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REVIEW:  Battle by Michelle West

REVIEW: Battle by Michelle West

Dear Michelle West:

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have mixed feelings about the first three books of your House War series. I loved the fact they expanded on the pasts of Jewel and her den, but I also disliked that we retread familiar scenes from other books set in this universe. After the Sun Sword series, it seemed like we’d hit a roadbump. Those misgivings were assuaged with the previous novel, Skirmish, and in Battle, my doubts are gone. This is the reason I fell in love with the books set in the Essalieyan universe.

battle-michelle-westIn Battle, Jewel has finally assumed the title of the Terafin. It’s been a long time coming. This has been her aim ever since her debut in the Hunter duology and it’s satisfying to see her accomplish her goal. But nothing runs smoothly in Jewel’s life, however.

Ever since Jewel’s first appearance in the books, she’s had one singular and rare gift. She is a seer. It’s the trait that earned her a place in House Terafin. The value of the gift was worth so much that when she insisted her den be accepted into the house as well, her request was granted.

Hints dropped in previous novels bear fruit in this one. We learn the seer gift is linked to more powerful, and devastating, abilities and in the far past, these abilities gave rise to great cities. In the present time, however, these abilities may be the only thing that stands between the Empire and the Lord of Hell.

This is a big book and a lot happens in it. I won’t lie. These books are epic in scope and they are so interconnected that it is a definite investment of reading time. But I think they’re worth it. The inevitable confrontation between mortals and the Lord of Hells looms closer, and I can practically see the apocalypse coming on the horizon.

Jewel has always been the Chosen One. That’s her archetype and while that’s never been one of my favorite character types, the one thing I like about her is that her Special status comes with a price. Not everyone loves her. In fact, I’d say more people dislike her at this point. In the past she’s been the target of assassination attempts from humans and demons alike. The fight for the title of Terafin was not bloodless, and there were rivals for the head seat. Likewise, demons recognized the threat she posed and sought to get rid of her before she came fully into her power. Now that her abilities have awakened the land of the capital itself, the Emperors and high priests have turned their eyes towards her.

Themes of power — how it affects people and what people do with it — have always run through your novels. It’s one of the more interesting aspects for me. And I liked that Battle acknowledges a simple fact: intentions do not matter. No one denies that Jewel means well. No one denies that she is on the side of good. She was instrumental is averting a demon invasion as a teenager, and people remember that.

This doesn’t mean she can be trusted. Having good intentions is not enough when you can alter the structures of ancient buildings, make magical trees grow where they shouldn’t, and access hidden pathways that should be forbidden to mortals. She can even walk through dreamscapes. But she does not understand how her abilities work. She cannot control them. This makes her dangerous to those who would call her ally, which raises the question of whether letting her live is worth the risk.

Battle also tackles Jewel’s one great fatal flaw. She wants to protect the ones she loves. An admirable trait but not pragmatic for the head of the most powerful House and definitely not feasible when you’re trying to stop the end of the world. People die. They die everyday. It’s just a question of when. Jewel does not fear using the near-immortals and supernatural creatures that serve her, but it’s the humans — her den — that are her weakness. And it’s becoming increasingly apparent that’s a hurdle she’ll have to overcome if she’s to succeed at what she has to do.

While Jewel is certainly the focal point of this novel, there are other fascinating revelations. We learn about the world of dreams and the cause behind the mysterious sleeping sickness introduced earlier in the series. We find out more about the Sleepers and discover (finally) Meralonne’s true identity. I will certainly say that revelation alone was huge. I’m still reeling from it, honestly.

As I’ve said, Jewel is not my favorite characters from these books but Battle did something I never expected. It made me genuinely like her. I’m now anxious for the next installment and beyond that, the coming conflict with the Lord of Hells and the end of the world. B

My regards,

Previous books in this series: The Hidden City, City of Night, House Name (review), Skirmish (review)

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REVIEW:  Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

REVIEW: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Dear Ms. Taylor,

Your previous novel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, was my favorite read of 2011. In it, readers met Karou, a blue-haired art student from Prague who also happened to be the human adopted daughter of monsters. The unfolding of Karou’s story, her history with the chimera, and her connection to the global angel sightings enthralled me. So I’ve been anxiously waiting for the sequel. It did not disappoint.

