Book Review

If Barney Wrote a Book

The Crown's Fate (The Crown's Game, #2)The Crown’s Fate by Evelyn Skye

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I love you. You love me. We’re a happy family. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too. —Barney

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What the heck did I just read? That ending ruined any positive feelings I had for this book. If you loved The Crown’s Game, you would be better off not reading this “sequel.” It’s literally fan fiction for children. Everything about it seems strange, convenient, and contrived. I’m so pissed right now. I haven’t given a book 1 star in so long. Looking at the “bright” side, at least this book was fast paced. Other than that….UGGGH. God help me.

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Author Interview

Q & A with Andrew Shvarts

Last week, I finally experienced crying over a book. This special debut novel, entitled Royal Bastards, just came out a week ago. I’ll never forget how it positively wrecked me. If you want to know more about my thoughts and feels, check out my review. I loved reading this book, so I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know its author. Hopefully, other readers would feel the same way.

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  1. Did your love for video games manifest in Royal Bastards? (P.S. I love Final Fantasy and other JRPGs)

“What a great question! I hadn’t really thought much about it, but now that you mention it, I definitely think there’s a lot of jRPG DNA in Royal Bastards. Growing up, a lot of those games (especially ones like Final Fantasy 7 and Chrono Trigger) were incredibly influential, and in a lot of ways, made for my favorite kind of stories: groups of misfits and outcasts, coming together for a great journey, overcoming their demons and bonding along the way.”

  1. What was your inspiration for the world and magic system in Royal Bastards?

“Hmmm, I think there were a lot of different influences. Obviously, there’s a little bit of Westeros in the mix, with the different noble Houses and the way the world is run on violence and intrigue. But I also wanted to do something different than the typical ‘European pastiche’ fantasy, which is why the geography resembles the Pacific Northwest. The magic system just sort of wrote itself, honestly… I knew I wanted it to be based in something physical, like Rings and martial forms, and to have clear rules and parameters. I tend to like fantasy worlds where magic is rare but powerful, and where it’s explicitly shaped the contours of society.”

  1. Which character was the hardest (and easiest) to write about? Do you have a favorite character?

“Easiest and most fun was Jax; he’s all heart and jokes, which meant any scene with him was an absolute delight. Zell was a lot trickier; because he’s so stoic, guarded, and taciturn, he’s pretty much the opposite of me, so it took a lot of effort to figure out his voice.”

  1. Zell (who reminded me of FF8’s Zell) was sometimes called a “barbarian.” With that in mind, how did you implement diversity in your work?

“I believe diversity and positive representation in fiction is incredibly important, and something I strive for in everything I write. From the start, I knew that Royal Bastards would be a diverse fantasy world with many POC characters and cultures; beyond just the social good of writing diversely, I think it makes for vastly more interesting fiction.

“Regarding Zell, I hope it’s clear that any perception of him as a ‘barbarian’ by the non-Zitochi characters is purely their own prejudice, refuted on the page; the Zitochi, with their rich history, democratic government, and egalitarian norms, are arguably the most modern and progressive culture in the novel.

“On a thematic level, I think ROYAL BASTARDS is about that point in adolescence when you really start to question the way you were brought up; that means realizing your parents aren’t the heroes you may have always believed, but also realizing that some beliefs you’ve been brought up with are actually harmful prejudices.”

  1. Gleaning upon your novel, how do you think bastards/illegitimate children are seen and treated in our own society nowadays?

“Interesting question! I think, by and large, we’ve moved away from seeing a given child’s ‘legitimacy’ or heritage as critical to their role in the world, which is unquestionably a good thing. I think categorizations like that tend to exist to reinforce power structures, which invariably serve as systems of oppression. This is something you’ll see explored more in the sequels to Royal Bastards, the extent to which a given culture’s ingrained norms exist primarily to ensure that the powerful stay in power.”

  1. How did being color-blind and tone-deaf affect your writing process?

“Tone-deafness hasn’t affected much, except my ability to sing karaoke, but being color-blind has had a fairly formative impact on how I tend to think. When you’re color-blind, you just have to accept that your own perception is wrong, and rely on others; no matter how much your eyes tell you two colors are the same, if you want to function, you need to trust others when they say they aren’t. I think that’s made me more open to feedback as a writer, and more willing to question my choices.”

  1. Can you disclose anything about the sequel(s)?

“I can’t say much, but I will say that you’ll learn a lot more about the nature of magic and the history of the Volaris… and that I wrote an action scene that has my favorite kill I’ve ever written!”


 

About the author:

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Andrew Shvarts is an author of novels and video games. He has a BA in English Literature and Russian from Vassar College. He works for Pixelberry Studios as a designer, making mobile games like High School StoryChoices, and more. Andrew lives in San Jose, California, with his wife, toddler and two kittens.

Visit Andrew’s website

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Book Review

A Roaring Romance

Roar (Stormheart, #1)Roar by Cora Carmack

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

She was a bundle of contradictions, but one thing he understood all too well was her independence.

Roar is one of the most unique and romantic YA fantasy books I’ve ever read. Before this, I hadn’t read anything by Cora Carmack. Hence, I really didn’t know what to expect. Still, looking at the covers of her already published works, I had a hunch that I was in for a lot of cheesiness. :3

Essentially, Roar is a fusion of Veronica Rossi’s Under the Never Sky and Mary E. Pearson’s The Kiss of Deception because it is about a runaway princess who lives in a world ravaged by powerful, fantastical storms. Also, like the latter trilogies, Roar contains a plot that is rich in action, political intrigue, and romance. Despite this lack of originality, I am willing to give this book a high rating because it hooked me from start to finish.

