Man, it’s good to be back. Y’all know I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus over the past month while I wrapped up some family events, lacrosse games, and health issues. Needless to say, I really missed Words Like Silver and the lovely books I haven’t had the chance to talk about yet.
I haven’t read as much this year as I normally do, but I’ve been pretty spot-on with reading books that I really liked. I read a lot of books in February/March that made me think, while others kept me on the edge of my seat with a strictly commercial, high-stakes edge. Without further ado, here are the books I’d love to gush about.
Novel: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton | Goodreads
Release Date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: Viking (Penguin)
She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.
Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.
This is my favorite book of the year so far. It’s very Arabian Nights, but it also reads like a Western: a strange, cool combination that had me reeling.
Something about its elements – wrapped up in a vivid voice and imagery – makes it stand out. I’m not quite sure which out of those is the most prevalent: the harsh desert setting, the proud and fiercely loyal protagonist who can wield her guns like nothing else, the heart-pounding romance, the crisp action.
First of all, the ground-up worldbuilding was remarkably crafted. You can pinpoint a lot of where she draws in inspiration from other cultures and stories, but it retains this fresh feel that’s entirely its own. There are religious holidays and festival nights that punctuate the narrative with these haunting, cinematic moments as well as small details that enhance each character’s individual arc.
This book made me re-obsessed with Arabian tales. I went through this phase when I was younger where I absolutely devoured all the Children of the Lamp books and even though this book isn’t straight up Aladdin, I still love that world. It’s definitely become a trend for 2016. This one is so vibrant that I can’t imagine it not making a splash among similar titles.
Secondly, the main character Amani is epic. I talk a lot about how I don’t like that girls who can use weapons are valued as “strong” more than girls who deal with their own inner conflicts but it’s still refreshing to see a girl as stubborn and badass as Amani. She was distinctive, both with her internal and external conflicts. She could shoot, yes, but she was also persuasive enough to talk her way out of her tangles with generals.
Alwyn Hamilton’s excellent pacing created a story that was distinctive, alluring, and colorful. I fell in love with the vivid characters and plot. This one comes highly recommended.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Novel: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh | Goodreads
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
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.
Okay, so I know I’m a little late on this bandwagon. Last year, when I went to BookExpo America, I remember hearing people gushing about it. Somehow, I just never picked it up. After reading Rebel of the Sands, I was on this insane Arabian Nights kick. I immediately headed to Barnes & Noble to get a similar title. While there are parallels in atmosphere and vibrancy, it’s an entirely different story. I can see how it could be confusing to some readers who don’t make it through (the names tripped me up a bit when characters were first introduced) but I really enjoyed it.
Shahrzad is a stunning, smart girl with a knack for trouble. Her wild loyalty and unwillingness to bend to the rules made her an expert at navigating the treachery within the palace. What’s more, I felt like I really related to the turmoil and emotional landscape that she went through over the course of the book. While focusing on plot, The Wrath and the Dawn doesn’t sacrifice the powerful complexity of each character and relationship. Renee Ahdieh is terribly talented at raising the stakes: catching her characters between two similarly-weighted choices with vastly different outcomes.
Although the story arc is most definitely enthralling, the best part was the romance. Oh my GOD. Why did nobody warn me? Shahrzad and Khalid were passionate in both their original hatred and the depth of their relationship as it turned more affectionate. There’s an electricity there, from both their circumstances and the facets of their personalities. They clash at times, but they also meaningfully connect on levels that made me root for them.
Meanwhile, the entire story is relayed through this gorgeous writing. I got so hungry reading Ahdieh’s descriptions of foods, and her imaginative detailings of both settings and personal traits left nothing to be desired. It felt like another world, truly, and it was really rewarding to see that handled so well.
It’s devastating and swoonworthy and tantalizing. The romance was spectacular; the plot was thrilling. I loved it.
The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye
Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.
And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.
Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?
For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.
And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.
As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.
This one takes the crown. (Sorry for the pun.) Sajda – one of my favorite bloggers – offered to let me borrow it, and I immediately took her up on the offer. I’m a sucker for any book that sounds like one of my favorites, The Night Circus, and I’m always curious to see how YA tackles the situation.
I was not disappointed. Within the first few pages, Skye plunges the reader into a heavy Russian atmosphere that still feels well-balanced. She immediately paints the picture of two characters, equally distinct and likable, who have a lot to lose. Upon the unfurling of the plot details, I appreciated the clever setup and the magnetic pull of each character within the narrative. Another aspect that I immediately loved was the delicate number of perspectives that Skye chose to write from, each illuminating a different aspect of the main conflict and subplots. Each person’s backstory is thoughtful and unique, without being overwhelming.
Y’all know that I’m an atmosphere person, so I was immediately sucked into the cinematic appeal of imperial Russia. Combine that with the escalating intricacy and exhilaration of each task? A book that immediately climbs to the ranks of those that have so dominated YA in the past few years: An Ember in the Ashes, Shadow and Bone, and Throne of Glass. There was a lot of lush, lavish plot appeal.
In conjunction with that, it could be incredibly subtle at times (which was often good, but sometimes admittedly a little disappointing.) While it builds on quite a few tropes, it doesn’t feel cheapened by scenes like a masquerade ball, or a complicated romance. The magical turns were smoothly executed and seemingly harmless – until the plot became suddenly more sinister. The plot was marvelously and masterfully handled.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this one. Sitting down to read it each time felt like an absolute treat. Warm descriptions coupled with riveting suspense? A contradictory romance? An absorbing depiction of imperial Russia, saturated in culture and old magic? YES. I can definitely see it appealing to so many readers I know, and I’m excited to talk about it.