Bold Tricks by Karina Halle

Bold Tricks (The Artists Trilogy, #3)Bold Tricks by Karina Halle
My rating: 3 of 5 teacups


The Artists Trilogy has been one of my favourite series of all time. Really. It has broken all my rules about contemporary romances, love triangles, “bad boys”… everything. I have loved Ellie, Camden and Javier; they have made me sad, frustrated and angry at times, but damn, have I loved them. As soon as this third and final installment was made available to me, I snatched it up with an eagerness that will only be understood by those people who have truly fallen in love with a series and waited desperately for the next book. And I want to give this book five stars. Or four at least. I want to rate it higher to express my love for the whole series, for the characters and for this author who’s given me such a crazy story to love. But I’d be lying. Because Bold Tricks, though not enough to kill my love for the trilogy as a whole, was a real disappointment for me.

The primary strength of this series has always been, in my opinion, its ability to break my own rules. I have always been highly critical of the romance genre and love triangles; so, for this series to come along and give me both of those at once but make me love them, well, that’s really quite an achievement. And one of the main reasons that this love triangle works so successfully is because of the way the author keeps the two men on equal footing. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, they both fulfill an important role in Ellie’s life so that the reader is genuinely unsure which one she will be able to live without. I finished the second book wondering how it would be possible for Bold Tricks to take me from where I was (having no clue who Ellie would pick) to cementing my love for one of the men over the other (or at least convincing me of Ellie’s cemented love). The answer: it didn’t.

Halle has never had any problem putting her characters through several levels of hell. I knew that. I loved that. I expected to be taken to hell in this book and possibly have my heart ripped out along the way. But – and perhaps this is the most disappointing thing of all about this final installment – things were too easy. Ellie’s decision was too easy for her. She’s spent such a long time being tortured by her conflicted feelings for Camden and Javier that it felt like something of a cop-out to turn it around so quickly, so easily and so early on in the book. The characterisation of the man she didn’t pick began to unravel too quickly; everything he did felt like an excuse as to why Ellie shouldn’t pick him and at odds with the multifaceted character we’ve come to know and love. It would have been more realistic and far more satisfying to have Ellie choose between the two men who were on equal footing (even if our hearts were broken by it), than for her to face a choice suddenly made easy and obvious by the actions of one of the men.

Then we come to the issue of the choice she makes. I was willing to accept either and prepared myself to deal with whichever man Ellie ended up with. But I did not expect this book to take such a cheesy turn. “Cheesy” is a word I never thought could be applied to the Artists Trilogy. So imagine my surprise when Ellie’s decision was quickly followed by the dialogue dissolving into the usual romance-y sweet nothings and cringy metaphors. While this book wasn’t a complete disappointment, the romantic side of it was. And, for once, this is a series where the romantic aspect has been my favourite part, so it was doubly disappointing.

Still, there are a lot of positive things to say about Bold Tricks. The writing has the author’s addictive signature all over it, the characters are witty and hilarious as usual, and the action is at a series high. The drug cartel subplot plays an even bigger part in this book and it makes for a number of heart-stopping scenes of tension. The demons Ellie has been battling for most of her life finally surface for one last fateful showdown and a number of unexpected truths are revealed. I can’t say that I wasn’t wildly entertained by this conclusion and I know that I’ll be looking out for everything Ms Halle writes in the future.

And I can’t help but feel guilty about my rating and reaction to this book.

Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong

Sea of Shadows (Age of Legends, #1)Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

It’s official: I prefer Kelley Armstrong so so much more when she’s writing for adults. I appreciate that this book won’t actually be released for another six months and I wouldn’t usually post a review so far in advance, but Sea of Shadows was so meh that I doubt I’ll be able to remember anything I want to say if I wait any longer.

Compared to other paranormal/urban fantasy authors, Armstrong’s pacing is generally on the slow side. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I thought it worked wonderfully in Bitten, Stolen and her latest adult book – Omens. But the success of Armstrong’s slower pacing varies. Sometimes it builds up a slow picture of the characters and world in such a way that you’re desperate to find out more. Sometimes it dangles a temptation for more in front of your face and guarantees you’ll pace frustratedly until the sequel comes out. But sometimes it can also mean that nothing seems to happen for the majority of the book. It’s been a while since I read it but I recall having such an experience with The Calling. That book ended with me feeling like I’d read a few hundred pages of filler.

While my experience with The Calling could be attributed to middle book syndrome, my experience with this latest series-starter cannot. At least the first two thirds of Sea of Shadows feels like the characters have no purpose or direction. Much of this portion of the novel is spent wandering around being lost and having love/hate flirtations with the book’s two love interests (one for each girl, not a love triangle). And while there was, for me, a very distinct turning point after these first two thirds, it was still mostly due to an increase in the novel’s grittiness and a couple of well-placed, shockingly-violent scenes. Not to mention it was all just too little too late.

