Book review: My Sister’s Reaper

My Sister’s Reaper (Reaper’s Rite #1) by Dorothy Dreyer

Goodread’s Review

Zadie’s sister Mara was hit by a bus and is in a coma, and Zadie is feeling guilty about chasing a boy, Gavin, while her sister is on the brink of death. Zadie’s guilt isn’t misplaced because she has magic powers, and she thinks she might be able to bring her sister back to life. The novel starts slow and gains traction, and the initial focus is on Zadie and her BFF, Naomi, who are both obsessed with getting a double date with the afore mentioned Gavin and his cute friend, Danny. But this story builds from Sweet Valley High to haunted house, and that’s where its strength is.

The action is more ghost story than slasher flick, which works well for the nebulous mythology woven around Vila and Reapers. The magic in this book works best when it’s left vague, and it feels like a cope out when the ‘control the four elements’ plot is added; that aspect of Zadie’s training feels like filler for something that should’ve been more interesting. The heist plot was also the most underwhelming heist scene I’ve ever read, too, and additionally felt like filler.

The highschool humor felt real, and this serves to elevate the characters above the difficult plot moments. I could see some of my high school friends reacting the way the characters did to many of the circumstances in the novel (even when the events themselves feel bland, the characters don’t). Zadie and Naomi have the most developed relationship in the novel, and I genuinely liked Naomi; Zadie’s character suffers a bit from having to shoulder the emotion burdens of the story, but I bet she’d be more fun in happier circumstances. Mara isn’t very well fleshed out (there’s a good reason for it), but I never got a solid idea of what Zadie and Mara’s relationship had previously been like before the accident. Zadie and Naomi felt more like sisters than Zadie and Mara did. It took longer for Gavin and Chase to feel real to me, but their characters get there.

The high school tropes abounded in this novel, too, and they worked for the sweet romance that developed between Gavin and Zadie; it’s a genuinely cute romance with all the hallmarks of first love done in a non-cliché way. However, I’m a little weary of the popular, alpha bitch character being used as the stock bad guy in every novel featuring a nerdy, plain girl as the protagonist. It just feels lazy to me, but maybe that experience of thinking of all popular/pretty girls as Plastics is something I never experienced so it doesn’t resonate with me. I understand that teens can be terrible to each other, but some of that bled into lazy characterization.

Dreyer’s writing voice is completely comfortable linking together the disparate parts of this novel, and that’s what ultimately saves it. The dialogue is sharp and authentic, and Zadie’s experience really captures the turmoil of juggling high school stress, relationships, and taking on a bigger role in life.

Random Thoughts:

  • Cation: this is an example of how you use science terms correctly in a paranormal fantasy novel. It’s a sharp insight, and I liked it.
  • The ugly floats thing rang true for me. Don’t pretend you didn’t paint/make some ugly floats or set pieces for a play in high school.
  • Is it ever a good idea to let your friend dye your hair?
  • I’m 90% sure I knew a Gavin in high school, and if Gavin said his favorite band was the Black Keys, I would have to email Dreyer and ask her if that’s a pen name because that characterization was uncanny.

Read if: You want a paranormal book that feels more like a ghost story that turns ordinary events like taking a bath, going to a slumber party, or building a float into a supernatural occurrence. If you’re sick of vampires, werewolves, demons, or other supernatural creatures, this could be the paranormal book for you.

Beware if: You want a mystery. There is no mystery to this plot, and I kept expecting one, but what you see is what you get in this novel.

Rating: 3 stars — loved the writing style, but didn’t connect with some of the characters and didn’t enjoy parts of the plot

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Review for The Fifth Vertex

Review of The Fifth Vertex by Kevin Hoffman

Goodreads Review

Urus is a young man living in the culture that values warriors above all else…and he’s about to be culled, turned into the biggest pariah in his society. If you want to know what the phrase ‘start where the action begins’ means, read the beginning of this book; Urus starts the novel ready to commit suicide because he considers himself worthless and a failure at the one goal he wanted his entire life (his uncle and best friend are elite warriors, so it does make sense from a personal angle that he’d want to join their ranks).

