"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies...The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R Martin

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Talon - Julie Kagawa REVIEW


TALON really surprised me. A few chapters in and I was unsure of the story, not completely convinced by the whole dragon in human form concept. But a few chapters later and something must have clicked. I was caught up in the story, invested in the characters' lives and issues, devouring each chapter, in anticipation of whatever dramatic thing would happen next. TALON turned out to be a slow builder that culminated in an action packed ending that was gripping and exciting.

Ember and Dante Hill are dragons. Two dragons who must assimilate into human society, infiltrate the human world as part of a dragon lead organisation, Talon. In their human forms, they only have the summer to prove their worth but Ember dreams of freedom and a summer of sea, sand and surfing. Garret is a soldier, a member of St. George, an ancient order which has one purpose - to hunt and kill dragons. Sent on a mission to infiltrate society and root out the "sleeper" dragon, Garrett slowly comes to learn that all he's been told about dragons may not be true. Ember also comes to realise that there's more to life than Talon and an encounter with a rogue dragon makes her question her beliefs. Ember and Garrett both harbour deadly secrets as they slowly get to know one another, sacrificing the very missions that they were sent to complete 

What I loved about this story was the heightened tension and suspense that permeated throughout. The story is full to the brim with secrets and lies, dangers and conspiracies. I loved the sense of mystery and the feeling of uncertainty that radiated through the pages; not knowing when the truth would finally spill over and create havoc. It's a real edge of your seat kind of book, a book that hooks you and takes you on a thrilling ride. I was on tender hooks throughout because as a reader I knew the truth about their identities and where their loyalties lay but obviously the characters had no idea themselves. This definitely upped the suspense and made for some rather ironic and amusing scenes (you know, you get Garrett talking about how monstrous the waves are when unbeknown to him he's sharing a board with a monster!). The story built in action towards the end and leaves the slow build up behind to unleash a fast paced and exciting narrative. It just rose and rose to this big dramatic climax, this crazy crescendo where the two opposing forces finally meet.
The two organisations added another layer of intrigue and mystery to the story. I thought the Order of St. George was such a clever idea, using the legend of St George (the patron saint of England) and the dragon as inspiration. The idea of a secret order hunting and slaying dragons through the ages just seemed so exciting and I loved the mix of legend and fiction. The dragon organisation, Talon seemed even more sinister and deadly with monstrous dragons believing themselves to be above human beings. The two organisations, pitted against one another makes for a deadly story and I'm intrigued to know how and when they come to blows again in the next book.  
Something I really enjoyed was Kagawa's writing. It's so GOOD. Its beautifully written, flows easily from start to finish, full of suspense and tension. Her dialogue was realistic and the setting with its waves and sand was described vividly. Although perhaps with a more magical world and fantastical story her writing really could have been showcased in all its glory. I wanted detail, intricate, immersive and enchanting detail but I felt with a modern setting and a teenage angst story it just wasn't present.  

Now, I liked the characters. I can't really say that I truly connected with them all but as the story progressed I became more and more invested in their stories. Our main protagonist, Ember (can I just say that I adore her name! It's so fitting!) is undoubtedly a bit frustrating and a little delusional. Delusional in the sense that she constantly ignores her instincts and gut feelings all for a bit of boy action. Seriously, she's a dragon. I'm sure her heightened senses would have worked out that something was amiss with this stranger (which he is!) who is trying very, very hard to get close to her. So yeah, she's not very convincing as an angry, fire breathing dragon. But as a human, she really shined. She definitely lives up to her fiery name; she's feisty, passionate and independent although a little hot headed at times. Her easygoing nature is infectious and it is hard to imagine that under all that pretty red hair is a hard scaled monster. She really comes across as your average teenager and it was easy to empathise with her (despite being a dragon!). 

