Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Pair of Spoiler-Free Mini Reviews: Winter by Marissa Meyer, and Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

I decided to combine these two because they are both pretty popular and much buzzed about, so there will probably be reviews everywhere.
These covers are so beautiful.

First up is Winter, the long-awaited conclusion to Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles. Here's a quick synopsis if you're unfamiliar with the series:


Starting with Cinder, Marissa Meyer has taken familiar fairy tales and re-imagined them in a futuristic society threatened by Lunars: moon-dwellers with powerful perception-altering abilities that can make you see them as angelic beauties, someone else, or overpower your mind entirely.
The Lunars hold a tenuous peace with the peoples of Earth, and the tyrannical Lunar Queen Levana has been pursuing a matrimonial alliance with the young Emperor Kaito (Kai) of the Eastern Commonwealth. The problem is, he's currently held by a band of rebels, led by Cinder, a cyborg who is also the missing Lunar Princess.
The rebels are a motley crew: Iko the droid, Thorne the dashing criminal, Cress the painfully shy computer whiz, and Wolf the former Lunar warrior. Missing from their ranks is Scarlet, a human held captive on Luna, and currently the pet of the Lunar Princess Winter.
In Winter, everything comes to a head as our heroes are scattered, separated, and hunted down by Levana. Cinder must decide if she'll accept her true identity and all it entails, as the rest of her band make their own choices and deal with the consequences in an epic conclusion to the NYT bestselling series.


So now that you have a basic idea of the story, here's what I thought about Winter.


In short, Winter delivered almost everything: great storytelling and neat prose, expert handling of a large cast of characters, lots of action, real heart, and a fitting resolution. I felt like Meyer really worked hard to bring this series to its most logical and satisfying end, and she never sacrificed character for theme or story. As expected, Princess Winter (and to some extent, her guard Jacin) took center stage, but I didn't feel like the other characters got shorted. Though Winter was a whopping 800 pages, it never felt slow or too long, which is impressive.

And yes, I promised no spoilers, so I will give you my 3 favorite things about Winter instead:


1. Kai and Konn Torin. Okay, this may seem underwhelming to you, but scenes with these two were almost my favorite part of the book! Kai went from being a lovable, charming, but rather dippy seeming prince in Cinder, to one of my favorite characters and a truly brave ruler. Alongside his capable but stern adviser Torin, Kai attempts to navigate a hostile world, loads of responsibilities, and his own heart. Their (almost) father-son relationship got a little more center stage (I love Torin's wry humor), as Kai was cut off from the rest of the major characters for quite some time. Marissa Meyer is releasing a follow up short story collection, and one of them features the beginning events of Cinder from Kai's perspective. As you can imagine, I'm pretty excited about this.

2. Authentic Diversity. Our cast is a group of misfits of different races, cultures, and belief systems. Yet we're never hit over the head with it. Every character has a motive and a drive, and even Queen Levana has a chance to show her layers. And then we have Cinder's outcast status, and the discrimination she's faced as a cyborg, as well as Winter's mental imbalances. Even with a story as big as this one, Meyer never forgets the humanity of her characters, and this makes them relatable even when it seems like they shouldn't be.

3. Linh Cinder. I love Cinder. She is probably my favorite take on Cinderella - ever. Cinder is forced to make difficult decisions and step out of obscurity for the sake of others. Her character arc comes to a fitting conclusion, and I am sad to see her go.

Though there was a lot more I liked about the book, I don't want to ruin it for anyone!

Overall: 4.5 stars. Marissa Meyer finishes big with this action packed finale. Winter has something for everyone: a little romance, a lot of adventure, and a colorful cast of characters you'll be sorry to leave.




Another pretty cover :)

Sorcerer to the Crown, the debut novel by British author Zen Cho, is the first book in a planned trilogy about English magicians.


Here's the Goodreads Synopsis:

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.
But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Do you like Gail Carriger's steampunk novels, anything by Georgette Heyer, or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell? If so, you might enjoy the whimsical Sorcerer to the Crown. Though it started off a bit slow, once the story got going, it really got going. The worldbuilding was great, and the prose was effervescent and full of witty, quotable lines.


So what were my three favorite things about Sorcerer to the Crown?


1. The aforementioned prose. Like Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, Cho's prose is overflowing with humor, for example:
 “I should advise you not to stop there, but set fire to his house, too, and sell his children to pirates. That is the only way he will learn”  Excellent advice, no?
Or how about this interesting observation:
"A female may be poor or delicate or a spinster, but it does seem ill-advised of Miss Liddiard to combine all three.”
Sorcerer to the Crown is above-all a charming book, as the quotes probably suggested.

2. Zacharias. A former slave who has become the reluctant leader of England's magicians, he's a studious, proper fellow and I loved him to pieces. I loved how Cho kept revealing his character through little bits - he's the reserved sort, and never one to brag, and you hardly realize the depth of both his courage and his ability until the end!

3. It was fun. In a sea of adult novels that are trying to be realistic, gritty, intellectual, or challenging, Sorcerer to the Crown just seems like a book the author wanted to write. Now I don't mean it's shallow, because it isn't! But, unlike most of the magicians in the book, it isn't pretentious. There are interesting observations on everything from colonial politics to women's positions in society, but they never distract you from the story.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars. A delightful Regency fantasy with a touch of darkness, and plenty of material for sequels, Sorcerer to the Crown features a unique protagonist and a strong female lead. Zen Cho is an author I'd love to see more of.

So have you read either of these books, or do you plan on reading them? Do you like fairy tale retellings? If so, do you have a favorite? How about magicians and 19th Century England?