MadReviews

Hello, beloved internet, and welcome to my little blog. Here you will find reviews great and small on just a small fraction of the books that I read and things that I watch.

I am a “jack of all trades” and “master of none” kind of media enthusiast: if it grips me, I don’t care within what genre it resides. I will read or watch it.

You may also find some more academic pieces that I wrote at different points in my schooling and some that were written a little later. What can I say? I love talking about film/tv and books, so I use this small little corner of the internet to do so.

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Review: “Sky in the Deep” by Adrienne Young

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
Sky in the Deep 
by Adrienne Young (Goodreads Author)
4 stars out of 5


**Thank you so much to Wednesday Books for providing me a digital ARC of this novel for the purpose of review**

OND ELDR. Breathe Fire.
VEGR YFIR FJOR. Honour Above Life. 

I didn’t really know what to expect when I went into Sky in the Deep. I heard about it through book tube and all it really took to pique my interest was “lady viking warrior protagonist.” Yes, please; sign me up for that. Beyond that, I knew nothing about this novel going into it — I didn’t even know that it was a standalone and not book one of a trilogy.

I’m so relieved it’s a standalone. It’s refreshing in this time of series’ (that don’t often need to be series’) to find a book that tells a single narrative with a defined start and end in the span of only the one book; it’s wonderful to find an author who has a singular theme to explore and knows that she can do it within one novel. Does that mean this book is perfect? No. There’s certainly a need to suspend one’s disbelief a bit in some cases, especially in terms of how rapidly characters often undergo their emotional journeys, but it’s not so bad that I would dock this novel for it.

Eelyn is a fantastic protagonist. This is an angry young woman who channels a great deal of grief into vicious, well-trained wrath. She’s also resourceful and well-equipped to handle the violent world in which she lives — after all, we open on the start of the “fighting season” her clan fights regularly with a neighbouring, enemy clan. In the opening quarter of this novel alone, Eelyn suffers dislocations, broken bones, a need for stitches before popping said stitches, and who knows how many scrapes and bruises. Yet she carries on because this has always been her world, and her world is uncompromising and unforgiving.

Except…Eelyn is suddenly forced to learn the power of both compromise and forgiveness. She is forced to reexamine her long-held world views, as well as the world views of not only her family and clan, but the enemy clan they’ve spent lifetimes battling. Eelyn’s journey is partly physically, but predominantly emotional and ethical — her entire life ethos gets called into question when she realises that these two people’s who’ve spent so long fighting each other have more in common than they do in contrast.

Are there contrasts? Of course. Different tribes and clans and peoples will have nuances in the way that they, for example, honour their dead, celebrate a victory, worship their deities, etc. But ultimately there is a commonality: a spirit of humanity. We strive to live and love and eventually die; we want to see our people and our families grow up happy in a world that is safer for them than it was for us. Eelyn has to deal with all of this, all the while enduring a turbulence of emotions that I cannot fathom but that Young writes so damn well, that I was grinding my teeth for much of the novel because I felt everything that Eelyn felt. It was like I was there, feeling everything along with her — and an author who can write emotions as complicated and complex as Eelyn’s and do it was well as Young does, has my immediate attention.

Hell, I even got on board with the romance. To be fair, I am absolutely weak for anything that hints of the enemies-to-lovers trope, especially if I think it’s being done well, so I guess I was an easy mark for the eventual romance. But I think I appreciate more that the romance was alwayssecondary to everything else going on in the story. Sure, it crops up and certainly affects or informs some characters’ decisions, but it’s never the primary focus. This is always a book that is about more than a love story; instead, the love story is just a nice side-dish to a great feast of an adventurous, action-packed novel.

Review: “The Plastic Magician” by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
4 stars out of 5


**Thank you to 47North for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purpose of review**

I can’t really tell you the full circumstances of how I stumbled across Charlie N. Holmberg’s The Paper Magician — I don’t remember much more than some sort of Kindle promotion and being struck by the cover. I was able to get the ebook and the audiobook for a ridiculous value and away I went on a charming journey involving turn of the century London, paper magic, and loveable characters. The entirety of the original trilogy was such a delight that I always knew, if I was having a bad day or just needed a smile, I need only return to the world that Holmberg had created.

