Review: Death on the Nile

Beloved detective Hercule Poirot embarks on a journey to Egypt in one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, Death on the Nile.

The tranquility of a cruise along the Nile was shattered by the discovery that Linnet Ridgeway had been shot through the head. She was young, stylish, and beautiful. A girl who had everything…until she lost her life.

Hercule Poirot recalled an earlier outburst by a fellow passenger: “I’d like to put my dear little pistol against her head and just press the trigger.” Yet in this exotic setting, nothing is ever quite what it seems.

It has been a while since the last time I read a Poirot mystery, so reading this book felt like slipping on my favorite pair of fuzzy socks. Since the success of the movie Murder on the Orient Express, a friend told me that they were going to make Death on the Nile next. So naturally, I wanted to read it before the movie came out. I knew nothing of the plot aside from what I read on the back going in, but I was optimistic.

The story starts with a glimpse into the life of the aforementioned Linnet Ridgeway. We get to see what she is like on her home turf, where she is the most comfortable and the most in control. We get to see what her relationship looks like with her friend Jacqueline, a girl with less fortune who has recently fallen in love. And we get to see her initial reaction upon meeting her friend’s new fiance. It’s an interesting glimpse into the life of a woman who always gets what she wants.

Fast forward a few weeks and we find a rather unique cast of characters coming together on a Nile River cruise. I won’t spoil the whole cast, but I will share that it contains the characters I mentioned above.

It also contains a certain Detective Hercule Poirot who is trying to take an honest to goodness vacation from all of the mysteries and murder he deals with on a regular basis. You can probably guess from the title how well this plan goes.

There is one character who, beforehand, had shown an understandable leaning towards murder. Poirot connected with the poor girl and tried to help guide her away from the path she was on to one where she could have a brighter future. I found the whole thing incredibly touching and couldn’t help but feel for the girl.

I also found myself identifying with several of the other characters. The cast was so well crafted and, as per usual, the mystery of who did it had me wondering and bouncing from suspect to suspect. I felt the other officer’s frustration as Poirot sorted out a few smaller mysteries instead of dealing directly with the murder(s). I also found the endings to be rather satisfying. 

One of my favorite things about Agatha Christie is she is the queen of my favorite kind of twist. The kind you never see coming but it makes perfect sense once you get there. This book absolutely did not disappoint.

Review: Endless Night

When penniless Michael Rogers discovers the beautiful house at Gypsy’s Acre and then meets the heiress Ellie, it seems that all his dreams have come true at once. But he ignores an old woman’s warning of an ancient curse, and evil begins to stir in paradise. As Michael soon learns: Gypsy’s Acre is the place where fatal “accidents” happen.

I have decided to take a break from the fantasy world and delve straight into mystery. Agatha Christie, to be specific. She has been my favorite mystery author for a long time now, and one of the few I have read (aside from Robert Ludlum). I look for her books any time I go into a used bookstore and so, had a stack of six that I haven’t read yet.

So I grabbed the first book off of the stack and started reading.

One of the things that first struck me about Endless Night was that it is not one of her typical mysteries. Agatha Christie has three main detective series: Hercules Poirot, Mrs. Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence. I have read more Poirot than the others, but I do enjoy them.

This book falls into neither of these categories. It is told from the perspective of Michael Rogers (Mike), a young man who has bounced from job to job, never really settling down into anything. He gives off this feeling of someone who is looking for something but has no idea what. All he knows is he wants more.

When he first sees Ellie at the sale of Gypsy’s Acre, it is love at first sight. We follow them through their whirlwind romance and their clandestine marriage as Ellie tries to keep her family as out of her affairs as possible, with the help of her best friend and confidante, Greta.

I found the story of their marriage to be rather quaint, even with his lack of understanding when it comes to finances. He has only ever had enough money to get by, naturally. And she is a rich heiress who is well acquainted with the finer things in life. I could understand some of his hesitancy when it comes to immersing himself in that world. It can be a strange and intimidating one for sure.

There is also the strange gypsy woman who pops up every now and then warning Mike and Ellie about the dangers of living on that particular plot of land. She hints to a curse, something about a burial ground, but nothing concrete. It is very unsettling, but not quite threatening.

