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DNF Q&A: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Title: The Curse of Chalion

Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: World of the Five Gods #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. Only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics, can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge—an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death. -Goodreads

The Review:

When trying to make a decision on whether or not to read something, it can often be much more helpful to look at the low star ratings than the high ones. To that end I’m going to be including more DNF reviews in my lineup. I have a Q&A format here that I adapted from Nikki at http://www.therewerebooksinvolved.com (with permission), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give Curse of Chalion a chance?

I went in pretty open-minded and even liked the first chapter or so, but once I started becoming dissatisfied, it became a practice of actively looking for reasons to justify calling a DNF. This is perhaps not fair to the book, but had it been anything other than a pick for a book club I run, I’d have just set it down as soon as it became clear I wasn’t digging it. I think I made it about 35%.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Yes! Slow-burn, politically-driven fantasy novels rank among my favorites:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

My expectations were hopeful but not too terribly high. I remembered the author’s Sharing Knife (I only read the first one) as a relationship-heavy book with very relaxed and flowy writing. I expected much the same here, but was hoping the romance wouldn’t be quite so prominent (it wasn’t, but it still absorbed too much of the narration for my tastes). I’d also heard so many great things about her scifi Vorkosigan series that I was hoping she was consistently good all around.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Ultimately, it came down to the childlike, irrational decisions made by the characters. For a novel that was supposed to be ALL about the characters and the politics, the characters came across every surface-level and their actions basic. The politics were equally simple. She lost my faith in her ability to give me something of substance early on and I didn’t find anything to convince me otherwise as I kept reading. None of the happenings in how these characters behaved was realistic to me, and in comparison to dozens of other fantasy novels with similar elements, this one came across very juvenile.

Is there anything you liked about the Curse of Chalion?

The character profiles at the beginning were fun, but they never evolved past just being just profiles. The first chapter was great. The writing was fluid. That’s about it.

Would you read anything else by the author?

I’m still holding out for Vorkosigan, but my enthusiasm has waned considerably. I’m definitely now at peace with not continuing with any of her fantasy works.

So you DNFed the book. Would you still recommend it?

That strongly depends on how well I can gage what someone wants out of a fantasy novel. If it’s a relaxing, easy read, this one might fit the bill. My personal tastes crave books with a lot of depth and dynamics these days, but I remember back when an easy-flowing fantasy book was just what the doctor ordered. So yes, to the right audience. Particularly those who enjoy romance novels but want something a little more robust. This author is a great hybrid of the two genres.

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Firstlife by Gena Showalter

Title: Firstlife

Author: Gena Showalter

Series: Everlife #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: DNF Rating

The OverviewTenley “Ten” Lockwood is an average seventeen-year-old girl…who has spent the past thirteen months locked inside the Prynne Asylum. The reason? Not her obsession with numbers, but her refusal to let her parents choose where she’ll live—after she dies. There is an eternal truth most of the world has come to accept: Firstlife is merely a dress rehearsal, and real life begins after death.

In the Everlife, two realms are in power: Troika and Myriad, longtime enemies and deadly rivals. Both will do anything to recruit Ten, including sending their top Laborers to lure her to their side. Soon, Ten finds herself on the run, caught in a wild tug-of-war between the two realms who will do anything to win the right to her soul. Who can she trust? And what if the realm she’s drawn to isn’t home to the boy she’s falling for? She just has to stay alive long enough to make a decision… -Goodreads

The DNF Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. Life’s too short to read books you’re just not enjoying. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Firstlife a chance?

Yes – I made it about halfway through before setting it aside.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

I’ve loved a lot of things from the YA genre, although I admit lately I’ve had less patience for teen angst in general. I haven’t read anything quite like Firstlife before, but it had vague similarities to these other titles, which I enjoyed (mostly):

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Unfortunately I had low expectations going into Firstlife, but decided to pick it up despite a few negative reviews. Even more unfortunate was that it lived up to my low expectations.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Two things: 1. It was just too bloody weird. Now, I’ve always appreciated Showalter for dancing to her own drum (a quality I’ve adored in other works of hers), but Firstlife was a bit too far-reaching even for me. The very beginning explains these “influencers” of the two philosophical groups venturing down to the “Firstlife” world to influence the main character to join their side. Both influencers are male, but one goes down in a girl’s body… it was weird. It, along with an odd sequence of events, was just too weird for me. Did I mention it was weird?

