Here is the last set of my favourite books of 2015 – reviews for Shadow Study, The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Fairest, Nimona, and An Ember in the Ashes.
- Shadow Study, Maria V. Snyder
Rating: * * * * *
Series: #1 Soulfinders series, #7 in Chronicles of Ixia, #7 in Study series (I would recommend reading at least the first 3 Study Books first)
Publisher: Mira Ink
Publication Date: March 2015
Goodreads synopsis: Once, only her own life hung in the balance…
When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.
Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.
As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.
I loved Poison Study, Snyder’s first book about Yelena, because it had a gripping storyline, fascinating world-building, and gritty heroine…also the fact that it was about food tasting! I wasn’t quite as captivated by the following two novels – Magic Study, Fire Study – however, I was still super excited to find out that Shadow Study was coming out, because it meant a return to Ixia, and a reunion with Yelena, Valek, and the hilarious Ari and Janco! I was not disappointed. Shadow Study was back on the same level as Poison Study – exciting and engrossing.
One of my favourite things about Shadow Study is the glimpses we get into Valek’s past – his ceaseless determination and drive to kill the king after the death of his brothers, his training with Hedda at the School of Night and Shadows, and his first meeting with the Commander. It’s fascinating to learn more about Valek, and about Ixia as a kingdom rather than a military territory.
I also really like the fact that Snyder has taken the care to make sure that, as this novel is set a few years after the previous ones, Yelena’s voice has developed and she seems much more mature. There’s great attention to detail.
The third POV in the novel – Yelena’s and Valek’s are the other two – is Janco’s. He might just be my favourite character from this series, and I love that he gets an opportunity to have his own sections. He’s witty and energetic, and his conversations with a new character, Onora, or ‘Little Miss Assassin’ as he calls her, are really enjoyable. There are also hints of a possible romance between them in the future, which I hope happens, as she brings out a different side to Janco.
This is one of those books that you have that ‘just one more chapter’ urge with. There are regular cliffhangers and interesting developments at the end of chapters which keep you turning the pages; it’s really difficult to put down. There’s also a big cliffhanger at the end of the novel, which will have you really excited for Night Study. Luckily it comes out this month in the US and next month in the UK!
- The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Melinda Salisbury
Rating: * * * * *
Series: #1 The Sin Eater’s Daughter Series
Publication Date: February 2015
I am the perfect weapon.
I kill with a single touch.
Twylla is blessed. The Gods have chosen her to marry a prince, and rule the kingdom. But the favour of the Gods has it’s price. A deadly poison infuses her skin. Those who anger the queen must die under Twylla’s fatal touch.
Only Lief, an outspoken new guard, can see past Twylla’s chilling role to the girls she truly is.
Yet in a court as dangerous and the queen’s, some truths should not be told…
The Sin Eater’s Daughter is utterly engrossing. It has so many amazing elements – an enveloping medieval setting, a fascinating mythology, a corrupt queen, and a heroine with a terrifying power.
This book grabs you right from the start and fills you with questions.
‘Compared to a slow death by my poisonous skin, a slit throat would be lucky. Tyrex was not lucky.’
Twylla’s role as Daunen Embodied, a child of gods, and her mother’s as a Sin Eater are really intriguing. The narrative is addictive, and I did not see the twists coming – especially the main one with Twylla. I love that feeling of being surprised by a book.
One of my favourite parts about the novel is the characterisation of the queen of Lormere. She’s ruthless and unpredictable: she seats her guests at dinner according to how much she likes them or how wealthy they are and she sends vicious hunting dogs after a subject who dares to speak while Twylla is singing. She even takes an integral piece of history, a five hundred year old necklace, and files it down to a design of her own choosing, because the only history she cares about is that of her own kingdom. She treats Twylla like a puppet.
I also really like the way that Melinda Salisbury includes references to the Victorian Language of Flowers all the way through – this is unique and really interesting to investigate when rereading – and finding out the meanings of the different food and drinks at the Eatings through Twylla’s memories of her life before she came to live at the court.
Overall, The Sin Eater’s Daughter is an addictive and exciting opening to the series. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next novel, The Sleeping Prince!
