(Visual Novel) The House in Fata Morgana: A Requiem for Innocence by Novectacle

image1(1)Title: The House of Fata Morgana: A Requiem for Innocence

Developer: Novectacle

Publisher (Localization): Mangagamer

Platform: Microsoft Windows

Genre: Adventure, Gothic, Mystery

Summary:

A young girl, whose blood is claimed to have miraculous healing powers, kneels battered and beaten before the lord of the land. In the village where she was born, she was worshiped as the daughter of God. And now, the lord holds his sword high in the air, moments away from beheading her.

“You’re a damned witch wearing a saint’s skin!”

But before he can swing his blade down, a young man interferes, saving the girl.

So begins the first “happy” chapter of the young girl’s life.

And so begins the first act of a tragedy that would come to span nearly a millennium. (Mangagamer)

Review:

Mournful that day.
When from the ashes shall rise
a guilty man to be judged.
Lord, have mercy on him.
Gentle Lord Jesus,
grant them eternal rest.
Amen.

A Requiem of Innocence is a companion to The House in Fata Morgana, consisting of main episode, sub episodes, gift which includes a backstage segment, and a bonus track after you finish all the stories. It is imperative to finish Fata Morgana before playing Requiem to be able to understand the significance of the stories.

If you wonder what the quote above is about, it is the English translation of the lyrics of “Lacrimosa“, from Mozart’s “Requiem in D Minor”, which plays at the beginning of the main episode. Excellent choice of music, as the lyrics describe the theme of the main episode really well, and probably why this game was titled Requiem.

I will try my best, but I don’t think I’ll be able to talk about this game without giving out some spoilers. Of course, it is best to finish the game before reading this.

Story: I’ll talk first about the main episode, since it is the highlight of the game. This was the part that I had been waiting for the most since I finished Fata Morgana. It tells the story of Jacopo and Morgana, from the time when they first met until the end of Morgana’s life, when she cursed the men who had wronged her. We already knew the first part of the story when Morgana told it in Fata Morgana. However, in the main episode, we get to see the events unfolding, mainly told from Jacopo’s point-of-view. We also see other characters who are not mentioned in Morgana’s story, but still bear some importance. This part of the story has more heartwarming and comedic moments (usually at the expense of Jacopo, our resident butt monkey), which make it all the more heartbreaking when you know how it will end. The interlude tells the story of a particular character. Fata Morgana has Bestia, who is already creepy, but the character whose background is revealed in the interlude is a beast of another kind. Finally, the beginning of the second part completes the puzzle of why and how Jacopo turns into a ruthless lord. The rest of the second part is basically the true history. In Fata Morgana, we have Michel in the thick of things which changes things slightly. The scene in the tower in Requiem, with Jacopo the only witness to Morgana’s end of life, recalls into mind what I thought about the end of the Third Door: It’s too late, Jacopo. You’re too late. Oh, and in the end, when Jacopo figures out what Morgana is about to say in reply to his “I’ll show you the world”? HURTS. SO. DAMN. MUCH. Good job at breaking my heart even further, Novectacle.

The sub episodes have three stories: “Assento Dele”, “Tales Wasted Away in Obscurity”, and “Happily Ever ~After~”. “Assento Dele” tells the story of Imeon and Michel, before Michel meets Giselle. I like the way it is told, which begins with a scene from Michel’s childhood. That’s the first clue that all is not what it seems. This story talks about friendship and dream that will never come true, and I think it’s beautiful. “Tales Wasted Away in Obscurity comprised three short stories: “A Slow-Killing Poison” about the fate of Rhodes family after the events in the First Door from the eyes of Arthur Baldwin, the fiancee of Nellie Rhodes; “Defectives” about Yukimasa’s encounter with a woman who he keep company with for some time; and “The Painting’s Ramblings” about the fate of the Bollinger family after Michel’s death. These short stories do not add much to the overall story, but they do answer some lingering questions. From these three, I like the last the most. Go, Georges! “Happily Ever ~After~” is self-explanatory enough; it tells the story of Michel and Giselle in the modern world! They finally get their happy ending, but gosh, they make me so jealous. It’s fine, though, they deserve it, so I’ll just let them be and wish them all the happiness in the world.

Talking about the backstage segment though, it is chaotic. It’s fun though to see all of them just fooling around and making Jacopo the butt of the joke as usual.

Now finally, the bonus track titled “Fragment”. *inhales deeply* Oh dear, where do I even begin? The main episode is plenty sad, but I already cried out most of my feels when playing Fata Morgana, so I didn’t cry that much, only at certain moments. “Fragment”, though, wrecked me. It turned me into a sobbing mess. I finished it around midnight, which was a mistake, because I ended unable to sleep until dawn because I kept crying. I just have so much feels about these two, okay? And “Fragment” is like the answer to my prayer. No, they do not get their happily ever after, but they can finally face each other honestly. Morgana talking about wanting to learn things from Jacopo as if they have a future together. Jacopo being honest about his feelings. Morgana lamenting their past. Them holding hands. Jacopo saying “I love you”. Morgana calling Jacopo by name. And BAM! A picture of Jacopo and Morgana holding hands in a field of wheat shows up. Then it became the background picture of the game menu. Now every time I open the game, I will always look at that picture. *sobs* You’re so cruel, Novectacle. Now I cannot help but to wish that they can find each other again in the next life and do better this time. Ugh.