Garrett was also another infuriating character at times. He's supposedly a hard trained fighter, a dragon slayer, a fully fledged soldier of St. George with plenty of dragon blood on his hands. What we get isn't the stone-cold, ruthless monster killer that you expect. Nope, you get a shy and awkward young man who loses sight of his goal at the first glance of a pretty girl. I did enjoy how this relationship made him question his beliefs but it just seemed to happen too quick, too easy to be fully convincing. Just like Ember he has no real knowledge of what being a teenager actually is so it was fun seeing the two of them work it out together. Just like in the BLOOD OF EDEN series, Kagawa depicts this story of two individuals from completely different backgrounds, enemies to one another, one a dragon the other a dragon hunter who come together and put their differences aside because of their feelings. It's all a bit Romeo and Juliet-like in a way.
Now, lets discuss the love triangle. The bane of most YA fiction. Yes, it is undoubtedly a cliché, annoying and a little frustrating. In this instance though I thought it was well done. Some of you may disagree with me but I thought it reflected Ember's dual identity, her split personality; both dragon and human. In her human form she's attracted to Garrett with her getting butterflies in her belly at every look, every touch. Then you get her dragon side. She feels an instinctive pull towards Riley, a primal feeling deep within. She herself is split between her dragon side and growing humanity and also her feelings for Garrett and Riley. Who do I prefer personally? Hmm I'm partial to a bit of a bad boy myself so definitely Riley. He just oozes sex appeal, confidence and surprisingly, a caring personality. It's hard not to be attracted to him. I feel that Ember could have a deeper connection with him than Garrett. But I did feel for poor Garrett even though their relationship was built on a lie.
One thing. I desperately wanted more Dante. He was such an intriguing character and he sort of disappeared quarter of the way through despite supposedly being super close to Ember. Their close relationship seemed to just fizzle out which was disappointing but I am REALLY looking forward to how their relationship develops in the next book. It should make for some VERY interesting reading.  

In my opinion dragons = magical fantastical setting. Where was the world-building? The fantasy setting? I know, I know this book was set in a contemporary setting but I wasn't fully convinced by it all. I couldn't really immerse myself in the world; it was just so normal, so everyday. We get these majestic creatures but then this world that really doesn't match up with them. Maybe it's just my inner fantasy lover lashing out at not having some spectacular and imaginative world to dive into. Although, I did like the setting itself with the sandy beach, wild foaming waves and laid back atmosphere. It was Embers' paradise for a time, a place of magic and freedom but sadly unattainable for such a creature.
Another thing that irked me a little was the slow pace at the beginning. It was too bogged down in teenage angst and romance with not enough focus on the story. It just seemed to drag in places and it wasn't until over half way through that it turned into this fast paced and exciting story. I LOVE Julie Kagawa's THE BLOOD OF EDEN series due to its fast paced, gritty narrative and TALON just seems to be rather tame compared to it. Hopefully in ROGUE (TALON #2) the story will concentrate more on the dragons, with more intrigue and action.

TALON is a promising new start to this dragon centred series. I wasn't blown away by it and it wasn't nearly as good as the BLOOD OF EDEN series which wowed me. It read more like a contemporary book and not fantasy at times and I was hungry for a rich, vivid and fantastical world. The romance overshadowed a large section of the story but the action packed and fast paced ending more than made up for the slow beginning. I loved the intensity of the narrative, the nail biting suspense and action. That ending has definitely made me interested in continuing on with the next book because I NEED to know what happens. How could it possibly end like that? It's not fair and I will dive right into ROGUE when I finally get my hands on it. If you love fantasy and expect a whirlwind adventure story then you may be a little disappointed with TALON but if you love intrigue and taking a chance on a new, fresh story then give this a go.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Top Ten Favourite YA/Fantasy Book Heroines!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

 It was really hard to narrow my favourite heroines down to just ten. I obviously had to leave quite a few out mainly my favourite heroines from classics such as Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Eyre. I've narrowed it down to mostly my favourite YA and fantasy heroines even though that was hard. I love these women because they're strong, fierce, powerful, intelligent and most of all real. They may be witches, assassins, Queens and cyborgs but underneath it all they're real women with real, complex emotions and fascinating lives. I feel like I've traveled to the ends of the earth with characters that I respect, love and empathise with dearly. Girl power all the way!