Which is why, when I heard that Holmberg was creating a sequel/spinoff series set in the same world, I practically squealed with delight. Here’s the thing about The Plastic Magician: it’s not always the most innovative storytelling, sometimes it’s downright predictable — but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because Holmberg has the unique ability to inject every sentence with charm. There’s a whimsy and a delight to every page, and you can feel how much Holmberg loves writing in this world. And who could blame her? I certainly wouldn’t mind being dropped into this world.

Alvie is a lovely protagonist, following beautifully in the footsteps of the original trilogy’s Ceony — she’s young, just graduated from school, and offered the chance to mentor under a master plastic magician. Not only that, she’s going to be mentored by her hero: Marion Praff. These two’s devotion to their craft and desire to create and learn is something with which any reader can identify, whether you’re a creative or a scientist. They both see the value in creating beauty and in creating function, because ultimately both have their merit, even if serving a different purpose.

Like any story in this universe, there’s some darkness — in this case we’ve got break-ins and thieves and jealous rivals that all create a rip-roaring adventure that left me smiling by the novel’s conclusion. I’m more than ready for even more books in this series and this world, because I’d rather not leave it if I don’t have to.

Review: “A Court of Frost and Starlight” by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
A Court of Frost and Starlight (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3.1) 
by Sarah J. Maas (Goodreads Author)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


You know, in many an anime there’s always the “beach episode”, where all the characters inevitably spend an entire episode wandering around a beach in their swimwear and, well, nothing really happens. There’s usually relationship or interpersonal drama, some character moments, et al — but on the whole, nothing really advances the story’s plot. The difference between a “beach episode” and this novella, is that at least a “beach episode” has the decency to be entertaining and fun.

This novella is utterly pointless. It reveals nothing new about these characters and is spent entirely in relationship angst, especially with two of the three Acheron sisters and their respective mates (blegh), that just adds nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s like taking twelve steps back from whatever progress was made in A Court of Wings and Ruin, especially as it pertains to Nesta and Cassian.

Oh yeah…and about the entire back half of this novella is spent in graphic sex. It’s just smut. Like, if that’s what floats your boat: great, you’ll probably enjoy yourself. I spent that entire portion skipping all the sex and, well, let me tell you I very easily breezed through about half of this novella and still didn’t enjoy myself with the other half that I did read.

All I got out of A Court of Frost and Starlight is a reminder of how much I really don’t need more in this series. Really, truly…I don’t.

Review: “Obsidio” by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman
Obsidio (The Illuminae Files, #3) 
by Amie Kaufman (Goodreads Author)Jay Kristoff (Goodreads Author)

5 stars out of 5
This review has been truncated due to the presence of spoilers. You can read the review in its entire, un-redacted format on Goodreads.

AIDAN was the secret protagonist of this series and you cannot convince me otherwise.

Well, guys, we finally made it. We survived — or, at least, that’s what we’ll tell ourselves. What a ride this trilogy has been — we’ve endured blitz attacks on illegal mining operations, deadly pathogens, psychotic AI who like to muse philosophically on life and death, organised crime, psychotropic slime, rebellions, romance, and really just a whole lot of death and violence. I don’t want to actually contemplate the body-count this series racked up, because that might be a little demoralising. [Would it really tho?]

Obsidio picks up beautifully from where Gemina left off, showing both the aftermath of the Jump Station Heimdall incident as well as what’s been happening back on Kerenza IV — the latter of which, I am now realising upon a re-read of the first novel, was actually referenced sneakily in one of the Unipedia articles as a “see more”/“read further” element. I should’ve known that Kristoff and Kaufman wouldn’t obliquely mention a “resistance effort” on Kerenza IV without realising that we would, of course, see that resistance eventually. After all, who doesn’t love a good resistance story?

What’s interesting about the resistance story of Kerenza IV, for me, isn’t actually the resistance itself: it’s watching the change in the character of Rhys Lindstrom. He’s the character who must undergo the clearest shift over the course of the novel, given that he starts “on the side” of the series villain, BeiTech Industries. It doesn’t hurt that Rhys clearly possesses a moral compass and easily recognises, as well as calls out, the atrocities that his fellow “pounders” commit on Kerenza IV in the name of “direct orders” and “just doing their job.” It’s not hard to see parallels to, say, WWII in these portions of the novel.