In conclusion, I love the main episode, I love “Assento Dele”, but most of all, I love “Fragment”. They are beautifully written and emotionally invoking.

Characters: We know the main players from Fata Morgana, such as Morgana, Jacopo, and Maria, but here we see them in a different light. They have different personalities, and the story helps you to connect their past selves to the current ones in Fata Morgana. Morgana is my most favorite character, followed by Jacopo. So imagine my excitement when I found out there’s going to be a story with them as the focus.

In Fata Morgana, we see Morgana as the cruel witch who has no qualms about making people suffer. However, in Requiem, we see Morgana as a regular girl. Well, she still cannot completely let go of the part of her that is “the saint” though, which is why she can be arrogant at times, but she’s trying to adapt and to be less… judging. She’s more guarded around other people, as expected of someone who has experienced betrayal, but she has no issue quarreling with Jacopo. It’s fun to see their interactions. We get a glimpse of how Morgana may become if she lives a normal life.

Jacopo, on the other hand, turns out to be someone who is actually good at heart. For someone who has been living in the slums for as long as he can remember, it is amazing that he is not jaded. He has great ideals, and he is willing to realize those. However, it does prove to be his fall as well. Absolute power corrupts absolutely after all. It guess it’s not entirely his fault; too many terrible things happen in succession to the point that he lost it. He makes terrible choices. I will only blame him completely for what he does when he meets Morgana again. He still has the chance to make things right, but he makes the excuse that he has gone too far to back down now. *sighs*. That’s the problem with Jacopo; he continues to make excuses until everything is too late. I can sympathize with him and feel bad for him, but I also think he deserves to the butt monkey. Well, here’s to hoping that in his next life in the modern era, he learns his lessons.

As for Maria, I feel neutral about her in Fata Morgana (my hate is already reserved for another evil character), but yes, I don’t like what she does to White-Haired Girl and Jacopo. So imagine my surprise to see Maria as the nice big sister type. I like this personality of her, so I have revised my opinion of her.

What about the side characters? I think they are also really well-written. They each have their own objectives and unique characteristics. Ceren is a particularly interesting one, and I think I quite like Odilon. Barnier is just downright terrible. He’s the cause of Morgana’s suffering and I hate him for it, but as a villain, he’s rather straightforwardly crazy, so he’s not that interesting. I don’t really like Gratien, and I am rather satisfied to find out that I’m right about him.

Imeon from “Assento Dele” is another interesting character. I like how, even in the face of certain and imminent death and after suffering from the effects of his hideous disease, he still has humor; he is the kind of person who will greet Death with inappropriate remarks. Heh. He also proves to be a noble person, a person fitting to be Michel’s friend. His and Michel’s situations remind me of how much better the world we currently live in than during those centuries ago, and I’m grateful for that.

Game system: I won’t say much about this since it’s practically the same with Fata Morgana. I didn’t experience any issue when playing.

Art: The artist’s the same, so the style doesn’t change. It’s still as beautiful as usual, but I have to especially laud that CG in “Fragment”. It is beautifully drawn even if it’s just a black-and-white picture. If anything, it is because it is black and white that we can focus on the expressions of Jacopo and Morgana. I also love other CGs that feature both Jacopo and Morgana (okay, I’m biased). Another especially cruel CG is Morgana, with undamaged face, smiling. Ugh. Also, I think they chose the right moments for the CGs. Those CGs perfectly depict the most dramatic and emotional moments in the story.

The sprites also picture the characteristics of the characters really well. You can guess rightly a particular character’s traits from their expressions, clothing, and poses.

Sound/Music: Requiem has original soundtracks, but reuses some music from Fata Morgana. It also uses some epic music from MACHINIMASOUND for the battle scenes, which I love so much. Then, there’s the fitting “Lacrimosa” playing at the beginning. I feel neutral about Requiem‘s original soundtracks, except for “Serie de Fragmento (English Ver.)”. Fata Morgana has the instrumental version, but for Requiem, there is a vocal singing in English. Admittedly, I didn’t think much about the instrumental version back then, as it was eclipsed by other outstanding tracks in Fata Morgana. However, the Requiem‘s version makes me realize the significance of this song. It is Jacopo’s song. Read the lyrics and you can easily imagine Jacopo singing that song (even it is sung by a woman). I also notice how this song always plays during the moments when Jacopo and Morgana are being honest to each other: when Jacopo carried Morgana on his back and during the entirety of “Fragment”. This song is part of the reasons why I cried so hard during those moments; it really enhances the emotion of the scenes. Now, it is one of my all-time favorite songs.

Final Impression: One has to play Requiem to have greater understanding of Fata Morgana. We are brought back to the tragedy that starts it all, while tying up the loose ends. They are tied up really nicely too, which shows how well Novectacle plan the whole story. While I think Fata Morgana is still better, I think I’m more fond of Requiem (as I said, I’m biased). Fata Morgana and Requiem have been a roller coaster of feels, and while I hate the actual roller coaster (I will NEVER ride it again), I do not mind, even eager, to be swept up in the thrill of those stories.

I guess this marks the end of Fata Morgana‘s world. What a glorious end. I know there is a reincarnation story, but since it is only available in PS Vita (which I don’t have) in Japanese (which I am not fluent in), I am not sure I’ll ever get to read it. All in all, I’m really happy that I have the chance to read one of the best stories ever. All those tears and money are worth it.

Now, I will continue my mission to spread the love for Fata Morgana. Wish me luck!