It took longer than I expected to get to the death, but then I am more used to her detective novels. It definitely snuck up on me though. There was no build-up. It just happened and we were left to deal with the aftermath. That is when things really start getting interesting. But I won’t spoil the ending.

I found this story delightfully different with a very unexpected twist at the end that was executed masterfully.

Next, I am diving into a Poirot mystery, Death on the Nile. One down, five to go.

Review: American Royals

Two princesses vying for the ultimate crown.

Two girls vying for the prince’s heart.

This is the story of the American royals.

When America won the Revolutionary War, its people offered General George Washington a crown. Two and a half centuries later, the House of Washington still sits on the throne. Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. A future monarch and a backup battery. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking the rules, so Princess Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either . . . except the one boy who is distinctly off-limits to her. And then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their devastatingly handsome prince . . . but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

The duty. The intrigue. The Crown. New York Times bestselling author Katharine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded–and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.

It was the title that grabbed my attention. American Royals. A look at what the world would look like had George Washington said yes to the crown. I couldn’t help it. I had to know where Katherine McGee was going with this. She has had a few other titles that caught my attention but this was the one I could not ignore.

Normally I get books out of the science fiction and fantasy section, but this is straight YA. And I loved every second of it.

It took longer than I expected to get my brain to accept the words ‘America’ and ‘monarchy’ being in the same sentence (probably because I never in my life expected to read them in the same sentence). Thankfully, it got a little less weird in time.

If you want to see what America would look like today if it had a monarchy, this book is pretty spot on. It doesn’t go as political as I expected it too, though there are some mentions of how most of the world’s countries have their own monarchy and nobility. I giggled a little when one of the characters had a snarky thought about how chaotic having a democracy would be, with all of the people fighting to have their party’s beliefs upheld. 

Most of the politics in the story involve the family maintaining their public appearances and keeping the goodwill of the people. They are essentially all celebrities, but celebrities who were born and raised in the lifestyle. They work hard to make sure they are living in such a way that they will not lose the trust of their people. It is actually really interesting to watch.

That isn’t to say there isn’t drama, though. Because there is quite a bit of drama going on behind the scenes. One person is fighting to earn their place among the royals. One is struggling to find their place in a world where they feel like they are the spare, the backup plan. One is suffocating under the weight of the burden placed upon them by their birth (thanks to a law changed years before then). And yet another is trying to figure who they are and how to stand for themself. 

It’s the characters that really won me over, with their intertwining plot lines and complicated history. Normally I am not that into celebrity drama, but the way this was all portrayed was so captivating. It felt so totally and completely human while also appealing to the part of me that secretly enjoys that kind of emotional/political drama. I had to keep reading to see who was going to win the day and in the end, I was left absolutely floored.

This was an impulse purchase that left me with no regrets (aside from the fact I now have to wait for the sequel to see what happens next). It would make a great vacation read, or if you are looking for something a little different to spice things up. I honestly cannot wait to see what happens next. Katharine McGee did a fantastic job of setting up different plot threads tied to different characters who are all complex in their own right. It leaves you not sure who to root for, while also hoping that everyone gets their own different happy ending. Then the story ends with a jaw-dropper that throws all of those endings into jeopardy.

Needless to say, I am counting down days until we get a sequel.

Review: Dorothy Must Die

I didn’t ask for any of this. I didn’t ask to be some kind of hero. But when your whole life gets swept up by a tornado—taking you with it—you have no choice but to go along, you know?

Sure, I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I know the song about the rainbow and the happy little blue birds. But I never expected Oz to look like this. To be a place where Good Witches can’t be trusted, Wicked Witches may just be the good guys, and winged monkeys can be executed for acts of rebellion. There’s still a road of yellow brick—but even that’s crumbling.

What happened? Dorothy. They say she found a way to come back to Oz. They say she seized power and the power went to her head. And now no one is safe.

My name is Amy Gumm—and I’m the other girl from Kansas. I’ve been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked. I’ve been trained to fight. And I have a mission:

Remove the Tin Woodman’s heart. 

Steal the Scarecrow’s brain. 

Take the Lion’s courage.

 And—Dorothy must die.

