Crownbreaker – Don’t Need A Crown To Be King

511jnjhaqil._sx331_bo1204203200_Happy new year everyone! We started 2020 off strong with a whole slew of reads over our break and will have a number of interesting reviews and other pieces in the coming weeks. Up first we have the sixth, and final, book in the Spellslinger series, Crownbreaker, by Sebastien de Castell. This YA series has been one that has caught, and kept, my attention the past few years. However, in my review of book five, I mentioned that the series was starting to show signs of dragging on and needed a wrap-up. The question is, did de Castell find a satisfying and momentous way to close out his six-book series? Of course he did, de Castell is one of our favorite authors for a very good reason.

Crownbreaker is the final piece of a large tapestry that de Castell has been building with his Spellslinger series. The plot revolves around a magical god that arises to threaten everything that Kellen has come to cherish and love, and a quest with a lot of hard choices. Kellen begins the book finally somewhat at peace with his life and with a little hard-earned stability. He has made a decent home for himself in Darome and is finally coming to terms with what his life is going to be. But we can’t have that. An offer is brought to him by none other than his father: a new god has arisen that threatens the world and it must be put down. If Kellen infiltrates his gathering armies and puts him down, he will be unquestionably welcome back to his home.

As an independent book, I think Crownbreaker struggles a little bit. The god plotline isn’t really explored enough to my satisfaction, and Berabesq, the final region we visit in the Spellslinger world, isn’t really given the same level of screen time as the other countries in the past five books. However, what Crownbreaker struggles with independently is made up for in spades by how it serves as the perfect conclusion to the series at large. The sixth Spellslinger book takes every single lesson, theme, and plot element of the first five books and weaves them into a climactic finale that de Castell should be proud of. Kellen’s character arc is incredible, and I absolutely love where it ends up. Watching the culmination of his journey of self-discovery was incredibly satisfying and it’s emotionally fulfilling to see where he ends up. In many ways Crownbreaker feels like a “best-of” collection for the series, bringing back all the best characters and elements from previous novels. While there are elements of the greater story that I thought could have used some more detail, Kellen’s personal story takes a number of surprising and interesting turns. I really like where the overall plot nets out and I very much hope this will not be the last we see of Kellen.

As a series, Spellslinger is one I highly recommend. The story and worldbuilding place it a step above the majority of YA fiction I have read in recent years, and Kellen’s journey is something that most readers (particularly younger ones) will strongly resonate with. The Spellslinger world is a joy to explore and the somewhat episodic nature of the six books really works well for de Castell’s writing style. The prose is humorous and fun which balances out some of its heavier themes very nicely. My only real criticism is that I think the books drag a little around book five. In the end, I would have to say my favorite of the six stories is still book three, Charmcaster. Exploring cities of mechanical wonders will always hit me right in the feels.

Sebastien de Castell has proven once again that he is a master of conclusions, one of the hardest things to write as an author. Crownbreaker is the perfect ending to an already fantastic series and I cannot wait to share these books with everyone I know. The final two books felt like they had a tiny bit of trouble balancing their own episodic stories and the overall plot of the series, but this complaint amounts to almost nothing in the face of everything else the books do right. Crownbreaker is amazing and you should check both it, and the full series, out.

Rating: Crownbreaker – 8.5/10
-Andrew

Holy Sister – Just Short Of Sacrosanct

91zzfwkuijl._ac_ul436_An interesting book to close out an interesting series. That’s the general gist of this review of Holy Sister by Mark Lawrence, the final installment in The Book of the Ancestor trilogy. For all of you who are waiting with bated breath for what is likely to be one of the most popular books this year, don’t worry. Holy Sister continues in the tradition of its predecessors and manages to tell a fast-paced, highly imaginative, and captivating story. You can find reviews of both of the previous books here and here. At the same time, it almost feels like Holy Sister is successful in spite of Lawrence, with him making a number of choices I find questionable (despite the book still landing on its feet).

Holy Sister tells two stories, each separated by a short time gap. The first storyline picks up where Grey left off: Nona and her friends are on the run from the powerful Noi-Guin and must escape to the ice if they want to live. The second timeline is a few weeks in advance where Nona is back at the convent and completing her final trials to become an official sister. The two timelines meet right as the much foreshadowed invasion of Scithrowl begins and the Sisters of the Ancestor must take the field to repel the invading forces. The split narrative works well, and Lawrence manages the dissemination of information in a skilled and clever manner so that the storylines remain interesting in tandem without stepping on each other’s toes. In addition, the third act where the two narratives meet is extremely climactic and has a lot of great pay off for plot lines that Lawrence has been building since book one. The action was still exciting enough to have me gripping the book in fear, and Lawrence continues his worldbuilding until the last page, potentially setting the world up for a sequel or spin-off series. Overall, the book brings about almost everything I could have wanted from the series… is what I would have said if it wasn’t for a few narrative choices that Lawrence made.

The first, and most problematic for me, is that there is a MAJOR character death off-screen between books two and three. This death murdered the forward momentum of the plot for me and caused me to struggle to care in the first third of the book. Holy Sister eventually recaptured my attention but by the end, I could not a) understand why the death needed to happen at all as it seemed to add little and take away a ton and b) understand why on Earth (or whatever planet they are on) the death needed to happen off-screen. There was so much potential for a pivotal and emotional moment surrounding this characters death that was just tossed out the window. Far be it from me to assign reasoning to Lawrence, but it frankly just felt lazy – like he didn’t want to write about this plotline anymore.

This feeling was mirrored in my other major problem with the book – the pacing surrounding Nona’s trials. I have a hard time in my mind envisioning what a traditional education at the nunnery looks like. Books one and two established a slow and luxurious pacing of how things are supposed to progress with classes and book three throws that pacing out the window in favor of going supersonic. Now, in Lawrence’s defense, he does provide a large amount of in book reasoning for why that happens: the country is invaded by a hostile nation and the end times are upon us. However, to me, it felt more like Lawrence was tired of writing this story and was hurrying me out the door. I was massively less invested in the fate of the world compared to Nona’s time at the convent, so this narrative choice did not sit well with me. On the other hand, while I wasn’t initially as interested in the invasion plot line it did surpass all my expectations so I was not too upset.

At the end of the day, Holy Sister is a strong finish to a strong series. This is easily Mark Lawrence’s best trilogy (in my opinion), and while I disagreed with some of his choices surrounding the last book in the series I can’t argue with his results. For those of you who are waiting to get your hands on the climatic finale, know that your patience will be rewarded. For those of you who haven’t read the series yet, I recommend you check it out as soon as possible now that it has stuck the landing (with only a small wobble).

Rating: Holy Sister – 8.5/10
-Andrew