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(Visual Novel) The House in Fata Morgana by Novectacle

The_House_in_Fata_Morgana_coverTitle: The House of Fata Morgana

Developer: Novectacle

Publisher (Localization): Mangagamer

Platform: Microsoft Windows

Genre: Adventure, Gothic, Mystery

Summary:

You awaken in a decrepit old mansion.

A woman with eyes of jade stands before You, informing You that You are the Master of the house, and she Your Maid. However, You have no memories, no concept of self—or, indeed, any certainty that You are even alive.

The Maid invites You to join her on a journey through the mansion’s lifeless halls, to behold the numerous tragedies that have befallen its residents. She suggests that among them, perhaps You will find some trace of Yourself.

Beyond the first door lies the year 1603. It is an era of unparalleled beauty, where art and theatre flourish. Roses bloom abundantly in the garden where the inseparable Rhodes siblings play, and though they appear to be free of worry and strife… not everyone is content to see them happy.

Beyond the second door lies the year 1707. In this era, the mansion lies in ruins, and a beast dwells within. He claims to yearn for a life of serenity, but it is not long before he yields to his innate savagery and a massacre ensues.

Beyond the third door lies the year 1869. In this technologically advanced era, people are always on the move. The mansion’s master is an ambitious businessman who has invested in the rail industry. However, his obsession with wealth and power leads him to neglect and mistreat his wife.

Beyond the fourth door lies the year 1099. The Maid tells You that this is the final tale. In this era, You see a young man who claims to be cursed and a girl with white hair, called Giselle, who has been branded a witch and marked for death.

Having borne witness to these four tragedies, each set in a different time and place, You are now free to choose whether You wish to end Your story here… or press on.

But there are those who would say, “You were able to bear them because they weren’t your tragedies.” (Mangagamer)

Review:

Before I move forward with the review, I think I shall explain a little bit about visual novel. The name pretty much explains itself: it is novel in visual form. Visual novel incorporates graphic and sound in addition to text, and it is more interactive than common novel and is more of a game because it usually has multiple storylines and endings, so at some points, it will present the reader/player with multiple choices, so that they can choose to which direction the story will go. If my explanation is not clear enough for you, you are more than welcome to check wikipedia for more detailed explanation.

In case you are wondering about why I am reviewing visual novel instead of book like usual… Well, since I read lots of books, many of them now seem to have similar stories, so I am more easily bored these days and I often find myself unable to finish reading those books. Visual novels, on the other hand, offer more excitement to me due to their interactiveness, and the art and music really help me to enjoy the stories more thoroughly. I have actually been playing visual novels for a few years now, but they are not so popular in English-speaking world, so there were limited choices, and most of them are of the dating sim variety with simpler stories. Visual novels are more popular in Japan, so if I want to play those with heavier and more interesting stories, I have to play the Japanese ones. However, because it is quite difficult to get those games in my country and I have limited Japanese language skills, I can only play some of them. The good news, though, in recent years, interest in visual novels have increased in English-speaking world, so we may see more and more English visual novels developed and Japanese visual novels localized.

Now that I have gotten the explanations out of the way, I can start the review for The House of Fata Morgana. Because visual novel have more aspects compared to books, I will review it by each aspect: Story, Characters, Game system, Art, and Sound/Music.

Story: I have to say that The House of Fata Morgana shines the most in terms of its story. The story is so beautifully and excellently written to the point that I have no complain whatsoever. The story spans across centuries and is set in different eras with different themes, which is usually quite difficult to portray, but this game’s story can faithfully depict each era and paint the atmosphere well. I particularly love how the story twists and turns. For example, the first door of year 1603 starts off quite happily, but as the story progresses, the mystery increases, and at the end of it all, everything takes quite a dark turn (and when I say it’s dark, it’s dark). When playing the game, by this point, I already had expectations that the next doors would be pretty much following the same formula, and I was right, except that, even though I already had expectations, I could never guess the truth until its revelation. I was so delighted because of this; I really love stories with unexpected twists. The story was also written in such a way that the tension keeps on building without giving you any hint of what is to come, and without realizing, you will want to keep on reading and reading and reading to figure out just what is really going on. It is not recommended though to play it in one sitting, since the story is quite massive with around 30+ hours of gameplay. Compared to other visual novels, this game only has one storyline with multiple endings, but it does not feel like one story since it has that story-within-story form and there are many stories. The summary of the game may give you the impression that there are only four doors to go through, but in actuality, those four doors are only the first part of the game. Should you choose to find out the truth of it all (yes, you choose), there are still many other doors waiting to be opened. The plot twist I love the most happens in this latter part. It was where I shed the most tears (in case you are wondering, yes, the story is not only dark, but it is choke full of tragedies), and damn, I cried so hard. Despite all those tears though, I can say that it is one of the best stories I have ever read.