Moment of truth: I have been working on a Wizard of Oz retelling for a few months now. It will likely end up being a five-book crime series, so lots of room for references. I promise to share more details later, but that is not what this blog post is about. 

This book is about another Wizard of Oz retelling. Or, more accurately, a tale of what happened when Dorothy came back to stay. It follows Amy Gumm, a girl from a broken home with an addict for a mother. Her life is definitely not pretty and she would do almost anything to escape. 

Then a tornado comes through and takes her to a very different Oz than the ones in the stories. The land is dying, the people are trapped under the thumb of a dictator, and the Wicked have banded together to return balance to Oz.

I did not expect this book to revolve so much around addiction and neglect, but I can appreciate the way it was handled. My parents divorced when I was little, and my dad was very much an addict when I was going over to his house every other weekend. I experience some of that loneliness that Amy was dealing with on a regular basis. Thankfully, I had my mom and my grandmother. She has no one. 

The world-building is rather bleak, which makes sense in context. Oz, an inherently magical place, is being drained of its magic and so is being drained of life. There are a few places left that retain their magic, mostly because they are harder to access, and that is where the Wicked hide. 

The real beauty of this story is found in the characters. The Revolutionary Order of the Wicked is led by some dynamic, powerful women, all with their own stories. They all have secrets to hide and are not afraid to resort to turning victims into weapons when necessary. War is a messy thing, especially when it is between Wicked and Good.

Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion have all changed drastically as well. Their descriptions feel so artificial that it is uncanny. These are not the same people as you met in the original story. They have grown drastically, not only in their power but in their corruption.

This story blurs the lines between good and evil in a way that I really enjoyed. Things aren’t as straightforward as you might think. The stakes are high. Actions have consequences. Both sides are not afraid to do things that would normally be considered unthinkable. 

There is also a lot more going on behind the scenes than anyone person realizes. Even the most powerful beings do not have the full picture. They only have guesses, assumptions as to what the underlying causes might be. It leaves for a lot of questions, especially as Amy takes up a new quest in the last few pages. It is the same quest mentioned on the back cover.

To remove the tin woodman’s heart, steal the scarecrow’s brain, and take the lion’s courage.

Then, and only then, she can kill Dorothy and save Oz. 

Or so they think.

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic, from #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antarimagicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in ArnesRed Londonand officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

I’ve been following V.E. Schwab on Twitter for some time now. Her life revolves around writing and being an author, and I enjoy the peeks she gives us into that world. I also, if you haven’t guessed by now, really enjoy fantasy. 

Picking this book up, I was first intrigued by the idea of multiple Londons. I have seen multiple worlds done before (this isn’t quite a multiverse) but something about this particular iteration caught my attention. There is a finite number of worlds, each with its own level of magic. 

One world has none. One world is teaming with it. One world is tearing itself apart to find more of it. And a fourth that fell to a fate that no one wants to talk about, but you know it had to do with magic. 

I also don’t think I have ever had a book start off talking about the main character’s interesting jacket. Yet the whole thing is the perfect introduction for the main character, Kell. You quickly realize how and why he is different as he takes the reader on a literal journey through the three Londons. A great example of showing versus telling. It also does a great job of establishing the main cast of characters.

I found everything about these worlds intriguing and enthralling. When we finally got the story of the fall of Black London, I was in awe. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to read that story as well. A lot of time in fantasy worlds, authors don’t take the time to explain how their magic system works. This means in a lot of fantasy worlds, the magic system doesn’t really make sense. I am looking at you, J.K. Rowling.

Before you start yelling at me I would like to state, for the record, that I basically grew up on Harry Potter. I will always love the series. That said, my point is still valid. 

I will save my magic system rant for another day. Because it is going to be a doozy. 

I really like this one though. It feels natural and makes sense in all of the worlds. It is what is called ‘soft magic’, where magic has an organic feel to it. There are some spells and some rules to the magic, but most of it flows naturally. 

Everything about these worlds and these characters has me hungry for more. I want to see more of Lila and Kell, to learn more about their mysterious past and see their friendship grow. They are so engaging and dynamic. They are complex. They evolve. 

