Audiobook: Three Dark Crowns

threedarkcrownsby Kendare Blake
Read by: Amy Landon
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some off-screen sex, and lots and lots of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The premise of this one is weird and awesome: on the island of Fennbirn, every generation there is born a set of triplet queens. They are fostered out, according to their “powers”, and each one has an equal chance at becoming queen. The catch? The one who becomes queen has to kill her sisters.

Our queens are Arsinoe, a naturalist, said to have power over nature; Katharine, a poisoner, who can ingest the most lethal poisons and not die; and Mirabella, an elemental, who has control over the weather. Except, things aren’t always as they seem. And those who the queens have been fostered to have much more power than the queens.

It had a really slow start to it; there was a lot of exposition about the magic (which I didn’t mind) and the characters (I liked some better than others). There were a couple of love stories, and a love triangle (of sorts). (I kept rooting for one of the queens to be lesbian; I think one is, but not the one I suspected.) It took a long time to get going, and the only thing that kept me listening was the narrator, who was quite spellbinding. For one, there’s a lot of weird names of people and places in this, and it was nice to have someone else pronounce Arsinoe (ar-sin-oye) and Katharine (cat-er-eene), instead of trying to figure it out on my own. I think Blake tried to balance all three queens’ stories, but she ended up focusing more on Arsinoe more than others. (Or at least I felt she did.)

It wasn’t a stand-alone, as I had hoped. And I called one of the major twists fairly early on. But were a couple of things that surprised me, and I have hopes for the direction that the sequel should go (we’ll see). It wasn’t the best fantasy I’ve read, but it wasn’t bad either.

 

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Audiobook: The Library at Mount Char

by Scott Hawkins
Read by Hilary Huber
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: SO so SO violent. So VERY violent. And a LOT of swearing, including a big bucketful of f-bombs. You are forewarned. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

When the Random House rep came in to pitch this one, she started by saying “I have no idea how to ¬†describe this book.” And it’s true: it’s about a Library. And librarians, but not the way you think. It’s about the end of the world, but not in the way you think. In fact, any way I try to sum this one up it’s going to end with: but not in the way you think. Throughout this whole book, that was the one constant: it’s nothing like you expect.

When Carolyn was eight, her parents died in a tragic accident, and, along with 11 other children, she was adopted by a man they came to know as Father. Father was a librarian, the caretaker of a most unusual library, and Carolyn and her new siblings became his apprentices, each learning a catalog. It wasn’t an ordinary apprenticeship, either: David, who was in charge of war, learned all the ways of war and death known to man (and some not yet known). He became awful and violent and cruel. Margaret learned the ways of death and the underworld, dying multiple times. (Another one, Jennifer, learned the ways of healing and was tasked with bringing everyone back from the dead.) Carolyn’s catalog was all the languages known to man, both ancient and current, as well as ones not known. To be simplistic, it was an awful existence: Father was heartless and cruel in his punishments, and there was no mercy to be seen anywhere.

But now, Father has gone missing, the siblings have been kicked out of the library, and it’s up to them — well, Carolyn, since she speaks English best — to figure out where Father is.

This is, unfortunately, one of those books that the less you know, the better. Know that Steve — an American man that Carolyn ropes into helping — is the heart of the book. And Erwin — an ex-military Homeland security agent — is crass and awful, but good at heart. Know that the end is worth the rest of the book. And that it definitely gets worse before it gets better. And that “better” is relative.

I was talking to another bookseller about it (one who read an ARC months ago) about how this one is best when read in a group, almost: you need another person to be able to process what happens. So, it’d be a good one for book groups, if you can handle the dark.

A bit about the audio: Hilary Huber was FANTASTIC. Seriously. In many cases, her narration is what kept me reading. Especially since, in many ways, listening to this book is more difficult than reading it: you’re not able to skim the really horrible bits. But her voice, and the way she chose to narrate this book, was amazing. So much so, that I’m going to look for more books read by her.

I didn’t love this one, but I am really glad I listened to it. There’s a lot to think about.

An Ember in the Ashes

by Sabaa Tahir
First sentence: “My big brother reaches home in the dark hours before daown, when even ghosts take their rest.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s dark and it’s brutal. Seriously. More so than Hunger Games. And because of that, it’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Laia has grown up in a world where her people, the Scholars, are a captive people. Their great enemy, the Martials, conquered them and have shown no mercy. They imprison the Scholars, they rape the women, they torture and kill those that they catch. Laia’s parents were part of the resistance, and they were betrayed and killed, along with her older sister. She and her brother Darin lived with their grandparents, trying to fly under the radar of the Martials. Until one day, when they don’t. And the Masks come for them, kill her grandparents, take Darin. Laia barely gets away.

Elias has grown up at Blackcliff, the military school that trains the Martial Masks. An unwanted bastard son of Blackcliff’s Commander, he spent the years before he turned six with the Tribal people in the desert. Then the Augurs — the mystic, magical, immortal Martial prophets — came for him and thrust him into a kill-or-be-killed world. The only way he survived was because of Helene, his fellow student and best friend. Now, just as he was graduating and dreaming of freedom, the Augurs decide that it’s time for a new emperor, and pit Elias and Helene against each other and two other students in a bid to be emperor (or die).

I think the most logical comparison read for this book is Game of Thrones. This is brutal, unflinching, dark, violent, harsh… there’s magic, but it takes a back seat to the exploration of Martial culture. And yet, underneath all of that dark is a hope, a light. Elias, for all the terrible things he’s done (and that have been done to him), turned out to be a decent human being. Laia, even though she thinks of herself as weak, has a quiet strength and bravery to her that isn’t readily seen or valued. It’s a very human book, as well: the characters are complex and messy, there’s depth even to the most hateful of characters (Marcus and the Commander, I’m looking at you), that makes them understandable, even if they aren’t likable.

In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about this book was that there are many unresolved issues, and many unanswered questions at the end. Then again, if this is the quality of writing that Tahir gives us with her first book, I only have high hopes for where this story is going to go.