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DNF Q&A: The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Title: The Winds of Khalakovo

Author: Bradley P. Beaulieu

Series: Lays of Anuskaya #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 1/5 stars [DNF]

The Overview: Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo’s eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo’s future. When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo… –Goodreads

The Q&A:

Inspired by Nikki at ThereWereBooksInvolved, this is my favorite way to discuss DNFs. 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 The Winds of Khalakovo a chance?

More so than I normally do for a DNF – I made it to about the 50% mark before finally throwing in the towel. It had a lot of potential, so I kept hoping it would get better.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre before?

Yes! Arguably many of my reviews are skewed in favor of books with strong world-building elements. I’m always drawn to the ones with exotic covers (to varying success, as many have amazing covers with text that just doesn’t quite measure up to those promises). Here are a few books with awesome covers that actually panned out (don’t judge me on the Glenda larke, haha. I loved the variety in flora and fauna it promised):

While I think the basic premise of Khalakovo was original and interesting, it lost me on execution.

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

Yes, as mentioned I was expecting rich world-building, trading politics, and lots of adventure and excitement! It ultimately delivered on none of those things by the time I put it down.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

When it was clear none of that dynamic politicking, fun adventures, and epic world building was happening, I contented myself with just diving into this character-driven novel. The trouble is, even with characters as really the ONLY focus of the book, they were surprisingly thin.

I believe part of the problem was in the structure of the plot. It’s seemingly designed to keep a lot of important info away from the reader in favor of some reveals later (I’m assuming the payoff is there even though I lost patience before making it that far). The author didn’t allow the reader to see what motivated any of the characters, save the main bloke. Nor what connected one character to the other (we knew they were important, but never why). And, essentially, why the reader should care about these people and what they’ve got going on. After the umpteenth intimate dialogue scene between two characters without me having any more info than I started with, I’d had enough.

The writing style was also unnecessarily clunky. The author was clearly going for a particular style of formal communication between characters (possibly to help establish his world-building), but for me the formality, even in the thought-patterns of the characters, was excessively wordy, effectively keeping them feeling like caricatures rather than real, relatable people.

There was also a lack of contractions in the text (like can’t and wouldn’t) that contributed to the story feeling drawn-out. I realize some authors prefer the sound of their story when all words are fully written out, but to me it comes across a bit condescending, reminiscent of the types of sentences in my Kindergartner’s practice reading books.

I would argue that adjusting the language and cutting out all of the unnecessary words would’ve reduced the book by about 20%, making the pacing much more enjoyable, and increasing connection to the characters tenfold. But that’s if it were my book. Beaulieu’s success in the fantasy market proves he’s doing something right. But it’s clear his tastes and mine do not align in this instance. I had trouble with the writing in the Twelve Kings of Sharakhai as well, but gave the benefit of the doubt that it might have been more a pacing issue due to the abundant flashbacks in that story. Now I’m wondering in hindsight if my weird disconnection to that book had anything to do with the the basic writing itself…. We’ll see, if I ever make time to reread and continue that one.

Was there anything you liked about The Winds of Khalakovo?

What world-building their was (air ships!!) was a ton of fun even if it wasn’t prevalent. The action scenes were exciting (all two pages of them between every 50 of dialogue). And I still really loved the overall conflict of this “blighted” land introduced very early on in the book – it gave the main character a personal investment in the issue, which was pretty cool. However, at 50% he had made exactly 0% progress on trying to find answers.

Would you read anything else by this author?

Yes, I will probably read his novella The Burning Light and also reread the Twelve Kings of Sharakhai with the intention of getting further in that series. Atm I’ve no interest in continuing this one.

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

Surprisingly, yes. The thick language probably wouldn’t bother people as much as it did me. Some people like those types of plots where nothing is made easy for the reader. And the overall atmosphere was cool enough that I think it would keep more patient readers engaged, especially if they like the characters. It wasn’t poorly written, it was just written completely opposite from everything I personally look for in my books.

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 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