Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, was published in 1954 by Faber and Faber.

At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. This farm from civilization they can do anything they want. Anything. But as order collapses, as strange howls echo in the night, as terror begins its reign, the hope of adventure seems as far removed from reality as the hope of being rescued…

Rating: 4/5

Despite Lord of the Flies being one of the more popular books to assign in high school, I never actually read it until now. Of course, I knew what it was about—a group of boys are abandoned on an island and end up killing each other. But knowing about something and reading it, experiencing it, are two completely different things. I also read this book right when it was announced that there’s apparently going to be a female version of Lord of the Flies developed as a film. More on that in a minute.

I can’t say that I liked Lord of the Flies. Can anyone really enjoy reading a book about young boys resorting to savagery and vicious murder, simply because of the loss of authority and civilization? But I did like the way Golding used all of the symbolism, some subtle, most overt, to point out this descent. The decaying pig head, Piggy’s glasses, the conch shell, the fire…they’re perhaps too obvious, but perhaps that’s best in a book aimed at high-schoolers, who are still learning to decipher figurative language and symbolism.

The descent of the boys into violence is really well-done, creepy in all the right places and in all the right tones (the killing of the sow is especially cloaked in terms that could easily apply to something else, which makes the whole scene even darker). And the killing of the sow is only the beginning, as the boys give in to their bloodlust to commit even more vile acts. Even Ralph, the symbol of leadership and authority in the novel, falls prey to the mob—only Piggy (the intellect) and Simon (not sure what he is supposed to symbolize, to be honest—some suggest he is the opposite of the Lord of the Flies/Beelzebub/Satan, which would make him a Christ figure) resist.

Then, of course, there’s the ending, which demonstrates, again, Golding’s point that a loss of authority and intellect leads to barbarism, a “devolution” if you will. And he’s not wrong, to an extent, though I would like to think that some people would rise to the occasion and resist—though, I suppose, Ralph, Piggy, and Simon do resist.

After reading this book, I now think a Lord of the Flies with all females would not work at all. Let’s face it—women react differently than men. Girls in a situation like what the boys faced would react differently. You can’t make a female Lord of the Flies like the book at all. It would be something completely different. And maybe that’s what the movie will be—since it was just announced, I obviously have no idea. But trying to force it into a carbon copy of the book would not work at all.

Lord of the Flies is an excellent case study of what the lack of authority and rules can bring. The subtle increase and inclination towards violence is portrayed nicely through the use of symbolism, and gets increasingly creepy and dark as the novel goes on. I can’t say I liked it, or enjoyed it, but I can see why it’s assigned reading in many (most?) schools.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, some graphic descriptions, swearing.

Genre: Young Adult, Realistic

“We used his specs,” said Simon, smearing a black cheek with his forearm. “He helped that way.”

“I got the conch,” said Piggy indignantly. “You let me speak!”

“The conch doesn’t count on top of the mountain,” said Jack, “so you shut up.”

“I got the conch in my hand.”

“Put on green branches,” said Maurice. “That’s the best way to make smoke.”

“I got the conch—”

Jack turned fiercely.

“You shut up!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2BIav2j

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Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen

Dragon’s Blood, by Jane Yolen, was published in 1982 by Delacorte.

Jakkin is fifteen and a bond servant, which is little better than a slave. He labors for Master Sarkkhan in the dragon barns, tending to the beautiful beasts who are raised to fight in the pits. Jakkin’s only hope of freedom is to steal a hatchling, secretly train it as a fighter, and win gold enough to pay his way out of bondage. But does he know enough to train his dragon to become a true champion?

Rating: 2/5

Clearly influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, Dragon’s Blood is a science-fiction/fantasy that didn’t turn out to be anything I was expecting when I picked it up. I thought it would be a fun dragon book (How to Train Your Dragon still makes me squeal in excitement); I was not expecting something akin to McCaffrey’s works. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing—it just caught me off guard.

I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, especially this kind, where strange terms and words are introduced and everything is described in detail—but sometimes not until midway through the book, where it seems strange. So I didn’t love Dragon’s Blood. I have nothing against Yolen’s worldbuilding or plot; there was some neat stuff at the end and as a whole the world made sense and the plot was pretty strong, though perhaps a bit rushed at the end. I simply don’t really like science fiction.

