Katsa is Graced with the ability to kill. Her uncle, the king of one of seven kingdoms in the realm, has trained her to be his enforcer and assassin, but Katsa has had enough of killing. When she meets a Graced prince from another kingdom, she finds herself falling in love and running towards danger. But both are hiding secrets and neither of their Graces are quite what they seem…

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

5 stars

After accidentally killing a man during a childish tantrum, Katsa (and everyone around her) realised she was one of the rare Graced: people who possess a particular skill – more than just a natural ability – and that her skill was, unfortunately, killing. Her uncle, one of seven kings who rule the realm, saw an opportunity and decided to turn his young niece into a cold-blooded killer, using her reputation to inspire fear in his enemies.

Now seventeen, Katsa is well-known around the Seven Kingdoms, having been her uncle’s enforcer for years. But she’s sick of doing his dirty work, so along with a few allies, Katsa has formed a council that works under the king’s nose to spare his would-be victims. On one mission to rescue a kidnapped grandfather being held in the dungeon, Katsa runs into Prince Po, another Graceling with the skill of fighting.

Katsa finds herself falling for the mysterious prince, and when she finally builds the courage to tell her uncle she won’t do his bidding anymore, the two royal Gracelings end up on a journey to a far away kingdom where rumours abound and strange happenings are all too common. But, as they say, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Secrets come to light, life-changing self-discoveries are made, and lies are exposed in the explosive final chapters of this book!

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I fell in love with Graceling the way you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once (little The Fault in our Stars reference for you there). It builds quite slowly at first, in my opinion, but once I knew who was who, and the story started to kick into high gear, I was absolutely hooked.

I gave it 5 stars, because it’s a new favourite, I haven’t enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this for months. Maybe even a year? It’s a pretty classic YA fantasy, done exactly right, and now joins the ranks of A Court of Mist and Fury and Nevernight in my ‘best books ever’ section.

That’s all I have to say about it really, just go and read it if you haven’t already, and you’re a YA fantasy fan. I’d even recommend it to adult fantasy fans, the characters are teens but it’s definitely got a more broad appeal, I would say. Plus, there are two more books in the series – not exactly sequels as they follow different characters (with the occasional cameo I believe) in the Graceling realm. I’m planning to get the other two books, Bitterblue (a character who appears in Graceling, so that’s exciting) and Fire, on Audible at some point, as I listened to the audio book of Graceling and really enjoyed the experience, and I tend to stick to either audio or paperback depending on how I read book one of a series, for continuity.

I’ll be sure to review books two and three as soon as I read them, but my Audible library is currently bursting at the seams with Children of Blood and Bone, The Lies of Locke Lamora, An Ember in the Ashes, Scythe, Escaping from Houdini, and lots more fabulous reads. And that’s not even counting my physical TBR pile, or the podcasts I’ve got stacking up…

I’d better get reading! See you next time.

Lyndsey

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Review: Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco

Love historical fiction? Fan of dark fantasy? You’ve come to the right place! Today we’re talking about Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series, and more specifically book two, Hunting Prince Dracula.

(I just looked for my review of Stalking Jack the Ripper to see how many stars I gave it, and realised I never wrote one! Sorry about that, I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, so it’s definitely worth a read before you dive into this one – although the way book two is written there are no spoilers for book one beyond who survives, so it’s up to you!)

Hunting Prince Dracula Kerri Maniscalco

Remember last week when we discussed ‘speculative fiction‘? This is a prime example of ‘alternate history’, taking well-known legends and giving them a completely new and fresh spin. Book three tackles the story of Harry Houdini, and I cannot wait to read it – I feel like I know the Jack the Ripper and Vlad the Impaler/Dracula stories reasonably well, and have read a few fictional takes on them, but I’m basically a newbie to Houdini. All I’ve heard is he was pretty good at disappearing.

Speaking of which, don’t you love how Maniscalco has twisted the book titles to show how the eponymous character operated in the original story, and how that’s been flipped on its head in her versions? STALKING Jack the Ripper, HUNTING Prince Dracula and ESCAPING from Houdini. I love that little hint of what’s to come from the author.

(According to Google, Houdini was born Erich Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, before moving with his family to Wisconsin, USA, so fingers crossed we see a bit of both countries in book three. I’ve always wanted to visit Budapest!)

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4.5 stars

Book two picks up a couple of weeks after book one ended, and Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell are on their way to Romania, where a school of pathology and forensic science has taken up position in the old castle where Vlad Dracula once lived.

Audrey Rose is running away from her problems, she’s having nightmares and hallucinations caused by the Ripper case, and hopes she can escape them by leaving London. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works, and her problems follow her to Romania. Not only that, but a whole crop of new problems arise on the way there, when a man is murdered on their train. His wounds look like the work of a vampire, but surely they’re the stuff of myth?

On arrival at the castle, we discover the deaths tie into the local myth of the ‘strigoi’, angry spirits of the dead that rise from the grave and drain their victims’ blood. As more victims are found, Audrey Rose and Thomas begin to question whether there’s a copycat killer on the loose, or if something more supernatural is afoot.