Calling this book “cheesy” is not an exaggeration. From the very first chapter, sparks were already flying between Princess Aurora and a certain fishy man. When Aurora ran away, she met her real love interest, and there were mounds of melted cheese everywhere. With large servings of sugar. Flirty banter was rampant, as well as stolen Xs and Os. Haha. For the most part, it was very entertaining, but there were times that I couldn’t help but sigh and roll my eyes in disdain. It was like this book was the epitome of raging, teen hormones, or better yet, Selena Gomez’s Hands to Myself. Be sure to take some water breaks while reading this novel. 😀

My favorite aspect of the book was its unique world and magic system. Aurora and the other protagonists in this book were Stormlings, special people who could destroy various storms (firestorms, thunderstorms, and more). They were also capable of stealing the jeweled “hearts” of such phenomena, thereby gaining magical powers. In that sense, the relationship between humans and storms was not necessarily bad. The storms themselves were surprisingly sentient, having emotions like the humans they aimed to harm. It was honestly my first time to read a fantasy novel that personified natural disasters, so I found Roar to be a breath of fresh air.

The not-so-major problem I had with this book was its lack of a climax or conflict. Many events happened throughout the novel, and although they were relevant, I kept on waiting for something more serious to happen. The most probable cause of this flaw is, unsurprisingly, the book’s focus on romance. A lot of effort was put into building romantic tension to the point that more meaningful plot points were neglected. Don’t get me wrong; I do love a good OTP. Nevertheless, that’s not the only thing I look for in books.

In totality, Cora Carmack did a good job in writing her first YA fantasy novel. In spite of its shortcomings, Roar is a book worth reading. I particularly loved its fascinating take on the connection between humans and the natural world. If you are an avid fan of the author’s previous, romantic works, you’ll probably enjoy this book more than I did. Happy reading!

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Book Review

Legitimate Tears

Royal BastardsRoyal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I buddy read this book with the charming bookish king, Solomon, and the empowered fangirls, Cait and Ambs.

LO AND BEHOLD, THE VERY FIRST BOOK THAT MADE ME CRY.

Exactly 18 hours ago, my heart broke. Please send help because I haven’t gotten over that painful yet beautiful plot twist. I really did not expect to be emotionally invested in this book. I’ll do my best to convey my thoughts without sulking, bursting into man tears, or giving any spoilers. :p

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Royal Bastards follows five teenagers who are caught in the middle of a civil war. Tilla, Jax, Miles, and Zell are bastards (illegitimate offspring), while Lyriana is the daughter of the ruling King. Falsely accused for the murder of the King’s brother, the group goes on a breathtaking journey full of action, adventure, and even romance. This book is marketed as a mashup of Game of Thrones and Six of Crows. I haven’t read both series, but you might want to check out Royal Bastards in light of that blurb alone.

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I loved this book because I found it to be simultaneously plot-driven and character-driven. It featured an intriguing and relatable cast of protagonists who were shoved into such thrilling situations. I lost count of the times they nearly lost their lives! The perfect pacing of the plot more than compensated for the inadequate world building.

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Among the protagonists, Tilla and Jax were my absolute favorites. They were half siblings who belonged to different walks of life, but they were as close as heck. I was particularly fond of this aspect of the story since I myself am close to my siblings. In fact, I liked it even more than the romantic relationship between two certain characters. 😉 Literary romance is quite overrated for me at this point, so I would rather be entertained by brotherly or platonic love.

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Lyriana was my other favorite. She seemed to be a typical dim-witted princess at the beginning of the book, and I was very pleased when she proved me wrong. I specifically admired her insightful thoughts on chastity, which is a rare character trait in YA. I should’ve remembered that readers should never judge characters by their socio-economic status. xD

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The antagonists (I refuse to disclose their names) were fascinating in their own twisted way. Their reasons for anarchy were actually legitimate. Honestly, I sympathized with their desire to free their province from the clutches of the Kingdom. However, the things they did to achieve their goal were unquestionably unethical.

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Many fantasy novels nowadays have been criticized for their lack of diversity. If you’re one of those haters of such “politically incorrect” literature, you’ll probably find Royal Bastards as a breath of fresh air. Zell and Princess Lyriana are people of color, and one of the male side characters is said to “prefer the company of men”.

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I cannot finish my review without shining a light on the book’s unforgettable plot twists. One of them made me cry, as you already know. I’ve read many emotional books that made me teary-eyed, but Royal Bastards was the first one that actually made the tears flow. My throat was so heavy last night when I tried to bottle up my emotions in front of my brother, who understandably laughed at me. Looking back, I had a hunch that something bad would happen. Still, I didn’t assume that it would be that evocative. GAH! I AM SO TEMPTED TO SPOIL EVERYONE JUST SO I CAN SHARE THE PAIN!

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In the end, it must be clear that I genuinely enjoyed Royal Bastards. I’m not sure when I’ll finally get over it. Probably not for a week or two. The beauty of this book nearly gave me a reading slump, so please tread carefully. To the author, Andrew Shvarts, thank you for creating such an outstanding debut novel. 😀

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P.S. I managed to schedule a written interview with Andrew, so stay tuned! 🙂

*The featured image was taken from Andrew’s website

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