Ice Like Fire

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: I loved the first book, Snow Like Ashes, and I was psyched to read this sequel, albeit a little wary of middle book syndrome. Turns out, my suspicions were correct; this book exhibits all the symptoms of middle book syndrome: slow plot, poor character development, a focus on romance rather than politics and battle, and a slew of plot conveniences.

This sequel tracks Meira and Theron as they visit other Rythms and Seasons on a sort of political tour, but Meira and Theron are motivated by different causes and this divide threatens to split the couple. As she struggles to draw Theron to her cause, Meira also struggles to keep her powers under control and find a solution that could save not just Winter but her whole world.

In spite of the slow plot, though, I found myself speeding through the novel. Sara Raasch is a great world-builder, and that, at least, was not lost in this sequel.

Part of what slowed the plot down is the alternating perspectives. This technique is used far too often and is often an encumbrance and annoyance, splitting the plot in two and drawing it out longer. In this book, Raasch alternates chapter perspectives between Meira and Mather. While I enjoyed the Meira chapters (lots of world-building there), Mather’s chapters were often slow and more angsty, and they saw little action until the end of the novel. Moreover, the fact that Mather is voiced but Theron is not irks me (#Theira4ever).

The main characters didn’t seem to grow much aside from dealing with their growth in the first book. Raasch did, however, introduce a few side characters who seem to have the spunk and fierceness to quell our thirst for strong characters for the duration of the novel (Feige and Ceridwen come to mind).

This book also took some liberties with the magic part of the world, inventing new rules for the magic as we went and leaving several questions unanswered (why could Meira make it snow in Summer?). While the majority of the plot’s reliance on magic made sense and fit with the previous series, I was confused about some of the additions. Why exactly could the Decay infect other people? If Angra died, wouldn’t the Decay then infect the entire population rather than a select few? Perhaps I missed these details by reading quickly, but I wish Raasch would stick with clear boundaries for the magic and let the plot play out within that world rather than continuing to change the rules.

Recommendation: If you enjoyed the first book in the series, I recommend continuing with it; I have hopes that the last book (Frost Like Night) will make it all worth it. Those who enjoy angsty YA plots where love triangles triumph burden the plot (guilty pleasure, perhaps) might want to start this series just for the second book. I still stand by my opinion that Raasch is an excellent world-builder, so perhaps the book will appeal to you solely for that reason. There is a brothel scene (which the main characters find distasteful) and some violence (beheading, cutting, etc.), so this book is probably best for ages 14+.

Unleashing My Opinion on “Capturing Jasmina”

This eBook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Rating: 1/5 stars

Review: Capturing Jasmina by Kimberly Rae is a young adult Christian novel about an Indian girl’s struggle to escape human trafficking and rejoin her family. I requested this book in the hope that it would be eye-opening to a world I know little about. I wanted to learn more about India’s culture and get a better understand human trafficking. In short, wanted a book that would make me cry.

That’s not what I got.

Right off the bat the novel rubbed me the wrong way in its speaker. Jasmina consistently crossed out words in favor of other words, as one would in writing a letter with pen, but rather than make her voice more realistic, the technique had the opposite effect.

I also felt like the author didn’t address Indian culture as well as she should’ve. One of the most interesting things for me about Christian literature is hearing how other cultures respond to missionaries. This book over-simplified it by speaking very little about Indian (specifically Hindu) culture in the first place, so it felt like Jasmina was less a young Hindu girl and more a figure conjured my Christian missionaries in their search to convert.

Don’t get me wrong here; I support missionary work. I’ve been on a few mission trips myself. But I know that we Christians tend to imagine other cultures as desperate to hear about our God, and while this is sometimes true, other cultures are not without their own beliefs. We cannot allow ourselves to be deluded into seeing natives as evil and missionaries as good. There are also natives who are good and missionaries who are evil–just look in a world history textbook.

And yet Rae seems to encourage that misguided viewpoint, particularly when Jasmina meets missionary women:

“There were people in the world who wanted to do good instead of evil. There were people who cared about something more than money and power. Who would not use others for their own gain.

Impossible. My mind said not to believe a word. To harden up again and hold tight to hate. But my heart—oh, my heart wanted to think there was hope.”

I know this is Christian literature, but I expect to see more understanding of other people and more understanding of ourselves. Everyone sins, but that is difficult to see in this book, where the natives sin but the missionaries are depicted as faultless. I am sure this was not Rae’s intent, but it feels that way nonetheless.

While the treatment of other cultures was my main quarrel with this book, I’m also thought the overall quality of plot and characterization was poor. I read this with the desire to learn more, but I feel like I knew more about Indian culture and human trafficking than the author. None of the characters felt real to me, so I struggle to sympathize with their struggles.

Jasmina’s main motivation, for example, was to find her family. But her family–with the exception of her mother–didn’t treat her well at all. And she didn’t speak of longing to return to her mother’s comfort, but of wanting to return her brother to safety and learn if her father knew what he had done when he sold her.