I can’t even say I dislike Dragon’s Blood for being such an obvious tribute/imitation of McCaffrey. I have read some of McCaffrey and liked it, but I had the same problems with it as I do with Dragon’s Blood. I like my dragons in fantasy, not science fiction. I like my worlds less meticulously and strangely described, or perhaps at least more smooth integrations of infodumping. This is a genre issue, not a particular issue with characters, world, etc. In fact, I didn’t even really dislike Dragon’s Blood at all—I just didn’t really love it.

Science fiction. It’s just not my thing.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Some innuendo, breeding terminology.

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction

All dragons, he reminded himself with the conventional trainer’s wisdom, all dragons are feral, even though they have been domesticated for over two centuries. And especially dragons like Blood Brother.

As if hearing his name, Brother jerked his head up. Deep inside the black eyes there was an iridescent flicker, the sign of a fighter. Involuntarily Slakk stepped back. Errikkin stood his ground. Only Jakkin went forward, holding out a hand.

“Hush, hush, beauty,” he crooned, letting Brother sniff his hand. “It’s the baths for you.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2nja7oG

Black Dove White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove White Raven, by Elizabeth Wein, was published in 2015 by Hyperion.

Emilia’s and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt-pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes—in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adopted son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat. Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and to each other be their downfall…or their salvation?

Rating: 5/5

At first I didn’t think I would like Black Dove White Raven. The beginning starts abruptly, in media res, and it took me a moment to get my bearings straight. I also didn’t know how to feel about the craziness of Rhoda/Momma’s backstory, and the odd marriage-but-non-marriage she has. But Emilia and Teo gradually won me over—mostly Emilia.

The novel takes place before and during the Italo-Ethiopian War of the 1930s. It’s funny—I’m not used to reading a book set in the 1930s that doesn’t also mention the Great Depression. But, of course, since the novel is set in Ethiopia, there wouldn’t be mention of it, regardless of the characters’ prior years in the States. What’s more, since Rhoda came from a Quaker family, it’s likely life during the Depression was not too different than life before, which is why it wasn’t mentioned. Wein has an extensive author’s note in the back of the book where she details what is historical and what is poetic license, but the whole thing melds together so well that in the midst of the book you don’t care what things are made up and what aren’t. Everything makes sense, even the crazy stuff that happens at the end, and it’s grounded in the reality of Ethiopia’s history.

I mostly liked the book throughout, but towards the end I started really loving it. I loved Emilia’s adventures at the end; I loved how we didn’t get an adventure from Teo’s more competent and certain point of view but from Emilia’s uneasy, less adept point of view. The only thing I didn’t love about the ending was the lack of resolution we got regarding Emilia’s future.

Black Dove White Raven started out a little shaky for me, but towards the end really solidified into a gripping, exciting read. Emilia is a female character that I actually enjoy; Teo had his moments, too, though I liked him less (too perfect). Rhoda was a bit wild, but I suppose it fit her established character. I learned a lot about the Italo-Ethopian War, as well as about Ethiopia and that time period in general. Overall, I thought Black Dove White Raven was a solid book and I will seek out more Wein books to read.

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“Teo’s not here to learn to fly,” Momma said flatly.

There was an awkward silence.

But Colonel Augustus didn’t give up easily. “Teodros Gedeyon was born to be a pilot! Wasn’t his mother one of the earliest licensed fliers of her sex and race in the world? Wasn’t his father one of the earliest African men to take to the skies before his untimely death far from home—?”

(He really did talk like that.)

“—And does the new emperor not dream of an Imperial Air Force of young Ethiopian men born to the skies? The Black Dove’s son is destined to follow his mother into the air and fly for Ethiopia!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ygP0Et

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Thick as Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner, was published in 2017 by Scholastic. It is the sequel to A Conspiracy of Kings.

