REVIEW: King’s Warrior

King’s Warrior (Book 1 of Minstrel’s Song) by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

Writing one star reviews is a drag, but this isn’t even ‘so bad it’s good.’ It’s just a slog of a story. Any elements that might have potentially been interesting are lost in the mess. This should’ve been about a third of the length with a narrower scope. There’s simply too much description, and if you’re going to pack your story with that many words, you’ve got to earn them. Spoiler: this story doesn’t.

Kamarie is a princess, but she can go off riding without guards or assistants because she’s a badass. We’re also going to discuss a prince. There’s a lot of characters discussing other characters, which is never a good sign. It usually means that none of the characters have a life of their own, so everyone has to talk about each other in place of actual interests and character development. Kamarie’s emotions on Prince Elroy are confusing, too. He’s at war with her people, and she’s still mad that he’s not courting her?

Unfortunately, Kamarie isn’t a strong character. She has all of the trappings of one, but her emotional state is all over the place when she’s not having tedious conversations with the squire that accompanies her. Seriously, this story feels like none of the characters know anything, and I know introducing readers to an epic fantasy world can be confusing, but this isn’t the way to do it. This story needed to pick a freaking character because the end result is a mess between Kamarie (weirdly inconsistent, which makes her annoying), Yole (boring), and Brant, which is probably who the main character should’ve been, even if he is the more predictable of the three.

Yole is a bore, and we spend so much time with him. I skimmed that part because I didn’t care for him, and the first time we meet him, I thought Brant’s family was his family—a vanilla group of people to begin with. Brant’s family dies, and it would’ve been moving if Brant was the main character. In reality, the family gets fridged. The one good thing is that, what plot there is, doesn’t drag out the characters meeting up.

Not only are the characters weird and flat, but there’s nothing there to save the story from their boringness. The world building isn’t original enough to do it, or the parts that are better are buried beneath the same over-wrought pacing that plagues the characters. It doesn’t matter what the plot is at this point because who cares?

Notes:

  • Kill me with info dumpy prologues. It didn’t help set the world. Prologues are difficult, and even when they’re done well, I often find them a grind. The ones that work the best involve the main character in some way, and that connection has to be clear to the reader. Are there authors that break this? Yes, but it’s difficult to do and still have the story make sense.
  • Sending the princess across the land on her own mission. Check. I can’t believe that she’s the only one that could be spared. There’s so much weirdness about who Kamarie is that this doesn’t matter, either.
  • This book has a bit of Attack of The Fantasy Names syndrome.
  • Bloody hell, don’t tell me something is a mystery. When you have to say “Gee, isn’t that mysterious?” that means it’s not interesting enough to allow me, the reader, to ask that question to myself.
  • Quit telling me about the characters and make them believable.
  • Personal rant (and what convinced me this story wasn’t going to have a late book comeback): If you don’t know about cross country travel and you want to write it into your epic fantasy, run your story by someone who knows how outdoor travel works. This section made me want to scream but not with joy. Everyone uses maps or a compass, so Kamarie’s magic ‘know these woods skills’ wouldn’t freaking work. You get lost SO EASILY in the woods. Then, there’s this gem: “How did you learn about firewood?” I could find effing firewood in elementary school, yet she can’t tell upstream from downstream? Has she seen water? She rides horses! She’s had to have seen a freaking stream at some point. This character makes zero sense, and it’s clear she’s vastly under qualified for this mission. Sorry, I’m not suspending my disbelief that much.
  • So. Much. Asking. About. Things.

Ratings: 1 star

I skimmed my way to the end after a while because there’s too much in this story. There’s a lot of things wrong with it. Technically, the writing is fine, but there are inconsistent (or boring) characters, and while there is a plot, there’s nothing to lift this story out of poorly done tropes.

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Book Review: How To Date Dead Guys

How to Date Dead Guys by Ann M. Noser

How to Date Dead Guys is about Emma, a nerdy college girl who has problems fitting in because she’s always had a connection to spirits. When her crush drowns, Emma is over come with guilt, and she’ll do anything to get him back, including summoning him from beyond the grave. However, it’s not Mike that comes back, but Sam, a boy who killed himself the semester before. The story gets more complex, yet remains fun, as more people come back from the dead. Emma has to find a way to put them to rest while overcoming her own guilt over Mike’s death.

The call kidnaps Emma and Chrissy gives her a makeover. If you like Ghost World (the movie), you’ll love the tone and feel of this book. Early on, we meet a pioneer spirit girl and a chem TA who dropped in the river by the local college. The river becomes a major set piece in the novel, and it works unusual elements of horror into the story.

Let’s talk about Emma. She’s a complicated person, and she can often come off as an ice queen. However, you understand the emotional turmoil she deals with in her life, which humanizes her. Also, Emma is a biology and math major, which is comp bio, and it’s a great major. I personally related to Emma’s realization that she didn’t want to be a doctor, too. There’s so much humanness to Emma, and it pulls you into the story. This is necessary because the story lacked a solid villain, but the emotional conflicts between characters drove the plot well.