1. Feyre
2. Elisa
 3. Yelaena
4. Cinder
 5. Katniss
6. Daenerys
7. Hermione
8. Avry
9. Celaena
10. Evanjalin

Sunday, 1 February 2015

January Wrap-Up: A Month in Books!

It's been a pretty slow month, for everything really. January just seemed to drag by and it was a slow month reading wise also. Towards the end of 2014 I seemed to lose my reading mojo and that has rolled over into 2015 by the looks of things. I only managed four books. C'mon, Bec you can do better than that! The books I did manage to read weren't too bad though. I started the year off by reading WILD and this book grew on me as I read on. I loved its sense of adventure and spontaneity; it's impulsive storyline was rather infectious to say the least. Then I dove into SHADOW STUDY one of my most anticipated reads of this year. It was amazing. Not much else to say really. AMAZING. Then I picked up the rather mind boggling THE GHOSTS OF HEAVEN. By golly was it complex and puzzling but intriguing all at the same time. Not quite sure what to make of it but it was good. Then onto another review book - TALON. Not my favourite take on dragons but I was well caught up in the story and kept on the edge of my seat throughout! My favourite read of the month by far was SHADOW STUDY. Thanks Snyder for deciding to continue with this series!

Talon - Julie Kagawa (4*)
Shadow Study - Maria V Snyder (4.5*)
Wild: A Journey From Lost to Found - Cheryl Strayed (4*)
The Ghosts of Heaven - Marcus Sedgwick (3.5*)


The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Shadow Study - Maria V Snyder REVIEW

Published by Mira Ink/Harlequin

When I first heard that Maria V Snyder was releasing another Study series I squealed. I squealed high and loud full of excitement and anticipation, unashamed of my absolute love for her amazing fantasy stories (you should have heard me when I was accepted for this on Netgalley!). SHADOW STUDY was all that I hoped for and more. From the first page I comfortably immersed myself back into the magical world. It was as if I had never left. Yelaena and Valek felt like old friends and we were catching up after some time apart. And boy, what a catching up it was.

This book kicks off straight away and you're thrown into the thick of it from the word go. Yelaena is attacked whilst riding to meet with Valek for a romantic and well needed holiday together. An arrow shaft nicks her shoulder but all seems okay. Phew. But then Valek has to obey orders to return to the Commanders side (after a steamy night together!) and all hell breaks loose. Well, not as dramatic as that but Yelaena develops an extreme fever, changing from hot to cold and back again. Once she overcomes this fever, realisation hits her and smacks her full in the face; she has no magic. Her magic is GONE. She's left vulnerable and potentially weak without her magic, something she has depended on wholeheartedly over the years. And the story just flourishes from that point onward. Valek has to deal with assassination attempts, his job security and trust issues up in Ixia. He also has to deal with the Commanders orders to deal with a smuggling issue, enlisting Ari and Janco and two new characters, Onora and Gerick to sniff out the problem and unearth the smugglers. Meanwhile, Yelaena throws herself into finding answers for her blocked magic and it takes her on one hell of a journey where she meets old friends and comes face to face with old, revenge seeking foes.

I loved how easy it was to dive back in this world with this fantastic set of characters, its political intrigue and undertones of magic and danger. I devoured it in just a few days hungry for more Yelaena, Valek and their complicated but fascinating world. SHADOW STUDY was a fast paced, action packed extravaganza. A strong sense of adventure just permeated throughout. The complication - Yelaena losing her magic - was a genius idea that really added a layer of complexity and suspense to the story. The story flowed naturally and didn’t seem forced at all or as if Snyder was grasping at straws to create another story. No, it was an imaginative and compelling addition to the Study series that had a new, intriguing storyline with some magnificent character development and a spectacular world. Most importantly - SHADOW STUDY was FUN. It's full of humour. It doesn't forget to be light hearted and fun despite its dark and deadly tone.