One of the initial things that drew me to this book is that Urus is deaf; this is used as a genuine character struggle for him in the story. I get annoyed at characters in fantasy that are given cheap struggles; writing organic struggles for a character is difficult, and Urus’s struggles feel very personal, very real. The other main character, Calix (she gets a second name that never ends up mattering) has a unique voice, but comes across as too generic of a spunky heroine (she’s orphaned, she’s a bit sassy, she’s a fighter). Goodwyn is the best-friend and skilled at a special style of fighting; he’s initially used as a foil of success to Urus’s failure, but the beauty of this story is that, like all worthwhile fantasy, it evolves beyond its initial premise. No character embodies is more than Goodwyn and his arc.

Urus, Calix, and Goodwyn each get their own personal backstory reveals, and what struck me was how surprising they were simply because the author didn’t foreshadow them too heavily. There’s so much going on in this novel that I did slip over the clues planted in the text, and the flashback scenes literally happen right before the moment when they’re important. The final part II reveal for Urus is something you might be able to guess because it comes late enough in the novel, but Goodwyn and Calix had two out-of-left-field reveals. Calix’s reveal isn’t particularly inventive (I did say I thought she was the regrettably weakest of the main POV characters), but Goodwyn’s deepens his character and is genuinely heartwarming.

This novel has loads of world building, but it manages the often difficult task of not feeling derivative. There’s a lot of repetition about Kestian culture I really could’ve done without; there’s a few ‘as you know, Bob…’ moments sprinkled throughout the novel as well, but you’re reading high fantasy. This is a genre that’s more about world building crack than any other, and if that’s your thing, this book is your jam. The Waldron, Kestian, and briene cultures are fully fleshed out, and there are characters who have different jobs and different goals, even within the same culture. Urus, after being made an out-sider to Kestian culture, goes from parroting its values, to questioning them, and finally rejects them. (Seriously, this is a well-done fantasy hero.) The last culture of island farmers introduced were a disappoint, though, because they felt like stock character Fantasy Peasants; they’re simple, they like to live humbly, they’re open to strangers…it was the least believable culture in the novel (and I’m including an extinct Atlantis style civilization in that category, too. Seriously, a culture you don’t even meet is more fleshed out than those peasants).

The fantasy elements are in-your-face; there’s no tip-toeing around the magic in this novel. There are sigilords who can draw sigils, a powerful and rare ability, but they’re all supposed to be dead. There are blood mages, which are the most exciting magic users in the story because they fully utilize their powers in all kinds of gory and surprising ways. The arbiters are the third, mysterious force in the novel, but the character that’s an arbiter is fairly easy to spot, and that reveal wasn’t surprising for me. There’s even some steampunk thrown in for fun because the briene are dwarf like engineers, and the Waldron people have their own special fighting style that’s enjoyable to imagine.

The end of the book did make me want to scream at the page, and if the ending had broken a certain way, I really wouldn’t have given this book 4 stars. Something happens that threatened to undo so much goodness that was present in the novel up until that point, but there’s a convenient loophole used that made everything work out in a satisfying way. This is a novel that grabs your attention and keeps the focus on the characters, even when it is bathing you in world building.

Random thoughts:

  • It’s initially a bit difficult to tell if Urus is deaf or not. I had to double check to make sure he was deaf at the *start* of the novel. Don’t let this throw you because he begins the novel deaf.
  • The blood mages use a lot of blood. Often, it’s Evil Dead level of gore, so just ignore how little of the human body is *actually* made up of blood. Just…pretend they puree the organs or something. I did love how disgusting their magic was, even if I didn’t find Calix herself incredibly interesting.
  • The world ‘quantum’ is used several times to explain the sigilord’s magic—I loathed every mention of it because the explanation doesn’t go any deeper than New Age word salad. The magic system could’ve easily stood on its own without using quantum as a prop.