I had a coworker refer to this series as a poor man’s Mistborn. Honestly, I don’t see it. This story is great in its own right. I mean, there is a reason that V.E. Schwab is a best selling author. She knows how to weave a fantastic tale in a world unlike any I have encountered before. 

I am curious to see what happens in the future between the three Londons. I want to see more of Kell and Delilah as they find themselves and their place in this wonderfully strange world. I’m also curious to learn more about Black London. I feel like there is much more to the story than meets the eye. 

I guess we will have to wait and see in A Gathering of Shadows.

Review: Dune

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for…

When House Atreides is betrayed, the destruction of Paul’s family will set the boy on a journey toward a destiny greater than he could ever have imagined. And as he evolves into the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib, he will bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. 

A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.

People have been telling me for years now that I need to read Dune. I think it started in response to me sharing one of my story ideas, but I honestly don’t remember which one. I ended up buying it during employee appreciation week (yay extra discount). 

I knew next to nothing about this story when I started reading it, other than a lot of people thought I would like it. I was definitely not expecting the sheer amount of made-up words. Not going to lie, I got so lost in the first two pages that I almost gave up. Half of the words looked like keyboard smashes. 

I kept going though. I decided I would give it until the end of the chapter, and if I still wasn’t following, then I would switch to another book.

Three pages later, I was totally hooked. There were still some things I did not quite get as first, and some that I am a little fuzzy on even now. But the world drew me in and the characters won me over.

The story revolves around the Atreides family. Duke Leto, his concubine Jessica, and their son Paul are preparing, in the beginning, to move from their paradise of a planet to the dangerous desert wasteland of Arrakis. There was far more political intrigue and machinations going on in the background than I expected. That is part of what had me so intrigued by the story. I simply could not put it down.

Considering how thick the book is, I tore through it pretty fast. It probably helped that I had to take my grandmother to the doctor’s office for a minor procedure, so I had 4 hours to sit around and read. Made some good progress too. 

The world-building of Arrakis is far deeper and much more intricate than I have seen in most other sci-fi novels. A prime example is how Herbert portrays the importance of water in this world. The people have designed these specialized suits to help with the preservation of water. The wealthy plant and maintain palm trees on their property to show off how much water they have. The natives view it with a reverence that seems befitting of a desert world.

And that is just on the surface. The further I read the deeper and more complex the world became, both on Arrakis and throughout the universe. There are pieces moving both in the empire and on the planet itself. 

There is also a taste of something that exists in a grey area between science and magic. I could not quite wrap my head around all of the details but I was able to understand the gist of it. It was fascinating, though, to see both the reactions of the characters who did understand what was going on versus those who did not. On my next read through I will definitely be paying more attention to the finer details of how these abilities work. 

If you want a good example of blurring the line between magic and science on a basic, human level, I highly recommend reading Dune. It does a fabulous job of this, as well as world-building. It also provides an interesting look at ecological and environmental issues. I am still fascinated by how the society of those native to Arrakis has evolved to help them not only survive, but thrive in what looks like a desert wasteland. It was very well thought out. 

Basically…

The end of the story had me hungry for more. The world is so rich and the characters have so much going on internally, that I just know there is so much more to come. More machinations. More intrigue. More of that grey area between magic and science to delve into and play around in. 

I know there are five books total in the series written by Frank Herbert, as well as a few more written by his brother Brian. I assume these were created in some sort of ghostwriting fashion. I will do more research on this when I get to them. For now, it is on to a new book. 

If you are looking for a thoughtful, immersive science fiction experience, this is the book for you.

Review: Redwall

What can the peace-loving mice of Redwall Abbey do to defend themselves against Cluny the Scourge and his battle-seasoned army of rats? If only they had the sword of Martin the Warrior, they might have a chance. But the legendary weapon has long been forgotten-except, that is, by the bumbling young apprentice Matthias, who becomes the unlikeliest of heroes.

I am 24 years old and this is my first time reading one of the Redwall books.

Well, first time finishing one. I tried reading one from the middle of the series when I was younger, but never really got into it. Many of my friends did, though. I didn’t really think about it again until a friend lent Mossflower (book 2) to me briefly. I got 9 chapters into the story before I had to give it back.

It was that moment of “here, read this” that sparked my interest. A few months later, I found Redwall and Mossflower for sale in a used bookstore. 

