Book Review: Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman

23569428Legacy of Kings
Eleanor Herman
2.5/5 Stars

Imagine a time when the gods turn a blind eye to the agony of men, when the last of the hellions roam the plains and evil stirs beyond the edges of the map. A time when cities burn, and in their ashes, empires rise.

Alexander, Macedonia’s sixteen-year-old heir, is on the brink of discovering his fated role in conquering the known world but finds himself drawn to newcomer Katerina, who must navigate the dark secrets of court life while hiding her own mission: kill the Queen. But Kat’s first love, Jacob, will go to unthinkable lengths to win her, even if it means competing for her heart with Hephaestion, a murderer sheltered by the prince. And far across the sea, Zofia, a Persian princess and Alexander’s unmet fiancée, wants to alter her destiny by seeking the famed and deadly Spirit Eaters.

Weaving fantasy with the salacious and fascinating details of real history, New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Herman reimagines the greatest emperor the world has ever known: Alexander the Great, in the first book of the Blood of Gods and Royals series.

I’m not too sure where to begin with my thoughts on Legacy of Kings. If you follow my blog or my reviews, you’ll know that I originally rated its prequel, Voice of Gods, a 4 before dropping it to a 3 just the other day. I made that change because reading LoK reminded me of all the things I took issue with in VoG—only in this one, they were amplified to the Nth degree.

Still, I enjoyed VoG, and I was really amped to read this one when I finished it. But LoK left me disappointed. To avoid getting too lengthy, I’m going to break down my main issues with this novel into a few short(ish) bullet points:

  • Convenience. The characters never truly have to work for anything; just as I mentioned in my review of VoG, there seems to be a deus ex machina for every problem.
  • Too many points of view. Disclaimer: I love GRRM’s writing, which has many more points of view than LoK, but his books are also more than twice as long as Herman’s and have more room for it. Reading this, I felt as if I didn’t spend enough time with the POV characters (of whom there were 7) to care much about them, which resulted in quotes like “her heart leaps to see him the way he used to be when the world was still good” not doing much for me. It’s one of those sentences that’s supposed to convey how much the characters have gone through since the novel’s events kicked off, but it genuinely doesn’t feel like much. Which brings me to…
  • Pacing. It took me about a good 2 weeks to read this book, and it’s really not that long. But I had a hard time getting through it because, quite frankly, my eyes would glaze over here and there. There were pacing issues on a much smaller scale, too, such as the fight scenes. One of the fun parts of this novel is all the action, but much of it is lost in long, rambling, matter-of-fact paragraphs that don’t do much to build up the tension.
  • Telling vs. showing. A lot of LoK is told rather than shown. I can’t tell if this is cause or effect of my lack of interest in the characters, but I couldn’t connect to their emotions at all when the narrator was just handing them to me. I think it’s a little of both.
  • Unoriginality. I realize this is harsh, and I’m a pretty firm believer in true originality being dead, but some characters, relationships, and plot points in this book seemed almost directly lifted out of other popular fantasy works like Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. The similarities in the relationships between Kat/Jacob and Katniss/Gale are frustrating. I’m also pretty sure several Game of Thrones characters have cameos in this novel with little but their names changed.
  • Loose ends and plot holes. I’m tempted to write this off as the book being part of a yet-unfinished series—not all questions are answered just yet—but some of the narratives seem to just drop off rather than coming to a satisfactory cliffhanger or conclusion.

I was tempted to mark this one as DNF and move on, but I enjoyed VoG enough that I wanted to see how it all tied in.  Even now, dissatisfied as I am, I’m curious enough to know what happens to all the characters—and how all those loose ends will be tied up—that I may pick up the sequel when it comes out (though that’s a very strong “may”). That mild curiosity is enough to keep this book a 2.5-star read as opposed to a strict 2 or even 1.