2. I did not like the main character, finding her decisions contradictory (which I hate). She was supposed to be this tough, somewhat stubborn girl who chose to undergo imprisonment and physical torture rather than stray from her convictions. But, as soon as the two “influencers” walked-in, she started waffling about everything before they’d even really made their pitch on why she should join their side. Especially the boy – all he had to do was ask her to jump and she’d say “how high?” It was a frustrating contradiction of character – she came across very weak minded when the framework of the story set her up as someone incredibly strong unswayable. I really, really hated that.

Was there anything you liked about Firstlife? 

I liked a lot of things at first, such as character, world building, and story, but quickly soured to all of them because of the issues listed above.

Would you read anything else by this author? 

Yes, although I’m now terrified to read her other YA trilogy – signed hardcovers I’ve had on my shelf for ages. If I ever need a delightfully cheesy paranormal romance, however, she’s still one of my first picks.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

I don’t think so. There are too many other books I’d recommend first.

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF: Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Title: Queen of the Tearling

Author: Erika Johansen

Series: Queen of the Tearling #1

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: An untested young princess must claim her throne, learn to become a queen, and combat a malevolent sorceress in an epic battle between light and darkness in this spectacular debut—the first novel in a trilogy.

Young Kelsea Raleigh was raised in hiding after the death of her mother, Queen Elyssa, far from the intrigues of the royal Keep and in the care of two devoted servants who pledged their lives to protect her. Growing up in a cottage deep in the woods, Kelsea knows little of her kingdom’s haunted past . . . or that its fate will soon rest in her hands.

The Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Queen of the Tearling a chance?

Yes, but admittedly not nearly as much of a chance as I could have. I made it about 20% before putting it down (which, when you’re not enjoying the book, is actually pretty far in my opinion).

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

Absolutely! In fact, some of my all-time favorite books come from the Teen Fantasy genre:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Yes – since reading Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (and in the process discovering my new favorite teen book), I’ve been clamoring for anything to come close to being just as good. After reading the overview, I’d hoped Queen of the Tearling would be that book. Sadly, it didn’t even come close.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

It’s a long story that I feel compelled to elaborate, but at the crux of it, the author lost my trust in her ability to compose a solid story very early on. Everything about her storytelling was one big contradiction after another. Here are a few examples:

  • While the young queen is traveling with a group of soldiers, the author has one of them warn her that assassins are on their trail… Then in almost the same breath the author describes the soldiers casually sitting around the fire drinking. All without a hint of irony.
  • The author makes a big deal out of how reluctant the soldiers are to serve this new queen, but half a chapter later has them practically commit suicide on her behalf without any indication of the change of heart.
  • Finally, we get a big old description of how well the main character can ride a horse (and the girl even defends herself on this account profusely), only to have her balk later on and say she has never ridden a galloping horse before (personally, I think the author needed a reason for her main character to get thrown from the horse, but couldn’t come up with anything better).

These are just a few examples, all of which contributed to my growing discontent with the story. My biggest issue was with the soldiers. They were really unbelievable. I’ve read dozens of fantasy novels with soldiers from all walks of life and in all sorts of odd situations (most recently within The Game of Thrones – an excellent example of the variety of militaristic units and soldier behaviors) which is why I did not find these soldiers even remotely realistic. They did some very un-soldier like things that seemed very illogical and counterintuitive – which wouldn’t have been a big deal if the author had acknowledged (and possibly expanded on) it within the text. Unfortunately, I got the impression the author didn’t know what she was talking about and couldn’t bullshit convincingly.

I realize I sound like a fantasy snob with this assessment, but when you read enough of a certain genre, you can’t help but build up certain standards on the elements within it, and with that comes a certain expectation of consistency. These soldiers weren’t abnormal or a creative new take on an old idea, they just weren’t well-developed, lacking common sense, knowledge, and training. It was clear by the way it was written that it was a lack on the author’s part rather than the characters’.