Characters: The characters are also another good aspect of this game. Every character is really well written with their own distinct personalities, and for the characters that are central to the story, we also get to know their past, so we can understand why they are the way they are. Also, the key to understanding this story is in understanding the characters, so it can be said that these characters are at the center of everything that is happening. The story is basically about discovering each character’s true motives. The problem though? Everyone is shrouded in mystery. What you see is not necessarily the truth. To get to know the truth, you really have to “get into their shoes”. The best thing? The characters are portrayed to be so human. Each of them have their own fatal flaws, and some of them may do really terrible things, but they have their reasons, and as we figure out in the latter part of the story, they do not do it because they are evil, but because they are entirely human. They each have their own good wishes, but ironically, the things they do eventually take them even further away from achieving those wishes. In the case of Michel and the witch though, I suppose it was more of the world (or the writers, to be more exact) messing with them. The world is not a kind place, indeed (and writers are cruel creatures). However, the interesting thing is how Michel and the witch react differently to the tragedies that have befallen them and how it makes all the difference. I wish I can delve more into each character’s personalities and motivations, but then again, since they are the center of everything, if I say anything, it bounds to be spoiler, so I will refrain. Let me just end this part by mentioning who my favorite character is: the witch. 😉

Game system: Being a visual novel with only one storyline, the game system is simple enough. Basically we only have to make choices at some points. I had no problem when playing, but one issue is that during the fourth door, the story log becomes messy with weird display and texts that were never shown in the story appearing there. Weird, but as long as you pay really good attention when reading, then you have little need to access the story log, so there should be no big problem.

Art: To be honest, because I am more used to (and prefer) visual novels with anime-like art, when I first found out about this game, I was uninterested in the visuals which are more realistic compared to anime. I only ended up playing because of the very positive reviews about the story and because I was really, really bored, so I decided to give it a chance. Even though at first I did not really like it, but the more I played, the more I could appreciate the art, and in the end, I can say that it has a really beautiful art.

Sound/Music: This visual novel does not have voiced characters, but I suppose due to that they have more freedom to use background music with vocals. Novectacle composed the original music for this game, and I have to say it’s excellent! Well, there are some music I am not fond of, but those that I really, really love make up for it. Some songs are in Portuguese (I think?) and I recognize at least one in French. Since the stories in each door are set in different eras and have different themes, some of the music were composed to match. For example, the first door has youthful-themed music, the second door has really creepy music (because its story is le horreur), the third door has jazzy music (which made it into my favorites), and the fourth door has quiet music. My most favorite songs and music appear in the latter part of the story, and with that part being the most tragic, they are all really, really sad. My favorite song is “Cicio” which has a more hopeful tone, but the song which I think has the most beautiful lyrics is “Giselle”. I like how “Giselle” describes Giselle’s feelings about Michel in such poetic way. “Everybody is Crying”, “Don’t Say Adieu”, and “This Mutilated Body” are the saddest music ever, but I love them so much even though I feel like crying whenever I hear them. Best vocal for me is in “Hex (Youth Choir Ver.)” for obvious reasons (those angelic voices (人´∀`*)).  In addition, aside from the songs and music, of course there are sound effects like creepy laughters, screamings, and loud footsteps, and they are so on point that they really can add to the mysterious and creepy atmosphere of the game. There is a reason why they recommend you to play this game with headphones, but those who are scaredy cats must beware. (⌒▽⌒)

Final Impression: This game falls into the category of very recommended, and it is one of my most favorite games ever. I try my hardest to avoid spoiler here (it’s really difficult, you know), but I think I will write a personal post in my personal blog about this game since I still have so much I want to say about many things (and this review is already so long). I have a warning though: this game has a heavy plot and deals with a lot of painful things (rape, mutilation, torture, etc.), so it is not a game that just anyone can play.

Let me close this review with a quote from the game that I think sums it all pretty well:

Find the actual truth.

No matter what we may uncover.

It’s not a sweet story, by any means.

It’s a story of betrayal, anger, hatred.

We caused each other pain.

But that’s…

the road we traveled.

And down that road―

―lies all the answers.

The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

13578175Title: The Emperor’s Soul

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Series: Elantris

Publisher: Tachyon Publications

Genre: Fantasy

Summary:

A heretic thief is the empire’s only hope in this fascinating tale that inhabits the same world as the popular novel, Elantris.

Shai is a Forger, a foreigner who can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with skillful magic. Condemned to death after trying to steal the emperor’s scepter, she is given one opportunity to save herself. Though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination by her captors, Shai will attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead.

Probing deeply into his life, she discovers Emperor Ashravan’s truest nature—and the opportunity to exploit it. Her only possible ally is one who is truly loyal to the emperor, but councilor Gaotona must overcome his prejudices to understand that Shai’s forgery is as much artistry as it is deception.

Brimming with magic and political intrigue, this deftly woven fantasy delves into the essence of a living spirit. (Goodreads)

Review:

To be honest, I first decided to read The Emperor’s Soul just out of curiosity, because I knew Brandon Sanderson from Mistborn series (which is one of my all-time favorites) and this novella had won Hugo Award, but somehow I set a low expectation when I started reading and I really didn’t think I will like it. Dear God, how I was wrong! I soon learned that ’tis a folly to underestimate Brandon Sanderson’s writing. For God’s sake, I even had read his previous books and love them! How could I have not have high expectation?! The moment I finished reading, I actually found myself crying. No, it wasn’t because that the story is sad or tragic, but because the story is just so beautiful and so profound, I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed. There are many great aspects about this novella, and I can write pages long about all of them, but I don’t think I have time to write everything, so I apologize in advance if my writing seems weird as I have to cut off many other things I would like to write to keep it short. As usual, spoiler ahead.

