Category: Book Review

Dragonlove by Marc Secchia

Dragonlove by Marc Secchia(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When a woman loves a Dragon, that love will change the world.

Six years have passed since Hualiama and Grandion defied the Island-World’s most sacred law. They burned the heavens together as Rider and Dragon. For his crime, Grandion the Tourmaline Dragon suffered exile and imprisonment. The Dragons forced Hualiama to forget her past.

Now, the suns must set upon the age of the Ancient Dragons. Amaryllion Fireborn, last of his kind, bequeaths Hualiama an astonishing legacy. She is the Dragonfriend. Raised by Dragons. Burned by Dragon fire. Oath-bound to a Dragon. Crossing the Island-World in search of her Dragonlove, she will forge an indelible mark upon history.

As war between Dragons and Humans engulfs the Islands, Hualiama must unravel the secrets of her tragic past in order to confront an evil that threatens the very existence of the Dragonkind. For love that is tested in the crucible of fate must burn, or die.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received an ebook ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

In the beginning of Dragonlove, Hualiama is definitely not herself.  Or, rather, she’s not the person she was six years ago when she and Grandion put down a coup on Fra’anior led by her own father, Ra’aba and the dragons.  Normally, this would not shock readers because this second book takes place a full six years after those events.  Of course people change!  But what’s missing is Hualiama’s pure love and determination when it comes to Grandion, the Dragon that she defied sacred law for.  At the end of Dragonfriend, Hualiama had her memories wiped by the powerful Amaryllion Fireborn in an attempt to make things easier for her by not letting her remember that she and Grandion were in love, not just friends.  But before his death here in Dragonlove, Amaryllion restores those memories and sets Hualiama on a quest that will irrevocably change the Island World.

As with before, Hualiama is an amazing character.  With her memories back her love for Grandion is just as strong as ever and she’s willing to not only defy sacred law but defy Dragons for it.  She goes to the ends of the Island World during an all-out Dragon war in order to find him, risking death at every turn.  At the same time, despite her love for Grandion, Hualiama most definitely has her doubts at times.  What if Grandion will never forgive her for abandoning him to the will of the Dragon Elders council, who set him an impossible quest that he would have to complete in order to restore his honour?  Can the Island World ever forgive Grandion and Hualiama for profaning the sacred laws by daring to become Dragon and Dragon Rider?  The answers aren’t straightforward and Hualiama goes through so much on her quest as she learns about her past and about Dragonkind in general.  She also learns that not only did Amaryllion give her his inner fire before he died, she carries a darker power within her from her erstwhile caretaker Ianthine.  I don’t want to give too much away, but Hualiama’s inner powers that she discovers along her journey are part of how she changes the Island World forever.  Particularly with the ruzal, the power that binds magic to words and allows practitioners of it to shape the very world that they live in.

The plot of Dragonlove was absolutely amazing.  Not only is it driven by memorable characters like Hualiama and Grandion, it has many, many twists and turns.  For example, the introduction of some new dragon subspecies, ones that are seemingly either extinct or hidden by Pip’s and Aranya’s times in the other series.  We also learn quite a bit about magic and human magic-users like Hualiama and others who harness the magic drifting all around the Island World.  And of course there’s a huge surprise at the end of the novel during the final battle that sets up the third and final book, Dragonsoul.  (Well, there’s actually more than one surprise at the end if I’m honest but one was more earth-shattering than the other.)  Even though Dragonlove is slightly over 500 pages, you’re also never bored because Marc Secchia keeps it fairly fast-paced throughout.  The beginning is a little slow as Hualiama re-learns about Grandion and sets off on her quest to find him, but things quickly get interesting when she finally finds him and discovers he’s not the same person (Dragon?) he was six years ago either.