Okay, I think I’ve beaten that topic to death. Moving on…

Was there anything you liked about the book?

I’d like to say I really liked its concepts and characters, but even 100 pages in, I didn’t notice anything unique about the story. I did find the main character kind of interesting before she started contradicting herself.

Would you read anything else by this author?

Sadly, no. The author has fully and truly lost my trust in her ability to take me on an enjoyable journey.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

Normally, if I don’t like a book, it’s based on personal preferences regarding the storyline. In this case, my colossal issue is with poor execution of craft, which I don’t think I could stand behind in recommending it to anyone.

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind

The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind

Title: The Omen Machine

Author: Terry Goodkind

Series: Richard and Kahlan #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: #1 New York Times-bestselling author Terry Goodkind returns to the lives of Richard Rahl and Kahlan Amnell—in a compelling tale of a new and sinister threat to their world. In addition to concluding the Sword of Truth series, The Omen Machine also launches the new series of “Richard and Kahlan.

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The Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. So let the Q&A begin!

I’m a Richard and Kahlan fan to the point where my unborn child would’ve been named “Kaylen” had he been a girl, thereby representing my all-time favorite female character from anything I’ve ever read. If that’s not fangirl enough to show my passion for elements of this series, I don’t know what is. I was willing to overlook the Pillars of Creation because I thought the Chainfire trilogy really redeemed the ending of the saga. Heck, I was even willing to overlook the uninspiring prequel The First Confessor, but finally have to admit that this series is no longer doing anything for me. Omen Machine lacked everything that once made the series special. I’ll elaborate:

Did you really give the Omen Machine a chance?

I think so – I read at least half of the book, if not more, before deciding to put it down.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

Emphatically, YES! Fantasy is my favorite genre and I still consider the Sword of Truth series a must-read for fellow fanatics.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

I mentioned above that I feel the series has reached a point where it no longer contains the elements that made it special, and unfortunately it also exacerbated all the things I’ve criticized it for. For examples, Omen Machine lacked a sense of adventure and discovery (not to mention world building), didn’t have a clear purpose to the story (or villain, as far as I read), had zero romantic tension/love story, and really didn’t give the characters much to do other than stand around and argue over magical theory. And argue they did… holy shit.

Goodkind has always been accused of needlessly beating his readers over the head with concepts that are fairly simple to grasp. In Omen Machine, there was essentially nothing other than theory and concept driving the plot, and the resulting tirade of repetitive dialogue was enough to make me pull my hair out (and don’t even get me started on the ten page argument the characters had over how to implement a card catalog system in the palace library). It’s like Richard had to say everything four different ways before he was completely satisfied, then a talking-head character would step in and say “what you mean?” and he’d proceed to explain it four more ways. Then, another character would jump in and add one more tiny nuance of a fact and the whole cycle would start all over again. After one such scene went on for over twenty pages, I decided they had about ten more to finish the conversation and continue the plot before I got fed up. After another dozen more had passed with no end in sight, I’d had enough! I put the book down. For all I know the characters beat each other into bloody pulps with all the explanations. I just knew I didn’t want to risk joining them.

This is harsh, but I’m really disappointed in Goodkind. Omen Machine came across as self-indulgent and lazy – it always takes more effort to edit your work down to something concise (which this book desperately needed) than it does to add more detail. But then, cutting out all of the needless repetition would mean he wouldn’t have been anywhere near his word count and would’ve had to replace the vacancies with things like, I don’t know, storytelling and plot advancement. That’s a scathing as you’ll probably ever hear me get, but I just expected so much more at this point and he really let me down.

Was there anything you liked about Omen Machine?

Frankly, no.

Would you read anything else by this author?

Yeah, I actually would if he started a new fantasy series with fresh concepts and characters. I feel like part of his problem with this novel was trying to extrapolate more from the story that had nothing else left to give.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

I definitely still recommend the Sword of Truth series, but unless you just can’t stand not having a new book with Richard and Kahlen’s names in the text, I’d say skip this one. Honestly, I thought the ending to the SoT series was really satisfying, so I’m going to continue pretending like the saga actually ended there.