First of all, the one thing I like the most about the Mistborn series is its characters (hi, Kelsier), and I find that in The Emperor’s Soul, it’s the same case. Brandon Sanderson’s strength lies in how he can write characters who felt so real and so human. For example, Shai is a Forger. By all rights, she’s a criminal. She does illegal things. But does that mean that she’s evil? No, not at all. Sure, she has flaws, but as a whole, she is true and she is good. In Gaotona’s case, he sure has his own agenda and is stubborn to a fault, but he has good intentions and we can see how his meetings with Shai has changed him little by little. With Ashravan, we can see even a lot more as we, together with Shai, learn what kind of personality he has and what are the things in his past that have influenced him to become the person that he is now. Each of these characters have their flaws and their strengths, and by looking into their past, we can understand how they came to be the way they are. So you see, Brandon Sanderson has a proven track record of writing well-rounded characters, complete with their past stories, so we can at least understand where they come from even if we cannot relate to them.

Well, if Brandon Sanderson cannot write a believable character who we can relate to or understand, then it will be ironic since this novella’s main theme is about understanding people… which is another reason why I love this story so much (well, I am an enthusiastic student of humanities after all!). As a Forger, it is vital to Shai that she can understand the nature of things, and many of the things she says ring powerfully true to me. This gem about human nature, in particular:

A person was like a dense forest thicket, overgrown with a twisting mess of vines, weeds, shrubs, saplings, and flowers. No person was one single emotion; no person had only one desire. They had many, and usually those desires conflicted with one another like two rosebushes fighting for the same patch of ground.

is my favorite quote as it speaks so powerfully and so beautifully about the complexity of human beings. Shai understands the nature of humans and the nature of plants, and so, she can compare the two of them to a great effect. The imagery of the words is simple and yet, beautiful.

Another aspect of the story I love is the plot itself. It moves along so smoothly while still keeping me on my toes as there are many unpredictable things (Will Shai built a “back door” in the Emperor’s seal after all? Will she be able to escape?). I also love that the more we read, the more we uncover each character’s personalities, and we find out that they are not who we think they are. It’s so fascinating to follow the journey of Shai to understand the Emperor and try forging a soul for him. I particularly love the way the resolution to the story is written. It is full of action and full of emotion. My favorite scene is when Shai finishes the stamp and escapes from her room, only to go to the Emperor to stamp him herself. I can understand her reasoning, especially as she says this:

“I wish that I could know you. Not your soul, but you. I’ve read about you; I’ve seen into your heart. I’ve rebuilt your soul, as best I could. But that isn’t the same. It isn’t knowing someone, is it? That’s knowing about someone.”

I could feel my heart breaking when I read this. It’s just so bittersweet, how Shai knows everything about him and yet she will never really know him. To be honest, the fangirl part of me is shipping them really hard, wishing that there’s another end that will let them stay together. However, after reading the last part of the epilogue, I do think that it is best to let things end the way it is. We get to see just what it is that Shai has actually done and just how profound its effect will be. This part was what got me weeping along with Gaotona. It’s truly a masterful end, bittersweet and yet hopeful.

This novella has really left a deep mark on my soul. I will never forget how the story and characters have made me feel. The story may be fiction, but it has changed how I see and feel about the real world, especially about humans. The thing I want to say about this novella has been said in the novella itself, as my feelings about this book somewhat mirror Gaotona’s feelings about Shai’s book, so I would like to close my review with the quote:

These were the tears of a man who saw before himself a masterpiece. True art was more than beauty; it was more than technique. It was not just imitation.
It was boldness, it was contrast, it was subtlety. In this book, Gaotona found a rare work to rival that of the greatest painters, sculptors, and poets of any era.
It was the greatest work of art he had ever witnessed.

The Wrath & the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

18798983Title: The Wrath & the Dawn

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Series: The Wrath & the Dawn #1

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance

Summary:

A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all. (Goodreads)

Review:

“So you intend to go through life never loving anyone? Just . . . things?”
“No. I’m looking for something more.”
“More than love?”
“Yes.”
“Is it not arrogant to think you deserve more, Khalid Ibn al-Rashid?”
“Is it so arrogant to want something that doesn’t change with the wind? That doesn’t crumble at the first sign of adversity?”
“You want something that doesn’t exist. A figment of your imagination.”
“No. I want someone who sees beneath the surface—someone who completes the balance. An equal.”
“And how will you know when you’ve found this elusive someone?” Shahrzad retorted.
“I suspect she will be like air. Like knowing how to breathe.”

When I read through this scene, I knew I have found the book for me. This scene speaks to me on a personal level, as I have struggled for many years with this thing called love. Just like Khalid, I want to find my “equal”, and yet like Shazi, I believe that it does not exist. This book shows me how it feels like to find an equal and to be so deeply in love in its truest sense.

Shazi and Khalid do not have the perfect kind of love story, but the love between them is just beautiful beyond words. To me, their love feels so real, and I believe this has to do with how the author can so masterfully craft the story with simple yet meaningful words. Some people may not agree with me, that this story is unrealistic and the dialogues are cheesy. The cynical part of me says the same thing, but I cannot deny that I can really relate to the story and that makes it feel real for me.

Shazi and Khalid really struggle with their feelings. Shazi is stubborn about having her revenge while Khalid is stubborn about keeping his secret. Half way, we can see that Shazi can no longer bring herself to have her revenge and she starts to give in to her feelings. However, Khalid is still stubborn, and there was so much hurt between them because of it. And yet, their love keeps drawing them to each other… and it conquers all. Out of love, Khalid finally reveals his secret, and even though the situation does not get better because of this (in fact, it gets worse), but after that revelation, we can see how love shines the brightest when people trust and respect each other. Khalid and Shazi finally find their equal in each other.