I loved how the story kept me guessing. Seriously I'd be there making a cup of tea only to cry out "IT'S HER. SHE DID IT" or sit deep in thought trying to figure out the ins and outs of the story. SHADOW STUDY is all consuming, so entrancing and it had me hooked from the start. Now, lets talk about that ending. Talk about a cliffhanger. Those last few words just left me reeling. Having to wait until NEXT YEAR (!!!) for the second book is going to be agony. After finishing a thousand questions instantly popped into my mind; How will this effect things? What will Yelaena and Valek do? Will it have a good/bad impact on their relationship? So many questions and no answers for a year *SIGH*

I know they're fictional. I know they have magic. But the characters come across so REAL. Snyder is a pro when it comes to characerisation, creating realistic individuals that breathe life and soul into the story. They make it come alive with their fierce personalities and passionate natures. I'm so invested in their lives and stories, their problems and secrets. Every laugh, every cry I'm right there besides them experiencing it all. Yelaena and Valek are possibly my two favourite characters of hers (but then there's Avry and Kerrick from the Healer series - argh so hard to choose!) and to embark on another adventure with them was just amazing. The triple perspective was a great idea on Snyder's part. I LOVE Yelaena and her sassy voice, but to get inside Valek's head and bear witness to his thoughts and feelings was great AND then to also read from Janco's perceptive was an added treat.

Valek's chapters were so intriguing. We got to witness his past and how it's shaped and molded him into person that he is today. We get to see through his eyes the events that have made him the dangerous but fiercely loyal Valek, who killed the King and became the Commanders right hand man. We also get to witness the strong ties of his friendship with the Commander, held firm with loyalty and respect; a very, very important relationship in this book. Janco's chapters felt like the light relief of the story as his voice was undoubtedly cheery even in the deadliest of situations. I loved his strong relationship with Ari and their bickering just gave the story that comic relief it needed. Their scenes instantly dispersed any tension and instead filled the story with a light heartedness that was well appreciated. Also his interactions with Onora was hilarious as you see her struggle to contain her utter puzzlement and annoyance towards this sarcastic, cheeky guy. Onora herself was a complete mystery and a definite contender for the most fierce individual in the series (sorry Yelaena!) but I'm still unsure of where her loyalties lie. We got to see Yelaena more vulnerable in this book but it just made her even more determined to prove her worth and search even more fervently for answers. She's such a relatable protagonist and just like many of the characters, I've come to care for her dearly and I'm so excited for whatever is in store for her in the next book!

Ixia and Sitia feel like home. Diving back into this world was so easy and I instantly felt like I was there amongst the green leafy canopy of the forest, smelling the earthy scent of the trees and plants around me; feeling the warm glow of the fire whilst nestled in a chair, brandy in hand listening to the Commander and Valek talk politics; feeling a warm rush of air on horseback as the Avibian plains rushed by - everything was alive and tactile and magical. This world is so real and familiar to me despite being a fictional and fantastical place. That's how good Snyder's world-building and writing is. It's vivid and rich with detail allowing you to experience the world wholeheartedly for yourself. That's the magical part don't you think? Reading some words on pages and imagining such amazing worlds and places as if they were right in front of you. Maria V Snyder, I salute you.

So yeah this book is a strong 4.5* but there were one or two things that played on my mind. The story is engaging, full of intrigue and action but sometimes the fast paced narrative was just that - too fast paced. Don't get me wrong I love how the narrative sped along, taking me on this roller coaster ride but at times it felt like key points and revelations lacked some shock factor as they were thrown into the story without any real build up or suspense. Take the reveal of Yelaena's attacker. I nearly missed it. Seriously it was a real "SAY WHAT?" moment and I had to re-read the section to fully understand what was happening. I want an intense and suspense filled build up and a dramatic revelation that hits me out of nowhere. Although the revelation itself left me reeling. I didn't see that one coming I must say.

