‘Ahe’ey’ Review

‘Ahe’ey’ Review

“Ahe’ey” is a new novel by debut author Jamie Le Fay. It follows Morgan, proud feminist and progressive, and her infatuation and eventual entanglement with the mysterious Gabriel. It’s a fantasy novel with a strong political slant, that miraculously manages to do both things well.

The novel succeeds by placing the tumultuous, patriarchal U.S. that we all know alongside the fantastical realm of Ahe’ey, a violent and war-torn matriarchy rampant with misandry and class-ism. By showing both sides of the coin, and leaving Morgan to navigate both worlds, Le Fay effectively eliminates the need to explain her stance: equality is clearly the goal.

This set-up is all that is necessary to accomplish Le Fay’s agenda, but the dialogue is still ridden with political commentary that often became distracting and somewhat preachy.

For example comparisons between the novel’s presidential candidate and infamous bigot Walter Zanus and the campaign and platform of the current U.S. president are beaten into the ground. It’s clear who and what Zanus represents from the moment his character is introduced in a viral video, so the reiteration of these comparisons — and, let’s be frank, the name Walter Zanus — are crude and off-putting in a novel that otherwise retains the moral and intellectual high ground.

It is my opinion that if the politics took a subtler, backseat role to the story, the message of “Ahe’ey” would reach larger audiences.

The story speaks for itself; Morgan is every feminist bookworm’s dream come true. She practically echoed my thoughts on her romance, and by extension that of every fantasy femme fatale, as she struggled to maintain her ideals and self-respect and yet still give grace to the man with whom she is falling in love.

“Ahe’ey” is engaging and well-paced, with interesting characters and rich, colorful fantasy. The dialogue occasionally sounds canned or rehearsed, but if the characters were allowed to shine through the political agenda, they could easily develop more natural relationships and conversations. They’re so close as it is.

I give “Ahe’ey” 4.5/5 stars for its powerful message and high ideals, and hope that the story guides many young men and women to the same philosophies.

“Ahe’ey” was officially released to the world today, and can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

XX. Shelby Jo

‘Black Blade’ Review

‘Black Blade’ Review

“Black Blade” is a YA fantasy adventure by Alexander Charalambides. It follows young hero Lance and his outgoing best friend Megan as they are thrown from the terrors of high school to a magical quest in Avalon.

Charalambides’ first book falls right in step in the tradition of Rick Riordan’s popular Percy Jackson, with its witty, down-to-earth dialogue, free indirect style, and loose fourth wall. The similarities drew me to the story immediately, and brought out the strongest part of the narrative: the characters.

Lance is the shining element of “Black Blade,” as I’m sure Charalambides intended. When his quest and enchanted weapon is thrust upon him, Lance charges fearlessly into battle, telling Megan, “Look…to be honest, I can’t say I figured this would happen, but it always felt like it should.”

Lance echoes the thought of any young person who has spent their days immersed in stories like his. He is meant for more. There’s adventure waiting for him; he knows it and he craves it. This should be enough to drive the narrative forward and keep Lance on his quest, but other elements are thrown in to further raise the stakes. Most of those decisions were unnecessary to me; they cluttered the lore of the the story and required too much exposition.

The voice does read more like a middle grade story than a YA one, until the introduction of three guide-like figures from Avalon, including one who compulsively curses her way through the book.

The introduction of these three raises other narrative issues, as well. The pace of “Black Blade” requires pithy explanations of events and an almost constant stream of dialogue, but with five regular characters, back and forth dialogue without speech tags quickly becomes confusing.

Charalambides begins POV shifts at this point too, without clarifying time or setting changes, or signifying the switches in any other way. The timeline becomes muddled here, but could easily be fixed with a format that indicated POV jumps. Clarifying these would further shore up the characters, and in turn drive the narrative forward. Everything is connected here, showing that “Black Blade” truly has potential, with clearer movement and cleaner copy.

I give “Black Blade” by Alexander Charalambides 4 / 5 stars. It’s an easy and entertaining read, full of colorful and well-developed characters.

“Black Blade” is now available for purchase on Amazon.

XX. Shelby Jo

April Book Review

April Book Review

April showers bring book reviews! And what do book reviews bring? Dedicated online followers! (Please?)

1). Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – This book was incredible. The story was heartbreaking, the language was beautiful,  and the use of perspective was thorough and pointed and powerful.

2). A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab – Even though I only recently started this series, it felt like I was waiting for its conclusion forever. And it was worth every second the metaphorical wait. The book wandered a bit, but it eventually lead to a character-consistent conclusion (alliteration!) for all of the wonderful characters.

3). The Black Lotus by Claire Warner – This was a self-published RC that I received in exchange for an honest review. Check out my thoughts here and find the book on Amazon!

4). Blood Orchid by Claire Warner – This was a self-published RC that I received in exchange for an honest review. Check out my thoughts here and find the book on Amazon!

Happy spring to everyone, and good luck on finals to all my fellow students. We will prevail.