Delving into Redwall, a book geared towards kids, after reading Blood of Elves, a book very much not geared towards kids, was an interesting experience. 

I found the simpler style rather refreshing. It has been a while since I read a book that wasn’t full of angst. Being that this book is geared towards middle school age (and an older series), it was much more straightforward and fluffy in its tone.

The story mainly follows the adventure of the brave little mouse Matthias. He is looking to join the Order at the Redwall Abbey, though in his heart he longs for adventure. There is a certain amount of hero-worship going on whenever he talks about Martin the Warrior, the one who brought the whole area to peace. 

It was a little weird hearing how the mice talk about them because the whole abbey definitely feels religious but I am not sure what they worship. Sometimes it feels like they worship Martin a bit. From what I can tell, though, the abbey is not particularly religious. It is just set up in a way that reflects certain, more traditional churches. Which I can appreciate. I’m not sure how I would feel about deeply religious mice.

The main villain of the books is a rat named Cluny the Scourge, who has one eye and an abnormally long tail that serves as a whip. He has a giant army of rats and stoats and other nasty creatures that he bullies mercilessly. 

Let’s just say he is a great example of how NOT to treat your underlings. Being more than willing to kill them for no good reason is not a great incentive for them to stay. I mean, if they all just up and decide to leave, how is he going to stop them?

Then again, I am reading this as a storyteller and sometimes I forget this was geared towards middle schoolers. They don’t care as much about villain motivations. I could go on about this for a while, but I will save that rant for later. 

Many of the interactions in this story are quite touching and I feel like most characters got their chance to shine at least once. One of my favorites is Silent Sam, a baby squirrel who is very smart but is nonverbal. No one questions this. No one pushes him to speak. I love it.

Halfway through the book, Matthias and an older mouse named Methusela go on a mini-quest within the story to see what became of the sword of Martin. This ended up taking more time than I expected and led them to some interesting places.

In a way, this story is about Matthias coming into his own and becoming the mouse he always wanted to be. It is a battle of the good and noble against the evil and corrupt. There are twists. There are turns. Some I didn’t see coming. Others I saw coming 6 chapters before the characters did. 

Then again, I am a writer. That sort of comes with the territory.

The rating

My only regret when it comes to reading this book is that I didn’t read it sooner. I would have loved these books when I was in middle school. Heck, I love them as an adult. The world is charming, the characters are endearing, and the plot has just enough twists to keep you engaged. If you haven’t read these books and are looking for something a little lighter to read, I definitely recommend Redwall

Rick Riordan and the Teaching of Mythology

I remember the day well. I was in middle school and we had another author visit coming up. Even though I grew up in a small town, we had pretty regular author visits and author events. It was pretty amazing. 

As with every other author event, we had the ability to buy their books. And, as with every other event, I had not heard of the author or the series before. Which is probably why I started with the second book instead of the first one.

It was a little confusing at first, but I still enjoyed it. By the end of the week, I had the rest of the books. You can probably guess what the series is, based on the post title.

I read Percy Jackson and the Olympians in the wrong order. Thankfully, this was back when his plots were a lot less convoluted. I definitely do not recommend reading any of his other series in the wrong order. You will be very lost.

For those of you who are wondering, yes, I have met Rick Riordan. This was before The Last Olympian came out, around the time when we first found out we were going to have a The Lightning Thief movie. So, back when we were still excited about the movie and before we realized it was going to be a massive disappointment.

I absolutely loved the series. The characters were great, the story was great, and it was surprisingly accurate to what I already knew about mythology. 

I particularly enjoyed how he shared the information and built the world. He did not rely on any of the annoying tropes people tend to fall back on. No one has amnesia (at least in the first series). He is not already an expert. Percy is just a seemingly normal kid who is currently in a class that is teaching mythology. He struggles with school. He knows about as much mythology as a normal kid his age would.

Reading through the books it feels very much like you are learning more about the world along with Percy. It was the same throughout the rest of his series as well. The main characters know/remember about as much about the mythology of the particular world as a normal person would. Their mentors understand that they aren’t going to know everything because there is no reason for them to have all of the (correct) information. They just found out that the world was, in fact, real.