One of the things I’ve liked about Marc Secchia’s books is that he always has a realistic view of war.  There are a lot of wars going on currently in Hualiama’s world between not only Dragonkind and humans but Dragonkind and itself.  He presents a picture of war that is of sheer brutality and strife.  Civilians are caught unwittingly in the crosshairs or, worse, are deliberately targeted by one or both sides as a way to gain an advantage over the other side.  What’s most realistic of all is that no one really comes out unscathed from these wars.  Without giving too much away, Grandion himself has physically changed in a very drastic way.  Hualiama has scars all over her body not only from when her own father tried to kill her but also the myriad burns and scrapes she acquired amongst Dragonkind.  Neither Dragon nor Rider escapes the psychological implications either.  And that brings me to the larger point I’m trying to make here: for all that this is fantasy, Marc Secchia has a dedication to truth.  He brings to life three dimensional characters with realistic motivations and places them in a world governed not only by magic, but by natural laws as well.  The technology present in all of his books is well thought out and there are even laws governing the use of magic that place restrictions on even the Dragons.  And best of all in my view, he’s practically invented Dragon anatomy as a hobby so he can bring these mythical creatures to life in a consistent and dare I say realistic way.

Basically, I absolutely adored Dragonlove and will eagerly await the third book in the trilogy, Dragonsoul.  This second book had everything I expected and more: memorable characters, a fast-paced plot, lots of twists and turns and world-building of the highest calibre.  You really can’t go wrong with the Dragonfriend Trilogy.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble*     Goodreads     Powell’s*

*Unavailable.

Omega Days by John L. Campbell

Omega Days by John L. Campbell(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When the end came, it came quickly. No one knew where or exactly when the Omega Virus started, but soon it was everywhere. And when the ones spreading it can’t die, no one stands a chance of surviving.

San Francisco, California. Father Xavier Church has spent his life ministering to unfortunate souls, but he has never witnessed horror like this. After he forsakes his vows in the most heartrending of ways, he watches helplessly as a zombie nun takes a bite out of a fellow priest’s face…
University of California, Berkeley. Skye Dennison is moving into her college dorm for the first time, simultaneously excited to be leaving the nest and terrified to be on her own. When her mother and father are eaten alive in front of her, she realizes the terror has just begun…
Alameda, California. Angie West made millions off her family’s reality gun show on the History Channel. But after she is cornered by the swarming undead, her knowledge of heavy artillery is called into play like never before…
Within weeks, the world is overrun by the walking dead. Only the quick and the smart, the strong and the determined, will survive—for now.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback at Book Expo America 2015 with no expectation of a review.]

One of the things I have to make clear from the start is that this is not the original ebook that some other people have reviewed.  This is the new, expanded paperback edition that was published by Penguin under their Berkley imprint.  I don’t know how many differences there really are between the two editions but apparently there are a few more little points of view to add interest and some tightening of certain narratives in a couple of places.  In the relative scheme of things, I think the few distinctions don’t really matter all that much.

First, let’s start off with the characters.  We have a huge variety of characters from your typical college student who turns into a killing machine to a reality TV show star who has a fully stocked arsenal of guns.  And while Skye and Angie are fascinating characters, one of the characters that isn’t really your typical ‘stock character’ in a zombie apocalypse is Xavier, the priest.  He is definitely an unconventional priest coming from a very rough background but at the same time he really does seem to care about all of the survivors he meets.  For a while he loses his faith (who wouldn’t?) but then toward the end of the novel we start to see a sort of transformation in him as he learns that perhaps all is not hopeless, despite the devastation around him.

One of the things I found very realistic is that people in the Omega universe actually knew about zombies.  It’s not like Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy where people immediately knew what to do with zombies, but they did make occasional references to zombies in popular culture.  Another thing I appreciated was that although the government of the United States fell fairly quickly, independent pockets of the military managed to cling on and try to rescue as many people as they could.  That’s more realistic in my view than a total collapse of everything as surely there would be some military units out there with a strong enough chain of command to hold people together during a crisis, even one as big as a zombie apocalypse.  And throughout the story we see the points of view of various peoples who survive in various ways: doctors whose hospitals were mostly overrun but were protected by the military for a time while they worked on a cure, a Russian military pilot sent to train American soldiers, a crazy televangelist who is about as ruthless as you might expect, etc.  Some of these people play large parts in the story while others only get a single point of view before dying or just passing from notice.  It’s a very realistic look into how different people would cope during a nationwide disaster like a zombie apocalypse.