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living — one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel box without a jewel — a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini TaylorDays of Blood and Starlight picks up after the events of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Karou has vanished without a trace. The media is in a frenzy over the angel sightings and the mysterious blue-haired girl on the bridge. Some people, like Karou’s ex, have capitalized on the interest. Others, like Karou’s best friend, Zuzana, are worried. In fact, Zuzuna fears the worst has come to pass and that Karou is dead.

But Karou is indeed alive and well, and despite the narrative suspense over her absence, I would claim this not to be a spoiler since it wouldn’t be much of a trilogy had Karou died off-page. Talk about reader disatisfaction had that been the case! Without giving too much away about what Karou has been up to since her disappearance, let’s just say she’s joined the ancient conflict between angel and chimera. She may be human but she now has her memories of her previous life as the chimera, Madrigal, and as a result, is able to contribute to the battle.

Meanwhile, Akiva is wracked with guilt over the wrong he committed against Karou. From the angels’ perspective, what he did was right. In a single act, he destroyed the enemy’s source of power. After all, an army of souls who never truly die is a formidable opponent. But in doing so, he destroyed Karou’s life and realized too late that without that source of power, he would never have been reunited with his beloved Madrigal, now housed in the body of a human named Karou.

As a result, he tries to atone for his deeds. He remembers the dream he once shared with Madrigal, before grief clouded his thoughts with rage. He realizes once again that in this neverending cycle of war and bloodshed, there are no winners. There is only blood. So he begins to rebel in small, subtle ways.

After Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I wasn’t sure which direction we’d take. The revelation of what Akiva did was devastating and I admit I was a little worried we’d gloss over that fact as Karou and Akiva’s relationship progressed. I’m glad that didn’t happen. Karou does not forgive him for it and in fact, this drives her to make the choice she does. Her griefstricken anger is a palpable thing. I’m not sure I’ll ever be a fan of the Karou and Akiva relationship — I admit I find their dynamic boring — but I think this novel went a long way to assuaging my concerns in the way the problems and conflict between them are presented and explored.

I love that Zuzana played a significant supporting role here. As always, I’m a huge fan of female friendship especially when the friend has a life that doesn’t revolve around the heroine. Zuzana is worried about Karou and searches the globe for her, but her identity doesn’t revolve around Karou. She has a love interest of her own. She has interests, skills, and a personality that aren’t reflections of Karou’s. These sound like basic things but read enough YA novels and you realize that nope, not really.

As I mentioned before, I’m not really the biggest fan of Akiva. I get why his character is appealing but he doesn’t do anything for me. That said, I did appreciate that this novel delved more into his background, both on an individual character level and within the context of the angelic society. It makes me curious to see how it’ll be further explored in the next (and final?) book.

What struck me strongest about this novel were its themes of atonement and penance. Once upon a time, Akiva and Madrigal dreamed of a better world. Unfortunately, their love was forbidden and the punishment for it only escalated the war. And now their dream has gone so horribly awry that it’s uncertain they can come back from it. Days of Blood and Starlight does not shy away from that fact. There’s so much mistrust on all sides. Even Karou, who has rejoined the chimera side and begun to aid them, is the subject of much suspicion. No one has forgotten what her previous incarnation did, or rather who she fell in love with. But Karou endures their treatment in memory of her family, perhaps beyond the point at which she should have begun to push back. Even when the angels and chimera reluctantly team up, it’s not because of any ideas of peace. It’s because they have a common enemy. It’s a grim reality but I also think it is an honest one.

I thought Days of Blood and Starlight was an excellent follow-up to Daughter of Smoke and Bone. In some ways, I think it’s a stronger book. If Daughter was about Karou learning who and what she was, Days portrays the repercussions of choices and how devastating those effects can be. While the book doesn’t quite end on a cliffhanger, I am once again anxiously waiting the next novel. B+

My regards,

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