ANOTHER THING. Only after reading this did I realise that the Glass trilogy happened before this and it would have been a really good idea if I'd picked that up first. I didn't feel too lost and it isn't absolutely necessary to read it beforehand but I do think it would have helped me with some of the characters and situations to fully comprehend their stories and what was going on. Oh well, it's just an amazing excuse to read it from the beginning starting with the book that propelled me on this journey of magic and intrigue in the first place; Poison Study. A definite win on my part.

SHADOW STUDY was so much fun. Snyder has managed to create a satisfying addition to the previous series and I love the direction that this story has taken. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next book in the series although it seems like light-years away. This book had such an intoxicating and vivid world, a fantastic array of characters and a heart stopping plot. Just knowing that this book is the start of something new, a whole new series has me content for now. I'm so glad Snyder decided to continue on with these beloved characters and I can't wait to see what lies in wait for the characters in the next book. Definitely, definitely pick this book up. Fans of Throne of Glass and especially Poison Study will love this book and I 100% urge you all to give it a read. NOW. 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

I Was Here - Gayle Forman REVIEW

Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.

My Review of I WAS HERE: 

Wow. What a powerful read. Seriously, I WAS HERE was such a thought-provoking, heartfelt read that was bursting with depth and emotion. It deals with such a hard-hitting, subject in a moving and poignant way that really tugs on the heartstrings and messes all your emotions up inside. Reading this book my emotions ranged from sadness to anger to sympathy and disgust. Gayle Forman is the queen of writing books that are roller coaster rides of emotion and I WAS HERE was no exception. Once I'd got on that roller coaster I just didn't want to get off no matter how sad or outraged it made me. I was glued to its pages, like Cody, hungry for answers, the not knowing what truly happened eating away at me.

Gayle Forman writes about tough and painful subject matters in such a sensitive and realistic way. This book discusses what happens to those left behind after such tragic and distressing events. It shows how everyone deals with grief in different ways; how traumatic events can break a person or spur them on looking for answers, or in Cody's instance; revenge. It really emphasises the importance of living life to the full, of seizing the day and making the most of the time that is given you. It also discusses some rather poisonous and sinister things that really did make my blood boil. Reading about such things is one thing but the thought of such disgusting things existing is enough to make you sick with anger and worry. It also delves into the suffering of those with mental illnesses, painting a clear and powerful picture. It really made me think as a reader about the subject matter that I was reading about. Forman's language is just so full of depth and feeling that it's easy to get caught up in the story, in the emotional turmoil of it all. There was so much more to this story than just suicide. It of course dealt with loss and grief but also love, friendship and family; the importance of being connected to others, of forgiveness and understanding. The ending, in my opinion, was perfect. It was a fitting end to the story, uplifting and sweet and it provided closure to such a heart wrenching and suspense filled story.

Forman is an expert when it comes to characterisation. The characters in I WAS HERE are flawed and realistic dealing with real life issues, feeling a depth of real emotions. The sympathy that you feel for Meg's parents and Cody, her best friend is immense. Their world as they know it has become fragmented, shattering all around them. Cody is determined to piece those fragments back together, to find out why her best friend - the one person that she thought she knew even better than herself - chose to end her life - and why she didn't confide in her. She begins a journey of discovery; of discovering the truth, finding answers to why this happened and also a journey of self-discovery, of discovering that she's her own person, free to live her own life. Her growth throughout this book is superb. Throughout the story you're given a very realistic view of Cody's character. Her emotions are so raw, so real that you feel every inch of her pain, her suffocating guilt and her raging anger. She discovers an entire world that she wasn't a part of, a world where Meg had forged her own way into, leaving Cody behind. It shows that you don't really know a person all that well no matter how close you are. She's losther best friend in the world, her anchor and is now drifting through life without her. You feel Cody's guilt as it seeped through the pages, guilt at not being there for her friend during such a difficult time of her life. She's also angry, angry with herself, angry with Meg and angry with the world for carrying on without her best friend. Her guilt and anger leads her in a search for answers, a search for vengeance. She becomes consumed with Megs suicide and the events leading up to it, refusing to just forget, refusing to put it behind her. She's fuelled by determination and a touch of obsession. She digs deeper and deeper unearthing sinister and twisted things. This element of the story was so shocking and really added a layer of suspense and tension to the story.
Now the romance subplot didn't seem to irk me as it did some readers. Yes, it was undoubtedly a bit of a cliché, bad boy rocker falls for the innocent, naïve girl. It's been done a thousand times before but despite this I really enjoyed it. I thought it added a layer of romance and realism to a strained and sad story. This is Cody's story, detailing her life and her attempts at moving on and finding closure. I thought Cody and ben's blossoming relationship reflected this moving forward aspect, perfectly. I liked Ben's character. He seemed genuine; a bit of a bad boy but helpful and compassionate too. He offered Cody the perfect shoulder to cry on, a strong person for her to lean on. And vice versa. Cody and Ben helped one another grieve and move forward as the story progressed. Another relationship that I also enjoyed reading about was the one between Cody and her mother. It just developed so naturally and realistically as the story progressed. Seeing them come to understand one another and grow closer was just moving to read about.