Which brings me to one thing: the plot.  Normally you would expect all of these points of view to really slow down the plot or make it confusing.  Omega Days really didn’t have that problem, oddly enough.  The little side stories were nice and were short enough that they didn’t take away from the main plot as the different pockets of survivors converged.  They also imparted important information regarding how the military and governmental structures fell and what doctors and scientists were able to find out about the Omega Virus and zombies in general before most of the hospitals were overrun.  I think it will be very interesting in future books to see Campbell expand upon the idea that the zombies aren’t just infected with one virus, they have two different viruses working in tandem.  I would love to gush on about this very different idea of making zombies come to life (so to speak) but I’ll leave that for you to discover as you read the book.

Basically, Omega Days really was a pleasant surprise.  A lot of zombie books read the same or are shameless rip-offs of The Walking Dead, what with its current popularity.  But Omega Days is really different and I appreciated all of the different points of view John L. Campbell wove together into a coherent narrative that told the story of the zombie apocalypse.  I can’t say that this book is the most amazing I’ve ever read but it is very well written, with interesting characters and plenty of suspense.  You can’t go wrong with that.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Goodreads     Powell’s

Awake by Natasha Preston

Awake by Natasha Preston(Cover courtesy of Goodreads.)

Scarlett doesn’t remember anything before the age of five. Her parents say it’s from the trauma of seeing her house burn down, and she accepts the life they’ve created for her without question—until a car accident causes Scarlett to start remembering pieces of an unfamiliar past.

When a new guy moves into town, Scarlett feels an instant spark. But Noah knows the truth of Scarlett’s past, and he’s determined to shield her from it…because Scarlett grew up in a cult called Eternal Light, controlled by her biological parents.

And they want her back.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

One of the things that sort of bugs me when I read YA (or really anything in the urban fantasy genre) is that a lot of the main characters find out about magic from someone else.  Usually there’s a token skepticism that’s quickly washed away at the slightest hint that the other person might be right.  But what happens when a main character doesn’t believe in magic because there really is no magic?  Instead, there’s just a bunch of crazy people in a cult that want to sacrifice her in an insane attempt at immortality.

While I like the general idea for the story quite a bit, Awake was disappointing in that it followed all of the usual high school romance tropes.  A more popular best friend that the main character slut-shames?  Check.  New guy in school conveniently has the same schedule as the main character?  Check.  They live reasonably close together and are sat together on the first day of classes so they get to know each other?  Check and double check.  And then they fall into a cheesy teen romance that develops over the course of a week?  Yep.  I think we’ve hit almost all of the main high school tropes and that’s what really drags this book down.  Natasha Preston has a great premise with some very interesting insights into the psychology of cults but it’s just lost in the horde of clichés dumped on you right in the beginning.  It’s really sad in that respect.

Scarlett is an unremarkable narrator.  She says it’s weird that she doesn’t have memories before the age of four and everyone around her seems horrified at the idea.  But in the real world?  People would go, “Oh, that’s weird” and move on with their lives, not try to get her to see a therapist and bend over backwards to find those ‘lost’ memories.  Most people I know don’t have memories from before they were around the age of 3 or closer to 4 so I really don’t see how unusual that is.  It’s sort of like Preston was trying to create suspense where there was none instead of focusing on creating suspense in a more believable way.  Other than her weird fixation about not having memories from before she was 4, Scarlett doesn’t stand out at all.  She doesn’t really have any notable hobbies or interests other than Noah once she meets him.  She’s just boring.  Noah is a little more interesting because of his Eternal Light background and his conflicted feelings about love versus duty but other than that he’s a pretty stereotypical love interest.  Generically attractive, somewhat athletic and of course a little bit sheltered.  The perfect boring boy for the perfect boring girl.

