Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge (Balzer + Bay/HarperCollins, 4-28-2015)
I thoroughly enjoyed Cruel Beauty, so expectations were high for this not-sequel set in the same world. After an encounter with a forestborn turns Rachelle into a bloodbound, her anger (towards herself and her situation), causes her to resent Armand, who claims to have walked away from a forestborn losing only his hands instead of his soul. Rachelle is a fierce heroine, and her struggle with her own identity was painful and powerful, yet she still felt realistic. There are so many layers and facets to Armand that you're never quite able to pin his character down, and he provides a great foil to Rachelle (with great banter). Hodge is beyond talented at writing into the darkness - certain parts provide an almost sinister reading experience, and you can feel the forest creeping into the edges of you vision and the pages. The greatest shortcoming of this novel, however, was the romance. The love triangle, while it served a purpose, felt like a plot device, not any genuine emotional connection. Rachelle and Eric made me a bit uncomfortable. I really rooted for Rachelle and Armand and wanted them to get together, but it didn't come together that well, and left me wanting more for their relationship. Overall, this was a great action story with a kickass ba girl and clever good guy. As far as recent fairytale retellings go, this is a stand out. Crimson Bound is a massive tome and I devoured it in two sittings. If you always wanted your fairytales with more grit and (slightly existential) darkness, Crimson Bound needs to be on the top of your TBR pile.
Rating: 4 stars
The Wrath and The Dawn by Renée Ahdieh (Putnam, 5-12-2015)
A retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, Ahdieh's debut novel tells the tale of a young Caliph who takes a wife every night and kills her every morning, and the young woman who volunteers. The Wrath and the Dawn was a very highly anticipated release this year, and it got a lot of hype in the book community. This was a fresh take on the fairytale retelling trend, and introduced some much-needed diversity at the same time. The Middle Eastern setting and culture were perhaps the most vibrant aspects of this book. Because on the whole, this book was a major disappointment. This book begins with the premise that Shazi volunteers so that she can kill Khalid - instead, they fall in love. The real issue is that these mutual feelings develop unrealistically, and oh my the way, he's still the guy who killed your best friend and we get the barest explanation of why he's not a psycho bad guy. It just made no sense to me, and prevented me from enjoying their relationship/story. Further, the dynamics between all characters were unbelievable and all tell, no show. Ahdieh's writing itself is also hugely distracting, filled with nonsensical metaphors (like the poison toying with its remedy???) and exhaustingly overused descriptors. If I ever read/hear the phrase "tiger eyes" again, I will cause physical harm to myself and/or others. The Wrath and the Dawn is, of course, the first book in a series (that I won't be continuing).
Rating: 2.5 stars
The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (Delacorte Press, 4-28-2015)
The Girl at Midnight had a fair amount of buzz around its April release, a great deal of which was caused by its comparison to Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. This is a tall order, since DoSaB is a beloved saga with gorgeous writing. In truth, there are quite a lot of similarities, especially in the beginning. An orphan human girl is taken in and raised by a benevolent parent figure creature. But the fact of the matter is that TGaM is not even close to the same quality. There are some lovely lines, but on the whole I never felt like I had to keep reading or couldn't turn the page fast enough. I enjoyed how diverse the cast of characters was, but they still all felt rather flat and one-dimensional. Echo, the main protagonist, is the only real standout (although I appreciated Jasper for his comic relief). This book felt rather unimpressive on the whole, which was disappointing because it was so highly anticipated (and high on my 2015 releases list). Sadly, I don't know if I'll read the sequel when it comes out next year. The Girl at Midnight was good and enjoyable if you don't go in expecting too much. It certainly reads like a debut novel, but hopefully this series will improve in future installments. Fans of urban fantasy should give this a try - lots of people have loved this, so you might too.
Rating: 3 (generous) stars