As much as I wanted to put this down because I just don’t have time to read books I don’t fully enjoy, I was eager to have the opportunity to write a full, honest review for a book that didn’t quite work for me (and I really think that’s all it is; I know there are so many other people out there who love it). I used to be one of those people who rated everything 4 or 5 stars, but as I grow as a reader and a writer, I’m trying to take a more critical eye to stories and be a bit more honest in their star ratings. I also don’t think books that would have worked for me just 2 or 3 years ago would stand a chance now, which is something I realized after reading through and agreeing with all the one-star reviews of Fallen (a novel I rated 5 stars in 2012).

(Post-script, because I forgot to include a very big gripe of mine in the first draft of this review) – Herman also kept using odd words that yanked me out of the story to question their usage. I’m pretty sure the ancient Greeks and Macedonians weren’t using “reconnaissance,” a 19th century French word that was used way too many times for any novel, let alone one set in this time period.

Did you read Legacy of Kings? What did you like about it? What didn’t work for you? I’m eager to hear others’ thoughts, because I know this was a highly-anticipated one!


Book Review: Voice of Gods by Eleanor Herman (Blood of Gods and Royals 0.5)

Voice of Gods
Eleanor Herman
3/5 Stars

Update (8/31/15): after reading most of Legacy of Kings and being very close to DNFing it, I dropped this from a 4-star to a 3 star rating. I thought the novella was entertaining enough, but had a nagging feeling as I was writing this that I was being too generous with my rating. After being reminded of all the issues that annoyed me in this book though Legacy of Kings (and a whole bunch of other issues, which I’ll get to in my review of it when I finally finish it), I decided to be more realistic with my opinion.

That being said, the following review has not been altered from its original form–only the star rating has.

Legacy of Kings is one of those new books that I’ve seen everywhere since I first encountered it and shelved it on Goodreads in June. I was determined to read it early but didn’t get any response from NetGalley on either of the two editions I requested. No matter, though—I soon discovered that there’s a (free!) e-novella prequel to LoK called Voice of Gods, which I just finished reading Tuesday when LoK was released. According to the synopsis, it goes a little something like this:

As the end of an age approaches, gods whisper horrors, families scheme for power, and one woman may hold the secret to a lost legacy.

At 19, Ada of Caria yearns to take the Snake Blood throne from her mad older siblings—and seeks the help of a young orphaned girl named Helen, the first True Oracle to have walked the earth in more than three hundred years.

Helen may be able to channel the voice of the gods, but she hates her gift, and will do anything to get rid of it—even lie to her best friend, Myrtale, the priestess-princess of Epirus who is destined to marry King Philip II of Macedon even though she loves another. And in the shadows lurks a handsome green-eyed stranger who has more at stake—and more to lose—than anyone could possibly imagine. Amid jealousy and heartbreak, torrid affairs and secret rendezvous, it is spoken by the gods that either Helen or Myrtale —newly named Olympias— will carry the destiny of the known world within her womb.

The prequel to LEGACY OF KINGS, VOICE OF GODS traces the intricate web of love and betrayal that led up to the birth of history’s most powerful leader, Alexander the Great.

My reading speed for this one started off somewhat slow, then picked up very quickly: as I explained in a Goodreads comment to a reviewer who criticized the first chapter of LoK (which I completely understand and had the same criticism of, myself—but more on that when I review LoK, as I’m reading it now), it seems as if Herman takes a chapter or two to really get into her groove.

Voice of Gods begins with Helen escaping from Koinos—a man who takes in abandoned girls and works them at the loom until they are “of age” and then prostitutes them. Because Helen is an oracle, though, he wants to sell her off to the Aesarian Lords, men who seek magical beings to experiment on them. Helen is desperate to get away and escapes in the middle of a furious storm, and when she realizes she needs to get across the breakwater to travel from the mainland to an island, she is conveniently pulled into the ocean and spit up onto an errant, unmanned canoe that is pushed to shore by a perfectly-aimed wave.

Moments like this made me cringe in the beginning—“can you say deus ex machina?” was all I kept thinking for pages to come—but those moments quickly passed and didn’t impact the story too heavily once things got going. Coupled with the prophecies that were composed mostly of cheesy rhymes, I nearly stopped reading, but I’m glad I kept on.