Deep within the palace of the Mede emperor, in an alcove off the main room of his master’s apartments, Kamet minds his master’s business and his own. Carefully keeping the accounts, and his own counsel, Kamet has accumulated a few possessions, a little money stored in the household’s cashbox and a significant amount of personal power. As a slave, his fate is tired to his master’s. If Nahuseresh’s fortunes improve, so will Kamet’s, and Nahuseresh has been working diligently to promote his fortunes since the debacle in Attolia. A soldier in the shadows offers escape, but Kamet won’t sacrifice his ambition for an eager and unreliable freedom; not until a whispered warning of poison and murder destroys all of his carefully laid plans. When Kamet flees for his life, he leaves behind everything—his past, his identity, his meticulously crafted defenses—and finds himself woefully unprepared for the journey that lies ahead. Pursued across rivers, wastelands, salt plains, snowcapped mountains, and storm-tossed seas, Kamet is dead set on regaining control of his future and protecting himself at any cost. Friendships—new and long-forgotten—beckon, lethal enemies circle, secrets accumulate, and the fragile hopes of the little kings of Attolia, Eddis and Sounis hang in the balance.

Rating: 4/5

I love Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief novels more and more every time I think of them, The King of Attolia being one of the best books I’ve ever read, and certainly the one book that I could read over and over and never get tired of. I’ve been waiting for Thick as Thieves for years—A Conspiracy of Kings was published 7 years ago—and it’s a tribute to Turner’s writing that I actually bought the book (along with the others) rather than getting it from the library (I actually rarely buy books, and when I do, they’re ones I’ve read before and loved).

The timeline of the Queen’s Thief novels is always hazy, but I believe that Thick as Thieves is set directly after A Conspiracy of Kings, if only because of what we learn has happened in Attolia towards the end of the novel (more on that in a moment). I’d like to thank the Goodreads reviews for filling in some things I didn’t know about the novel, such as that Turner considers it the second half of The King of Attolia.

In terms of style, Thick as Thieves is certainly much more like The Thiefthere’s less political intrigue than in previous books, Kamet and the Attolian (whose identity is fairly obvious but I will keep hidden as Turner does) are traveling on a quest of sorts, and it’s much more of an adventure subtype than the previous three books. In terms of quality, I would place it perhaps on the same level as A Conspiracy of Kings—not my favorite of the Queen’s Thief books, but it has its moments and I especially loved seeing Eugenides being as cunning as usual, as well as his “great king” aura.

What most disappointed me was that the plot was not as intricate or twisty as previous books. In fact, I felt a lot of the twists were fairly obvious—I knew the identity of the Attolian (which Turner perhaps purposefully made obvious) from the start, I knew who Kamet’s friend from the kitchens was from the start, I knew what Eugenides revealed at the end to Kamet about why Kamet was there from the start. There were only one or two minor things that I didn’t figure out almost as soon as it happened. From an author who has made my mouth drop open on numerous occasions, who has me saying “No way!” out loud, the plot complexity in Thick as Thieves was disappointing.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I liked Kamet and I liked his struggles as he adjusts to not being a slave. I liked the camaraderie built up between Kamet and the Attolian. I liked the jokes and the humor and the adventures. Even though I had already guessed the plot reveals, I enjoyed their revelation unfold in the book because of the character’s reactions. I’m not sure if I like this book better than A Conspiracy of Kings—the latter has far more of Gen in it and Sounis has great moments in that book—but I think I might grow to like it more, as I have Kings, upon rereading it (and Turner’s books beg for rereads).

I hope the next book has more of Gen and Irene in it, and I especially hope so because of the heartbreaking revelation that occurs in the last third of the book. Turner gives some hope afterwards that things will be all right, but that moment was the most shocking in the book for me.

Thick as Thieves does not really hold a candle to the fantastic The Queen of Attolia, the even better The King of Attolia, or even the first book, The Thief, but it’s engaging, funny, and while the plot reveals were disappointing this time around, they’re still delivered in the classic Turner style and perhaps not everyone found it as obvious as I did.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“Immakuk and Ennikar are never seen again, but the floods recede and are never again so sever, so they must still be working the gates of heaven and protecting the city.”