So, not only is the execution very well done, but the information is very accurate as well. Through both his series and outside sources (namely the Myths and Legends podcast), I have learned a lot more about not only Greek but Norse, Egyptian, Gaelic, and other mythologies. Rick Riordan does an amazing job of balancing showing the less shiny side of things without delving too deep into some of the much darker parts. 

He includes many of the details that prove that the gods of each pantheon are not all the role models some people may have been lead to believe. Most are incredibly selfish and some did some genuinely terrible things (*cough cough* Zeus *cough*). He even openly criticizes them through the main characters.

But there are a lot of things that happened in nearly all of the mythologies that are very much not child-friendly. Some he doesn’t address, which is completely fine, and others he handles very tactfully. 14 year old me did not need to know the full truth between how many wives Zeus had before he married Hera. Nor did 14 year old me need to know how Zeus got Hera to marry him. 

Seriously, Zeus sucks.

If you have any interest in learning more about Greek and Roman mythology (and how they are different), or Egyptian mythology, or Norse mythology (which has to be the weirdest), then I highly recommend reading his books. It is like a mini history lesson wrapped up in a coming of age story about teamwork and finding yourself. 

I just recently started the Magnus Chase series, which is all about Norse mythology, and I am already impressed by how well he balances out the darker/weirder parts of the mythology as well as the convoluted mess that is Ragnarok. It mentioned some of the weirder parts that not many people know about, like Thor’s goats and the fact that Loki is the mother of a six-legged horse. I can only imagine what is going to show up in the next few books.

Norse mythology is weird.

He has gone back to Greek mythology with his latest series, The Apollo Trial, but I have a feeling his next series will be playing with something new. He has already had such an impact that there is now a thing called ‘Rick Riordan Presents’. These are other series written by different authors that tackle different branches of mythology in fun and unique ways. If you see a book that says Rick Riordan Presents on it, that means it has basically been given his seal of approval. 

I have yet to delve into those but I definitely mean too. Some of them delve into the more obscure mythologies and cultures and some of the descriptions I have heard sound FASCINATING.

You can learn a lot about a culture by looking at their mythology because mythology is mankind trying to explain why the world is the way that it is. And man do we come up with some interesting explanations.

TL;DR: If you are looking to learn more about mythology but don’t want to grab a textbook, grab a book that has Rick Riordan’s name on it. And make sure it is the first book in the series. You won’t regret it.

Just beware, he loves cliff hangers.

Review: The Red Queen Series

I spent months eyeing the first book. It was the cover that caught my attention. It was so simple yet so intriguing.

Then I got into a conversation about writing with the author, and I realized she is a delightful human being. I went to work and mentioned this to my boss. My boss who then informed me that she was going to be in our store for the release of her new book.

That very day I checked out the first book and started reading.

What series am I talking about? The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. It is a delightful YA fantasy series set in a world divided by two colors, Red and Silver.

The story

In Red Queen, we are introduced to the world through the eyes of Mare Barrow, a lowly red and a thief, who is best friends with a local fisherman in training named Killorn.

She does a great job of establishing the divide between the powerless reds and the mighty silvers, born with powers beyond imagining. She also shows us the hopeless (and pointless) war between Norta and the neighboring Lakelands that has been eating up countless lives for the past century.

And the best part? It doesn’t feel like she is telling you any of this. You get the information from Mare as she is prompted by outside events to think about it, and the information is limited to stuff she would know. All throughout the series, Victoria does a wonderful job of giving us the information we need in a way that feels organic. It never feels like an information dump.

Even when we are forced to learn a lot of new information during a short period of time, it is because Mare is having to as well. We keep the information that she deems important.  

There were many times I felt myself beginning to feel anxious because it felt like I was right there with Mare. You become so quickly embroiled in the machinations of both the Scarlet Guard and the royal family as Mare is caught between both of them. You come to care for Cal and Maven as she does. You come to trust Julian, as she does.

And you are just as bewildered as she is when things take an interesting turn at the end of book one, leading into book two.

Glass Sword has different pacing to it, as Mare spends most of the time running from her problems. To be fair, her whole life has completely fallen apart in several ways so she isn’t having the best of times. There is a glimmer of hope, though, and she holds onto it with everything she has. Even so, she still feels as if it is her against the world. She feels alone, isolated, and afraid.