The character I admire the most here is Khalid. He is cold and distant at first, but it is apparent that he has a great burden. Even though it will seem cold and heartless of me to those who have read the book and know the secret (though the secret is not hard to guess due to the hint in chapter 1), I agree with Khalid’s decision to keep Shazi alive. And hey, if he doesn’t, this story will not exist, right? I admire him for sticking to his choices and for his willingness to take responsibilities. He is also very protective and fights hard for his love. Oh, and he does not make excuses. I mean like, wow. It’s so hard nowadays to find people like that (even in fiction). Though, it hurts me so much when I read the part where Shazi reads Khalid’s letter. It’s just so heartbreaking to see how much he suffers.

On the other hand, Shazi, at first, did not leave a good impression on me. She wants to have revenge, and I never like those who are vengeful. It’s very relieving when she finally lets go of her intention to kill Khalid. She gets better too, but realistically, she is still feeling guilty and conflicted about falling in love with the person who killed her best friend. I like that she does not stop asking about the secret, even if it hurts Khalid. The secret gets in their way, and it does need to be resolved for them to be able to move forward.

Now let’s talk about the other characters as well. One good thing about this story is that all the characters are there for good reasons. Each of them gives something to the story, and even though some do not seem to matter that much this time, we can be rest assured that in the next book they will have their own important roles.

Despina is the one I can relate to the most when it comes to dealing with love. Fear of rejection/abandonment drives her to choose not saying anything at all… which is what I have done before. Her story has not ended yet, but it was already too late for me. Because I know where this path will take her, I really hope she will finally decide to admit her feelings. During Shazi’s conversation with Despina, Shazi says this, “I understand how difficult it is, putting your heart in someone else’s hands. But, if you don’t, how will you ever truly know a person?”. It was as if an arrow has shot right through my belly. She was right, and it hurts.

Jalal is fun to have around, and I like how fiercely loyal he is to his family. He is also surprisingly wise. Tariq is just… uh. It’s not that he is a bad person, it’s just that he refuses to believe the truth and only sees what he wants to see. Also, it’s his decision that makes things go from bad to worse and get more complicated… Well, you can see why I am not so keen to sympathize with him. I would like to say other things about other characters too, but since there are still many, I’m afraid I do not have the time now, so I’ll stop here.

One thing that really disappointed me is the ending. It’s just… so flat. I would have preferred a big cliffhanger even though I will hate it too since I will be so impatient for the next book. However, cliffhanger usually makes a bigger and more lasting impression. Sure, the story stops somewhere where things are not resolved, but it doesn’t make me dying to know what will happen next.

All in all though, this is a great story for me. I love every single word. I love how it makes me feel (though I have to admit a lot of tears were involved). Sure, I also envy Khalid and Shazi a lot, but I am happy that they find each other. They give me hope, and so I hope that they will have their happy ending. It remains to be seen, but I wish fervently that this story will end happily. Not ever after, maybe, but at least, they can get their happiness that they deserve, because they really do deserve it.

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ruin and Rising

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Series: The Grisha #3

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance

Summary:

The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Review:

I can’t exactly explain what draws me to this book. To be honest, I don’t really like the first and the second book, but even so, I was pretty excited when this book, the third and the last, was released. For the past months, the time I spent to read novels has lessen alarmingly (hence, the lack of post in this blog) because none of them could keep me interested enough to read or finish them. I always abandon them after reading a few chapters because I cannot be absorbed into their stories. However, as I said before, I was excited about this book and surprise, surprise: I could not stop reading it. The story is not that extraordinary in my opinion, though it is original and creative. It is different from the other young adult novels out there that sometimes feel so similar to each other. To read the world of The Grisha is fairly refreshing because of its uniqueness. I especially love the Russian influences.

I think the thing that keeps me reading this series may very well be the relationship between Alina and Mal. I am such a sucker for childhood love that is doomed. I like a book that can make me feel for its characters, and this series has at least made me feel for these two. Probably the reason I don’t like the second book is the emergence of Nikolai. *dry laugh* I don’t like it when love interests keep popping out, especially when I already ship a pairing. It’s not that I hate Nikolai (in fact, I love him), but triangle love is complicated enough; putting in a third contender is a bit too much for me.

Even though Alina shows signs that she also has feelings for Darkling and Nikolai, her feelings for these two do not and cannot compete with the feeling she has for Mal. I mean just look at them. It’s like he is the center of her world. She pines for him. Everything about her revolves around him. Whenever she’s about to do something, she thinks of him. At first, I hate it that Mal seems oblivious or ignorant at first (in the first book), but then we know that he actually loves her too, and in this book, we know even more that he actually started to have feelings for her since they were children. (The fact that he admits this with embarrassed blush hints at something. *wink wink*) It really took them a damn long time (and the possibility of death) to admit and express their feelings, eh?

I ship Alina and Mal so much, and yet they have the makings of a tragic couple. I kept dreading the end… I just wanted them to end up together after all they’ve gone through, okay? *sobs* I thought their relationship was already complicated enough, especially after the events in the second book, and it could not possibly get more complicated, but I was wrong. Oh boy, I was so, so wrong. The final revelation just made my heart break more for them. I actually cried when I read that part of the story.

