Review: Defy Me

Review: Defy Me

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

This review is not spoiler-free

Juliette thought she had everything under control until she didn’t. And now she’s alone with no one but herself as she’s forced to rediscover the world around. A lifetime of lies unravels before her and Juliette has no choice but to remember the past she had long forgotten. Narrated by Juliette and other familiar faces, the fifth instalment brings to light information that continues to shake the very foundation of the world they thought they knew.

A lot of people love this, and a lot of people hate this. As a reader who despised the original trilogy, my expectations for these new books were extremely low, but I was fairly impressed by Restore Me and I could say the same things for Defy Me: entertaining yet at the same time, so, so disappointed.

In term of story, there’s not much to unpack. Juliette discovers the truth behind her family, her parents and sister, and it is heartbreaking. Hearing about her sister and the truth behind her past was a standout moment, especially in a powerful scene between the sisters at the end. On the other end, we follow Warner and Kenji as they scramble to pick the movement back up after Juliette’s sudden disappearance. Memories of certain characters are restored and suddenly, they all don’t know what’s happening. I really enjoyed Restore Me, but Defy Me felt like it’s filler counterpart.

In my (poorly written) series review, I named Kenji the series saver. But I don’t know if he truly gave this story the pick up it sorely needed. I really enjoyed his chapters despite my overall feelings. He was always so hilarious and relatable, and often the only person who made any sense in the series. That Juliette and Kenji reunion was enough to save the book for me. I found it weird that Mafi decided to pair him up with Nazeera. In Restore Me, it was so cringey and embarrassing, especially when Mafi basically pulls an almost insta love on the readers with them. But I really did enjoy their overall dynamic in Defy Me. Do I love it or do I hate it? I don’t even know. I’ll withhold final judgements until Imagine Me.

I feel really bad that I could not, for the life of me, remember anything significant about the Omega Point group. Tahereh Mafi withholding Brendan and Winston from getting together made no sense. I legit forgot about Castle for most of this book. I am glad he got his family back. I feel like Adam was a completely new character. It’s like Tahereh really didn’t need him in this book, and kept him being an ass in the background.

I have to say Tahereh writes this series in such an addicting way, that’s only in this series alone. In all her other works I’ve read was good, but none really had that pacing that the Shatter Me series has that whether you love it or hate it, you find yourself speeding through. I feel like this whole series is just one big adrenaline rush. But note, this book is like 80% rambly flashbacks and a lot was missing. Especially when Juliette was locked away, there was a huge potential to develop those scenes further, but we lose a lot of valuable information. The dialogue was so melodramatic. And I wasn’t a huge fan of that. To be honest, this book could’ve been shortened, and split back into Restore Me and added onto Imagine Me. Everything was stretching a little thin for me in this book.

I have to say this: I didn’t get the engagement scene. I knew it was coming up and it just didn’t feel right. And don’t get me started at that sex scene. I’m all for making more sex-positive YA books but I’m pulling out that iconic Pokemon line, “There’s a time and place for everything, but not now.” Was this an attempt at fanservice because I was lost for words at how lost I was when I was reading it.

Overall, I don’t know even know what to expect for this series and how it will actually end. I felt bad for Tahereh at first because adding three new books to a beloved YA series that had ended ages ago was a bold move on her part. But I feel like, in that time, the actual fans of this series have consolidated their own thoughts and ideas of what happens next and the past two books so far have thrown a lot of them off. I personally enjoyed the general direction this series has taken after Restore Me but I feel like Tahereh’s decision to write three more Shatter Me books has polarised her own reader community a lot. I would say if you loved the series, then go ahead continue the series, but if you were never a fan of the originals, then stay away, this won’t do any good for you.


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Review: The Surface Breaks

Review: The Surface Breaks

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Beneath the sea, Muirgen patiently counts down the days to her fifteenth birthday where she can finally see the world above hers, but only for a quick moment as her controlling father urges her to keep her head down below. On what should be her first and only visit, she is drawn to a human boy and decides that she too wants to be a part of his world. But doing so risks her place in the sea, but this little mermaid will do anything to find her place.

The Surface Breaks is an O’Neill novel for a YA audience, and she has done a brilliant job with it. Often described as a “feminist retelling” of The Little Mermaid, and it definitely does fit the description. Muirgen and her sisters live under the controlling thumb of their father, the Sea King. Angered by the loss of their mother years ago, his controlling behaviour and treatment of his daughters as mere property has them competing for his attention.

When Muirgen is enthralled by the human world, she finds herself asking for the help of the Sea Witch, an enigma of a character, a guardian of the Rusalkas — underwater creatures who were once human women that were abused. The merfolk despised them for their unruly behaviour but the Sea Witch assures they are but themselves which highlight a key theme to the novel: women who reclaimed what had been taken from them and unapologetically raise their voices when they’ve been told to stay quiet.