It was fascinating to watch the characters grow and evolve as the story went on. The interactions and relationships between the characters all felt so realistic, so organic. You don’t get the angst here that you usually get in YA fantasy books. I mean, there is some angst, but it is realistic angst. I was able to identify with it.

The world is full of so many unknowns and so often things go sideways in terrible ways. She keeps on fighting, though. She holds herself together through sheer fear of what will happen if she falls apart. Heck, she compares herself to being a glass sword on the verge of shattering for a reason.

When a mysterious figure comes along to give her a chance to strike a blow against the king, she leaps at it. This leads to what has to be one of these most stressful fights thus far in the series.

Something happens during the fight that pushes Mare to stop running. It’s like she got a wakeup call or came to a realization of some sort that gives her the courage to do something she said she never would. That twist leaves me speechless even now, it was so well crafted.

And it leads to a tenuous situation in Kings Cage. Here is where we get the second narrator and here is where I started having a really hard time putting the book down. Between the narrator shifts and the time jumps and the constant rising of the political tensions, I could not tear myself away. This is where two new entities enter the stage, changing the power dynamic and leaving you breathless wondering how this is going to change things.

The tension keeps building up until about halfway through the book when the situation simply explodes. From there on it is nonstop moves and countermoves as all of the parties involved adjust to the new power balance. It was honestly one of the most satisfying moments in the entire series, yet I was still on edge. What happens next?

Things really start to get interesting in War Storm. Another country enters the fray and the stage grows to encompass the whole world as we know it.

Sometimes when stories broaden their world it is easy to lose sight of the point. You get so bogged down in all of the moving pieces that you forget why you cared about the story, to begin with. That doesn’t happen here. All of the machinations and twists are driven by the characters who have very organic, very human motivations.

You also see the introduction of several new narrators, all key players on different sides of the conflict. Normally I am not a huge fan of having more than two narrators, because if not done well it can distract from the story. In this case, though, it adds a layer of depth to the story that makes the narrative that much richer.

The way she crafts the narration gives us a unique look into the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of several of the characters we have been getting to know throughout the whole series. It was honestly eye-opening in how it successfully expanded my understanding of the world and the characters themselves.

The build-up to the final conflict was…wow. It’s a ride. There are so many moving pieces from the beginning and it just becomes more and more entangled and complex. Yet, at no point does it become too much. The stakes are high, but it never feels like it is overblown. It is just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next.

And let me tell you, the ending will throw you for a loop.

The moral

This story focuses a lot on how things are both more complicated and more straight forward than they seem. People are more than they appear to be at first glance. Sometimes people who appear to be in control are just as trapped, if not more, by their circumstances as you are. Everyone is human, no matter how cold they pretend to be. Even those who have great power have weaknesses.

There is power in standing for what you believe in, even when the world seems against you. There is power in staying true to who you are, even as the world around you is changing.

People are stronger together.

In the end, even though the good guys have finally done the thing they set out to accomplish, they have “won”, everything isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Not all of the world’s problems have been fixed. They have made great strides in making the world a better place, but there is still more work to do.

Mare’s part is over, though. Her main struggle is through. She can take some time to take care of herself, time to heal and move past everything that has happened to her. There is hope for the future because she has already helped prove that change is possible.

I love that everything isn’t perfect in the end. I love that there is no riding off into the sunset, at least not yet. It makes everything the characters have been through seem so much more real. It makes them more human.

And, honestly, I find that beautiful.

The rating

If you are looking for a series that will have you on the edge of your seat from page one, this is the series for you. It is a well-crafted masterpiece that does not fall into some of the same tropes that most books in the YA series fall into. I very much appreciate this fact, as I am very tired of alpha males, love triangles, and god complexes.

This is a series that I definitely plan on rereading. There was just so much going on all at once that I know I didn’t catch anything.

Plus, it is a fantastic series that I would not mind reliving a few more times.

Note: I have not yet read Broken Throne (a series of short stories set after book 4) or Cruel Crown (two short stories combined into a novella set outside of the series), but I plan to in the future.

