Review: The Queen’s Assassin by Melissa de la Cruz

39334176._SY475_The Queen’s Assassin by Melissa de la Cruz

Published on February 4, 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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Synopsis: Caledon Holt is the Kingdom of Renovia’s deadliest weapon. No one alive can best him in brawn or brains, which is why he’s the Guild’s most dangerous member and the Queen’s one and only assassin. He’s also bound to the Queen by an impossible vow–to find the missing Deian Scrolls, the fount of all magical history and knowledge, stolen years ago by a nefarious sect called the Aphrasians.

Shadow has been training all her life to follow in the footsteps of her mother and aunts–to become skilled enough to join the ranks of the Guild. Though magic has been forbidden since the Aphrasian uprising, Shadow has been learning to control her powers in secret, hoping that one day she’ll become an assassin as feared and revered as Caledon Holt.

When a surprise attack brings Shadow and Cal together, they’re forced to team up as assassin and apprentice to hunt down a new sinister threat to Renovia. But as Cal and Shadow grow closer, they’ll uncover a shocking web of lies and secrets that may destroy everything they hold dear. With war on the horizon and true love at risk, they’ll stop at nothing to protect each other and their kingdom in this stunning first novel in the Queen’s Secret series.

Rating: 3 star

Review: This book was almost a four star book for me, the final few chapters were what changed my mind in the end. The premise of this book is nothing new. A rather ordinary female lead character who dreams of doing bigger things who crosses paths with the daring bad boy. Together they run off on an adventure and fall for each other along the way. It’s a tried and true formula in young adult. When done properly it makes for a very good read. But sometimes authors fall into a trap of feeling like they MUST make their story different and so they do things that don’t make sense. That is what happened with the end of this book I believe.

Shadow is a pretty good character. She has a more finely honed sense of self preservation than most female leads in fantasy novels, so I appreciated that. She was strong and looking for adventure, not afraid to leave her entire world behind to do it. The love story between her and Cal seemed very organic, which can be unusual in the genre. But she was also too stubborn for her own good and it made no sense. She defied Cal or opposed his opinion just because she could. There was no logical reason behind her belief that her idea was better than his, she just decided that her idea was better. Even though this whole adventure was Cal’s job, literally, and he was very good at it. It might have been better to defer to his expertise from time to time. It might have saved both of them some trouble along the way.

Cal was a fairly typical young adult love interest. At times he was dashing, brave, and witty. And at other he seemed like a set piece. I had no real objections to him, but I did not find him particularly compelling in his own right either. And I have no idea how this magical Blood Vow actually works either. Supposedly it binds Cal to the Queen, to do her bidding until he fulfills the vow. And if he tries to defy the vow he will be in horrendous, increasingly awful, pain the longer he tries to resist. But, he does resist the Queen’s orders, for most of the book and doesn’t seem to be in any discomfort. Because Shadow told him this was the Queen’s plan, so I guess his belief is a loophole? If he believes he is following the vow then he is? That makes no sense if it’s a magical thing. The story would have been just a good without this piece that wasn’t actually explained.

As for the plot and the plot twists, I expected most of them. Especially the big one, I knew it from very early on in the book. But I also didn’t really mind, the fact that I had figured it out was largely inconsequential to the other pieces of the puzzle. I may have discovered one piece, but the rest of the puzzle didn’t hinge on that one piece so it was still a surprise to me later. A few of the “twists” I didn’t really find that shocking or distressing. Cal seemed distressed over them and frankly I didn’t know why. Maybe it was because there was so little world building in this book that I didn’t have enough information to be as disturbed as other characters were. The only world building is an occasional chapter of an excerpt from some historical text. So, a few info dumps. And honestly, as a reader, I never remember information given to me in an info dump. They are boring and my mind skims them automatically. As a consequence, I know very little of the history of the world or how its magic works. That didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the story, but it might have impacted how I felt about certain plot reveals.

