Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross

Title: The Beast's Heart
Author: Leife Shallcross
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: N/A

Paperback, 416 Pages
Publication: February 12, 2019 by Berkley

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.

My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.

And now I might lose her forever.
Beauty and The Beast is one of the most beloved and well-known fairy tale in the world. Many people have drawn inspiration from the story; having it adapted, retold or re-imagined time and time again over the years. But one thing that has never change was the point of view. It has always been from the female perspective, from Belle (Isabeau)'s point-of-view. Until now. Shallcross gives readers an intimate and in-depth look inside the Beast’s mind; where we will finally see what he thought of his curse and his initial impression of Isabeau.

I was excited when I found out The Beast’s Heart was a Beauty and The Beast re-imagining from the Beast’s perspective. I’ve always wondered when someone was going to get around to writing one and lo’ and behold Shallcross delivered. But the excitement isn’t without some trepidation. My only concern and hope was that we didn’t get a repeat of the captive scenario again. That part of the original story has always rubbed me the wrong way and I hoped any and all future retelling would address it differently. Many did not, but Shallcross did. Isabeau ended up at the Beast’s castle in pretty much the same way as she always has, which was in replacement for her father. However, she remains a “guest” at the Beast’s castle of her own free-will. The Beast clearly gives Isabeau a choice to leave once she met him or stay with him for the duration of a year to keep him company. Isabeau seeing how sad and lonely the Beast was agrees to stay for the year.

If you’re expecting a Disney version of Beauty and The Beast then you’re going to be sorely disappointed. But if it’s a complete new and fresh take on the story that you want, then you’ve found it. Not only are readers getting a new perspective on the fairy tale but Shallcross expanded on both Beast and Isabeau’s backstory including more characters and added her own spin on the magic and curse. In the original and various retelling, there were two to three characters at most. In The Beast’s Heart readers will meet Isabeau’s father and two sisters and various people that come into the sisters’ lives. The story jumps back and forth between what occurs at the castle with Beast and Isabeau and back at the cottage with Isabeau’s family as they adjust to life without Isabeau.

There was no villain in The Beast’s Heart, not like Gaston in the Disney version and not unless you consider the Fairy that cursed the Beast as a baddie. Instead the story focused on the characters’ relationships over the duration of a year. Readers watched as each character grew, developed and reacted to the changes and obstacles thrown their way. While I normally like action in my story, I also appreciated the character driven approach that Shallcross took. There was never a detail too small or insignificant that Shallcross didn’t add. Some may enjoy reading about the sisters’ mundane tasks like learning a new recipe or finding a potential suitors but those that crave more excitement will likely be bored as the story continues in a monotonic tone till the very end. I am in the former category.

All in all, The Beast’s Heart was quite enjoyable and better than I expected. The pacing was without a doubt slow and I often found myself putting the book down but even then, I kept thinking about the characters and was eager to find out what happened next. The story held my interest from beginning to end, when I did and didn’t read, which doesn’t happen often. I think true Beauty and the Beast and fairy tale fans will love this new take on the classic. Overall, The Beast’s Heart was a solid debut and a re-imagining worth reading. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: The Folk of Air # 1

Hardcover, 370 Pages
Publication: January 2, 2018 by Little Brown BFYR

Source: Personal library.


Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

The hype surrounding The Cruel Prince was and still is pretty extraordinary. Everywhere I looked someone was mentioning The Cruel Prince in some capacity. Whether it was through a review, about the characters, about the author or their overall love for the series. The reviews had the same sentiment with glowing five stars. With this much love, I thought it has to be good! To my surprise, I didn’t fall in love with this book like everyone else and found myself in the minority.

Unpopular opinion incoming. Boy, was this novel problematic. I’m going to start with the title. With a title such as ‘The Cruel Prince’, one would assume that The Cruel Prince (Cardan) would mean the story was centered around the prince or the prince would at least play a significant role in the book. However, there was neither. The novel is actually narrated by Jude, a human girl who was taken to Faerie at the age of seven and raised among the gentry as if she was a fair folk princess. At this point, I had a feeling it wasn't going to bode well when I realized how misleading the title was. 

Then we had the heroine Jude. Oh how I hated Jude. Jude despised the fair folk and yet she desperately wanted to be one of them. Hypocrite much? She often mentioned how cruel and selfish the gentry were but she literally did everything in her power to be just like them or crueler…believing it made her better than them. It’s not an admirable trait nor something to aspire to.  Jude had a shitty personality to begin with but it got worst when she joined a secret organization and became a spy for a powerful fair folk. All the secrets went straight to her head. She went around threatening people and went as far as murdering a fair folk because she thought she was untouchable (she claimed self-defense but let’s get real she wanted to kill him). She never felt remorse for her actions and had little to no care for the consequences (and of course it helped that she hid all the proof). Many readers saw Jude as a strong, kick-ass heroine and her actions as self empowering. But she was not. Jude was nothing more than a disgusting and despicable human being. How anyone can like her is a mystery to me.