If I had to think of any flaw, it would be the depiction of the world and setting. I didn’t really find myself falling for the merfolk’s kingdom and the human world too felt underdeveloped. But the effect is minuscule and doesn’t affect my overall opinion of the book. The strength of the book is in the characters and journey of Muirgen.

Overall, The Surface Breaks is an interesting retelling of The Little Mermaid O’Neill has used the original tale brilliantly and adding her own flair and originality. I especially loved the added backstory to their mother. If you’re looking for a fairy tale with a touch of darkness and empowerment, this one is definitely for you.


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Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Casiopea Tun dreams of a life beyond her small Mexico town until she accidentally releases a God of Death and her time is soon limited, as she is now bound to the Mayan God, Hun-Kamé, and must help him regain his missing body parts in order to reclaim his throne in Xibalba (Mayan Underground) from his thieving brother. Failure means Casiopea will lose herself and with the clock slowly ticking, together, they embark on a life-changing journey that has Casiopea leaving the clutches of her strict grandfather and experience an adventure of a lifestyle.

The central tale focuses on Casiopea and her journey from sheltered girl to a confident person who rediscovers the world beyond her small village. Her determination to go beyond what is expected of her is entertaining and thrilling. A tale of a young woman and a God with their fates tied so close together, the world they discover takes centre stage. Casiopea and Vacub-Kamé hurry though Mexico in the 1920s, beginning in Yucatán and onwards into northern Mexico. The bright lights of a changing world is a brilliant contrast with the darkness of Xibalba, crafty magic and the mischievous demons that reside beside the civilians. I really enjoyed the level of detail as you can really imagine the world unfold in front you as Casiopea experiences it all for the first time.

I really loved the inclusion of Casiopea’s cousin. Like Casiopea, he is forced to embark on a journey to bring his cousin back home. I love that it gave deeper depth to how he has come to hate his cousin and where is narcissistic tendencies comes from, and how easily things could’ve been different between them if it wasn’t for their upbringing. I wasn’t a massive fan of Vacub-Kamé, Hun-Kamé’s brother, and his chapters, but appreciate how it showed a difference in leadership between the brothers and added a lot to the major theme of family that runs through this novel.

In terms of pacing, it was quite even between the journeys to each body parts, but I do have to admit, each obstacle does give up rather easily which was quite jarring considering the stakes and risks presented to us. However, I did really enjoy each side character that we meet. Most we don’t ever meet again but were definitely memorable enough to enjoy. I especially really adored the lull moments between each trip where Casiopea and Hun-Kamé get to know each other. I’ve never been a big fan of romances where one person is like a thousand years older than the one, but each to their own, I guess.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think any other reader will enjoy how Moreno-Garcia’s blend of mythology and history. Gods of Jade and Shadow was an enchanting story of self-discovery with an ending that is satisfying but could hint at a potential sequel. If so, I would gladly read whatever comes next.


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Review: The Resurrectionist of Caligo

Review: The Resurrectionist of Caligo

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Roger Weathersby barely scrapes by making a living out of stealing corpses for medical schools, dreaming that one day, he’ll be a reputable doctor that saves lives. But when he’s framed for a murder of one of his steals, he is forced to reunite with an old friend to save the city and, hopefully, clear his name. The old friend in question is none of than Princess Sibylla, who returns to her childhood city on request of her Queen grandmother, who is keen to see she is married off to her cousin to further their magical bloodline. But when her own suspicions tie in with Roger’s situation, it’s up to them to save the country before it’s torn apart.

I’m not going to lie, this was quite a surprising read. The Resurrectionist of Caligo is quite intriguing. The royal family of Myrcnia rule by divine right due to their magical skills that comes from their bloodline. Everyone has a different ability, and due to it only being manifested in a person’s biology, the reigning Queen is quite hellbent on making sure it stays in the family. And that means killing off any illegitimate children and only allowing marriages within the family. And this has Sibylla on edge because her half-brother is hidden within the city and she is sure Queen is close to discovering his identity. Roger is in a strange position where in the town, the people are restless, and science is growing and questioning the supremacy of the magical users. A Resurrectionist is simply a cooler term for grave snatcher in the name of science. And Roger begins to notice a pattern in the corpses he has been collecting and the victims of a well-known strangler who has been terrorising the women of Caligo.

I loved the magical features and the development of the political intrigue of this universe. But, the world-building is a hit or miss situations where within Myrcnia, and its capital Caligo, it is quite packed with a lot of detail. I was quite impressed with the quasi-Victorian design that is set up. Trimboli and Zaloga draw on the challenges of the Victorian-era lifestyle, echoing a steampunk design, which creates the Myrcnia’s landscape. A pivot part of Sibylla’s arc is her interaction with the neighbouring country, but I was disappointed how bland they were in comparison. You get a lot of rich detail within the city, but they’ve resorted to merely being the outsiders, and it just didn’t sit well with me.  