As I said earlier, what I did like about the book is that Awake did have a great premise in theory.  I love that Natasha Preston sort of takes the trope of the narrator discovering they have an amazing background and turns that on its head.  It’s really refreshing after a string of fairly decent YA novels with the same boring premise of “girl discovers she has magical powers from a boy who was sent to save her”.  Although I don’t want to give too many plot points away, once we actually meet the members of the Eternal Light cult, it’s very interesting from a psychology perspective.  They engage in highly complex rituals and they’re almost completely beholden to their leaders under threat of violence.  Most people don’t seem to need violence to conform, however, as they’re very glad to have a purpose in life.  Even if it means sacrificing another human being.

In the end, Awake was a fairly decent book ruined by too many clichés and predictable plot twists.  It had a great premise that got lost in that avalanche of tropes and while there was some suspense near the end of the novel, I never felt especially compelled to turn the page to find out what happened next.  Really, it was just boring and unremarkable.  Another book that you may read once and then completely forget a few hours after reading it.  It wasn’t terrible and it wasn’t great; it was just in that middle ground that leaves you feeling unsatisfied.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Goodreads     Powell’s

Seaside by Wylde Scott

Seaside by Wylde Scott(Cover picture courtesy of Barnes & Noble.)

Every boy in Seaside wants to be one of Blackbeard’s Boys. From the time ten year old Robert Grace O’Malley could hold his very first fishing pole, it was all he thought about. Every captain of every ship had been one, and now he was well on his way. That is, until he meets Walter, the young octopus who will change his life forever. In Seaside, Wylde Scott takes you on an exciting voyage through a fairly-tale fishing village and a pivotal moment in the life of two unexpected friends. An adventurous story perfect for young readers graduating into their first novels or parents reading their little ones to sleep, it’s a book that’s bound to be a staple in every family’s library for years to come.

[Full disclosure: I received a hardcover copy of this book from the author at Book Expo America 2015 in exchange for an honest review.]

Novels for  younger readers aren’t what I typically review here on The Mad Reviewer but the blurb was so intriguing and Mr. Scott pitched it very well at his booth so I just had to pick it up.  In the end I’m really, really glad I brought Seaside home.

Seaside is a great book, as the blurb says, for young readers starting to read novels on their own or for parents reading to younger children before bedtime.  But really, I’m a grown woman and I thoroughly enjoyed it so it’s not just for the little ones as long as you let your inner child have free reign for a while.  It’s written at a level that any age group can enjoy but it’s the story itself that is (of course) the most important part.

Our human protagonist Robert is a ten year old boy who wants nothing more than to be one of Blackbeard’s Boys.  In his village of Seaside virtually everyone works as a fisherman but Blackbeard’s Boys are sort of the in-crowd, the group of future fishermen that you really want to be a part of.  They’re the cool kids and Robert quite naturally wants to be one.  Which is where we begin our story: with Robert swimming out to the lighthouse late at night in order to prove he’s worthy to be one of Blackbeard’s Boys.  That’s also when we meet our octopus protagonist, Walter.  Walter is just a carefree young child who questions almost everything his mother says, especially when it comes to humans.  Unfortunately, Walter’s reluctance to leave his play area that also happens to be a popular fishing area leads to his mother being captured by Captain Bonicelli, the son of the man Walter’s grandfather dragged to the bottom of the sea when he was caught.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Walter and Robert end up meeting and striking up a friendship that is as unconventional as it is taboo in the fishing town of Seaside.  And it’s this friendship that really makes both of them reconsider their preconceived notions about both humans and octopi.  Walter has to really think about his stereotypes regarding humans and Robert has to really reconsider whether or not he really does want to be a fisherman for his own sake or because it’s what is expected of him.  That leads me into another important point about Seaside: it has some really great lessons in here for young readers.  For example, the idea that you don’t have to fit in with the cool crowd and that you should choose to do what makes you happy rather than what’s expected of you.  Those are lessons that people of all ages can use, but they are especially important for children.