And yet even more than Rhys Lindstrom, the small, yet significant change in the character of Oshiro, Lindstrom’s superior and sort-of-mentor, is the thematic backbone of the entire Kerenza IV portion. The resistance is morally in the right, and so Asha Grant doesn’t need to evolve or develop; Rhys pretty easily sees and fights against what is clearly (not even esoterically) wrong in what he is being told to do; and so it is up to somebody deeply entrenched within the BeiTech system to make the change. Oshiro is the perfect candidate, given that her father believed so emphatically in the idea that “a soldier is loyal to his conscience” above all else. As everything escalates and all hell breaks loose on Kerenza IV, it’s that idea which finally comes to the forefront, and it was something I actively rooted for, especially with Oshiro.

But let’s talk about AIDAN. We need to talk about AIDAN. Not only is it the maybe-not-so-secret protagonist of this series, but it undergoes the most significant development not only over the course of the entire trilogy, but Obsidio. I have to keep reminding myself to refer to AIDAN as “it” and not “he” — a habit I picked up from Illuminae due to linking its infamous “Am I not merciful?” line in my head to the similar line in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator — which is perhaps one of the most important things to always remember about AIDAN…it is not human. AIDAN’s logic would (and frequently does) appall humans because we are wired for empathy, whereas it is not. It is wired with a kind of twisted Spock-logic: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one,” which is how it so easily makes the decision to kill (read: murder) thousands of people.

AIDAN, however, does have some flaws — what frequently read as “errors” in its communication. And these errors are what add further dimension and depth to what could have been an easy HAL 3000 situation.

On the whole, Obsidio is a satisfying conclusion to what has been a phenomenally entertaining trilogy. Sure there’s a lot of “you are the one” true love confessions which make me roll my eyes a little, but it does tend to play well into the high drama of the series about 90% of the time, so it’s really only a small 10% of it that reminds me we’re absolutely in the land of YA fiction. And that’s a very small price to pay for the amount of fun and feel Is got from this series. It’s got everything that you want in a sci-fi adventure, and created what will remain, for me, one of the best and most iconic characters in AIDAN.

So…is Andromeda Cycle out yet?

Review: “A Book of Spirits and Thieves” by Morgan Rhodes

A Book of Spirits and Thieves by Morgan Rhodes
3 stars out of 5

This hovers somewhere between a 2.75 and a 3, but I’m feeling generous and bumping it up in my rounding.

What a disappointment. I really like Rhodes’ Falling Kingdoms series, and the promise of a spin-off tale set both in Mytica and in our own world was certainly tantalizing. Unfortunately, while there are sparkles of potentially good and interesting things in this novel, it doesn’t live up to what it could be.

The elements in Mytica range from dull to gag-worthy — especially when we throw in that oh so great instalove (do we feel my eye-roll?) — and the events in modern-day Toronto, while certainly more interesting, lead to very little.

Overall, it took a lot of effort to read this book, and I felt like I didn’t get much back in return.

 

Review: “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

5 stars out of 5

This review has been truncated due to spoilers. You can read the review in its entirety over on Goodreads.

“Nice things don’t happen in storybooks,” Taryn says. “Or when they do happen, something bad happens next. Because otherwise the story would be boring, and no one would read it.”

But, Mad, you say: I thought you didn’t like faeries?

Oh, fear not: I don’t — not really. As I say in many a review: it’s not so much a dislike as a general…annoyance. Usually it’s nothing more than apathy. We all have our things that we get excited for, and faeries/the fae/the Fair Folk just aren’t that for me. Unfortunately for me, they’re really in vogue right now, so it seems that everywhere I look I see faeries and goblins and elves and whatever else you can imagine.

Yet there are exceptions to every rule, and Holly Black is one of the few authors who 100% breaks my general rule of “I just don’t give a toss about faeries.” Holly Black, you see, tends to write fiction I enjoy. She gives me dark, twisty tales that do not shy away from violence and cruelty where necessary.

And cruel this world is — cruel, scheming, dangerous, and yet still magical in its most twisted, terrible way. Not a single character can be trusted, for no character is as they seem. Also, I mean, one should never trust faeries, especially not if they’re appearing in a Holly Black story, because you’re just begging for tragedy. So I tried — I really tried to keep every non-human character at arm’s length. I tried to not get attached…I failed.

I want to win. I do not yearn to be their equal. In my heart, I yearn to best them.

