Happy Thursday everyone! I’m back with a double ARC review now, with one a bit late and one on time. Sadly though, this is a double DNF review I’ve started to hit a snag again in the “Death by ARCs” pile I’ve been going through. I fully expected to enjoy both of these, but sadly, it didn’t happen for either of them for different reasons. Let’s get to the reviews!
Title: The Starless Sea
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction/Fantasy
Release Date: November 5th, 2019 from Doubleday Books
Format: Kindle ARC via NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis: Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.
What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.
Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.
**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own and no quotations will be used in this review**
DNF @ 25%
So I was like pretty much everyone that was really anticipating this second book from the author. I listened to the audio book of The Night Circus before I started my blog and I really enjoyed Jim Dale’s narration. But since it’s been a few years since listening to that one, I wondered how I would like this one. The plot on Goodreads sounds awesome right? A way to the Starless Sea where stories are kept and one guy’s journey to learn why a moment from his life is inside a book? Sounds like it’s right up my alley, and in the beginning, it was. I loved the opening chapter that talks about the acolytes that help maintain the Starless Sea. The way the book just pulls you in with that opening chapter was fantastic. It felt great to come back to the author’s writing style and I love the aspect of acolytes are chosen and what they go through to become committed to their position. There’s also a couple cool interludes that talk about the different doors that do lead to the mysterious Starless Sea and those were fun to see how doors can be described and the history of those doors.
But sadly, I did not like Zachary as a character! While it’s cool that he studies, plays and thinks of life as a video game, that was the only interesting thing about him. He’s a grad student and of course, he finds the book that has a moment from his childhood in there. But he was so boring! He just reads like a character that’s more boring than cardboard. He thinks and does the same thing and felt like a slower character. He felt very flat in the way that he speaks and I felt like his “quest” to find out the mystery of the book didn’t seem important to him at first. He kept reading the book over and over to find answers, but he never thought of other ways to do research or find something he didn’t see before? He felt a bit lazier than I expected with trying to figure out this mystery.
The other thing was the plot pacing itself; the plot for her debut novel felt much more balanced and interesting compared to this one. By the time I got to the 25% mark, the plot had BARELY started by that point. While the interludes felt like that could’ve had some importance for later in the book, this couldn’t keep my interest. Since I have no problem with DNF’ing a book, I was hoping that some major aspect of the book would help me keep reading. I do love Morgenstern’s writing style but this just was too boring and often times felt a little pretentious with all the literary references to make it sound smart and a boring main character. Sadly a major miss for me.
Title: Eight Will Fall
Author: Sarah Harian
Genre: YA Fantasy/Horror
Release Date: November 26th 2019 from Henry Holt (Macmillan)
Format: Kindle ARC via NetGalley
Goodreads Synopsis: In a land where magic is outlawed, eight criminals led by seventeen-year-old Larkin are sent on a mission to kill an ancient evil that plagues their kingdom. Descending into an underground realm full of unspeakable horrors, Larkin and her party must use their forbidden magic to survive what lies in wait, teeth sharp and jaws deadly.
As she fights for her life, Larkin finds a light in Amias, a fellow outlaw with a notorious past. Soon Larkin and Amias realize their fates are entwined. The eight of them were chosen for a reason.
But as the dangers multiply and her band of felons are picked off one by one, Larkin must confront a terrible truth: They were never meant to return.
**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own and no quotations will be used**
DNF @ 63%
I originally found out about this book on Edelweiss while browsing through the YA titles. I saw that this was a dark YA fantasy with horror elements and immediately become interested. I always like discovering books that kinda fly under the radar and read them before seeing early reviews. I wanted to love this book so much, after having struggles with my ARC piles during the last couple months. Sadly, after a full month of trying to get trough this book, I gave up. You know that a book is in trouble if it takes just over a MONTH to read just over half of it, even for me. While I’m really sad that I didn’t love it, it does happen.
My biggest problem with this book was the Empath “magic system,” which felt severely underdeveloped and very surface level. Empaths can feel other people’s emotions and can use that magic in return. Magic is also outlawed in this kingdom, so Empaths are treated horribly and they are weak against a stone called luminite. Many Empaths work in the mines where they mine this stone that weakens them and they aren’t treated fairly until our group of eight people are sent below. To be honest, this magic is barely used in the large chunk that I read. When the magic was used, it was very brief and the author didn’t describe this magic well. Does it have any limitations? Variations on the ability? How do you visualize it? These questions weren’t even touched upon, and since I read a lot of fantasy books with magic systems, this wasn’t well done. It just seemed like an invisible force that comes out of the user’s hands when they feel emotions?? That’s not enough to hook a fantasy reader. I wish the author had used more detail to describe how the power worked and had the characters use it more.
The next problem I had was that the group was eight people! While Larkin is the only POV you see as the story goes along and not eight separate ones, I hardly cared for these eight people. There’s a soldier that serves the queen, a scholar and the rest are just Empaths from different backgrounds. But many of these eight people sounded the same, to the point where I forgot who was who. Pretty much all of them read as people that only have about one emotion and kept having one side to them. Larkin was the only one that really had a few other emotions and seemed to be somewhat normal. She had moments of hatred for what’s been done to her, fear of the evil following them and vulnerability around Amias, another Empath. But I feel like eight people is simply too many to flesh out in a standalone book. The author doesn’t take enough time to show how these eight people are different individuals and that made it hard to pay attention.
The final problem that I had was the lack of constant danger from the evil that follows Larkin into the tunnels beneath the kingdom. This is where the horror elements come in, and while I enjoyed the creepy atmosphere from this evil, there was a lack of danger. I felt like there were too many moments where the group of eight characters were simply talking and resting, when I feel like that should’ve happen less. When something is trying to kill you, it doesn’t wait for a while to strike again. The story felt like there pauses of time where the characters could argue, give ex-positional dialogue and rest before being afraid again. The tension was as present as I expected and that was a major reason why it took me so long to slog through this movie.
My positives were very few in this book. At first, the plot was easy to read and get through and the build up to having the group go underground was solid enough to keep me reading. Some of the mythology was okay with a possible dark god type person being alive, when people don’t take his story seriously. I always like how a mythology is very present but many don’t take it seriously until bodies start to show up. The author also had some gruesome details about some of the deaths that occurred and I give her props for going there. But those were the only positives I had. This book could’ve benefited from being either a duology or having more editing time to make it scarier and enrich the magic system.
Overall: This book had such potential but just didn’t deliver. Since I wanted to see more of the horror elements and see if the plot got better, I gave it more time. But giving that time didn’t end up helping me much. If this sounds like a fun to to you, definitely give it a try. I’m glad that I tried it, but the major flaws deterred me from seeing through to the end.
Have you read either of these books? If so, what did you think of them? What books had potential but didn’t grab you in the end? Let me know in the comments!