Now, my one and only SPOILER WARNING for this review:

I figured out very early on that Shadow was really the Princess. All I needed was to know that the Princess was secreted away somewhere as a commoner, and that Shadow’s mother worked in the palace and I knew. It wasn’t difficult. But, Shadow’s chapters are narrated in the first person. So the reader is quite literally inside her head. She never actually revealed that she knew she was the Princess in her narrative. So, as a result, I figured that she did not know. That everyone had kept it a secret for her own protection or something,

But then in the last few chapters she literally thinks, “My mother is the Queen of Renovia. I have known this for my entire life. And I have been in denial about this truth my entire life. For my own safety, I do not speak of it, let along think about it.” (Chapter 49, page 350). So, wait, you don’t even think about it? I recognize that this is an attempt at giving the author a good “out” for why Shadow was narrating in first person but didn’t let on that she was the Princess. But, our brains are messy things. Human thinking is a messy thing. Thoughts come in and out of our minds like clouds, entirely without our bidding. It doesn’t make any sense that at no point she didn’t randomly think “Cal would be so horrified if he knew who I was.” or “I feel so bad for deceiving him about my identity.” I was very confused about that. Our brains are tricky things that often think things that we don’t intend to think.  This was the most annoying factor in the entire book. Why not just narrate Shadow in the third person? Cal is narrated in third person, it wouldn’t have been out of place.

So that’s the book. I liked it a lot. I think I will tune in to the 2nd book in the series to see where it goes. Some bits were a little frustrating, it certainly isn’t perfect but it was a fun use of my time.

Review: Asperfell by Jamie Thomas

Asperfell_CoverWithBleed_101918Asperfell by Jamie Thomas

Expected publication: February 18, 2020 by Uproar Books Inc

Pre-order this book on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Only the darkest and most dangerous of Mages are sentenced to pass through the gate to Asperfell.

Not one has ever returned.

Never did Briony dream she might set foot in the otherworldly prison of Asperfell. She was, after all, neither Mage nor criminal. She was simply her father’s little whirlwind—fingers smudged with ink, dresses caked with mud—forever lost in a book or the spirit-haunted woods surrounding her family’s country estate.

But Briony always had a knack for showing up where she was least expected.

Only by braving the gate of Asperfell could Briony hope to find the true heir to the throne of Tiralaen and save her kingdom from civil war. And so, she plunges into a world of caged madmen and demented spirits, of dark magic and cryptic whispers… and of a bleak and broken prince with no interest in being rescued.

Hauntingly beautiful and lavishly told, Asperfell is a must-read for fans of Jane Austen who always wished she’d dabbled in blood magic.

Rating: 2 star

Review:  ***I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Uproar Books!***

I wanted to like this book. I really really wanted to like this book. It is exactly the type of book that I normally enjoy. A young, spunky female lead character. Magic. Society that seems to be based on a Victorian standard. Mysteries. Prisons. Other planes of existence. But I just couldn’t like it.

The writing is very good and thus why I gave this a two star rating over a one star. The dialogue is engaging, the plot moves at a fairly good pace, and the narrative flows beautifully. The first half of the book seemed a bit on the slow side while the second half was very rushed but that is my only complaint about the writing.

WARNING: From this point on there will be lots of spoilers, consider yourself warned.

This book has never met a young adult trope that it didn’t like….and utilize…..frequently. Let me preface where my opinion is coming from on this novel. The very first sentence, before I even hit the first chapter is that the author wants to “smash the patriarchy one novel at a time!”. Now, I will also explain that I am rather tired of reading militantly feminist literature, it seems to be everywhere these days. Normally I can overlook an author’s personal views or opinions about the book and just take the book for the story it presents. But not when that’s what you open with. The very first thing you told me about your story is that it’s smashing patriarchy with its strong female characters so you need to live up to that. You have now infused that idea into your novel and need to deliver.

This did not deliver. Instead I got the same old tired tropes of the young adult genre that feminist readers complain about constantly. How exactly are you smashing patriarchy? By presenting me tropes that I’ve been reading since I was 13 years old?

