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REVIEW:  The Iron Traitor  by Julie Kagawa

REVIEW: The Iron Traitor by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Traitor

Dear Julie Kagawa:

I was a fan of your first book “Iron King,” which I received at an RWA conference awhile ago, and then as I completed the next two books, my interest sort of lagged, and I don’t exactly remember why. I lost track of your books, but recently when your latest popped up on my radar, I had to take a look. Although I ’m glad I did, readers here should know that this book is definitely no romance.

Ethan Chase is recovering from being fairy-napped for the second time in his life. He’s still digesting several discoveries, among them, that his missing sister has become a faery queen herself and has a son as the same age as him (because of weird fairy time). It also didn’t help that he vanished from the mortal world at the same time as rich and popular classmate MacKenzie St. James. Their shared experiences of nearly dying in the faery realm have brought them together and they intend to stay together. But when Ethan gets sucked into more dangerous fairy complications, his relationship with MacKenzie is tested.

Ethan is a compelling character and I like how he makes stupid teenage mistakes as is fitting. He allows his nephew’s faery girlfriend Annwyl to stay in his room and heads off to fairyland all the while telling MacKenzie to stay behind. Concerned about her safety and his nephew Keirran’s problems, he fails to realize what the situation might look like to MacKenzie. And when MacKenzie and Ethan meet up in fairy land, a difficult yet mature conversation is had that shows how these two former loners are still trying to adjust to being part of a couple.

Throughout the story, Ethan and Keirran are presented as two people in similar situations with opposing views, and it is interesting to see how they react to each other. Both Ethan and Keirran have loves who are destined to die, but Keirran is the type who will destroy himself in making fey bargains to save what he loves. Ethan, on the other hand, has had a life long suspicion of the fey and tends to be more about letting fate take its course. His back history was well woven into his present day reactions. Usually, I’m on the side of ‘love will conquer all,’ but in this story, I found myself rooting for Ethan’s point of view. Sometimes all that you have is all that you have and you have to treasure what you have before it fades away. Unfortunately for Ethan, the fey are not going to let him do that with his terminally ill girlfriend Kenzie.

Kenzie, though pretty and popular, is living with the knowledge that she has terminal disease. Though the characterization of Kenzie nearly veered into the background-jealous-girlfriend trope at points, for the most part, she had her own motivations and her reactions were firmly rooted in the character you had established; someone who wasn’t afraid to risk danger because her life was limited already.

Kierran is great as the dark foreboding character, but for some reason the relationship between him and Annwyl didn’t intrigue me as a reader. You go in to the story knowing that they are deeply in love and devoted to each other, despite the fact that their relationship is forbidden by complicated faerie court politics, but there isn’t much more development beyond Annwyl’s being the victim in need of saving and Kierran’s obsession with saving her life. There are glimpses of Annwyl being a once rather formidable faerie herself, but not enough. I would have liked to have found out more about how those two got together, but perhaps that was in a previous book.

It was hard for me to tear myself away from the early part of this book, but as I read on, the glamor seemed to kind of fade. I’m still trying to figure out why. It wasn’t that the plot wasn’t exciting and engaging, on the contrary, I think it was a little too teenage dramatic. The pace of the plotting felt emotionally relentless, in a way that I’m not quite used to. I suppose that makes sense since this is a YA after all. Maybe it’s also because although I enjoy all sorts of books, I am a romance reader at heart.

 

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

And maybe it’s because I like happy endings and despite the title, I thought there was a chance that Kierran would not betray Ethan as he did.

I really wanted some kind of closure, but the cliffhanger ending was a bit much for me. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but I don’t know if I would want to come back to this. I think if I was a young teenage girl, I would totally be obsessed and hooked on this series, but right now, I’m on the fence about whether I’ll pickup the next book.

B

~Amy

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REVIEW:  Archangel’s Legion by Nalini Singh

REVIEW: Archangel’s Legion by Nalini Singh

Dear Ms Singh,

When I heard that the sixth book in your Guild Hunter series would be a fourth book about Elena and Raphael, I gave a mental groan. Book three, Archangel’s Consort, made me feel the conflict between this couple was played out. I would rather read Aodhan’s book, or Illium’s, or Venom’s, or, most of all, Sorrow’s, than a retread of the old argument about whether it’s safe for Elena to have the freedom she needs to be herself.

Nalini Singh Archangel's Legion But in order to read those other characters’ books and not be lost, I figured I’d need to read this one. Fortunately for me, this book turned out not to be as much of a retread as I had feared. While the conflicts that came up between Elena and Raphael were rooted in the relationship that had been established in Angels’ Blood, Archangel’s Kiss and Archangel’s Consort, the issues between them played out differently, with the characters, Raphael especially, showing real growth.

Before I get to that, though, here is a summary of the novel’s opening. Archangel’s Legion begins with Raphael delivering two pieces of news to Elena: His mother, the ancient archangel Caliane, has invited them to a ball celebrating the city of Amanat’s awakening, and the archangel Michaela, endangered by the coming Cascade, has requested shelter and protection for herself and for the unborn child she carries.

