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DNF Reviews: Winterspell, The Iron Trial, and The Child Returns

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
by Claire Legrand

Genre: YA Fantasy   Hardback: 464 Pages
Publication: September 30, 2014 by Simon & Schuster BFYR

The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor's ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother's murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted--by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they're to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets--and a need she can't define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won't leave Cane unscathed--if she leaves at all.

Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.

The beginning of the story sets the stage pretty well. The words of the Prologue are magical and spin a fantastical tale that has me curious about the world. I will admit that they are confusing and leave me at a lost for what will come next; nevertheless, they're interwoven so beautifully that I was willing to accept them as they are. However, the novel continued to be all over the place and made it hard for me to follow events and get invested in the novel.

Furthermore, I couldn't connect with Clara. I like how Clara is introduced at a public event, showing us a contrast between her public face and her private (inner) self. However, her later behavior proves hopelessly naïve and manipulative. A prime example is how, after finding out a shocking truth, she acts out against Godfather, who she claims to have deeply trusted and cared about and who she claims cares about her. I can understand her wanting to ask questions, but to hurt him and then claim that she deserves answers. . . that was shocking. And it just isn't with Godfather. The relationships of the different characters with each other are poorly developed and hard to figure out.

I had zero interest in following the characters and seeing what happened to them.

DNF 27% into the novel

Content: some nudity, some gore and violence

A copy was provided by Simon & Schuster for review

The Iron Trial
by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Genre: MG AdventureFantasyMagic   Hardback: 304 Pages
Publication: September 9, 2014 by Scholastic Press

From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a riveting new series that defies what you think you know about the world of magic.

From two bestselling superstars, a dazzling and magical middle-grade collaboration centering on the students of the Magisterium, an academy for those with a propensity toward magic. In this first book, a new student comes to the Magisterium against his will -- is it because he is destined to be a powerful magician, or is the truth more twisted than that? It's a journey that will thrill you, surprise you, and make you wonder about the clear-cut distinction usually made between good and evil.

I found it intriguing that The Iron Trial was about a child who didn't want to become a magician. Generally, while it's not uncommon to find a reluctant hero in an MG fantasy read, they don't have a great aversion to magic. However, Callum has been taught by his father from a young age to fear magic, and I found myself drawn to his story. This may be why I kept reading as long as I did even though his voice, quite frankly, bored me from the beginning. I understand that Callum's father has kept a lot from Callum, so the world building is spotty at best. However, I just couldn't feel a connection to Callum and his story.

The Iron Trial reminds me of Melissa Marr and Kelly Armstrong's The Black Well Pages series (read my reviews of the first two books here and here). The story is interesting, and the characters have distinct personalities. However, there isn't much substance to either the characters or the plot.

DNF 25% into the novel

Content: some violence

A copy was provided by Scholastic for review

The Child Returns
Ærenden #1, by Kristen Taber

Genre: YA Fantasy   Paperback: 382 Pages
Publication: May 21, 2012 by Sean Tigh Press

Seventeen-year-old Meaghan has no idea her perfect life has been a lie — until she witnesses her parents’ brutal murders at the hands of red-eyed creatures.

After nearly sharing their fate, she escapes with her best friend, Nick, who tells her the creatures are called Mardróch. They come from another world, and so does she. Now that the Mardróch have found her, she must return to her homeland of Ærenden or face death.

Left with little choice, she follows Nick into a strange world both similar to Earth and drastically different. Vines have the ability to attack. Monkeys freeze their victims with a glare. Men create bombs from thin air. Even Meaghan’s newly discovered empath power turns into a danger she cannot control.

But control becomes the least of her worries once the Mardróch begin targeting her. When Nick confesses he knows the reason they want her, she learns the truth behind the kingdom's fifteen-year civil war — a long-buried secret that could cost Meaghan her life.

I've been interested in reading this book since I saw Candace's rave review on her blog. It sounded like just the epic fantasy read that I've been wanting to read, and Candace and I generally have similar taste in books. Unfortunately, this is one book where our opinions diverge completely.

I agree with Candace that this is more on the high fantasy end of the spectrum with Meaghan and Nick traveling to another world almost as soon as the book begins. The initial premise seems promising with Meaghan returning to her birth world with almost no memory of it and needing to be caught up to speed. As she's pretty much learning everything on the spot, it provides a good opportunity for us to learn about the world along with her. Unfortunately, Nick (for whatever reason) seems to think it's a bad idea to tell Meaghan everything at once, and she reacts pretty poorly to being kept in the dark. While I'd also be demanding answers were I to be in her position, she could have handled the situation much better, especially as Nick is kind of her only hope of survival here. And he's been pretty good to her so far. She's pretty much your typical stubborn YA protagonist who feels entitled to things without giving in return, and Nick is the tagalong guardian who refuses to give answers despite being in the know (thus further antagaonizing the protagonist). Overall, the characters fell flat for me. I didn't feel a connection with them.

On top of this, the beginning of the novel feels rushed. We've barely been introduced to Meaghan and Nick before they're on the run and a bunch of information about their home world is being dumped on us. I was almost a quarter into the novel when I realized that I still didn't have an idea what the point of their mission was beyond returning to Nick's home village. Why are the creatures after Meaghan, and what role will she play in this novel? With the stories told in third person and alternating between Meaghan and Nick's perspectives, there's plenty of potential to feed us information through internal dialogue. However, the characters feed us a little tidbit without further elaboration, resulting in a lot of missed chances to really build the world and character. A good example of this is where Meaghan comments (in her mind) that things have been awkward between her and Nick since this incident, and then she moves on without going into detail, which could have helped give us a better idea of how their relationship has been in the past and how it currently is in the present.

DNF 21% into the novel - poor story execution, couldn't connect with characters

Content: Mention of kissing, Some violence

A copy was provided by the author for review

** Content warnings are from the parts of the novel that I read and may not reflect the entirety of the novel **

2 comments on "DNF Reviews: Winterspell, The Iron Trial, and The Child Returns"
  1. I'm intrigued by The Iron Trial, which I did get for review. However, when the voice is dull...the story's dull. Boo to DNF! Here's to better reads next time!

  2. aww sad you didn't like winter spell.. character relationships are really important to me. I have no intention of reading the other two so i'm not heartbroken about them XD

    - Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf


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