Other books you might like better:

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: Killer Frost by Jennifer Estep

Killer Frost by Jennifer Estep

Title: Killer Frost

Author: Jennifer Estep

Series: Mythos Academy #6

Genre: Teen Paranormal

Rating: 0 stars (DNF)

The Overview: I’ve battled the Reapers of Chaos before–and survived. But this time I have a Bad, Bad Feeling it’s going to be a fight to the death … most likely mine. Yeah, I’ve got my psychometry magic, my talking sword, Vic–and even the most dangerous Spartan on campus at my side, in Logan freaking Quinn, but I’m no match for Loki, the evil Norse god of chaos. I may be Nike’s Champion, but at heart, I’m still just Gwen Frost, that weird Gypsy girl everyone at school loves to gossip about. Then someone I love is put in more danger than ever before, and something inside me snaps. This time, Loki and his Reapers are going down for good … or I am.

The DNF Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. Life’s too short to read books you’re just not enjoying. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give Killer Frost a chance?

Yes – especially when you consider it’s book 6, the final book in the series. The series took a nosedive around the fourth book, and I’ve been just trying to get it over with ever since (which is an awful sentiment – who wants to read anything “just to get it over with” like it’s a chore?). As harsh as that sounds, I did try, making it halfway through Killer Frost before putting it down.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

You mean all of the YA Paranormal books that I can’t live without? Yes, I’ve enjoyed those. Here are some of my favorites:

Yes, Twilight is on there. Leave me alone.

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Sadly, I think I expected exactly what I got – senseless rehashing of the same concepts over and over again; the random enemy attacks with no discernable strategy; and no real depth of character. Maybe that’s not totally true – maybe I expected more going into the finale of the series, so was even more disappointed when faced with the same issues I’d been noticing all along.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Frustration that I had already invested so much time in this series and it STILL wasn’t showing any improvement. As I mentioned, I read more than half of this book before finally putting it down, and at least 75% of that half was dialogue and speculation about what the problem was… very little action. Then the bad guys would sporadically show up, gloat, take something, then leave. Same stuff, different day. I ended up taking five minutes and skimming, reading only the first and last paragraphs of each chapter until I got to the end. And you know what? I feel like I got the entire essence of how the story ended without any of the fluff.

Another colossal disappointment was the great concept that never lived up to its potential. All of the students at Mythos Academy are descendents of Spartans, Ninjas, Valkyries, and many other kickass entities throughout history. They all attend this school to learn how to harness their powers and use them to fight the bad guys. The trouble is, aside from a handful of sparring sessions in the gym, none of those great ideas are explored anywhere THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE SERIES! I wanted to attend school with the characters and learn with them, kind of like what I got to do in the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books, but instead all we got to do was hang out at the library… A lot. Don’t get me wrong, library was a cool setting, but there were no classes there and everything seemed to revolve around it. I can’t seem to find the exact words to describe how disappointed I am in what I feel is the promise of a school for magic-users unfulfilled. They might as well have been at a prep school that offered a few fencing classes rather than a school for gifted kids. Such a great idea completely unrealized.

Was there anything you liked about Killer Frost? 

This book specifically? No. The series in general? Yes – I really enjoyed the first two books and thought the concept behind the whole thing was really creative. It just failed on delivery. I honestly think it would’ve been a lot stronger condensed down to three books – I’m positive Estep could have included all of the main conflicts and cut out all of the endlessly repeating plot points and speculation. Maybe if she had made the school a bigger part of it… Bah – I’ll never get over that one.

Would you read anything else by this author? 

Honestly, I’m not too sure anymore. I read the first book in her Spider series and enjoyed it, but now I’m almost afraid to keep going. What if I invest all of that time and wind up just as disappointed in the end? Maybe if I allow myself to stop reading as soon as I see it going south… what a sad sentiment.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

No… I don’t think so. Perhaps the first three are recommendable, but why encourage someone to read a series that doesn’t really go anywhere?

Overall, I’m bummed.

