KINGDOM OF SOULS - Rena Barron
Gods, demons, fluid time constructs, ruthless families, and more collide in this epic fantasy opener that deserves a seat at the table with the titans of YA fantasy.
World building: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Arrah is the daughter of two powerful magic users. Her father's ties to the rural tribes keep her with one foot in the old world, while her mother's political fist in the urban Kingdom keeps her with one foot in the new. This clash of cultures, magic, and sense of morality was amazing—and split along the dichotomy of father versus mother, which was also interesting.
Arrah isn't the "chosen one" in this fantasy—in fact, she's one of the few characters without a natural source for magic—and she finds herself in an epic conflict between gods and demons.
The orishas (gods) have ruled the land for all of living memory. The Demon King and his followers were vanquished long ago, and the orishas remain in power. But then... Arrah discovers that her world isn't all that she thought it was. Her mother has her own vendetta to accomplish, and Arrah finds herself on the front line of a godly conflict that she is definitely not prepared for.
But she's willing to do anything to win.
Things I loved:
Arrah's sense of self—her rock-solid personal identity was refreshing. The land of Kefu, where time is fluid?? So cool, so unique, it added to the myth-like feel to the story. THE WRITING—GORGEOUS. The love interest was supportive and not too involved with the plot. The sidebar chapters written from the orishas to...someone(s). Those sidebars make me want to reread this book immediately, to catch references that I missed on the first pass. The world. I loved it all, honestly. One quick spoiler favorite: (view spoiler)
Things I wished were better:
The pacing—given the sheer amount of plot and time progression that occurs, Kingdom of Souls feels like more than one book that was smashed together. I would have happily read one book on the events pre-Kefu, and then another book on the events that happened after. There was DEFINITELY enough plot for more than one installment. But really, is too much plot a negative??
THE BONE HOUSES - Emily Lloyd-Jones
Surprisingly elegant and atmospheric, but definitely rough around the edges. Zombies meets ancient Wales meets myth meets....traditional YA trappings.
Visual descriptions: ★★★★
Density: ★★ 1/2
The Bone Houses has one of the coolest concepts in YA--in a small town at the edge of the mystical mountainous woods, skeletons come alive at night and wander. They're called bone houses. That kind of an opener screams to be read.
Ryn is a gravedigger, and the tough-as-nails, chip-on-her-shoulder YA heroine that we've seen before. Her father was lost to the mountains, her uncle was lost to the wilderness, and her siblings are all she has left. The family scrapes it by on the edges of poverty in a very medieval-feeling way.
Enter Ellis, the mapmaker. Kind of strange that there seems to be an entire profession devoting to traveling mapmakers, but The Bone Houses runs with it. Ellis is an orphan boy trying to find his parents, and finds himself drawn to the woods where he was found.
Ryn and Ellis also find themselves drawn to each other and end up in the woods on a quest to a) learn more about the mountains for a map, b) learn more about Ellis' past, c) try to find out what happened to Ryn's dad, and finally d) to discover the heart of the woods and find a way to stop the bone houses from rising. (It's a complicated quest.)
There was potential for me to love The Bone Houses, but I never found myself crossing the divide between liking and loving. It was cool...but I wanted more of the magic, more of the bone houses, and wayyyyy less of the YA-standards: the romance, the tying everything up together in the end, the internal dialogues on identity that took up space that could have been used on plot, etc. Give me the weird and the unexplained magic and leave everything else behind—it just bogged the story down.
We all know the story: The mansion. The colorful guests. The murder. The secret passageways. The weapons.
Mr. Boddy was murdered in the lounge with the candlestick. Or was it the wrench? Or maybe the revolver?
(In the case of In the Hall with the Knife, I bet you can guess.)
I honestly didn't know what to expect when this ARC arrived at my doorstep. I was in love with Clue as a kid (the movie AND the game) and I knew that I'd like it, at the very least. I didn't expect to love it and read it in one sitting!
In the Hall with the Knife is the perfect read for a casual fall evening. It's fast-paced, the coastal Maine spooky academy was the perfect setting, and the teenage characters were all fun to read in individual POVs. There are some changes to the main script: we have an added POV in Orchid McKee, and Mrs. White was an adult, but I didn't mind these changes—and in a weird way, I really enjoyed Orchid's entrance.
In terms of POV switching, I thought the author did a really good job at conveying each character's individual narrative voice. Even if you'd removed the names in the chapter, I would have known who was narrating—that's impressive, given the large cast list. However, hands down, I loved Peacock's entries the best. Everyone else has traditional chapters with third person narration...and then there's Peacock, who is obsessed with fitness and has her POV done within the context of a 1 page workout journal entry with a "notes" field that spills matter-of-fact details about the actual plot. Loved it.
Now, definitely keep in mind that this novel doesn't take itself seriously. Heck, the Clue movie notoriously didn't take itself seriously! The ending isn't a surprise to the discerning reader, but that's not why I loved it. I loved it for the cheese, the camp, and the modern twists on the old nods to nostalgia. It's a fun ride, and even more fun when you realize that it's actually a trilogy.
We haven't heard the last of this group, and so far there's only been one dead body...
(claps hands in excitement)
Thank you so much to Amulet Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.