So yes, I WAS HERE concerns suicide and mental illness in a rather graphic and realistic way but ultimately I felt that this book is about forgiveness, friendship, hope, family and love. That even though it's about the end of a life it's no doubt a life affirming story. That no matter what there is hope in the darkness, a light at the end of all bad things. It makes you want to scream "I WAS HERE" out into the universe, to put your mark on the world like Meg. If you want a book that packs an emotional punch with an added air of mystery and suspense then this is the book for you.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Winner's Crime - Marie Rutksoki REVIEW

 Book two of the dazzling Winner's Trilogy is a fight to the death as Kestrel risks betrayal of country for love.

The engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement…if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret.

As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

My Review of The Winner's Curse:
What an exquisite read. THE WINNER'S CRIME was everything I wanted and more. It was an absolutely stunning second instalment in this magnificent fantasy series that followed on from the THE WINNER'S CURSE. Rutkoski has definitely upped her game since the last book building on its fantastic foundations. The characters were superb, the world-building outstanding and the story fast paced and heart stopping. In this book Rutkoski has created an even more immersive world with dynamic characters and beautifully descriptive writing. From the first page I was engrossed back into the story, caught up in Kestrel's dilemmas, pining for Arin to make an appearance and eager to see what twists and turns awaited around each corner, on each page.

Rutkoski's writing is spellbinding. It had me transfixed. The writing blossomed from the first page, flowing effortlessly throughout, full of beautiful imaginative descriptions. It's a treat to read. Seriously, the writing is exquisite with the most intricately detailed narrative that is bursting with emotion and feeling. Mixed in with this beautiful narrative is also this immense tension. It was apparent from the start and just built and built in intensity as the story progressed to its dramatic climax. Reading it was such a nail biting experience as there's so much more at stake in this book; one wrong move, one bad thing said and all hell could break loose. The intensity is reflected in every little thing from the winding, narrow lanes of the city and the claustrophobic corridors of the palace. They hide secrets, danger, surprises and deception creating a story that really keeps you on the edge of your seat hungry for more. They also hold captive Kestrel, who is narrowed in, her wings clipped. Caged in by the palace walls, suffocated by the Emperor's grasp, she's a prisoner in all but name, with no room to fly free, no room for freedom. Throughout this book I was on tender hooks, sucked in by the suspense and intrigue. Every page was dripping in tension adding a layer of uncertainty and mystery. I flew through it turning each page in nervous anticipation of what dramatic thing would happen next. And that ending. Talk about a shocking and dramatic turn of events. It promises a new setting and exciting new story for the next book for sure.

