Happy Monday everyone! I hope your weekend was good. Today is a double review and it’s going to be my only official blog post for the next month. Starting this Wednesday the 11th, I’m taking an official blogging hiatus for an entire month. But I wanted to get these two reviews out of the way, since I recently finished them before my hiatus. So let’s jump in!
Title: The Traitor Queen (The Bridge Kingdom #2)
Author: Danielle L. Jensen
Genre: Adult Fantasy/Romance
Release Date: February 27th 2020 from Audible Originals (Print copy not available yet)
Narrators: Lauren Fortgang & James Patrick Cronin
Listening Time: 10 hours, 13 mins
Goodreads Synopsis: Lara has only one thought when her husband is taken prisoner: I will do whatever it takes to set you free.
A queen now in exile as a traitor, Lara has watched Ithicana be conquered by her own father, helpless to do anything to stop the destruction. But when she learns her husband, Aren, has been captured in battle, Lara knows there is only one reason her father is keeping him alive: as bait for his traitorous daughter.
And it is bait she fully intends to take.
Risking her life to the Tempest Seas, Lara returns to Ithicana with a plan not only to free its king, but for liberating the Bridge Kingdom from her father’s clutches using his own weapons: the sisters whose lives she spared.
But as Lara and her companions formulate a plan to free Aren from her father’s palace, they soon discover that while it is easy to get in, it will be quite another thing to get Aren, and themselves, back out. Not only is the palace inescapable, there are more players in the game than Lara ever realized, enemies and allies switching sides in the fight for crowns, kingdoms, and bridges. But her greatest adversary of all might be the very man she’s trying to free – the husband she betrayed.
With everything she loves in jeopardy, Lara must decide who – and what – she is fighting for: her kingdom, her husband, or for herself.
I just finished the first book in this duology The Bridge Kingdom at the end of last month, so when it was release day, I spent my own money to get this book on Audible. The first book ended on an interesting cliffhanger so I started listening right away. While the author has recently announced that there will be more books set in this fantasy world, Lara and Aren’s story is only in these two books. I was really excited to see how this duology would end. I really enjoyed this sequel/conclusion, but due to one aspect of the romance that I found a bit annoying, this wasn’t a 5 star read for me. Let’s break down my thoughts:
- Narration: These two narrators for Lara and Aren are amazing and I think they’re fantastic. Audible really put in the effort to make these audio books great with sound quality, narrators and even sound effects in between POVs. The first book had storm sounds, but this one has drums in between Lara and Aren’s POVs which was a fun change to get a different sound. Both narrators captured the tension, stubbornness, action and other emotional moments and brought these characters to life.
- Lara grew on me!: I will admit that I liked Aren more in the first book, but still understood where Lara was coming from. But this second book really focuses on Lara’s internal changes as she comes to make the choice on what she does and what she really wants. While she still has her stubborn moments, she had some great epic moments that showed her growth. The author did an awesome job with making me care more for Lara and seeing where her allegiance really went.
- More action: While the first book had the action more in the background, this book BRINGS the action! There were some tense moments that genuinely had me guessing on what would happen to our couple and others. Most of this book is a journey story as Lara is trying to rescue Aren and how they’re trying to have Ithicana be free again. I loved the balance of fierce action and the more quiet moments that still tested the characters.
- The ROMANCE!: I seriously ship Lara and Aren so much after finishing their story! Sure, both of them are stubborn and I’ll mention my con with the romance in a minute, but I liked how their story ended. They grew to really see each other in some moments and I LOVED some of the sexual and romantic tension the author shows us in their relationship. I was legit worried on whether they would stay together and what was stressful lol. While I think Aren felt more genuine to fix their relationship more than Lara, the ending fit them as people very well.
- Overall story arc: I didn’t know what I would think of this series when I started it, but in the end, this is a story of how two people from different walks of life can agree on things and despite being broken in some ways, that they see the chance to be better and how they fight for what they believe in. While the romance is a huge plot of the story, I still liked how the author brings in trauma, brainwashing, internal struggles and how someone can change into the story too. I liked how layered this duology was!
- The romance (part 2): While I do ship Lara and Aren and liked how their story ended, I had a major problem with how they did NOT communicate their feelings for most of this book! Lara knows how she feels about him and Aren knows how much he loves her but they DO NOT take the chances they have. There’s plenty of chances that they had in this sequel to confront their differences and voice how they felt. They had a chance to be even stronger together for the ending of the story and also be stronger as people. I felt like their false assumptions and pride made them regress which is something that bugs me with some romances. I don’t know if the author intended for this angst to be prolonged for entertainment purposes, but it was annoying. As someone who has been married for a long time, I find that talking about your feelings and putting your pride aside to see what your partner thinks and feels and come together is WAY better than believe your own false assumptions that might not be true. I know I’m ranting on this but this was the main reason that this wasn’t a 5 star read for me is because both characters wouldn’t remember how the other felt person felt about them and trusted their partner more than rumors and other people’s opinions.
- Pacing of the ending: The other small con that prevented this sequel from being a 5 star read was that the ending was a bit rushed. More than half of the book is a journey story, but it takes so long to get to the conclusion that it was rushed. Lara’s confrontation with her past was over way too quick and it was WAY too easy for the good guys to win. I get frustrated in books, regardless of the genre, when the good guys hardly have any struggles to win. While I know that Aren and his team had an advantage since they know their kingdom, but it was still a little too easy.
Overall: Despite being frustrated with part of the romance and a rushed conclusion, I do recommend this duology if you’re looking for another fantasy romance. The audio books are so well done and narrated and this sequel was intense, mostly satisfying and had a good ending overall. I’m also glad that there will be more books in this world. Aren is my fictional crush now and I’m glad that Lara grew on me more and again, the author shows great character growth from her. I’m so glad I gave this series a chance.