“I’ve never heard of Immakuk, and Ennikar,” he said, and I wasn’t surprised. The Attolians are for the most part uneducated.

“I could tell you more about them if you like. There is a translation of the first tablet into Attolian.”

You can buy this book here:  http://amzn.to/2yvTwl7

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi, was published in 2010 by Little, Brown and Company.

In America’s Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota—and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship breached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it’s worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life.

Rating: 4/5

Paolo Bacigalupi shows off his worldbuilding skills in Ship Breaker, showcasing a rich, detailed world that is sketched out simply with little explanation yet still feels expansive. Rather than describe exactly how his world got the way it is (probably with lots of moralizing and/or political aspects shoved into the reader’s face), Bacigapuli merely states things as they are and leaves the reader to figure out the rest. This way, he still gets his point across but subtly, in a way that’s far more effective than blatantly stating it.

Having read a Bacigalupi book before, I was expecting this book to be good—usually authors who write adult SF/fantasy write well when they transition to young adult. And it was—the plot was tight and tense in all the right moments, the world, as I mentioned, was detailed and imaginative, and the characters were interesting. Some of the aspects were a little hard to buy, but I suppose that’s expected in this genre. I liked that Bacigalupi leaves things open-ended, a little bit, because another common theme in dystopian fiction is for the author to detail exactly how things get better at the end. Bacigalupi doesn’t do that. He’s definitely the more subtle type of author, which I appreciate.

Really, the only thing missing from this book for me is the “wow factor.” It was a good book, but I wasn’t blown away by it. It didn’t grab me and never let me go, making me want to read it over and over again (as with Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series). I thought it was a good young adult dystopian novel with a better-than-average setting that was well executed. I liked Nailer, I liked Lucky Girl, I liked Tool, I liked Pima, and I thought the conflict and character development of Nailer were great. I don’t have the desire to read Ship Breaker again, but that’s the only majorly negative thing I can say about it.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian

“You’re lucky,” Pima’s mother said. “You should be dead.”

Nailer was almost too tired to respond, but he mustered a grin for the occasion. “But I’m not. I’m alive.”

Pima’s mother picked up a blade of rusted metal and held it in front of his face. “If this was even another inch into you, you would have washed into shore as body scavenge.” Sadna regarded him seriously. “You’re lucky. The Fates were holding you close today. Should have been another Jackson Boy.” She offered him the rusty shiv. “Keep that for a talisman. It wanted you. It was going for your lung.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2k79CfN

Dawn of the Night by Idazle Hunter

Disclaimer: Dawn of the Night, by Idazle Hunter, was provided by the author. No review was required. All opinions are my own.

Paul grew up as the son of a most revered knight, Sir Lawrence Hunter. It had always been his dream to be like his father. At least, that was until he met those he would be training with. Unicorns, dragons, dark spirits, and werecats are brought to life as Paul works to rise from a mere page to something much, much more important in the medieval world .Follow Paul from Cahal to Asthla as he not only searches for power, but for love.

My rating: 1/5 

I actually know the author of this book, so writing this review will be interesting. Luckily, I live in a different state than she does, so it will be difficult for her to track me down and hurt me. I kid. I don’t think she actually expected me to adore the book. In fact, she warned me about some of the more egregious grammar mistakes.

Basically, this is a NaNoWriMo novel that the author wrote in her teens. So, it’s about as good as you’d expect a NaNoWriMo novel written by a teenager to be. So, not particularly good, and filled with some really strange characterization and anachronistic plot details (like the use of the word “oxygen” in a medieval setting before the word “oxygen” was coined). Although, to be honest, this novel might be better than the novel I wrote in college, which was basically a NaNoWriMo novel if NaNoWriMo was a year long (NaNoWriYe?).

The one thing, above all else, that really threw me for a loop was the whole idea that the protagonist is not actually the protagonist. Or, he is, and is just possessed. But, anyway, at some point, “Paul Hunter” stops becoming the protagonist and “dark spirit that took over Paul Hunter’s body” becomes the protagonist. It’s hard to cheer for something so obviously evil. I suppose the dark spirit thing might be just a metaphor, but personified as it is, at some point I stopped hoping that Paul would succeed in what he was doing and simply hoped that Dark Spirit Guy would leave and that the Real Paul Hunter would come back and save the day (from…something. Himself.)