Our protagonist, Jude, is the type of protagonist I love: she’s violent and angry; she’s highly protective of her sisters, but also has a complicated relationship with them; she’s brave and terrified. She is a character with greater ambitions than I think she dares to admit even to herself. While her character does not necessarily change dramatically over the course of the novel, she does still change. It is small, incremental change, which excites me for the rest of the series, and I hope this means we’ll see a consistent incremental change in Jude over the course of the next two books. Because I likeher. I like her a lot. And I especially like that her interpersonal relationships are all very, very complicated.

For example, her relationship with Madoc. Here is the faerie that, in the very opening of the novel, murdered her parents before her very eyes, and yet then took her in to raise her in Faerie as point of honour. Yet, at the same time, one cannot help but feel that he genuinely cares for Jude and her twin sister Taryn. Vivi may be his blood, but Jude and Taryn are not, yet I swear to the gods, their relationship was very much like that a father and daughter and seemed like it had something like affection, perhaps even love, in there. And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t leave me conflicted — hell, it leaves Jude conflicted. She has long-since repressed such conflicts within her, and yet over the course of the novel, she must confront such conflicts within herself more and more. And her every-developing, ever-shifting relationship with Madoc was one that I found incredibly compelling.

“I am your elder sister,” she says. “You don’t need to protect me from my own decisions.”

Really, all of the family dynamics and family relationships were compelling and fantastic — and one of the great highlights of this novel is the strong, yet complicated relationships between the three sisters. Vivi, Jude, and Taryn are all incredibly different from each other, and no matter how much they may fight (with swords drawn!) and argue and disagree, there is no question about whether or not they love each other. Holy hell, I loved the family dynamics of this story, especially between the sisters, because I loved seeing their differences, and yet how not a single one of them thought themselves better than the others. They were just different, had different interests and attitudes towards the faeries.

Almost every relationship Jude has outside of her family is some form of an antagonistic one, and the one that is the most antagonistic is her relationship with the titular “Cruel Prince”, Cardan. Oh man is this kiddo an absolute asshole. I mean, to be fair, almost every faerie is some form of an asshole — which makes total sense, given they are not human and operate by an entirely different set of rules — and while he is certainly a grade-A asshole…Cardan is definitely not the worst person in Faerie. Somehow, he is not the worst. And if that doesn’t give you a clue as to how incredibly dangerous the fae are, I don’t know what will.

The story of The Cruel Prince is full of schemings and betrayals. I’m sure there’ll be more than one part that surprises readers — I’ll say that Holly Black even managed to get me at least once, but the rest of it I managed to figure out pretty well. Black certainly doesn’t telegraph her plot as many other authors do, but she leaves just enough hints and breadcrumbs to lead you to whatever twisty conclusion she has concocted.

I never thought I’d find someone who writes the fae in a way that would engross, entertain, and enthrall me. I guess I just like my faeries with a helluva lot of darkness, cruelty, and violence.

There’s always something left to lose.

Review: “All The Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
All the Crooked Saints 
by Maggie Stiefvater (Goodreads Author)

5 stars out of 5

Guys. I’m…I’m honestly pretty shook right now, and I really have to resist the urge to just make this entire review a series of quotes from the book, because I swear Maggie Stiefvater is some kind of witch who sees into my soul and into my life and is able to make things FAR. TOO. REAL.

If you have never had a miracle performed on you, you cannot quite imagine what it feels like to have your invisible darkness suddenly given flesh.

All The Crooked Saints is probably Maggie Stiefvater’s most daring book to date, especially when it comes to narrative structure. The entirety of this novel is written in a third person omniscient voice, and that is not something that is easy to read for many a person — I’ve seen a handful of reviews note how it made the novel more difficult to get through. I, personally, did not struggle with the narrative structure, though I certainly was intrigued by it; it’s not something Stiefvater has ever attempted before, and certainly not with this style.

Saints is written in the style of a myth or a fable; it’s wandering and meandering and takes its time in slow unfurling its story. But I don’t mind, not in the slightest: I don’t expect a myth to rapid-fire me with its story. I expect it to wander the desert, to slowly tell me everything about all the characters, regardless of whether or not they’ll play a major role in the main story, and I expect the main story to not be nearly as important as all the things occurring to all the characters.

The intention of every Soria miracle was the same: to heal the mind.