There were a lot of loose ends in the story, as well. Like why would Jasmina’s father sell his son, as well? What happened to her family? How could she write letters to her brother if she didn’t know where he was and if he couldn’t even read?

I see that this book is part of a series, but these loose ends don’t interest me enough to prompt further reading.

Since there was little to no graphic material in spite of the dark subject matter, I think it’s appropriate for middle schoolers and up, if you really must read it.

For someone interested in learning more about Indian culture, I recommend Michelle Moran’s Rebel Queen instead.

The Pros and the Cons of The Wrath and the Dawn

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: I was so ready to love this book. I mean, it’s an adaptation of one of my favorite fairy tale collections. One Thousand and One Nights may be the most misogynistic story I’ve read, but in spite of everything I love Scheherazade.

In a brief summary, the original story is about a king who discovers his wife is cheating on him with slaves and decides to wed a new girl each night (and, yes, that also means consummating the marriage) and kill her in the dawn. Because, you know, all women are evil. Then the clever Scheherazade volunteers to marry this mass murder in order to prevent more deaths. She tells him a story each night and leaves it on a cliffhanger so he has to let her live until she finishes the story the next night. Many of the fairy tales are familiar (like this somehow less sexist version of Sleeping Beauty) and *spoiler* the king pardons her in the end. So though I don’t like the depiction of women as evil creatures, I love that Scheherazade steps up for her fellow women and is clever enough to come up with a plan to postpone her death day after day after day.

From Renee Ahdieh’s adaptation of the book, I think she is equally fascinated with the character Scheherazade (whom she calls Shahrzad or Shazi). I love this main character Ahdieh has recreated; she’s just as brave, cunning, and sharp as I had hoped. Her sharp tongue made me smile more than once and I find her individuality refreshing.

I’m also really glad this adaptation didn’t try to make the story white. Ahdieh paints ancient Middle Eastern culture beautifully.

BUT I can’t base my rating off just the protagonist and the story concept.

While I love Shazi and think Tariq, Jalal, Khalid, and Despina are well-defined characters, many of the other characters lacked development. It would have been better, for example, if Ahdieh wrote more between Shazi and Shiva. As it is, I know very little about Shiva aside from the fact that she was kind and much loved. But what about this girl would lead Shazi to put her life on the line to avenge her death? Shiva is Shazi’s main motivator (at least to start) but I don’t know enough about her to relate to Shazi.

Also, I know absolutely nothing about Shazi’s sister, Irsa. Perhaps she will play more of a role in the second book, but I don’t see the point of her now.

Shazi’s father, Jahandar, is a bit of a mystery, as well. I only know what motivates him but it doesn’t seem to fit together well for me. The image I have of him in the beginning changes very quickly. Without giving anything away, I feel like his character should’ve changed when he heard Shazi’s vengeance plans, not after, when it would’ve been too late. It’s too convenient for the plot as it currently stands.

Tariq’s friend Rahim isn’t well-defined, either. He doesn’t have much of a purpose other than to agree to whatever Tariq suggests (or disagree and provide friendly banter to further define Tariq). I hope to see him play a larger role in the second book, as well.

Tariq’s rebellion isn’t fully-formed, either. Shiva’s father’s involved, which is made out to be important, but he doesn’t really do anything. Tariq wants to rally support but *spoiler* he doesn’t even use that support. Maybe it’ll make sense in the next book, but I didn’t see the point of bringing it up in this book–just save it for later if it’s important then.

While I love that the plot changes the character of the king into less of a jerk (and women to be less unfaithful), I can’t help but wish it had more. More magic, more wit, more royalty.

And perhaps my wish for more will be granted in the sequel. Regardless, this book could’ve had more in places. Magic, for example, is really only important for Jahandar’s role, but *spoiler* it’s revealed that Shazi has magic. And that reveal could’ve packed a punch, but it felt more like a poke. Like, oh, cool I have magic. Oh, cool, I can make this rug fly. It’s not like that would be useful to kill this guy I want vengeance on or visit my family and tell them I’m okay or explain everything to my ex. Nope. Not at all. 

Moreover, Khalid, though well-defined, was not the burdened, intelligent heartthrob I hoped he would be. For someone who’s supposedly a good strategist, Khalid doesn’t let his wife know his big secret, which *spoiler* isn’t even his fault. He could’ve done more, yes, but it’s not like he killed her or caused the miscarriage.  For all the hype, I hoped Khalid’s reason for killing so many women was his own fault. As it stands, I don’t think he would be so protective of something–especially when Shazi’s the one asking (and when she has death on her mind).

I can overlook a couple plot holes–it is based on a fairy tale, after all–but unreasonable or underdeveloped characters and misused suspense? That’s something I can’t ignore.

Recommendation: It doesn’t give readers a play-by-play of Shazi and Khalid in bed, its implications are clear. Not explicit, but certainly not a family read-aloud and probably best fit for ages 15 and up.

This book is best for anyone who loves fairy tale adaptations, Middle Eastern culture, romance, and sassy female leads. While it’s not as deep as I’d hoped, it makes for a good light read.