I suppose it is quite understandable why Alina may feel something for the Darkling. They are both drawn to each other by their powers and the loneliness that follows. Darkling is unlike any of the villains I’ve ever known. If anything, he might be an anti-villain instead. He is cruel, yes, but there’s also something so human about him. His desires – to gain more power, to be lonely no more – I think those are what made him human. However, for some reason, I just cannot feel anything for him. As a villain (or anti-villain), he is quite… average. I do not loathe him nor do I grudgingly admire him, as I do with some other villains. (Thankfully he and his victims are fictional or they will attack me for calling him average after all the cruel things he did.) As for Nikolai… Ah, yes, I do love the too-clever fox. He is cunning and has a silver tongue, and the fact that he is a prince (soon to be king) adds another point in his favor. He often makes me laugh with his humor, and a man who can make me laugh is a man after my own heart. Well, his only flaw is his great love for his country, but it can be worse, so I won’t complain. It’s too bad that he is fictional.

As for other characters… I actually like “the band of misfits”. They are more than just people who travel together with Alina and Mal, they actually are her friends. I love how they can banter with each other, it drives away the somber mood of their journey. To my surprise, I like Zoya the best among them. I hate her for being such a bitch in the earlier books, but hey, it turns out she’s not so bad when she’s trying to be good. She’s still terrible, but at least she’s not vicious and full of jealousy anymore. After her, I like Genya. Yes, she was a traitor, but she shows how forgiveness can better a person. She is a brave girl, and I salute her because of it.

I still have a little bit of dissatisfaction about the story, but overall, it’s a good one. Though Mal’s resurrection feels a bit forced, I’m thankful that he lives, and it’s not like he lives again without a price. I love how the epilogue is written. Heck, I love how all the prologues and epilogues in this series are written, how they tell the story of the boy and the girl, which gives the story the feeling of a fairytale because they are told from a distant perspective. These prologues and epilogues were the ones that gave me hope for Alina and Mal. The main story is told from Alina’s perspective so it may feel like she’s the only main character, but the prologues and epilogues mention a boy and a girl, which means that their stories are intertwined and they are important for each other. I’m satisfied with the ending, as it is the kind that I love. It’s a happy one, but at the same time, also wistful, for a story of a war means that there will always be losses in the end.

Resenting the Hero by Moira J. Moore

Title: Resenting the Hero

 Author: Moira J. Moore

 Series: Hero #1

 Publisher: Ace

 Genre: Fantasy

Summary:

In a realm beset by natural disasters, only the magical abilities of the bonded Pairs—Source and Shield—make the land habitable and keep the citizenry safe. The ties that bind them are far beyond the relationships between lovers or kin—and last their entire lives… Whether they like it or not.

Since she was a child, Dunleavy Mallorough has been nurturing her talents as a Shield, preparing for her day of bonding. Unfortunately, fate decrees Lee’s partner to be the legendary, handsome, and unbearably self-assured Lord Shintaro Karish. Sure, he cuts a fine figure with his aristocratic airs and undeniable courage. But Karish’s popularity and notoriety—in bed and out—make him the last Source Lee ever wanted to be stuck with.

The duo is assigned to High Scape, a city so besieged by disaster that seven bonded pairs are needed to combat it. But when an inexplicable force strikes down every other Source and Shield, Lee and Karish must put aside their differences in order to defeat something even more unnatural than their reluctant affections for each other… (Goodreads)

Review:

The first thing I love about this book is the title. The moment we read the title, we might ask: Shouldn’t every hero be admirable? Then why is the title about resenting the hero? What is wrong with the hero in this book? These questions will make us curious and eventually lead us to pick up this book and read it. In my case, I read this book not only because the title is intriguing, but also because I was already bored of reading about heroines who keep swooning around the gorgeous heroes. So, when I saw the title of this book and read the summary… Eureka! This book was the one that I’d been looking for!

…and I was right. I just love, love, love the characters. They sometimes can be so logical, it’s almost scary. ( ゚ ヮ゚) I especially love Dunleavy (Lee). She kinda reminds me of myself. *wry laugh* I really love her narration. Her reactions to things that happen to her are just downright hilarious. The interactions between her and Taro are really fun to read. Their conversations are witty with Lee having amazing responses (loudly said or no) and Taro giving unexpected responses. I actually liked Aiden at first. I admired it that he’s reasonable and logical about his fall, so I was disappointed that he made some regrettable choices in the end.

The greatest thing about this book is how the characters are portrayed. They are lovable, yes, but we are also made aware of their flaws. Take for example, Lee. You will like her wittiness and her sarcasm, but you have to admit that she’s not fair to Taro. In the beginning, she let her judgement determine her attitude towards Taro, without trying to find out first if the rumors are true or just rumors. (Somehow this reminds me of the case between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy O_o) The beauty of character development in this book is that Lee gradually starts to see Taro as who he really is. Taro is also a very loveable character though his reputation made me a little wary of him at first (see how similar I am to Lee here?) but since I am an observer of this story, I see right away that he is not all what the rumors tells him to be. He can actually sense that Lee dislikes him from the start. I was really impressed by that. As I read more, I also discovered that he’s not a prick despite his status and reputation. In fact, he’s responsible and kind to others. He really cares for Lee and that’s what seals the deal for me. (≧◡≦)