Because regardless of any minor grievances, Voice of Gods is an engaging read that made me genuinely care about the characters. Helen reminded me a bit of Morgaine from Mists of Avalon in that she constantly has a duty to fulfill and is used as a tool rather than treated like a human—passed from home to home, princess to princess for their own strategies—and I genuinely wanted more for her.

I loved the complex female relationships and the fact that Helen sees sexuality as a privilege instead of viewing her friends as harlots for having healthy sexual appetites. It’s rare to find a YA heroine these days who a) doesn’t hate and compete with every other female character in the book and b) doesn’t slut-shame other girls for having sex or being comfortable with their bodies, so VoG was refreshing in that sense—especially given the time period and the idea that an oracle is “impure” if she loses her virginity.

Overall, Voice of Gods fulfilled its duty in getting me interested in Herman’s historical fantasy world, and I was excited to start LoK yesterday. I’m hoping we get more information about the “handsome green-eyed stranger” in the novel, as I felt like his role—which seems pretty major from the synopsis—wasn’t fully explained in the novella.

Did you read either Voice of Gods or Legacy of Kings? I’m eager to know what others think!

Book Review: DOWNCAST by Cait Reynolds

Cait Reynolds
4/5 Stars

When I chose this book as one of the two reads I’d bring with me to Greece, it may have seemed to anyone else like a deliberate choice; however, I’d picked it simply because it was an e-book on my Nook that I hadn’t read yet, and I wanted to be able to bring only my Nook to save space. Truth is, I’d completely forgotten about the one thing that attracted me to this novel from the beginning—aside from, of course, the fact that it’s written by the lovely and talented Cait Reynolds: Downcast is a retelling of the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone.

(By the way, who else is in love with this cover?)

I took a Greek Mythology class in college and by far, the story of Hades and Persephone is one of my favorites. For those unfamiliar, it goes something like this: Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter, was picking flowers in a field when she was dragged to the underworld by Hades. Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, went into an agonized rage at her daughter’s disappearance and refused to return to Olympus; as a result, nothing could grow on earth. After a year of famine, Zeus summoned Hermes to collect Persephone, but not before she had eaten six pomegranate seeds in the underworld. Anyone who ate the food of the underworld must remain there, but if the famine continued, humankind would be eliminated—and so a compromise was struck. Persephone would spend 6 months in the underworld with Hades, and 6 months amongst the living with her mother, thus creating the cycles of the seasons as her mother lapsed in and out of despair.

Reynolds does a great job of weaving this story into a contemporary high school setting. She leaves mythological Easter eggs throughout the story that will send any mythology buff clapping with glee, and creates pretty impressive tension amongst oppressed good girl Stephanie Starr; her domineering and overly possessive mother; and the new tall, dark, and handsome boy at school, Haley. Stephanie is a relatable character regardless of how strict (or not) the reader’s upbringing was, and I found myself flying through the pages in hopes she’s be given some relief. I cheered when she rebelled, swooned when Haley wooed her, and laughed when Haley’s hunky brother Zack acted out. Overall, it was an exciting and quick read, and I was happy to have it with me while in the birthplace of the myths that inspired it.

I’d say that probably the only qualm I had with this story, resulting in a 4-star rating instead of a 5-star, is Haley’s behavior in the beginning. It seems the lines of consent and boundaries are blurred as he touches Stephanie without her permission, time and time again, upon just meeting her. I understood that he was meant to be a bit of a dark and tortured character, being a representation of Hades, but it took me a while to warm up to him as a romantic character when he was constantly invading her personal space in a way that struck real fear in her. I got the sense that the reader was supposed to find him charming and fall in love with him along with Stephanie, but for the first half of the book, I couldn’t help but think her warming feelings toward him were a result of her sheltered naiveté—that she wouldn’t have felt that way had she not been so desperate for a man’s affection and an escape from mother’s oppressive grasp.

That being said, that single qualm did not greatly affect my enjoyment of the story. Downcast is a fun, fast-paced read that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys Greek mythology and contemporary high school YA. From what I understand, Cait is working on a sequel, and I can’t wait!