I’m also curious if I’m the only one who felt this way about the series… Did anybody else happen to finish it? What are your thoughts?

by Niki Hawkes

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DNF Q&A: The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkowski

the winners crimeTitle: The Winner’s Crime 

Author: Marie Rutkowski

Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #2

Genre: Teen Fantasy

Rating: 0 stars

The OverviewThe engagement of Lady Kestrel to Valoria’s crown prince means one celebration after another. But to Kestrel it means living in a cage of her own making. As the wedding approaches, she aches to tell Arin the truth about her engagement… if she could only trust him. Yet can she even trust herself? For—unknown to Arin—Kestrel is becoming a skilled practitioner of deceit: an anonymous spy passing information to Herran, and close to uncovering a shocking secret. As Arin enlists dangerous allies in the struggle to keep his country’s freedom, he can’t fight the suspicion that Kestrel knows more than she shows. In the end, it might not be a dagger in the dark that cuts him open, but the truth. And when that happens, Kestrel and Arin learn just how much their crimes will cost them.

The DNF Q&A:

This is a reviewing feature I’ve been eyeballing on one of my favorite book blogs There Were Books Involved for a couple years now because I think it’s an excellent way to talk about an unfinished book fairly. I’m incredibly grateful because Nikki (the brains behind the blog, who has a most excellent name)  kindly allowed me to steal the idea and questions for my own blog. As my list of “amazing books to read” continues to grow, I find I have less and less time and patience to devote to the books I’m just not enjoying. I never would have considered DNFing a book ten years ago, but then I came across a quote, “Read the best books first, for you might not have the chance to read them all,” and have since made it my personal mantra. Life’s too short to read books you’re just not enjoying. So let the Q&A begin!

Did you really give The Winner’s Crime chance?

Absolutely! That is, if reading more than half the book before deciding to put it down is “giving it a chance.”

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

Yes – in fact some of my all time favorite books in this genre share a lot of similarities to the Winner’s novels, most notably:

I just didn’t think this book stacked up.

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Well, all of the five stars “Oh my God, the FEELS!!!” reviews flooding the blogosphere certainly didn’t help me dive into this book with no expectations. I will say that I also had issues with the first book that placed me in the minority, so I was already skeptical that I would like this one as much as everybody else.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Ultimately it was the inconsistency of character that made me put this book down. I started out liking Kestrel, and still think she is a great character, but I’ve never been able to perceive Arin as a complete person – mostly because his passages seldom focused on developing his own character, but rather on how his world centers around Kestrel. I think his entire persona in this book can be summed up by a quote on page 212, “Arin’s unruly mind didn’t care for that logical explanation.” And it was this complete lack of logic and individual thought that made him feel like a subpar character and ultimately frustrated me enough to stop reading. He just didn’t ever feel real, and as the entire plot structure hangs on the reader giving a shit about the relationship between him and Kestrel, I found it wanting.

If it was just Arin though, I think it would’ve been okay. But when Kestrel – one of the coolest female strategists I’ve come across in the genre – failed to attack her problems regarding Arin with any sort of strategy, that was when I found my deal breaker. I feel like if she’s going to be that amazing at strategizing, it should apply EVERYWHERE in the book, not just when the author needs to advance a plot line. As it was, the conflict between the two main characters felt just as unnecessarily forced and drawn out as it did in the first book. I would have found it so much more satisfying had they worked together to solve their problems instead of needlessly perpetuating them. 

Was there anything you liked about The Winner’s Crime? 

Yes – I liked the secondary characters and really enjoyed the story before the protagonists fell out of character. I am genuinely interested to see what happens in this world and how the dynamics play out… I just don’t think I have the patience to actually see it through. I also still really like Kestrel and was fascinated every time she put strategy into play.  

Would you read anything else by this author? 

That’s a good question – it depends a lot on what type of story she writes next and if I’m in the mood to risk it at the time… I feel a little burned at the moment.

So you DNF’d the book – would you still recommend it?

Absolutely! I realized going into this sequel that I am BY FAR in the minority on how I feel about it. Chances are, if you liked Throne of Glass, you will also really enjoy this one. I’m actually more disappointed that I didn’t like it as much as everyone else than I am about the book itself.

by Niki Hawkes