Briony is just like every young adult female lead character. She is spunky, sassy, strong willed, and bucks the patriarchal system that she was born into. Her older sister is the perfect lady of the court. This isn’t a new dynamic and it can be a good one when used correctly. I didn’t actually mind this because it set up Briony as a character who is questing to be knowledgeable. Knowledge and wisdom will be her weapon in the fight against what society has said her place is. That’s all well and good. My problems start when Briony gets to Asperfell.

Naturally she instantly dislikes Prince Elyan. He is dour, brooding, and wants nothing to do with her and largely he is exactly what one expects from the young adult male lead. I assumed Briony would be on a mission to find the answer to take him home whether he protested or not. But…..she doesn’t. Within the space of a chapter she seems to have completely forgotten about her mission and just goes along with working in the gardens and learning magic all while throwing a glare at Elyan when he deigns to make an appearance. He, of course, is primarily there to ridicule her efforts before disappearing again.

It wasn’t until about the last forty pages that Briony suddenly remembers that she is supposed to be getting Elyan back to their homeland. And only because someone whacked her across the head with the information that would lead her to that goal. She was far too busy trading gossip, learning magic, gardening, and making sarcastic remarks at Elyan to actually discover the answer on her own.

Another trope, instalove. Authors think that they are avoiding this if their characters start off hating each other. But Briony and Elyan go from coldly tolerating each other to gazing at each other affectionately literally in the space of a single dance. So not quite instalove but maybe 3 1/2 minute love? Microwave love? Be sure to wait for the ding!

Briony was also revealed to not be that strong or much of a feminist either. The most offensive example of this is when another character attempts to sexually assault her. Okay, we kind of have to assume that’s what he’s doing because it doesn’t get very far but I’m fairly confident that’s where this was headed. Briony courageously defends herself. She fights off her attacker and escapes to safety before the situation escalates into anything much worse. I was cheering for her! I was so proud of her for reacting in her own defense so decisively and swiftly. But then she decides to have a whole inner monologue about how she feels shame about the situation. Why exactly? Surely you would be feeling scared but also proud of yourself? She even says to herself that she has nothing to feel ashamed about…..but then concludes that thought with “but I do” and moves on. Is this really an example of a strong woman? Feeling shame about something that you recognize should not be causing you shame and during which you admirably protected yourself? I was highly disappointed.

Next we have the other young adult trope that I despise so much. Briony does something very stupid and reckless. She recognizes internally that it was reckless and stupid. But when Elyan points out that it was reckless and stupid then she yells at him about it. Because, how dare he think that he can control her! He doesn’t own her! She can do what she likes without him! Does anyone actually think that this is the makings of a strong woman? Actual thoughts that she had. No one was trying to control her or prevent her from doing anything on her own. She made a reckless and foolish decision, but because a male confronts her about it then he’s controlling. Then later he, naturally, apologizes for daring to question her reckless, foolish behavior because he was just so scared of losing her. And she gets to walk away feeling smug. Strong women rejoice! Patriarchy smashed!

Finally, the ending. We spent a very long time getting to Asperfell. We spent an equally long time gardening and learning magic in Asperfell. That left about 60 pages for the conclusion. I thought the conclusion was supposed to be the rescue of Elyan from Asperfell and delivering him back home. Except that didn’t happen. The book ends with them in the woods. On their way to a potential way to get home, but they aren’t actually sure it will work yet. And of course, it ends with a kiss. Frankly, it left me wondering what exactly the point was? We couldn’t spare another 30 pages to actually get back to Tiralaen? And then end it once they have successfully left Asperfell? I recognize that we’re setting up a sequel here, but the sequel works just as well starting with the moments after they escape Asperfell as the moments before.

Overall, this story reminded me of every single bad young adult novel I’ve ever read. Exactly the same characters. Exactly the same plot devices. Exactly the same tropes.