Obviously for someone who reads quite a bit, the ending was a little predictable but kids will absolutely love it.  One of the things that’s really striking about Seaside in general is that for a children’s novel, the characters were incredibly well developed.  Of course both Walter and Robert were well developed, but the surprising thing was that all of the adult characters were as well.  They all had a little bit of page time of their own and that revealed their backstories as well as the motivations for their current actions.  We learn, for example, why Robert’s father retired from being a fisherman and why Captain Bonicelli has a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to giant octopi.  There are all sorts of fascinating little details in these peoples’ lives and I think you do have to read the book a couple of times to truly appreciate the thoughtfulness and detail Wylde Scott put into his novel.  Of course the illustrations by Hannah Shuping really add to the story and bring the characters to life even more.  They’re a little dark for my liking but they are fabulous and at times adorable.

Basically, if you have a child that’s just starting to read chapter books or one that’s a little too young but loves to be read to at bedtime, Seaside is a great choice.  It has some amazingly memorable characters, a great plot, fabulous illustrations and some very important life lessons.  What more can you ask for in a chapter book aimed at young children?

I give this book 5/5 stars.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Goodreads*     Powell’s

*Not available.

King Callie by B. Lynch

King Callie by B. Lynch(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Caliandra, the teenage princess of Barra, is in dire straits.

Not only did her fiancé break off their engagement and leave her for a richer woman, but Caliandra’s father is gravely ill – and if her brother Valric is unable to find the cure he’s set out for, their titles and wealth will disappear. Their father had been chosen as king by a magic axe, and when he passes on, so does the crown.

Soon, the worst befalls the princess – Valric turns up dead, her father succumbs to disease, and the axe goes missing, leaving the throne open for a coup by the devious Minister of War. Caliandra and her mother decide to risk everything on a desperate bid to find the axe and oust the Minister, driven by a prophecy that the proper King will take his place – Caliandra.

But when she finds out which trusted family friend betrayed her brother, will Caliandra’s thirst for revenge sabotage her only chance at the crown?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

If I could describe King Callie (both the book and the title character) in one word it would be ‘underwhelming’.  For a story with magic, prophecy, revenge and intrigue, this book is kind of boring.

Caliandra as a character is thoroughly underwhelming.  She mopes around about being ditched for a richer woman for most of the book and then spends the rest of the book getting mad at the people who are actually just trying to help her (and actually end up putting her on the throne).  I don’t mind characters with generally unlikeable personalities as long as they’re interesting but Callie wasn’t.  We’re told she’s driven by revenge for her brother Valric’s death but you never really feel that anger and desire for revenge.  It manifests itself in stupid actions like challenging her own guards to a duel but as a reader you really don’t feel that desire for revenge.  And for someone who grew up at court, she’s strangely naive when it comes to plotting.  Sure, I’ll go help you two mysterious ladies kill the Seer who sent my brother to his death!  By the way, maybe I should ask you why you want this guy dead instead of just going along with it?  Yes, I get that she’s young and inexperienced but at the same time I expect at least a little bit of a sense of self-preservation when she actually grew up at court.  Courts aren’t exactly the most honest, open places in the world.

The plot seemed to be convoluted in the beginning because there were so many names thrown at the reader at once but it’s really not. It’s your typical evil General trying to seize the throne at an opportunistic moment sort of thing.  The only interesting parts were with the Seer, who happens to work for a shadowy organization that may or may not be evil.  We’re not entirely sure at this point and I’m not particularly inclined to find out.  Really, the only interesting character that can actually plot is Caliandra’s mother, who Caliandra spends most of the time undermining or insulting for being too womanly or suggesting Callie should tone things down.  Unfortunately, the book is not really about Callie’s mother.  I really do love books with lots of political maneuvering and on the surface there’s plenty here but it’s actually all very shallow and follows the same old political tropes you’ve read a hundred times before.