These two pieces of news, dismaying as they are to Elena, are quickly eclipsed by storm clouds that turn out to be made up of birds. Then the birds begin to fall from Manhattan’s sky, and soon angels are falling in their wake.

As Elena sets up an infirmary in hers and Raphael’s home, receives reports of injured angels from Sara and relays them to Aodhan who, in Dmitri’s absence, is in charge of tower operations, Raphael ascends in the midst of The Falling to catch and rescue younger angels.

When The Falling ends, hundreds of New York’s angels are out of commission, forcing Raphael to recall some of his forces who are stationed further away to protect a vulnerable Manhattan.

Raphael believes The Falling is a sign that the Cascade, an event that brings archangels greater powers as well as madness and inhumanity, is burgeoning. One of the archangels may have attained the power to make angels fall from the skies, but even via process of elimination, Raphael and Elena can’t figure out who it is.

That night, Raphael dreams of the field in which Caliane left him to die, and he begins to hear haunting whispers asking him who he is. When he wakes, Elena sees fire in his wings, but Raphael dismisses it as an illusion of the light.

Meanwhile, Elena faces challenges of her own. Her father’s rejection has brought her younger half-sister Eve, a guild hunter in training, to tears, and Elena is determined to confront Jeffrey. Another guild hunter has apparently lost it and purchased an arsenal of guns, and now Elena and her fellow hunter Ransom must track him down. Worst of all, in the midst of that hunt, Elena and Ransom discover a dead vampire who appears to have been infected with a lethal disease.

All of this is only the beginning. Archangel’s Legion also sees Raphael and Elena forging new alliances in preparation for the coming war with their old and creepy enemy, the Archangel Lijuan, and the unknown new enemy who has created the disease and caused The Falling.

For although Raphael, like all the Archangels, is evolving, for him accepting new powers may mean losing his humanity, something neither he nor Elena wants. Yet if he rejects the new powers that come with the Cascade, New York may be vulnerable to his enemies’ attack. To defeat Lijuan and the disease-maker, Raphael will need to gather every ally he and Elena have. It will take a legion of fighters to win the coming war.

As may be evident from this plot summary, Archangel’s Legion relies a lot on external conflict,with much less internal conflict (by which I mean conflict that takes place in a main character’s heart and mind) than I usually like. At this point, four books into Elena and Raphael’s relationship, that is probably a good thing – if these two were still making up their minds about what they felt for each other, I’d be frustrated with them.

There is some internal conflict though, and I really appreciated that it wasn’t the same one we’d seen in the earlier books. Instead the conflicts within the characters centered on Elena’s unconscious trust issues resulting from her father’s painful rejection of her, and Raphael’s need to protect his people, something that accepting new powers could make possible, versus his fears of losing his humanity and his love for Elena if he did take on the new powers that the Cascade offered him.

Archangel's Legion UK Cover

Archangel’s Legion UK Cover

What I really liked about both these issues is that they felt like progress for both characters. Consciously Elena trusted Raphael, but unconsciously it was harder for her to believe he would always be there for her in a way that her father had not. This was not about her thinking Raphael was an overweening jerk, but about something that went deeper than that.

Meanwhile, on Raphael’s side, his desire to hang on to his humanity felt like a big step, especially when comparing the Raphael of this book to the Raphael we encountered at the beginning of book one, Angels’ Blood. While I’ve enjoyed reading about Raphael in some of the past books, this was the first book in the series in which I truly sympathized with him. It was evident he wanted to remain caring toward his people, even as he wanted to protect them from powerful enemies, but he didn’t know if it was possible to do both.

If I have a criticism on the Elena/Raphael side of this book, it’s that although I’m far from a prude, most of the sex scenes didn’t engage me that much. I didn’t skim them, but I was tempted to do so in some cases. There are only so many ways to write about the same couple having sex, and by the fourth book, Raphael and Elena’s relationship’s bedroom dynamics don’t feel that fresh anymore, so I hope there won’t be quite so many sex scenes in the next Elena/Raphael novel.

As far as the external conflict in the novel goes, with so many irons in their enemies’ fire, the external conflicts were numerous and big, especially in Archangel’s Legion’s climactic scenes. I don’t want to give those away, but suffice to say that Raphael and Elena’s world is rocked by something that happens near the end, and that event left me eager to read more in this series.

One thing that did bother me a bit was that though some of what happened was brutal, none of the characters I had an emotional investment in died. I’m not usually one to advocate for characters’ deaths (in fact I generally hate when that happens), but in this case, the death of a minor character we’d come to care about at least a little would have gone a long way toward grounding the storyline in reality.

Overall though, the external conflict was one of the strengths of this book. I was grateful that there wasn’t as much disturbing / horrific stuff going on as there was in Archangel’s Kiss, while at the same time the storyline felt fresher and more eventful to me than in Archangel’s Consort. There was even some progress on the Jeffrey/Elena front, something I’ve hungered for since book one.

While I’d still prefer books about characters I don’t know as well as I know these two by now (there is more mystery surrounding those less-well-known characters and therefore also more opportunities to be genuinely surprised by things they say and do), I think I’ll be more receptive to the idea of another Elena/Raphael book than I was to the idea of this one. B for Archangel’s Legion.

Sincerely,

Janine

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