There are plenty of fun scenes in this story, which adds to the complexity of the world. Emma has 100% less fun than I did at house parties in college, where she meets her crush, Mike. The early part of this novel focuses on Emma and her relationship to her roommate, Chrissy, and a pair of brothers, Mike and Kevin. Mike is the guy whom Emma likes, and she attends his 21st birthday party, where Mike gets predictably shit-faced, and he wants to go for a swim in the river.

The story takes a turn for the dark here. Mike drowns in the river, kicking off the main plot of the novel. Through coincidence, Emma finds a grimoire, and her guilt drives her to attempt to bring Mike back to life. Emma becomes a de facto villain during this part of the story, and that’s kind of amazing.

Things don’t go as Emma planned, and Sam, the chem TA comes back from the river instead. There’s a murder mystery plot that begins to exist here, and Emma learns that loads of other people have drowned in this river. The book continues to veer into dark plot themes, and we find that Sam killed himself. Emma now has to help Sam deal with the baggage of his previous life with getting into med school, leaving his mom, and getting rejected by the girl he was obsessed with. Sam is a quintessential NiceGuy in some ways, but my strong dislike for automatically slotting ‘popular, pretty’ characters in as default villains vexed me. The characters are still strong, and we get introduced to Abby, a young woman who’s pregnant. I expected Abby’s baby daddy plot to factor into the story, and boy, does it ever, but the twist in that plot line is natural.

Sam is taken back to the river, and we get introduced to Jake next. Emma becomes a necromancer version of Touched By an Angel, and she has to help Jake with his personal struggles, too. The section with Jake starts weak, but it became my favorite part of the book. Jake and Emma’s relationship became a major emotional set piece, and it pays off by climaxing in a mid-book Christmas arc. (“It’s Christmas” will always get you drunker than you’d think.)

Setting anything around Christmas automatically makes it a hundred percent sadder, and the story hammers an emotional moment per page during this section. Jake visits his family, and the tension between Emma and Jake reaches a breaking point. Then, the magic yanks Jake away, and Mike returns, but not alone. Two other spirits return with Mike, and the remainder of the novel follows the same format of Emma unraveling their own pains and secret pasts. The story resolves most of its plot lines, and even though it’s the first in the series, the plots resolve themselves.

Random Notes:

  • Every guy who plays Frisbee is named Mike.
  • Some of get As and have belly rings. Just saying.
  • When your bf, here Chrissy, tells your crush how rich your family is, you need to find a new best friend.
  • The novels don’t mention abortion as an option when it totally is. This is my only real complaint with Abby’s story line is that this option is completely ignored. Maybe the author didn’t want to go there, but when a young woman doesn’t have a baby and getting rid of the baby isn’t seriously discussed, it’s an irksome oversight in plot to me. In this story, where every character has emotionally driven motives, Abby never considering abortion or at least objecting to it for an emotional reason stands out as a strange oversight.
  • The dead men shed an ectoplasm skin, which is a great piece of horror.
  • Emma, the NiceGuy apologetic, rears her head several times.
  • There’s an 80s movie prank montage! I’m a bit picky about Nostalgia because it usually says more about the author than the characters, but it works here.

Rating: 4 stars

The story had light-hearted dialogue, but it veers into dark territory. There’s a lot of emotional angst here, but the characters stay grounded. This is a great start to a unique paranormal YA fantasy.

Book Review: A Stolen Kiss

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A Stolen Kiss by Kelsey Keating

A Stolen Kiss

Derric is a stable boy whose sister, Sarah, is the lady in waiting to Princess Maria. Maria is under a curse, which she thinks can be broken by Prince Humphrey. However, curses are like contracts, and true love gets in the way, so Derric has to have is step mother, the evil sorceress, but the curse on Maria. There are a lot of good plot elements that should be in this story, but the characters are one-dimensional and the writing lacks the humor needed to carry off the story’s more interesting ideas.

The book starts as info-dumpy with characters wondering about their lives. There’s not enough world building and the characters do a lot of talking about each other without becoming fleshed out as characters. There’s nothing more tedious than characters talking about themselves without doing anything that shows they’re well-rounded people. They problem could’ve been avoided because there’s some tension buried deep in the story.

Derric’s mom is an evil sorceress, Gilda Harver, who provides some twists towards the end of the story, but this should’ve come earlier in the book because I just didn’t care by the end. Gilda shows up almost at the end, and there’s no tension because of this. There’s a lot of ‘point A’ to ‘point B’ without any real movement in the narrative. There’s a lot of ‘cryptic’ messages, but this is the problem with having the main plot rely too much on hidden backstory. It saps the novel of any tension it might’ve had.

This brings me to the world building, which is thin and hinders the character growth. The characters only talk about the plot because there’s nothing else they like and no other context to their world. There’s not enough world building in this story to make it an interesting MG tale, and a bit more development in both characters and ANY of their surroundings would’ve helped. There just keeps being more and more random characters added, and none of them stick with you.

Random Notes:

  • Too many riddles, too thin on details.
  • I wanted to love this book, but these characters are so thin. Very little they did made me care about them. Maria’s curse and Derric’s mother were interesting, but it was too little too late.
  • This story wants to be funny, but it’s not. It wants to be cute, but it’s not.
  • There shouldn’t literally be a list of ‘why’ questions you want your readers to think about.

Rating:

2 stars: This might work for MG readers, but if you’re a fantasy fan or fairy tale retelling junkie, skip this book.