So….yeah. I don’t really have much else to say. Dawn of the Night is not a great book. It’s interesting in a “oh my goodness, how much more dramatic can these characters get” kind of way. The shadow-controlling power is cool, but Dark Spirit Guy needs to leave. Also, I’m not really sure why Paul hates his family. Or why that one king apparently was hated by his guards so much that they had no problems dethroning him on the word of a seventeen-year-old (or however old Paul was). Or why “whom” was so egregiously misused.

So, Idazle Hunter. Thanks for the book. Also, I didn’t like it. Sorry. I’ll still read the sequel, though, because you asked me to.

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2xTdp6A

No Such Person by Caroline B. Cooney

No Such Person, by Caroline B. Cooney, was published in 2015 by Delacorte.

Murder. One of the Allerdon sisters has been charged with a premeditated killing and taken to jail. It doesn’t seem possible—but it’s happening. What was supposed to be a typical summer is anything but for this seemingly ordinary family. Shortly after the Allerdons arrive at their cozy family cottage on the river, Lander meets and is smitten with a handsome young man, and they begin to date. Miranda has a bad feeling about her perfect sister’s new boyfriend. And when the family must suddenly deal with an unimaginable nightmare. Miranda can’t help feeling that the boyfriend has something to do with it. The police say they have solid evidence against Lander. Miranda wants to believe in her sister when she swears she is innocent. But as Miranda digs deeper into the past few weeks of Lander’s life, she wonders why everything keeps pointing to Lander’s guilt.

Rating: 2/5

Caroline B. Cooney was one of my favorite authors of my teenage years, offering the sort of mildly dark and angsty reads that I devoured at the time. I’ve wanted to return to her older books as an adult to see if my perception of them has changed any, but one of her newer books caught my attention instead.

No Such Person is a murder mystery, and a fairly tame one at that despite some of the more intense scenes at the end. Unfortunately, it’s pretty predictable, especially once some more details are revealed throughout the investigation. I started losing interest in the book once it became obvious what exactly had happened and the characters were still floundering around trying to figure it out.

The strongest aspect of the book is probably the setting and the characterization and interaction. Lander doesn’t do much but cry the whole time (I guess that’s not surprising, considering her position), but I liked the riverside interactions and the whole idea of the tranquil river community shocked by murder (a common trope in murder mysteries, but still done well here).

However, since this is a murder mystery, the atmosphere and setting of the book were not enough for me to think particularly highly of it. I liked it, yes, but I found the motive and the “behind the scenes” of the murder to be, if not far-fetched, at least poorly executed and a little random. I love intricate, detailed plots in mysteries, and No Such Person has no such thing. It’s simplified for the audience, perhaps, but I’ve had better murder mysteries in books like Between and even Before I Fall. This one was a little tame in comparison.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Young Adult

She wants to warn her sister again—to cry out, He’s bad news! Stay away from him!

But her sister is so happy.

And their mother, seeing this happiness, also lets it go. Lander’s happiness is worth a lot to her.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2vR43Hy

Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner

Threads and Flames, by Esther Friesner, was published in 2010 by Viking.

It’s 1910, and Raise has just traveled alone from a small Polish shtetl all the way to New York City. She is enthralled, overwhelmed, and even frightened, especially when she discovers that her sister has disappeared and she must now fend for herself. How do you survive in a foreign land without a job, a place to live, or a command of the native language? Perseverance and the kindness of handsome young Gavrel lead Raisa to work in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory sewing bodices on the popular shirtwaists…until 1911 dawns, and one March day a spark ignites in the factory. Fabric and thread and life catch fire. And the flames burn hot enough to change Raisa—and the entire city—forever.

Rating: 3/5

Threads and Flames tells the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the deadliest industrial disaster in New York City history. I was given the impression that a lot of the book would focus on the fire, but the book focuses much more on Raisa’s life and what leads her to work at the factory. The fire is not until the last third of the novel, which surprised me, though I can’t say why. I supposed I was just expecting the fire to be a little bit more central to the novel.