One of the only things that I actually found on par with my relatively middling expectations was the world-building.  I liked the fact that this magic axe chose the next king.  (Why not?  It’s no more ridiculous than relying on the dubious merits of a king’s offspring simply because they are his offspring.)  I also liked the scenes with magic, particularly in regards to the Seer’s prophecies and how he chose to interpret them.  One of the things I was fairly impressed with is that B. Lynch actually acknowledges that a kingdom does not exist in a vacuum and when the king dies, other kingdoms are fairly opportunistic.  They really do like to kick their opponent when said opponent is practically on its knees.  Of course that’s very realistic and in line with the history of almost every country in the world.

So despite the good world-building I have to say that King Callie was underwhelming.  It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read and I’d even hesitate to call it a ‘bad’ book but it certainly wasn’t the most enjoyable book I’ve ever read.  It really does feel like there was so much potential that was just squandered.

I give this book 2/5 stars.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Goodreads     Powell’s*

*Unavailable.

The Courtesan Duchess by Joanna Shupe

The Courtesan Duchess by Joanna Shupe(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

How to seduce an estranged husband—and banish debt!—in four wickedly improper, shockingly pleasurable steps…

1. Learn the most intimate secrets of London’s leading courtesan.
2. Pretend to be a courtesan yourself, using the name Juliet Leighton.
3. Travel to Venice and locate said husband.
4. Seduce husband, conceive an heir, and voilà, your future is secure!

For Julia, the Duchess of Colton, such a ruse promises to be foolproof. After all, her husband has not bothered to lay eyes on her in eight years, since their hasty wedding day when she was only sixteen. But what begins as a tempestuous flirtation escalates into full-blown passion—and the feeling is mutual. Could the man the Courtesan Duchess married actually turn out to be the love of her life?

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

This was a book I requested as a guilty pleasure read that actually turned out to be quite a wonderful story that was not only well-written but emotionally resonant.

Julia has been neglected by her husband for eight years since her wedding at the age of 16 (which wasn’t even consummated).  Now with no heir her inlaws are furious with her and the manager of the estate that her husband appointed is hinting that she may have to do more than beg to get even a livable allowance.  With her husband ignoring any letters she sends pleading with him to rectify the situation, he leaves her with no choice but to resort to drastic measures: seduce him under an assumed name to become pregnant.  She knows it’s wrong to dupe him and throughout the whole affair she feels incredibly guilty but justifies it to herself by remembering the circumstances in which he left her.

By the time Julia met her husband in Venice I was personally ready to strangle him for leaving her in such circumstances and not caring at all about her.  But as Julia and Nick grow closer under the courtesan-patron relationship, they start to actually develop feelings for one another which leads to us readers learning a lot more about Nick.  I don’t want to spoil too much if you do decide to read this book, but needless to say Nick had some genuine reasons for wanting nothing to do with Julia (none of which were her fault at all).  What I loved about The Courtesan Duchess is that both characters are so well developed.  They each have their own baggage from their childhoods and they have very interesting, unique personalities.  And Joanna Shupe doesn’t go for a straightforward romance; she recognizes that love is way more complicated than that and throws many, many twists and turns into Julia and Nick’s relationship.

The romance in this book is absolutely sizzling and the sex scenes were actually sexy instead of absolutely ridiculous.  Not only that, they actually advanced the plot, which was quite fast-paced for a romance.  I honestly wanted to find out what happened next and instead of reading a few chapters ended up reading the whole book in a single sitting.  Joanna Shupe’s writing style is very descriptive without being overly boring and she really makes you as a reader feel the emotions of her characters.  When I read romance books I often can’t emotionally click with one or even both characters but that was definitely not the case here.  I wanted Julia and Nick to hash out their problems and get back together!  I wanted their love to be real and not just a fake fling in Venice that happened because of entirely selfish reasons on both their parts.  It was quite a refreshing change.