Title: The Empire of Dreams (Girl of Fire and Thorns #4)
Author: Rae Carson
Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: April 7th 2020 from Greenwillow Books (Harper Collins)
Format: Kindle ARC via Edelweiss
Goodreads Synopsis: New York Times-bestselling author Rae Carson makes a triumphant return to the world of her award-winning Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy in this extraordinary stand-alone novel. With action, adventure, and a heroine set on destroying the patriarchal limits meant to keep her in her place, The Empire of Dreams once again proves that Rae Carson is a master of epic fantasy.
Even though Red Sparkle Stone is a foundling orphan with an odd name and a veiled past, she’s about to be adopted into the royal family—by Empress Elisa herself. Sixteen-year-old Red can hardly believe her luck. Then, in a stunning political masterstroke, the empress’s greatest rival blocks the adoption, and Red is left with no family and no future.
Grieving and lost, but determined to find her place, Red hatches a daring plan: she will prove herself as a recruit for the world’s most elite fighting force, the legendary Royal Guard—something no woman has done before. But it’s no coincidence that someone wanted her to fail as a princess, someone whose shadowy agenda puts everything she loves at risk. As danger closes in, it will be up to Red and her new friends—and maybe some new enemies—to save the empire. If they can survive recruitment year.
Here’s the thing: I struggle sometimes when authors return to old series that were finished years ago. Sometimes I feel like they can be crash grabs (the newer books in the Uglies world for example), but other times it works so well (the second era Mistborn books or the Avatar: the Last Airbender comics as other examples). So when I found out this book was coming out after the original trilogy finished, I was curious and worried at the same time. I read this original trilogy 3 years ago and I loved the first book, but didn’t love how it ended. For this new book, being a new story from an old series, this was just okay and didn’t hit the mark for me. I feel like this isn’t necessary to read unless you loved the original trilogy and want to see where some characters ended up. But let’s break down my thoughts:
- Writing Style: I can see how Rae Carson has continued to get better as a writer, from the original Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy and her Gold Seer series. This book is very well written, especially in Red’s past chapters as a child. The author did experience a childhood trauma and that was a reason why she wanted to write this book. I read the author’s note at the beginning of the ARC and found that personal story very interesting. She writes some really raw chapters as Red experiences death, betrayal and different forms of abuse as a child and having to survive. If you’re sensitive to child abuse and childhood trauma, probably skip this since it’s a major plot line. But the past chapters handled this trauma really well.
- Seeing old characters: While the old characters from the original trilogy only make a few appearances, I liked seeing where the original characters ended up. I won’t say names as to not spoil anyone who hasn’t read the original trilogy, but it was fun to see them again. Their new lives in this companion novel made me happy.
- Same vibes as the trilogy: This book really does immerse you back into this fantasy world and it was nice to get the same vibes again. The original first book came out in like 2011 and I first fell in love with this Latin inspired world and I felt those same feelings again. From the food descriptions to the lore, it was great to see this world one more time.
- Don’t need a refresher: This was another thing that this book did well: you don’t need a refresher of the trilogy before reading this. I have struggled with reading the companion novel first instead of the original novel (Song of the Abyss by Makiia Lucier is a prime example). But since it’s been 3 years since I read the trilogy, this was easy to get back into. The author makes really great choices with reminding you what happened beforehand and it blends with this new story well. Don’t worry if it’s been a long time since you read the first books: this book really does stand on its own and I’m glad to say that’s true.
- Red’s intentions: While Red isn’t a perfect character, I liked her intentions as a person. She loves Elisa and all that she’s done for Red. While she is different from many of the people in Elisa’s country, she wants to have a family and proves herself by training in the Royal Guard. She proves her loyalty by being merciful and honest with people which was nice to see. She’s trying to find out who this new enemy is and does all she can to protect those she cares about. It’s great to see a female character who has honest intentions and sticks to her guns.
- OP Protagonist: Red is a nice person, but she does border on the Mary Sue character trope. She has had to fight to survive but she is TOO perfect at being a fighter. She handles all this training too well. She’s hardly ever injured or doesn’t make a mistake. You can have a great teacher and be good at something, but she was way too OP (over powered) in my opinion so the training felt useless on her with being a recruit.
- Red’s too trusting: I was shocked at how Red’s tragic past does not reflect how she acts as a teen. She was abused, starved, betrayed and simply treated as less than human for so much of her childhood after her mother is killed. With all that she’s gone through, she makes some friends way too easily and is way too trusting. Trauma stays with you forever and you’ll always struggle with it. Red didn’t do that at all! I thought that this story would show her struggle to become better and keep trying to overcome her demons, but she doesn’t it too easily. It might just be me, but the “Now” chapters felt less genuine compared to the early “Then” chapters.
- Pacing: This book is approximately 400 pages or longer and this doesn’t need to be that long! The training chapters are SO repetitive and boring and I felt like I was reading this book forever. Many of the training sequences didn’t need to be as long as they were. This is mostly a long training book which I realized ins’t my thing. Even the mystery plot line felt mostly ignored until the last half of the book and everything ended very conveniently. This could’ve been maybe 350 pages and tightened to be much more interesting and the mystery more compelling. Red was so distracted by the training that it was annoying to not have the mystery be the focus.
Overall: This was just okay in the end and like I mentioned earlier, I would only read this book if you loved the original series and have to see where those characters ended up. While I like the past chapters of Red’s childhood and being in this fantasy world again, this does feel a little bit like a cash grab and Red didn’t feel like she was as effected by her past. She almost seemed like a totally different character during the current chapters and plus her “affinity to magic” was poorly explained and felt like a easy plot device. I recommend the original series or her Gold Seer series instead.
Have you read these? Are you excited for them? Let me know in the comments!