Characters and atmosphere are where Stiefvater truly shines as a writer, and All The Crooked Saints is no exception. There is a vast cast of characters, ranging from terribly minor to overwhelmingly vital, and yet I’d wager just about any reader could find a character that represents some kind of dark mirror of themselves. As with myths, the characters are not often characters so much as personifications of abstract concepts — again, I want to repeat that I don’t mind this at all. I actually revelled in it. I loved the idea that these were very much people, but also they were also representations of things that any person can struggle with every day, except that their first “miracle” has made such anxieties and troubles flesh.

My personal favourites were, without question, Beatriz, Pete, Tony, and Joaquin. I suppose this isn’t all that surprising as at least three of those four jockey for the most page-time within the novel — but I still loved them. From the girl who claims to be “without emotions”, to the complete outsider that’s loved by the desert who doesn’t need or want a miracle, to the DJ who fears people looking at him while he eats, and finally to the aspiring DJ who manages to inadvertently foster change (for the better) in his family and their set-up. I fell in love with these four the most, and eagerly followed Stiefvater’s winding road which she concocted for them, as well as the rest of the Saints and Pilgrims along the way.

She didn’t realise that she was being torn to shreds inside.

But as I mentioned: Stiefvater is some kind of witch who has the power to peer into my darkest soul and the walls of my family home to reflect it all back at me. I cannot tell you how many times one particular subplot of this weaving narrative left me choked up and forced me to (however briefly) stop my reading to gather myself. And it all goes back to the Soria family, specifically, how Beatriz deals with the fraught emotions between her parents, Francisco and Antonia.

As someone who, along with my siblings, long-ago became the collateral damage of forever simmering household tensions, the entirety of that storyline hit me hard. It didn’t hit me in a way where suddenly I understood what was going on in my own world, but in the way where it was like somebody else had somehow walked into my life, observed it, and then reported back, while also perfectly articulating the complicated relationships and emotions that exist between spouses and between parents and children.

Beatriz deals with her world by closing herself to it; she does not acknowledge emotion to anyone for fear of seeing it destroyed, and she has done this for so long that she now believes herself as being without feelings — that she can never get upset. And what, for me, was also hardest to read, was not only how this very clearly, as Stiefvater noted, tore her to shreds inside, but also how Beatriz felt she could not speak to both of her parents about this. She could speak with one…but not both.

“Do you still love Mama?” She asked. This was a longer sentence in their language than it was in English or Spanish, as Francisco and Beatriz had developed several phrases to indicate all of the different forms of love they had identified in their study of humankind. The musical phrase that Beatriz used roughly translated to need of the sort that can only be fulfilled by one thing.…”I’m not asking if you will move back in with Mama. I just want to understand why it doesn’t work.”

“Have you asked your mother this same question?”

“No.”

“Would you?”

She imagined this scenario. Antonia, angry, and Beatriz, merely puzzled, both of these expressions feeding the other. It was exactly the kind of conversation that Beatriz spent much time avoiding.

“No.”

“That is why it doesn’t work,” he said.

I don’t think anybody can truly comprehend just how muchthis scene, in particular, left me weeping internally. Just internally, mind, ‘cause I was on my lunch break, and the last thing I need is to suddenly start weeping at work. I’ve done that before, and it’s not the most dignified thing to be caught doing. I may have culled the quote a great deal, but I think anyone who’s endured tensions between parents understands what Steifvater gets at in this scene, and in this subplot as a whole. It’s raw, truthful, heartbreaking, and yet also filled with the hope all children hold within their hearts when it comes to their parents.

Of course this was not the only plot line that left me choked up because, frankly, the entirety of the novel did that. I found myself wandering the desert that Stiefvater had dropped me into, with only her story, like my own owl, to guide me.

His journey before now had felt like a dream, and a dream can always be changed into something else. But when you are awake, the truth is bright and stark, not as willing to bend to the mind’s will.

By the end of this book, it took everything within me to not just fall to my knees and start praising some sort of God because GODDAMN…this book took me on a journey. It really was something like a religious experience — or, at least, about as close to one as I think I’ll ever get. Stiefvater took a big swing for the fences with this book and, for me, she just blew it well out of the park. This is a modern myth in the best sense of that phrase, and this book has now well-earned its spot as probably my second-favourite Stiefvater book, and that’s just behind The Scorpio Races, so I mean…tough competition to go up against.

Just…well done. Well. Done.

We almost always can point to that hundredth blow, but we don’t always mark the ninety-nine other things that happen before we can change.