- Fairest, Marissa Meyer
Rating: * * * * *
Series: #3.5 in The Lunar Chronicles
Publication Date: January 2015
Goodreads synopsis: In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.
Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?
Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.
Fairest is a compelling and haunting prequel to Winter. The novel takes place across ten years of Levana’s life, from her teenage years to her reign as queen, and we witness her descent from being the one hurt to the one doing the hurting, from innocent naivety to more calculated malice, as well as seeing her devastating desperation just to be loved and cared for.
It’s fascinating to not only learn more about Levana’s background, but also get to see younger versions of Princesses Winter and Selene. One thing I really wasn’t expecting was for Selene’s mother – and Levana’s sister – Channary, to be such a cold, cruel, and manipulative figure, to the extent that she torments Levana and repeatedly humiliates her in front of the people she cares about most, and that the only reaction she has to her parents’ deaths is disappointment that she can no longer share her mother’s clothes.
It’s also really interesting to see the origins and reasons behind the letumosis disease, the hybrid creatures in the Lunar army, Levana’s hatred of mirrors, and of the idea of the marriage alliance between Earth and Lunar, as all of these factors are crucial parts of the main novels in the series. I love that having read Fairest I will have a richer and more developed rereading of the other novels in the series, and additionally – and especially – a much greater understanding of the reasons why Levana became the antagonist.
“Come here, baby sister,” she whispered, and despite the terror twisting inside Levana’s stomach, her feet obeyed. “I want to show you something.”
- Nimona, Noelle Stevenson
Rating: * * * * *
Format: Graphic novel
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: May 2015
Goodreads synopsis: Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.
Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.
But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.
Before reading Nimona, I had never read a graphic novel, and I wasn’t really sure if I’d like them. Nimona completely changed my mind; I loved it! It was brilliant – heartfelt and humourous, vivid and vibrant.
My favourite aspect of this graphic novel is the titular character and supervillain sidekick. Nimona is playful and sarcastic, and had me smiling and chuckling to myself the whole way through.
‘I’m not a monster. I’M A SHARK!’
She is a bundle of fun and of energy, always ready for action (and pizza.) And she definitely manages to melt Blackheart’s heart.
Noelle Stevenson must have hugely enjoyed writing and drawing this graphic novel, and that sense of enjoyment seeps into the reader. Nimona is a unique and delightful read.
- An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir
Rating: * * * * *
Series: #1 An Ember in the Ashes series
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: June 2015 (UK)
Laia is a slave.
Elias is a soldier.
Neither is free.
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.
I expected An Ember in the Ashes to be really good, but I was wrong…I underestimated just how amazing it would be! The plot, characters and setting had me absolutely gripped from start to finish. I was completely invested in the story and could not put the book down.
What I love about this novel is that the stakes are continually rising, and tension builds throughout. The book opens with an emotional and action-packed scene from Laia’s point of view in which her family is torn apart by Masks. This is followed by an example from Elias’s point of view of what happens to those who defy the Empire and plan to desert the military. Then, Laia begins her highly dangerous role as a spy, and we learn that Trials are about to begin for the next Emperor. Suspense and action are abundant. At the same time, there are not so many events as to make the novel too fast-paced or confusing – Sabaa Tahir gets the level of action exactly right, and the result is a brilliant book.
The setting for An Ember in the Ashes, which is based on ancient Rome, for An Ember in the Ashes is vividly imagined. It is a dark and dangerous Empire, with a ruthless military of legionnaires and centurions, and mysterious Augurs who make ominous predictions about the future of individuals. There are the Masks, trained fighters under the lead of the ferocious Commandant. Additionally, there are supernatural elements, with wraiths and efrits appearing during the tasks.
There’s also a great cast of characters, and you become highly emotionally involved with them when reading the novel, from hatred for Elias’ brutal and leering fellow soldier Marcus, and fear of the cruel Commandant, to sadness and alarm for Izzi and the other slaves, who are forbidden to have an identity beyond their job.
An Ember in the Ashes is rich with action, romance, suspense and betrayal. The plot is unpredictable, and the novel’s ending is explosive. In short, it’s a complete thrill-ride from start to finish!
‘”Duty first, unto death. If you betray the Empire, you will be caught, and you will pay. Dismissed.'”