Before I read The Cruel Prince, I saw people ‘shipping’ Jude and Cardan. Readers normally ‘shipped’ couples they loved, so again, I assumed Cardan and Jude were a couple. And big shocker, they were never a couple! From the moment the two characters met, all I felt was the loathing, animosity and frustration between the two. Every exchange and interaction thereafter between Jude and Cardan resulted in either the characters insulting one another or physically attacking one another. I was baffled. Why would readers approve of this? In an early scene, Cardan shoved Jude against a wall/or tree and proceeded to choke her and tell her how beneath him she was. The male character was literally emotionally and physically abusive to the female character and yet readers found this behavior acceptable…and I dare say, romantic? It’s not cute or romantic. It’s sick, revolting and unacceptable. It may be a fantasy novel and everything was fake but when real people start romanticizing it, there’s definitively a problem. And the book is marketed to teens no less. I love a good fantasy novel, I even love faeries but this book is not appropriate for children. I am surprised the book was approved and published because it was absolute rubbish.

The writing was not any better. Reviewers praised Black for her lyrical prose and even dubbed her as the Queen of Faeries but I didn’t see it. The writing wasn’t beautiful or lyrical. It was simple and basic as they come. The world building and characters were poorly developed and in my opinion unremarkable and unlikable. I’ve read far better faerie novels with complex world building and multifaceted characters; and best of all they didn’t romanticize abusive/unhealthy relationships.

The Cruel Prince was one of the worst book I’ve read in the last couple of years. It seriously boggles my mind how many people love this book. As I mentioned, the writing was average, the world building unimaginative, the characters unlikable but it was still nothing compared to an aggressor disguised as a love interest and violence and cruelty disguised as bravery and strength. That's messed up and twisted if you asked me. And If you haven’t read this book yet, do yourself a favor and skip it. It’s not worth your time or your money. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Breach by W.L. GoodWater

Title: Breach 
Author: W.L. Goodwater
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Cold War Magic # 1

Paperback, 368 Pages
Publication: November 6, 2018 by Ace

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.



When Soviet magicians conjured an arcane Wall to blockade occupied Berlin, the world was outraged but let it stand for the sake of peace. Now after 10 years of fighting with spies instead of spells, the CIA has discovered the unthinkable:


While refugees and soldiers mass along the border, operatives from East and West converge on the most dangerous city in the world to stop or take advantage of the crisis.

Karen, a young magician with the American Office of Magical Research and Deployment, is sent to investigate the breach in the Wall and see if it can be reversed. Instead she will discover that the truth is elusive in this divided city, and that even magic itself has its own agenda.

One cannot mention the Cold War without mentioning the Berlin Wall, the two are mutually inclusive. In Breach, Goodwater’s alternate Cold War Era, The Berlin Wall separates East and West Berlin as well; except the wall is made up entirely of magic. The strongest magic anyone has ever seen and is said to be unbreakable and impenetrable. Until a soldier discovers a breach.

Fantasy war novels are usually a hit or miss. And I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about the Cold War except what was taught in junior high and that was a long, long time ago. However, Goodwater does an excellent job using the history of what is known and added his own embellishments for an intricate magic realism espionage mystery. Breach is narrated by different characters from a young magician with rose-colored glasses, an American operative based in Berlin to a boogieman of legends told to frighten and keep people in line known as The Nightingale.

One of the main narrator is Karen, a young magician called in to help evaluate the wall from the US Magic Research and Deployment office. I was immediately immersed in her voice. Unlike many people around her who feared and still saw magic as destructive, Karen believed magic can be used for good. Karen was a very realistic heroine (well the only heroine in the entire novel aside from a brief mention of a prostitute) who is perfectly flawed. She had moments of triumphs and mistakes and faced oppositions and hostility from the majority of her male colleagues and strangers on a daily basis. And despite it all, she never dwelt on the matter too long, rather she focused on doing everything she could to help the people affected by the wall. All of Karen’s actions and reactions throughout the novel felt very real, considering magic is involved. And speaking of magic, the magic system in Breach wasn’t as fleshed out as I hoped. It was never clearly defined but it’s wasn’t overly complex either making it easy for readers to understand. The magic consisted of verbal incantations and occasionally a locus, a source of the magician’s power (something that held personal meaning).

At the core, Breach is a mystery. There’s a spattering of action scenes here and there but what stands out are the characters and their interaction with one another. I enjoyed the mystery surrounding the Berlin Wall and following Karen and the team as they uncover the truth for the wall’s creation. My favorite scene was when their lead led them to an impromptu rescue mission of a high ranking Nazi magician, who turned out to be one of the most interesting character in the entire novel. I highly recommend Breach, it was a solid debut novel and in my opinion, a great Cold War Fantasy introduction.