The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa

julie kagawaIt’s official. Julie Kagawa sold her soul to Satan for super-writing skills. It’s the only possible explanation, right? Right!? I remember finishing the Iron Fey series, and how it had left me in a haze afterwards. But in the thrilling conclusion to the Blood of Eden trilogy, she continues to impress me – seriously, can somebody get me a bucket for my tears? Stat.

Summary

VENGEANCE WILL BE HERS.

Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster?

With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer. MONSTER. Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions—her creator, Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost—the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie.

In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, triumph is short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone.

The Backstory

The Blood of Eden trilogy takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, a world that is ravished by vampires… but that’s not the worst thing lurking in the shadows. Most of the human population has been affected by the Red Lung virus, transforming them into crazed zombies (Rabids).

The main protagonist, Allie Sekemoto, is a newly-turned vampire. She clings to her humanity, battling her blood thirst to avoid becoming the monster that she has always despised, the same ones that killed her mother. While fighting her demons, she falls in love with a human called Zeke. He is searching for the vampire-free haven, Eden – a place that might hold the cure to Rabidism.

In her adventures, she battles against her ruthless blood brother (Jackal), and rescues her sire (Kanin) from a deadly vampire called Sarren, who is hell-bent on creating a new virus to destroy the world. The Eternity Cure ends on a cliffhanger when Sarren tortures and kills Zeke, and begins his journey to finding Eden, leaving Allie with a heart of grief and a mind for vengeance.

The Writing

Brilliant doesn’t even begin to cover it.

This book deals with the fallout of Zeke’s murder and Sarren’s escape, where Allie and her new vampire family head to Eden in hot pursuit of their enemy. Much to Kanin’s disappointment, Allie begins to draw away from humanity. Her narrative is filled with angst, and her struggles with blood-thirst are genuine. However, sometimes I felt that Kagawa’s descriptions were far too repetitive (heh, take a shot every time the word ‘monster‘ is used). Nevertheless, I enjoyed her unique perspective on the subject. I truly believe that Kagawa’s book helped to reclaim the vampire image.

The Characters

Allie Sekemoto is one of my all-time favourite book characters, and here’s why: I am an British-Asian female. For people like us, we are surrounded by films and TV shows and books about the beautiful girl with porcelain skin, long brown hair and forest green eyes. Sound familiar? But Allie is different, she is Asian – not the timid sort, but fierce, outspoken and highly dangerous. She makes a terrific inspiration for females (but maybe not the whole murderous, blood-sucking part, you know…).

For many readers, it comes as no surprise that Ezekiel Crosse survived his encounter with Sarren. But his reunion with Allie is not filled with rainbows and butterflies, unfortunately. His experiences cause a wide rift in their relationship, and Kagawa uses this opportunity to explore a new side to Zeke – one who is irrevocably scarred from his ordeal with Sarren.

Jackal reminds me of Spike from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘. He never pretends to be on Team Good, but I guess he draws a line at global genocide. His witty remarks bring some much-needed comic relief, and I loved watching his relationship with Allie develop. He was fond of his sister, and their final scene together was incredibly touching. Bonus points: no love triangle *high five*

Meanwhile, Kanin is the father figure of the group. I like that Allie looks for his guidance, even during her rebellious phase. Their relationship is, without a doubt, my most favourite in the book.

Kagawa did a great job in creating the ultimate psychopath with Sarren. Gosh, I just wanted to reach into the book and punch him myself! Although, perhaps not. He’s one of the scariest villains in YA fiction, and definitely not somebody you’d want to mess with.

The Relationships

Zeke has always been the anchor for Allie, the person who stops her from becoming a monster. But this time, Sarren has caused serious damage to his psyche, and it’s Allie’s turn to become the anchor. In one scene, the reader gets a glimpse into his mind and it was interesting to explore that different viewpoint, and it shows how far their relationship has grown since the beginning.

What I loved the most was the family dynamics. Despite their differences, Kanin, Jackal and Allie made the perfect match as the wise father, the wayward son, and Daddy’s favourite little girl. I loved the moments when his progeny were bickering, and Kanin was like “if you two don’t stop arguing, I swear to God… I’m going to turn this car around!”.

Quotes

“Typical. Silly me, thinking you actually had potential. I thought, Finally, she’s realized she’s a vampire. Now we’re getting somewhere. But now you’re just a big fluffy bunny with sharp teeth.”

