Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Mini-Reviews: The Wrath and the Dawn, The Queen of the Tearling & PS I Still Love You

The Wrath and the Dawn, Renee Ahdieh
404|Putnam|12th May 2015

One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

Renee Ahdieh’s debut is the second retelling of A Thousand and One Nights I've read this year and definitely my favourite of the two.

I listened to the audiobook version of The Wrath and the Dawn and within only a few minutes I was completely drawn in. Ahdieh’s writing is beyond beautiful. Her prose is lush, poetic and so incredibly rich that I was hanging off of every word. The descriptions of the setting, the clothes, the food, Shahrzad’s conflicting emotions – everything is so beautifully evoked. I think the narrator of the audiobook was in awe and savouring everything too as I had to speed it up to x1.5 as she was speaking so slowly!

Though I've never actually read the original story (I really must rectify that!) I do know it, and I was really intrigued by the take Ahdieh took on it. I’m not going to spoil anything at all, but it made the romance believable and gave Khalid a personality behind his actions as well as a pointy of sympathy. It was really well done and allowed the novel to extend beyond just the original tale. I also really loved that The Wrath and the Dawn took place in an Ancient Greek/Mesopotamian setting (it’s never said outright, but that’s what I gleaned from the context), mostly because I'm a sucker for ancient settings and mythologies!

I thoroughly enjoyed The Wrath and the Dawn and I already have the sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, on pre-order after that rather dramatic ending!

The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen
512|Bantam|16th July 2015

Kelsea Glynn in the sole heir to the throne of Tearling but has been raised in secret after her mother – a monarch as vain as she was foolish – was murdered for ruining her kingdom. For 18 years, the Tearling has been ruled by Kelsea’s uncle in the role of Regent however he is but the debauched puppet of the Red Queen, the sorceress tyrant of neighbouring realm of Mortmesme. On Kelsea’s nineteenth birthday, the tattered remains of her mother’s guard – each pledged to defend the queen to the death – arrive to bring this most un-regal woman out of hiding…

And so begins her journey back to her kingdom’s heart, to claim the throne, win the heart of her people, overturn her mother’s legacy and redeem the Tearling from the forces of corruption and dark magic that are threatening to destroy it. But Kelsea’s story is not just about her learning the true nature of her inheritance – it’s about a heroine who must learn to acknowledge and live with the realities of coming of age in all its insecurities and attractions, alongside the ethical dilemmas of ruling justly and fairly while simply trying to stay alive…

I was a little wary of The Queen of the Tearling for several reasons: 1) It’s really quite chunky, 2) I’d heard it’s very political, but even with a dodgy audiobook narrator, I ended up really enjoying it.

Considering the political nature of the story was something I was most hesitant about, it turned out to be one of my favourite elements of the novel. YA fantasy is usually heavily involved in defeating an antagonist, an all-encompassing romance and lots of epic battles, but there’s very little of all of those things in The Queen of the Tearling. Kelsea has been in hiding for 18 years and is the heir to a kingdom she knows very little about. When she is crowned she learns of how her mother ruled the Tear, hidden from her by her foster parents, and the reign her uncle, the Regent has held it in her stead.

Kelsea suddenly has to reconcile everything she's learned with the reality, as well as the evil Red Queen from the kingdom over from the Tear whose cruel treaty is the only thing preventing an invasion; the pushy, domineering church; the nobles used to the special treatment from the lazy, indulgent Regent and the poor treatment of her people. She had a lot to navigate and tackle, all while protecting herself from assassination. And yet I loved the thread of humour that ran through the novel, particularly when Kelsea conversed with Mace and Fetch.

Kelsea is so badass. She's unusual for a YA queen: she’s not traditionally beautifully, she likes to eat, she's not a good fighter and she is instantly fierce and fair. I love her. She never once sacrificed her morals or beliefs, but still did right by her people and I liked that she demonstrated strength in a non-physical way. Strong female heroines in YA have recently become synonymous with a girl who can hold her own in a fight or someone who can defeat a fearsome enemy, but Kelsea demonstrates the strength of heart and mind that I truly admire.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling and I’m really looking forward to diving into book two, The Invasion of the Tearling very soon.

P.S. I Still Love You, Jenny Han
337|S&S US|26th May 2015

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

They were just pretending. Until they weren’t. And now Lara Jean has to learn what it’s like to be in a real relationship and not just a make-believe one.

But when another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him suddenly return too.

Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean is about to find out that falling in love is the easy part.

I really loved To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before last year so I have no idea why it took me so long to get to PS I Still Love You!

The second (and hopefully not last) instalment of Lara Jean’s adventures was a lot more focused on the boys compared to To All the Boys… strangely. Particularly, Lara Jean’s relationship with Peter. I was a little war of Peter in book one – I could never quite decide if I liked him or not – and I ended up preferring Josh, even though he’s Lara Jean’s big sister’s ex-boyfriend. And my feelings to that effect only got stronger in PS I Still Love You. He's very sweet to Lara Jean and I enjoyed their teasing and banter, but I was so excited when John Ambrose McClaren came onto the scene.

John was the only recipient of Lara Jean’s love letters to not get in touch with her, but we finally get to meet him properly here. I fell head over heels in love with John Ambrose McClaren and I was firmly Team John. I loved the way he remembered snippets about Lara Jean, helped her out at Belleview and just, ugh, everything. Their scenes together gave me warm fuzzies and I often found myself grinning like a loon because of the cute.

Aside from the boys, the relationship between the Song sisters is another huge part of PS I Still Love You. Kitty got lots of the limelight in this book and I really do love her. To be fair, I'd murder her if she were my sister – I do not have Lara Jean’s patience – but she’s is brilliantly funny. It really became apparent how much she has been brought up by her sisters as well as their dad and I loved that. The support, love and friendship between Lara Jean, Margot and Kitty is something I can only aspire to create with my two sisters. So lovely!

I'm not going to give any details of the plot, but Jenny Han tackled slut-shaming, consent and double standards perfectly when a video was posted online. The negative role of social media and the internet was enforced and the risk which that carries; once something’s online, it’s never completely gone. It was a scary thought for the victim of this bullying and the way they were treated afterwards was awful, especially in comparison to the reaction to boy involved received. Every way in which this was wrong and harmful was illustrated with strength and confidence and I'm so glad. It's not often this sort of situation shows up outside of a gritty, dark, ‘issues’ novel and it should be. In our technological world, you never know who’s filming you, taking pictures, live-tweeting, tagging you on Facebook etc, and people need to know that’s it not okay.

PS I Still Love You is sweet, funny and charming with the emotional resonance I've come to expect from Jenny Han. I wasn’t too happy with the conclusion of Lara Jean’s relationships so I’ desperately hoping for a book three.


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