The novel is much better in the middle than it is in the beginning and the end. Friesner’s writing is clumsy, moralizing, and stilted in places, especially apparent at the beginning, the end, and in the places where Raisa’s thoughts take up most of the page. Some of the antagonism of the book sometimes comes across as forced, such as the woman whom Raisa first works for who is almost melodramatically villainish, and most of the moments that are the most tense or the most meaningful seem too moralizing, probably because of Friesner’s tendency to tell, not show.

However, the middle of the book flows really well, probably because it’s absent of most of the significant and/or tense moments, and was my favorite part of the book. Friesner is certainly no Ruta Sepetys, but Raisa’s story is mostly engaging and keeps the reader interested into the end, even with the flaws. It’s a pity that the writing style is so obvious and preachy; otherwise, this book would have been excellent. Instead, Threads and Flames is good, but not a novel I would immediately recommend.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Anti-Semitism

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult

“Your sister?” The man stood up from the table and came closer. He studied her face with as much concentration as if he expected to find a treasure map in her eyes. “You’re her sister? But she was beautiful!”

Raisa swallowed a sharp retort.

“We’re sisters all the same,” she replied mildly. “She was always sending money home so that I could join her over here. I just arrived yesterday, except they tell me she’s bene gone for weeks.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2w6TD65

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja by John Flanagan

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, by John Flanagan, was published in 2011 by Philomel. It is the sequel to Halt’s Peril.

In his brief time as an Araluen warrior, Horace has traveled the known world and fought countless bloody battles. All for his country, his king, and his friends. For all that is right. When Horace travels to the exotic land of Nihon-Ja to study the Senshi fighting technique, it isn’t long before he finds himself pulled into a battle that is not his—but one he knows in his heart he must wage. The Nihon-Ja emperor, a defender of the common man, has been forcibly dethroned, and only Horace, Will, and their Araluen friends, along with a group of untrained woodcutters and farmers, can restore the emperor to the throne.

Rating: 3/5

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja is the last Ranger’s Apprentice book I’ve read before. And, at least in the edition I read, it’s marketed as the last book. As there are two more books after this one (though one is, I think, a prequel), clearly Flanagan returned to the series due to popular demand. I’ll be looking forward to reading the eleventh and twelfth books and experiencing them for the first time.

But, back to this book. It’s a stand-alone, which is good after the somewhat tiring formula of most of the other books, but I don’t think it’s as solid and engaging as Erak’s Ransom. There are new characters, new obstacles to surmount, and new enemies to defeat, but there’s never once the possibility that the characters might fail. Even when they’re at their lowest point, it’s never doubtful that they will come out on top in the end. Erak’s Ransom at least separated the characters and had them overcome individual obstacles, especially towards the end. Emperor’s separation of characters is not handled as well, with the girls essentially going to fetch a Deus ex Machina to save the day while the rest just waste time until they get back. There’s not really any sense of urgency because by this point, the reader knows that the rescue will come at the last minute.

There’s also some weird sort of time displacement, where Horace’s point of view is actually several months behind the others, but it’s often forgotten and seems as if it’s happening in real time with what’s happening with Will. In addition, since Horace’s chapters pretty much go over the same ground that was covered when the characters explained why they were going after Horace in the first place, some of his chapters feel meaningless, especially the chapter that depicts George going to send a message right after the chapter where Evanlyn explains that George sent a message.

So, perhaps the Ranger’s Apprentice formula is starting to wear a little thin, after all. I’m not saying The Emperor of Nihon-Ja is a bad book. I enjoyed reading it, as I enjoy reading all the Ranger’s Apprentice books. And this book is still better than the first two books in the series. But the formula is starting to get a little bit tiring, which is perhaps the reason why Flanagan switched to writing The Brotherband Chronicles after book twelve (also, there’s a moment in this book where Flanagan clearly took inspiration when writing the Brotherband Chronicles). As a stand-alone, it’s better than most of the Part 1’s in the series, but not as good as any of the Part 2’s or the other stand-alone, Erak’s Ransom (which is still my favorite of them all). I still enjoy the adventures of Horace, Will, Halt and Company, but ten books (or twelve, in this case) is a good time to start wrapping up a series or thinking of something new.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy

“What’s this Kurokuma business?”