XX. Shelby Jo

‘Blood Orchid’ Review

‘Blood Orchid’ Review

Blood Orchid is a YA fantasy novel by Claire Warner. It’s the second in the Night Flower series (read my review of The Black Lotus here) and picks up immediately where the first let off.

I’ll admit, that’s one of my favorite tropes; if the immediacy is done well, it multiplies the suspense without the reader catching on. It was hard not to catch on in Blood Orchid. It begins with the same wandering perspective as the first book, briefly touching each character’s mind to remind the reader of “tragic” ending of Black Lotus.

And then Warner proceeds to dwell on those events for the first half of the book. Without warning, at that halfway point, the narration jumps forward twenty years. The characters are still single-mindedly focused on one task, but have yet to have any rational discussion about that task on the page.

As a reader, I don’t generally mind being left in the dark about the protagonist’s intentions — it can often lead to engaging discoveries down the road — but when those characters continue to make the same mistakes and have the same conversations over the course of twenty years, I start to wonder what the plan is.

More so than The Black Lotus, it seems that Warner, too, lacked a plan for Blood Orchid. Like many middle or sophomore books, it was simply a string of events, without an overall arc to the plot.

Full of copy errors and without well developed characters to make those events interesting or entertaining, the book as a whole falls flat.

The Black Lotus left room for redemption and possible success for the Night Flower series, but Blood Orchid  failed to seize that opportunity.

XX. Shelby Jo

‘Black Lotus’ Review

‘Black Lotus’ Review

The Black Lotus by Claire Warner is a YA fantasy novel following protagonists Justin and Melissa as they uncover secrets in the English court of 1752.

Warner’s story shows great creative potential, but the execution falls flat, pulled down by cliche characters and repetitive writing.

One of the central issues of the book — the first in the “Night Flower” series — is Melissa struggling with the idea of an arranged marriage while simultaneously dealing with her debut season in court. Warner explicitly resurfaces the issue countless times, when it is already evident in Melissa’s dialogue and actions. Melissa’s family is sympathetic to her feelings, but the conversation about her rights as a woman never ventures beyond complaining.

In the same glossed-over way, Justin and Melissa fall into a love-at-first-sight relationship; they continually mention their deep feelings, but never delve into what those feelings actually mean.

They’re the typical characters to fall in this supposedly passionate and inexplicable way: the fiery young woman, who is upset at her situation and just cannot seem to fit into her role, and the mysterious, handsome rake (every character in “The Black Lotus” has apparently agreed to repeatedly call Justin “a gamester and a cad”) with a bad reputation. It makes their dialogue effortless, sure, but that’s about it; Justin and Melissa’s characters don’t affect the plot in any natural way, and they hardly inspire any curiosity from the reader.

Warner’s description’s of decadent court life are rich and elaborate, moving the story along more than any other element of the book. They are just exotic enough to hint at the fantasy to come, a subtlety that Warner would do well to expand into the other elements of “The Black Lotus.”

I don’t doubt that Warner’s name could be among other celebrated YA authors before long, but this book bears all the marks of a debut, and does not wear them well.

XX. Shelby Jo

March Book Review

March was another month full of travel, so I got plenty of reading in; hopefully my streak won’t end now I’m back to my normal, boring life.

#1) The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons – I loved the story of this book (even some of the cheesier bits!) but the almost elementary voice just kept it dragging on and on.

#2) The Star-Touched Queen by Roshki Chokrati – There were parts of this book, mostly the mythology and the poetry, that I loved and wish were better woven into the story, because the plot felt flat and confusing when combined with the more artistic elements of the book.

#3) A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir – This book started out very slowly, and I was afraid that it would suffer from sophomore book syndrome, but it really picked up once the individual plot threads came together in the narrative.

#4) The Young Elites by Marie Lu – The story here was interesting, and certainly had potential, but the syntax was so repetitive and the voice didn’t seem well thought out.

#5) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys – This book was pretty incredible; I could hardly believe it when I found out it was Sepetys’ debut novel. It truly speaks to the power of historical fiction.

XX. Shelby Jo

February Book Review

#1). Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – Outlander turned out to be unexpectedly well-plotted and thoughtful; I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Though I won’t continue with the saga (there’s just so much to read!), it’s definitely a notch in my belt.

#2). The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein – I picked this book up because I love Elizabeth Wein’s historical fiction, and I was intrigued by the idea of a retelling of the Mordred myth – one of my favorite elements of the Camelot legend. However, the detached, lyrical voice detracted from the story, in my opinion, and is my main reason for deciding not to continue with the series.

#3). All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – This was a beautifully told story, with rich and full characters. In some ways it felt inconclusive, but perhaps that’s the best solution, given the subject matter.

#4) The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon – This book was a lot. I was definitely impressed with the sheer amount of lore and world building, but it seemed to impede the plot in a lot of respects. Also, the blend of sci-fi and fantasy didn’t particularly appeal to me.

XX. Shelby Jo