“He can die. Painfully. While I rip his other arm from the socket and shove it so far down his poetry-spouting pie-hole that he chokes on it. What I don’t understand is why we’re standing up here yapping away when we should be down there kicking in his door. So, come on, team. Let’s go kill ourselves a psychopath.”

Rating: 4/5

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Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

grishaImagine you’ve read the most amazing book and you buy the sequel, only to learn that it simply doesn’t live up to your expectations. Disappointing, right? Unfortunately, this is all too common in the world of YA fiction, called ‘second book syndrome’. Such is not the case for Siege and Storm, the thrilling sequel to Shadow and Bone, which continues to exceed expectations.

Summary

Darkness never dies. Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long…

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her — or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

The Backstory

In Shadow and Bone, Alina runs away from the Little Palace after learning about the Darkling’s true intentions. He is the Black Heretic – the same man who created the Shadow Fold. He doesn’t want to destroy it, but wants to control her powers in his quest for world domination.

When Alina is reunited with Mal, it’s a race against time to find Morozova’s stag, the most powerful amplifier to exist. The Darkling wins, forcing Alina to wear the antlers around her neck. This allows him to control her abilities. However, it appears that Alina (having spared the stag’s life) can access the Darkling’s powers, and reclaim her own. In the end, she leaves the Darkling and his men to the mercy of the Volcra in the Shadow Fold, while escaping to sea with Mal.

The Characters

Alina Starkov has matured a lot since the previous book… but she is not the perfect protagonist that you would expect. As she drifts further from her old self, it becomes clear that being the Sun Summoner comes with a terrible price. With a second amplifier and a whole army of Grisha under her control, Alina struggles with her desire for power, teetering on the edge of madness, and one begins to wonder if she is following in the Darkling’s footsteps, after all.

As Alina grows more confident in her abilities, it puts a strain on her relationship with Mal Oretsev, who changes from the boy-next-door to overbearing boyfriend in this book. For the most part, he is either sulking in the background or threatening to punch anybody who dares to look at her. Honestly? I just wanted to grab him and shout “dude, get a freakin’ grip!”.

If you thought that a love triangle was complicated, try a love square! Nikolai Lantsov is a perfect addition: quick-witted and fearless, his banter with Alina is a refreshing change from the doom and gloom that surrounds her. And yes, he’s also the Prince of Ravka. No wonder Mal feels threatened.

…and who could forget The Darkling? Despite having limited scenes, it’s hard to ignore his presence in Alina’s life. But if you ever thought that he was just misunderstood – a ‘good boy at heart‘, this book will change your mind. The Darkling goes through shocking lengths to prove exactly how ruthless he can be. Where some actions are downright cruel, it’s hard to imagine any redemption for him.

The Relationships

Mal and Alina are supposedly ‘in love’ with each other, but their relationship is more unstable than the Ravkan government. It is only natural that Mal would feel overwhelmed with dating the Sun Summoner, but his treatment of Alina was terrible. He made her feel guilty for being a Grisha, accused her of sleeping with Nikolai and The Darkling, and broke her heart. If Leigh Bardugo was trying to assassinate his character during this book, she definitely succeeded.

Meanwhile, Nikolai Lantsov isn’t your average Prince Charming. While he’s not exactly the most trustworthy person, his friendship with Alina seemed to flourish into something more. There is no denying their potential (much to Mal’s annoyance), and their conversations had me laughing out loud.

Quality, not quantity’ seems to be the golden rule for the Darkling/Alina moments in this book. While The Darkling is hiding elsewhere, Alina is plagued with hallucinations of him. In my favourite scene, she asks why he won’t leave her alone, to which he replies: ‘then I’d be alone, too’. It’s such a simple scene, yet almost depressing.

Quotes

You know the problem with heroes and saints, Nikolai? They always end up dead.

“So many men had tried to make her a queen. Now she understood that she was meant for something more. The Darkling had told her he was destined to rule. He had claimed his throne, and a part of her too. He was welcome to it. For the living and the dead, she would make herself a reckoning. She would rise.”

Rating: 5/5

The final installment, Ruin and Rising, will be released on June 19th 2014. Pre-order here.

Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

7600924I’m going to be completely honest here – this is the story of an incestuous relationship between a brother and his sister. No mistaken identities. No separated-at-birth. Following the examples set by Jaime and Cersei, the main pairing is (for lack of a better term) highly disturbing… and after reading the book, I was surprised to learn that it was completely worth the hype.