With the help of Thomas’s sister, the head teacher’s niece, and a castle maid, the pair hunt for clues and try to solve the puzzle before anyone else can be killed.

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I gave Hunting Prince Dracula 4.5 stars, I enjoyed it even more than book one, there’s something about the boarding school environment that speaks to me (I went to a boarding school but I didn’t board as we lived 5 minutes away, and I’ve always loved YA in that setting, i.e. Harry Potter). The romance between the two main characters starts to heat up somewhat in this instalment, so I’m excited to see where that leads, and as always Maniscalco’s writing is beautiful and descriptive, with just the right amount of Victorian vocab mixed in.

If you’re into period dramas, alternate histories, dark thrillers with just a hint of the supernatural, then you’ll definitely love this series. My pre-order of Escaping from Houdini will be available to download in 5 days time, I’ll let you know how I find it!

 

Lyndsey

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Review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

I finished The Raven Cycle series! I really enjoyed the series as a whole, and the final book was no different. If you haven’t read any of the first three books you can check out my reviews: The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue. Obviously, there are spoilers for book one in the other two reviews etc. so only read on if you don’t mind being spoiled!

Onwards to my review of The Raven King

TL;DR The gang’s search for Glendower comes to an end, Blue tests the truth of her prophecy, Piper Greenmantle tries to auction the demon off to the highest bidder and Ronan discovers the connection between his dream thief abilities and Cabeswater. Oh, and there’s lots of kissing.

The Raven King Maggie Stiefvater

4 stars

Where do I start?? This was probably the strangest book in the series, and that’s really saying something. This series is one of the weirdest, eeriest and most magical I’ve ever read. It wasn’t perfect, but I almost loved it more for that.

The main plot lines from the previous books all come to some kind of resolution, even if it’s not quite what we hoped for or expected. The ending leaves a lot to the imagination, but for a series where imagination has been essential throughout, and dreams are an integral part of the narrative, I expected nothing less.

The hunt for Glendower comes to an end, our ships are all ready to make sail (I won’t tell you which ones do!) and the events set into motion in Blue Lily, Lily Blue finally come to a head. The demon found in the caves by Piper and Neeve draws a crowd of magical artefact enthusiasts to Henrietta, but its power puts the entire town in danger and only our favourite foursome can stop the creature.

There are plenty of shocking revelations about the group and their abilities, their ties to Cabeswater, and what Cabeswater really is. I was quite satisfied with what we learned in The Raven King, even if we were left with lots of questions to ponder on our own. I know a lot of readers found the ending really anticlimactic, and this book is certainly not my favourite of the series, I found it less action packed and gripping than the other three (Blue Lily, Lily Blue is my favourite, in case you’re wondering), but I still consider it a worthy finale in many ways. I don’t mind being left with questions, it means I’m still thinking about the book days later, rather than completely forgetting about it the instant I put it down.

Perhaps one of the reasons I wasn’t as frustrated as others when I finished this book is because I read it so long after it was originally published, had seen online how disappointed lots of readers were and could manage my expectations accordingly, and Maggie has recently announced a Ronan trilogy, which will hopefully answer some of my questions. Ronan and Adam have been my favourite characters from the beginning, so I’m really excited to read a trilogy focused on them rather than Blue and Gansey.

The Raven King Review Lyndsey's Book Blog

My favourite part of the book has nothing to do with our fantastic foursome, or the psychics from 300 Fox Way, or even the Grey Man. My absolute favourite part was when Henry Cheng (one of the Vancouver crowd who idolise Gansey) talked about the language barrier between his thoughts and his words:

“It wasn’t that Henry was less of himself in English. He was less of himself out loud. His native language was thought.”

And how his mother, Seondeok struggled to make herself understood in English and would always say “It is that…but also something more.”

“Something more explained perfectly why he could never say what he meant – something more, by its definition, would always be different than what you already had in your hand.”

It sums up beautifully what it’s like to speak another language and feel like you’re not quite yourself in your second language. You can’t say what you mean with as much clarity and simplicity as in your native language, and you feel like your personality is being filtered through your limited vocabulary. I speak Spanish and on my year abroad in Spain I didn’t feel like myself at all, there’s something about the words we use and the way we express ourselves with language that’s absolutely intrinsic to our identities.

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I gave The Raven King 4 stars, as I say it’s not my favourite, in fact I’d go so far as to say it’s my least favourite of the four (and I struggled with a few things in The Dream Thieves) but for one of my new series obsessions that’s definitely not to say it was a bad book or I didn’t love it. The setting and characters are everything in The Raven Cycle, and the moody atmosphere coupled with the mystical elements give it such an intense and claustrophobic feel. I’d definitely recommend reading this series if you love YA fantasy and any of Maggie Stiefvater’s other books.

Have you read The Raven Cycle? Are you dying for the new Ronan trilogy, like me?

 

Lyndsey

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I am a member of the Book Depository affiliate program, so if you click through and buy any of the books mentioned in this blog I might make a little commission, but I am not paid to review books and all reviews are my own opinions!

 Review the Raven King