The hard truth about your first draft

All writers, whether they are published or not, tend to agree upon one thing.

The hardest part of being a writer is actually FINISHING the first draft. Its something I myself have done once in all my years of writing. It is kind of sad actually.

So many stories go unfinished because either we lose the inspiration and the drive to continue them (or we get distracted by a shiny new idea). Others get started and restarted so many times that we lose sight of why we started writing them in the first place. Some die the second we tell someone about them and they brush it off as a silly idea.

The reality is, being a writer was never going to be easy. You are going to have to face some harsh truths, especially when it comes to your first draft.

You won’t finish as fast as everyone else

I know there are some people who can write a book in a month, or sometimes all they need is a week. It took me well over a year to finish mine. Some people take a lot longer than that to write the first draft of their book (though they tend to work on and finish others in the meantime).

It can be SO easy to fall into the trap of comparing your progress to that of other writers. I know someone who beat NaNoWriMo in 5 days (she wrote 10k a day). It took me seven years and some fudging of the rules to win.

The truth is, there will always be someone who gets things done faster than you. Maybe they have more discipline. Maybe they have more experience. Maybe their schedule allows for more writing time than yours does. It doesn’t matter

This is your journey and yours alone. So keep your head down, stop checking to see how far along the person next to you is, and get to writing.

It will be the hardest thing you have ever done

As I have mentioned, writing your first draft is going to take a while. This is especially true for those of us with a day job(s). Sometimes it is just hard to find the time to write on top of everything else that we have to do. Add onto that the fact that life is stressful and we tend to continually find ourselves surrounded by people who think writing is a silly waste of time, it can be really hard to stay motivated.

You will also have to deal with the people around you not understanding what you are doing or why you are doing it. I talked a lot about what this feels like in my open letter to the creators who feel alone. This is something that is really hard to face. Hearing the people close to you echoing back your own self-doubts can cripple your creativity and stifle your desire to keep going.

That is why I always highly recommend finding and joining the online writing community. There you will find people who not only understand what you are going through, but they have been there themselves.

Just because you are the only one who can tell your story, doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone. Find people who will support you along this journey, with both encouragement and a kick in the rear when needed.

It is going to be hard to stay focused on the story for a long period of time. There will be days when you have neither the time nor the motivation to write. That is okay. But you have to get back to it tomorrow.

There is also that annoying psychological thing that prevents people from finishing things. I personally struggle with this, as evidenced by the amount of random YouTube videos I will have watched by the time I finally finish this blog post. I don’t know if there is a scientific term for this, but it is very much a thing.

A thing that you will have to find a way to power through. Maybe try asking one of your accountability partners to pester the living daylights out of you until you finish the thing. Or tell literally everyone and their mother that you are going to have it finished by a certain time, so then you have to have it done by that time. Because everyone and their mother is expecting you to.

It’s a very stressful yet effective tactic.

Most of it will be garbage

100% guaranteed, no one is ever going to see your first draft. By the time it is finished and you have taken a step back, you will soon realize that it is a steaming pile of garbage. There is no way around it.

You should still be proud of your garbage heap. You put a lot of work into it. That doesn’t change the fact that none of it is even close to being ready to publish. Don’t worry though. That is completely normal.

No one will ever see the mess that is what I wrote during NaNoWriMo. It was a convoluted hodgepodge of plot points and character building. I still keep a lot of the text in the case that I do end up using some of it, but I have since started a complete rewrite. I now know a lot more about the world, the situation, and my characters’ motivations. I also know how not to write and pace certain scenes.

If you feel like your first draft is too silly or too serious, or that you aren’t sure if you want it to be paced/structured that way, that is totally fine. This is your sandbox, so play around in it. Try different scenes from different angles. Dig through the layers of fluff and descriptions to get to the heart of your story. And, most importantly, don’t worry about what anyone else will think.

Your first draft is you telling the story to yourself, so you can come back and figure out how to tell it to everyone else. It is never going to be perfect. It will likely not resemble the end product. It’s most likely going to be a jumbled mess.

That’s okay, though, because you can edit a messy page. You cannot edit a blank one.

Your first draft only needs to be one thing.

Written.

So get to writing. We have a lot of work to do.