I was drawn in by the books political intrigue, court politics and complex characters. The romance element seemed to take a back seat in this second installment; the narrative was sensual and rich with romance but other things came to the forefront and took centre stage. It was all about the politics, all about society, rebellion, unrest and tyranny. The social commentary in this book is simply outstanding. For a YA fantasy book the depth and complexity of the story is truly amazing as Rutkoski weaves important themes such as power, corruption, race, war and slavery with action, romance and drama. It makes for a captivating spectacle. THE WINNER'S CRIME raises important questions that although are set against the fantastical backdrop of this world, are still relevant today. Questions such as; Who decides that other races are inferior to others? Who decided that the rulers are in charge? What makes a good ruler, a good leader? It's deep and captivating and intriguing and it really creates this thought-provoking experience whilst reading.

THE WINNER'S CRIME has such a spectacular set of characters. In this book we find Kestrel engaged to the Emperor's son living her life amidst politics and drama in the city, away from her home, apart from Arin. She must make the best of a bad situation and is forced to make some pretty horrible decisions in order to survive in the court. Kestrel is portrayed as sometimes selfish, comfortable in her silks and rich plush surroundings but underneath all that she is also brave, intelligent and selfless. She does the very
thing she refuses to do in the first book. She wants to pave her own fate, neither marry nor be a soldier but confines herself to an unwanted engagement in order to save the lives of others - the life of Arin. It's so dramatic and romantic. Kestrel takes a stand for what she believes in and the beliefs of others, endangering her very life and freedom for the freedom of others. It's heroic really. She's so realistic and so believable and I love her for it. Yes, she's so crazily frustrating to read about at times especially when it came to Arin and her feelings for him. The total lack of communication between the two just made me want to bang their heads together and open their eyes wide to see what stands before them and admit their feelings for one other. Was it so much to ask?! Their relationship throughout this book just added to the tension filled narrative that emanated throughout. Every glance, every touch, every breath just made this book explode with sexual tension and sensuality, intense and captivating.

Now, Arin in this book is even more mysterious, even more dark and brooding than the last. Now the Governor of Herran, he must deal with the running of his homeland and the loss of Kestrel to the very empire that he hates. The seeds of discontent and discord are sown in this book and Arin is hellbent on revenge; freeing his country is simply not enough anymore. Herran is still ensnared in the Emperor's claws, suffering at his hands and bowing to his every demand, starving in their homeland while the Emperor lives in luxury. Arin is such an impassioned man, so strong in his beliefs that its hard not to get caught up in his rebellious and passionate cause. At the end I felt so much hatred towards the Emperor who is such an evil and calculated snake of a man that I was fully on Arin's side, ready to take up arms against him! The Emperor is so cold, so cruel, using others as playthings; he makes the perfect villain - someone that you love to hate. Rutkoski really has a talent for creating this diverse cast of characters that seem so familiar and realistic but also mysterious and foreign. Nobody in this book is fully good or bad (well perhaps the Emperor - he's one evil bastard) but 'grey' characters; they're all flawed but have good qualities too. They're all molded by their surroundings and their upbringing, forced to make harsh and difficult decisions in order to survive. It made the book an exciting and compelling read.

The worldbuilding is possibly my favourite thing about this book. Rutksoki has crafted such a spectacular world with a wide and varied cast of characters and settings depicting exotic, new places full of grandeur and opulence. It's rich with culture and history; it truly does paint a diverse and intriguing picture of this engrossing world and its inhabitants. The world is just so vivid and realistic but also so fantastical and tactile. It was if I could feel the soft fabric of Kestrel's silk dresses, the sharp agonising cut of a knife, smell the salty stormy seas and hear the faint tinkling tune of the piano keys. It was all so alive and intoxicating brought to life by Rutkoski's beautiful writing. This book promises exploration as we're introduced to new places; bustling, crowded cities and wild, untouched jungles. It sucked me in from the first page and the world was so engrossing, so fascinating that I didn't want to leave.

THE WINNER'S CRIME had me enchanted from the beginning. It's such a strong and breathtaking sequel and I can't wait to read what is in store for Kestrel and Arin in the next book. The stunning narrative, the tension, the strong characters and fascinating world makes this book an absolute delight to read. If you like complex characters, political intrigue and a strong protagonist you should definitely give this YA fantasy a chance. You definitely won't regret it.