The Senshi looked at [Horace] with a completely straight face.

“It’s a term of great respect,” he said. Several others within earshot nodded confirmation. They too managed to remain straight-faced. It was a skill the Nihon-Jan had perfected.

“Great respect,” one of them echoed. Horace studied them all carefully. Nobody was smiling. But he knew by now that that meant nothing with the Nihon-Jan. He sensed there was a joke that he was missing, but he couldn’t think of a way to find out what it might be. Best maintain his dignity, he thought.

“Well, I should think so,” he told them, and rode on.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2eSpv7w

A Tangle of Gold by Jaclyn Moriarty

A Tangle of Gold, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was published in 2016 by Arthur A. Levine. It is the sequel to The Cracks in the Kingdom.

His visit turned out to be ridiculously brief. Madeleine and Elliot barely talked before word came that he and his father would be bundled back to Cello. On the train platform, Elliot didn’t snap out of the distant fog he seemed to be in. And Madeleine’s nose bled—again!—just as she tried to say good-bye. Now she’s mortified, heartbroken, lost—and completely cut off from Cello. Cello, meanwhile, is in crisis. Princess Ko’s deception of her people has emerged and the kingdom is outraged. Authorities have placed the princess under arrest and ordered her execution. Color storms are rampant, more violent than ever. And nobody has heard the Cello Wind blowing in months. But Madeleine can’t let go of Cello. It gave her a tantalizing glimpse of the magic she’s always wanted—and maybe it’s the key to the person she is meant to become. She also can’t let go of Elliot, who, unbeknownst to her, is being held captive by a dangerous branch of Hostiles. What will it take to put these two on a collision course to save the Kingdom of Cello, and maybe to save each other?

Rating: 4/5

I’m going to jump right in with my absolute favorite thing about A Tangle of Gold: it has one of the best plot twists I’ve experienced in a long time. Looking back, I can see now how all the pieces line up and all the hints and clues that were scattered along the trilogy. In the moment, though, when things were happening and I was wondering what on earth was going on and starting to roll my eyes at the ridiculous/ “poetic” descriptions, Moriarty drops that piece of amazing plot reveal right in my lap. I actually gasped and said, “No way!” out loud, and not many books get me to do that. And the best thing was that it made so much sense but wasn’t so obvious that I saw it coming a mile away—because I didn’t see it coming, at all.

The biggest complaint I’ve had about the Colors of Madeleine trilogy so far is the voice of the characters. However, in A Tangle of Gold, either there was less of it jarring me out of the book or I simply noticed it less. Maybe the plot reveal made me look at the book more favorably. I will say, though, that some things happened that I had a really hard time swallowing. Like Princess Jupiter’s magical abilities manifesting because of plot convenience. And Elliott’s brainless decisions while being with the Hostiles. And that whole thing with the Circle and immortality. And, made slightly more tongue-in-cheek by Belle’s reaction, the whole thing with Jack revealed at the very end. Also, the ending was jarring because it ended so abruptly and not particularly as satisfying as I thought it could be.

However, A Tangle of Gold might be my favorite of the trilogy if only for that marvelous bit of plot weaving that Moriarty did throughout the entire trilogy leading up to that plot reveal. You’re likely not to be disappointed by this book if you enjoyed the other two, and while some things become a little convenient with our heroes and there’s still a kind of pretentious, fake voice to the teenagers, particularly Belle, it’s a good finish to the trilogy. If only the ending had given just a little more closure.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Swearing.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

That night, Madeleine lay on her couch-bed and felt the silence rising up from the flat downstairs. It joined the darkness in her own flat, injecting it with shots of deeper darkness.

A thread of burning colours was coiling through her veins. A hot-oil rainbow. It smelled like ink spilled from permanent markers, the high, poisoned sweetness of it.

She was going mad.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ujnCHj