I personally loved Sibylla and Roger as characters in their own right, but the story really hinges on their childhood connection and, personally, I never really caught on to what drew them together. And a lot of their communication is passed between Roger’s half-brother, who is also Sibylla’s warden.  They appear to despise each other, and there’s little given to understand their connection, aside from their forced situation.

Overall, I found The Resurrectionist of Caligo quite entertaining. It was quick, easy to read. The characters are great, I enjoyed the mix of comedy and mystery, and it was quite heart-warming in most scenes. The magic system is by far the most exciting aspect of this novel, but not as utilised as you would expect. But I would definitely be interested in checking out in any future sequels.


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Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

Review: We Set the Dark on Fire

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5/5)

In a strictly divided society, where high ranking men each marry two women, a Primera and a Segunda, Daniela has risen to the very top of her class despite her forged identity.

Medio is an island nation divided by a wall and aligned by class. The mythos of the world reveals it was born after two sibling gods fought over a woman. Those who sided with the salt god were cursed to live in barren and ruined lands. The descendants of the sun god who reside in the capital are wealthy and refused to change their disproportionate way of living. The role of Primera and Segunda comes from the sun god and his two wives: one who is responsible for running the household and one who must bear their husband’s children. And the Medio School for Girls is accountable for raising girls suitable for marriage.

Daniela is days away from graduating and getting married into one of Medio’s high-ranking families. When an agent of La Voz, a group of rebels within the city who protest the violence and disparity of the divide between the island, calls out her fraudulent papers and supplies her with new ones. Soon, she is blackmailed into spying on her new family. As she settles into her role as Primera, she must make some unexpected choices if she wants to survive.

We Set the Dark on Fire is certainly engaging, a story not so far removed from our reality. It’s a part thriller, part forbidden (sapphic) romance, and full on drama. I can’t quite put my finger on what precisely, but it has that old school dystopian flair. And Mejia brings her own Latinx twist to YA dystopia which I really enjoyed.  

Mejia has crafted quite a world. I found it quite sparse at first, especially with no map, I couldn’t really picture anything that wasn’t the space that Daniela occupied and her descriptions of the border. Which is such a shame because it really weakens the rebellion when you almost nothing about it. Other than visual, there is a lot of detail in different ways. Mejia takes on immigration, class disparity, corruption and oppression. And I really enjoy the use of the salt and sun god’s actions which led to the way their current society was formed.

I’m still a little wary over how the romance between Dani and Carmen developed. I do like “enemies to lovers”, but this felt more like bullies to lovers, and I really couldn’t put aside the fact that Carmen tormented Dani for over five years. The romance is good, I would say it’s one of the books strongest points, but how we got there was the issue. Other than these two little titbits, I would still say this is quite a good read.

Overall, We Set the Dark on Fire was a refreshing read where my high expectations were surprisingly met. An action-packed narrative that discusses privilege and immigration, mirroring our own headlines. The plot twist at the very end actually threw me off completely. I am definitely excited to see where the story will go further in the next instalment.     


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Review: The Battle (The Gauntlet #2)

Review: The Battle (The Gauntlet #2)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Years after The Gauntlet, the Architect returns with a new partner, MasterMind, to take revenge on the Mirza family. Now twelve-years-old, Ahmad Mirza must face their latest creation, The Battle. Ahmad is forced back by the Architect to a brand new Paheli. A slicker and more modern update raises the stakes, and with New York frozen in time, Ahmad must beat the game again before it beats him.  

Like the first book, the story is structured around three challenges that Ahmad and Winnie must complete to defeat MasterMind’s game. Riazi again gives readers not much time as our characters must rush all over the city of Paheli. Ahmad remembers little from his past adventure, so he’s just as confused as Winnie is. What definitely carries on the from the debut is the fast-paced mix of monsters and high-stakes battles for survival. I loved the descriptions of the new Paheli, it’s an entirely new landscape with some familiarity with Ahmad and returning readers. The world-building of the novel and game design shines through. The old Paheli isn’t there anymore, but parts of it still manage to linger with a more significant emphasis on the steampunk design this time around. I enjoyed the level of detail given to the setting. I’m obviously not the intended audience, but this book is good fun, full of action and adventure.

A similar issue I had with The Gauntlet was the disparity in characterisation between the lead, now Ahmad, and its secondary characters. The Battle introduces Ahmad’s classmate, Winnie, as his companion into Paheli. Throughout the novel, you really get a feel for Ahmad and watch him grown as a person, but Winnie is not as fully developed. She’s a smart and confident girl but doesn’t really impact the story as much you’d expect and felt like a paper character meant to just tag along with Ahmad.

Overall, I have no doubt that younger readers will enjoy the new Paheli landscape with high-rise landscapes, flying cars and familiar faces. A surprising reveal at the end makes me wonder where the future of Paheli could lead.  I personally didn’t enjoy The Battle that much which is quite disappointing, especially when I adored the first one. I absolutely loved The Gauntlet, but its sequel doesn’t match up with the magic of its predecessor. It is a solid and fascinating return but to those who loved the world created before may be disappointed by its execution.


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