As I’ve said previously, I’m not a huge romance reader but I can’t deny that I absolutely loved this book and want to read more of Joanna Shupe’s work.  It’s both guilty pleasure and serious novel with a great mixture of romance, intrigue and three dimensional characters.  Really, what more can you ask for?

I give this book 5/5 stars.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Goodreads     Powell’s

Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen

Hidden Huntress by Danielle L. Jensen(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Sometimes, one must accomplish the impossible.

Beneath the mountain, the king’s reign of tyranny is absolute; the one troll with the capacity to challenge him is imprisoned for treason. Cécile has escaped the darkness of Trollus, but she learns all too quickly that she is not beyond the reach of the king’s power. Or his manipulation.

Recovered from her injuries, she now lives with her mother in Trianon and graces the opera stage every night. But by day she searches for the witch who has eluded the trolls for five hundred years. Whether she succeeds or fails, the costs to those she cares about will be high.

To find Anushka, she must delve into magic that is both dark and deadly. But the witch is a clever creature. And Cécile might not just be the hunter. She might also be the hunted…

I had serious doubts about how Hidden Huntress would turn out, given the fact that Cécile and Tristan are now separated and their relationship was the absolute highlight of the first book.  Their banter also provided quite a bit of comedy relief given the relatively dark atmosphere of the story.  However, I didn’t really need to worry because although there are some places where this book suffers from Book 2 Syndrome, it is a solid book on the whole.

We meet Cécile as she’s trying to find her place in society: she’s on stage almost every night singing opera, just like she dreamed.  Except now she’s really not happy because she’s separated from Tristan, has to deal with her overbearing perfectionist mother and is missing Tristan terribly.  Yet she manages to function like a relatively normal human being, going about her daily routine while secretly involving her friends in the search for Anushka.  Things are frustrating for her but they’re going well considering Tristan’s predicament: he’s been disinherited and thrown in jail, tortured regularly with iron to suppress his magic.  It’s pretty horrific and it’s understandable that when Cécile meets with his father, the king, she makes a promise she might not be able to keep.  And troll promises work on humans in strange ways, ways that the human in question might not have anticipated.  It’s Cécile‘s hasty (but understandably so) promise that really kickstarts the main events and action in the novel.

Once again, the characters are incredibly well developed.  Cécile is still very much her own woman but has to learn to rely on her friends and her brother in order to help her hunt Anushka.  She also has to come to terms with her mother and her mother’s expectations of her as a budding opera singer (which includes the entertaining of men).  Tristan also really has to confront his past arrogance in his schemes and learn to think in about four dimensions in order to anticipate his scheming father’s every move.  He does a few incredibly rash things but since it’s in the name of restoring a semblance of equality to Trollus I think some of them are understandable, if not entirely justified.  One of the characters that really stood out for me was Anushka.  We don’t really learn much about her until the end of the novel but wow, her backstory makes her cursing of the trolls entirely understandable.  Trust me, whatever you’re thinking her backstory was, it’s actually much worse.  You really do feel quite a bit of sympathy for her…temporarily.

The plot is not the most fast-paced, unfortunately.  Sometimes Danielle Jensen gets caught up with the Cécile angle of the story and neglects Tristan’s very important scheming, which really needs more page time in order to be fully understood and appreciated.  She could have cut some of the opera scenes with Cécile in the name of trimming down the plot and that’s coming from me, an opera lover.  I think Hidden Huntress is definitely a solid sequel to Stolen Songbird but the plot just lacked something that the first book had.  I can’t quite pinpoint what it is, but it seemed like there was something missing in this second book that was definitely there in the first.  That’s not very helpful, I know, but it’s true.  Although, to be fair, the cliffhanger at the ending was massive and makes me want to read the next book immediately.  I also loved the fact that the origins of the trolls are explained a little more even if we’re still lacking in a full backstory.

Basically, Hidden Huntress was a decent sequel but it definitely suffered from Book 2 Syndrome in some spots.  I’m absolutely still going to read the third and final book in the Malediction Trilogy but I do feel this one could have been better.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Goodreads     Powell’s