Summary

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives–and the way they understand each other so completely–has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love.

Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

The Characters

First of all, there’s Lochan. Instead of going out with friends or getting drunk at house parties, he spends his nights at home with the children. It’s easy to forget that he’s seventeen years old, and just a kid himself. This adds to the tragedy of his story, a boy who places family above everything else, even his own health and well-being. While Lochan is confident around his family members, he can barely speak to his classmates. Suzuma’s treatment of mental disorders was well-researched. I could easily relate to his descriptions of anxiety, giving his character a storyline beyond the ‘ew-incest‘ moments.

On the other hand, I felt like the characterization of Maya was weak at times. Lochan’s narrative gave him an extra layer of complexity, with his anxiety struggles and feelings of worthlessness, but I barely knew anything about Maya. Suzuma had the perfect opportunity to develop her relationships outside the house, yet she elected to let Maya’s life revolve around her brother instead, with cheesy lines such as “my love”. Dude, no.

Even Kit (aged 13) was going through his own problems. He was old enough to remember his father, who abandoned them for a new life in Australia, and it was only natural that he would rebel against Lochan’s authority. I found it shocking that he would stay out late and turn to drugs for comfort, but the conflict with his older brother brought realism to the story which a lot of people could relate to.

Suzuma presented the mother as a crass and irresponsible woman, who didn’t seem to care about her children, who spent money on shoes and booze instead of feeding them,  and who abandoned them to spend time with her boyfriend. It was particularly tragic for the children, especially Tiffin (aged 9) and Willa (aged 5), who still looked up to her despite her parental failures.

The Relationship

I know what you’re thinking – it’s weird, right?

I couldn’t support this bizarre pairing either, but I was drawn to their story – two children, neglected by their alcoholic mother and deadbeat father, seeking solace within each other. Even without the incest, this had the potential to become a great book.

For me, Lochan and Maya’s relationship seemed better suited as brother and sister from the start. No matter how much they tried to convince themselves otherwise, they were siblings. Flesh and blood. I tried to approach the situation with an open mind, but I felt so uncomfortable that I almost stopped reading altogether (yes, I’m talking about the awkward sex scenes).

But I have to admire Tabitha Suzuma for choosing to go there. Not many authors would elect to approach such a delicate topic, and she wrote this book with a great level of maturity.

The Mental Illness

At home, Lochan was the superhero – looking after the kids, cooking their meals and helping out with homework. But at school, he was simply known as the ‘weird kid’, the one who spent lunchtimes alone and avoided social contact. It became evident that this was more than being cripplingly shy, but rather a mental illness that wasn’t being taken seriously. This shows the public reaction to mental disorders, that perhaps he was just overreacting. But to Lochan and Suzuma, it was all too real.

Many representations of mental illness in the media seem to be treated almost immediately after diagnosis. Lochan tried to deal with his issues one step at a time and it was a great struggle for him, which  made it seem more authentic. What I enjoyed about this book was that social anxiety was being used as an underlying problem throughout, one which doesn’t come with a quick fix.

The Ending

With Kit heading off to a school trip, and the kids going to a sleepover, Lochan and Maya are finally alone together. They decide to consummate their relationship, but their mother catches them in the act. Horrified at what she witnesses, she assumes that Lochan was trying to rape his sister and calls the police. Lochan explains that if they were charged with an incestuous relationship, then both would be sent to jail, and the kids would be taken away by Social Services. He makes Maya promise that she’d tell the police it was his idea, that he’d been sexually abusing her the whole time.

While the police are interrogating him, he admits that he forced Maya to comply. But Maya changes her statement last minute, and tells the truth instead. Lochan is forced to take drastic action to keep his family from being torn apart, and ends up committing suicide. In the final chapter, Maya and the kids attend his funeral. She plans to kill herself later that night, but ultimately decides to continue living for her brother.

The ending is bittersweet, yet perfect for such a depressing book.

Quotes

“At the end of the day that’s what we’re all trying to do: fit in, one way or another, desperately trying to pretend we’re all the same.”

“They say when you really love someone, you should be willing to set them free. So that is what I am doing. I will step back and you will move on. I will let you go. … Your happiness means everything to me. I will listen for your voice in the distance. I will look at the moon. I will keep you in my pocket. I will carry your smile with me everywhere, like a warm and comforting glow.”

Rating: 4/5