An aspect that I found interesting about this book is the world building, especially the history. I thought that this book, having a fantasy genre, is set in a world different from ours, in another dimension. However, guess what? It’s actually still in the same universe, but on a different planet! Interesting, huh? So the world in this book actually has a sci-fi history. The system of Sources and Shields are pretty well-made, as well. I like it that their powers come with some cost: Sources are overemotional and Shields are insensitive and susceptible to music. Through Lee and Taro, we also get to explore the relationship between Source and Shield and what is lacking from the system. Another interesting aspect is that homosexual (or even bisexual) relationship is nothing weird. I was a bit surprised when the characters are flirting with the same sex and no one even bats an eye. It’s just.. wow. Lastly, I’m amused by the Japanese influence in this book, most obviously in the names. ( ≖‿≖)

All in all, I love this book for its refreshingness. The plot is not that impressive, to be honest, but it is fun and easy to read. For me, the true gems of this book are the characters, especially Lee and Taro. At first, they are unlikely partners, but as the story goes on, they can actually get along with each other. It’s a little bit like Pride and Prejudice actually, especially the moral lessons. ( ´∀`)

River of Dreams by Lynn Kurland

  Title: River of Dreams

 Author: Lynn Kurland

 Series: Nine Kingdoms #8

 Publisher: Berkley

 Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Summary:

Aisling of Bruadair is frantic to find both the truth about her future and a mercenary to save her country. When an offer of aid comes from an unexpected direction, she is relieved her quest is almost complete. But she soon realizes her task is far from over . . . and will include perils she never dreamed she would ever face.

Rùnach of Ceangail has offered to help Aisling with her quest, then he fully intends to take up his life as a simple swordsman far from magic and evil mages. Unfortunately, a chance finding of a book of indecipherable spells tells him that an ordinary life is never going to be his–especially when he realizes that the book he has in his hands belongs to a black mage who will stop at nothing to have it back.

With time running out, Rùnach and Aisling must solve what seem to be unrelated mysteries before others find those answers first and plunge the Nine Kingdoms into a darkness it will never recover from… (Goodreads)

Review:

I had to wait one year for this book and I’m glad the wait is worth it, though this means I might have to wait for another year again for the next book. (´Д)As the eighth book of the series, this book is the second book of Runach-Aisling arc. Thankfully, I re-read the previous book just before I read this book because it picks up directly after the end of the seventh book. So many hilarious and touching scenes are happening, and I enjoy reading it tremendously.

One thing I love about this kind of series is when we can revisit the familiar characters. I was practically squealing with delight like a child when I found out they’re going to Torr Dorain. The scene in the border of Ainneamh and Torr Dorain is just so hilarious. Oh Sile, how I miss your arrogance. (≧▽≦) Aisling still continues to make grown and powerful men feel faint, though in Sile and Sosar’s cases, they are rather touching (unlike in the previous book, where I still giggle at my imagination of Runach’s and Miach’s faint looks). We also meet again with Uachdaran of Leige and Soilléir. Oh dear Solléir, you are certainly in the thick of things now.

After I read this book, I realized that I love the pair of Runach and Aisling the most. First off, as some characters admit, Runach is the most adored out of his male siblings, which is no wonder as he is the closest to being perfect. He is expertly skilled in both magic and swordsmanship, polite and gentle, not to mention chivalrous and regal. He also has a good sense of humor and a healthy dose of dry wits! His commentaries on the things Aisling does are just precious. Miach is more hilarious, I concur, but he can be such a bad boy (What’s with his habit of nicking spells…). I usually don’t like this nigh-perfect kind of characters, but the charm of this series is that you can’t not love the characters.

I also love Aisling the most out of the heroines of this series. She has a very good character development. I’m not sure how to describe her characters though… I suppose she can be called adaptable? Even though the things she believed in all her life are proved to be lies, she is able to learn to accept the truths as she goes along. She is also very brave, not because she is fearless, but because she is willing to face her fears. Then there’s her uncanny skill of leaving people astonished and breathless with her actions or words, which can lead to very touching scenes… or hilarious ones. I love how in the border scene she offends Erhne without meaning to, just because she is bluntly yet politely honest. (*▽≦)ノシ))

Together, Runach and Aisling become an enviable couple. I love the interactions between these two and how they can easily banter with each other. Runach is really trying to woo her, though as expected, Aisling has her misgivings where Runach is concerned because, well, Runach is an elven prince while she believes herself to be a nobody (Oh, Aisling, you are far from a nobody!). I also love how Runach does not insist on leaving Aisling “for her protection” (an excuse noble idiots love to use to my utter disgust). Well, he objects about her going at first, but after a while, he consents to it because he realizes that it is also Aisling’s quest and that he can actually keep her safe if she’s around. Oh, and because he can’t just go without her. (。→ˇ艸←) Take notes, heroes, this is how you do things!

All in all, I really, really love this book, just as I love its predecessors. This book successfully satiates my curiosity of the mysteries surrounding Runach, Aisling, and the world of the Nine Kingdoms, but still hides many enough that I am still left wondering and speculating about the true nature of the mysteries. The dialogues are gems too (mostly thanks to Runach). Even though it is also a romance book, it is not sappy, and in fact, it is romantic in the truest sense of the word. I highly praise Lynn Kurland for her wonderful storytelling. This book may not be an epic journey, or a very realistic story, but it is so beautiful and endearing. I can go on and on about how amazing the stories, the characters, and the world are, but I don’t think I can properly explain or this will be a very, very long post. In the end, I’ll just that I highly recommend this book; if you haven’t read it from the first book, go read it! I assure you, you will have a very good time reading the series.