I’m not one to get too picky over what we’re calling our genres but I feel the need to point out that it seems something of a stretch to call this book “high fantasy”. Or, if you insist on calling it that, then it must alternatively be admitted that there is very little managed in the way of world-building here. Some brief mentions of forbidden magic and a royal family aren’t enough – and they certainly aren’t original in a genre made up of forbidden magic and royal families. The history and culture of this world is barely touched upon; a fact which probably means Armstrong is saving it for future installments, but actually just made me feel like I’d read an extremely long prologue to what could be a good book.

I realise that I’ve been skirting around a plot summary but, to be honest, I don’t quite know what to tell you. Moria and Ashyn are twin sisters and also the Keeper and the Seeker. This means it’s their job to calm the souls of the damned in the Forest of the Dead. All sounds cool, right? Well… reading the GR description after reading the book makes me realise that it was telling the truth all along but I just couldn’t see the reality:

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor.

Basically, in simple terms, the plot is a journey from one place to another. In my opinion? It’s a dull trek, punctuated by banter that foreshadows the inevitable romances. To make matters worse, Ashlyn’s character was far more boring than Moria’s, which added an extra layer of tediousness to her POV. Whereas I liked Moria most of the time but couldn’t stand her sexy hunk – Gavril. I like complex characters who make mistakes and don’t always do the right thing, but am I really supposed to find him attractive when he takes pleasure in insulting and humiliating Moria? I guess this is one for the teens who love the broody and volatile men who get a kick out of putting women down.

I guess you probably worked it out already but, just in case, I was disappointed with this book. I strongly recommend you pick up Omens instead if you’re looking for a new KA read. For me, Sea of Shadows failed on every level… characters, world-building, plot… even that twist at the end had absolutely no effect on me. I think that’s why I haven’t given this one star – I really don’t feel that passionately about it.

Vicious by Victoria Schwab

ViciousVicious by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”

I can’t remember the last time I had the pleasure of writing two consecutive five-star reviews. It’s been an exciting few days! I actually received an 100-page preview of Vicious a few months ago and picked it up with absolutely zero expectations. Then, suddenly, I was catapulted into a world that did more than keep the promises of the blurb – A masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world – but also introduced me to a memorable cast of characters, an exciting plot, and some of the most addictive writing I’ve ever read.

Schwab’s other books never appealed to me but I suddenly find myself wanting to see if all her writing is like this. Some books just have that spark. It’s a compulsive readability in the writing style; it demands to be read; it demands that you keep turning pages like a crazy person. You can’t really explain or define it, you can only point to examples of where it exists. And it exists here. Everything about this book draws you in: the characters, the plot, the way the book moves fluidly from past to present… everything. I can’t tell you how much Vicious surprised me, and I can’t find words to explain just how exciting, gripping and beautifully twisted it is. But I shall try.

Vicious falls into the adult/new adult category as opposed to young adult. To break it down simply, this is a story about superheroes and supervillains and how it isn’t always so easy to tell which is which. Victor questions at one point (paraphrased because I lost the quote): “people are calling Eli a hero. If he’s a hero and I want to destroy him, what does that make me?” It’s all about the ambitions, the betrayals and the jealousies of people who are far too clever for their own good. People who work together to obtain power but whose friendship is torn apart by said power. The characters – including the protagonist – all have dark sides hiding beneath their calm, collected exteriors. Perhaps this will put some readers off, but I was absolutely fascinated by the exploration of the fine line between the good guys and the bad guys.

The story is split between the present and ten years ago. The present tells of Victor, an escaped convict, who is determined to find his old friend-turned-enemy and deal out the revenge that is burning inside him. Flash back to ten years ago and Victor is a bright, young university student who is practically inseparable from his best friend – Eli. When Eli proposes a plan to discover whether EOs (Extra-Ordinaries) exist, he and Victor become partners in a scheme that will take them to hell and back and maybe, just maybe, grant them supernatural abilities. I adored the complex friendship between the two men that hovered somewhere between admiration and bitter jealousy and how this developed as they grew and became more obsessed with power and their own view of right and wrong.

I loved Vicious, I really did. I’d easily consider it one of my favourite novels of 2013 and probably the one that surprised me most. It’s just a wild and addictive story with no throwaway characters. Everyone in the book has their own problems to face, especially when it comes to some of the moral struggles that go with having godlike powers. I can’t wait for more people to read it.