Read if: You want something that harkens back to older fantasy, but one that doesn’t feel like a rehash of stale worlds. The world building is a delight, and it weaves in with who the characters are in a way that comes off as organic.

Beware if: Ye Olde English bothers you; the dialogue isn’t terrible, but it’s not the shining star of the novel (and the characters are developed well even with sub-par dialogue in some parts). None of the characters in this novel are there for character relief, either, and it’s a pretty heavy novel from beginning to end.

My rating: 4 for world building and a main character that was heroic while struggling and being genuinely flawed

Book review: Fade (Book 1 of the Ragnarok Prophesies)

Fade (The Ragnarok Prophesies) By A.K. Morgen

Goodreads review

Fade (The Ragnarök Prophesies, #1)

A struggling young woman searching for meaning in her life, a tragic family event, a mysterious man…this story starts off with all the paranormal fantasy hallmarks. The main character Arionna reminded me of Elena from the first season of the Vampire Diaries when she was introduced; this is not a bad thing. Remember how you used to care about Elena? Back in the day when she had agency and choices? Me, too. If you liked that version of Elena, Arionna is the protagonist for you. Arionna cares a lot about her dad and friends. That said, Arionna falls into the trope of lost-little paranormal heroine once and a while; the bonus is she doesn’t need constant saving, so that’s a thing.

On her first day at school, Arionna meets Dace, a mysterious man with something dark inside him. It’s not love at first sight—more accurately lust at first sight. This is not a meet-cute; this isn’t going to be a sweet romance filled with sighing and love notes. These two want each other in a physical way. The romance element picks up quickly, so there’s no will-they-won’t-they time wasted. (Hint: they definitely will, but there are some trust issues in the way.)

The murder mystery mid-book was a pleasant surprise; it takes the story in a slightly different direction than I was expecting it to go in. The side characters (the triplets, Mandy, Ronan) didn’t annoy me, but the death of a character gives weight to their characters. There’s also a genuine question about why that particular character was murdered, and that event kicks of the major mythology plot of the book, which is a modern weaving of the Norse end-of-days.

The mythology about the Berserkers is interesting, and it’s fresh enough that it works, continuing to build and build until the climax. I wasn’t super crazy about Dace being an Alpha, but the saving grace of this book’s mythos is that it doesn’t dwell on anything too long for it to get annoying. Instead, more layers of myth are revealed. The story is set in a world where mythology kitchen sink exists; as an urban fantasy fan, bring it (love this trope). I was a bit disappointed at the mythology drop about Gage; I wish the reveal would’ve been, well, cooler. However, the author saves the best myth reveal for the end of the novel with Ronan.

A personal pet peeve did crop up in this story for me, which kept me from loving it. The characters comment on how weird or special they are. It’s not just with one or two characters, but every single character is ‘an unusual girl’ or ‘attracts weird things.’ That put me into auto-pilot through a chunk of this story. If the character is special, I should be able to tell that without every conversation being about how unique said character is. Dace is a Berserker; Arionna has a connection to the Berserkers that doesn’t become clear until later in the novel. However, the reveals themselves are satisfying. Both of these things didn’t need to be dressed up by having the characters waste time telling each other how different and unique they were.

Random thoughts:

  • Parents hiring professional bartenders. That made me laugh out loud. Does that happen at small colleges in the US? As far as I know, that’s never been a thing.
  • A large number of shout-outs in the naming of characters (Dace, Michealsons, Edwards, Jacobs…you get the idea).

Read if: it’s romance you want. This is the major focus of the book. Also, if you like NA (contemporary) reimaginings of mythology, this is a go, but it’s a darker reimagining and is definitely an NA book when Dace and Arionna’s relationship progresses. This book also has some twists in the mythology reveals that give the romance element a larger meaning.

Beware if: you don’t like the general set-up of paranormal books. My warning about characters goes double here, I think.

Rating: 3.5 – the beginning of the book is closer to a 3, but the mythology reveals elevates the later half to a 4.