Book: Crystal Keepers (Five Kingdoms, Book 3)

"Crystal Keepers"

Cole Randolph still can’t believe the way his life has turned inside out. Stuck in a strange land far from his home, he has found his friend Dalton and has survived the first two kingdoms of the Outskirts, but none of that has prepared him for the magnetic highways and robotic bounty hunters of Zeropolis.

Ruled by Abram Trench, the one Grand Shaper who stayed loyal to the evil High King, the government of Zeropolis uses advanced technologies to keep tight control. Luckily, the resistance in Zeropolis is anchored by the Crystal Keepers–a group of young rebels with unique weapons.

On the run from the High King’s secret police, Cole and Dalton hope to find more of their lost friends and help Mira locate her sister Constance. But as their enemies ruthlessly dismantle the resistance, time is running out for Cole to uncover the secrets behind the Zeropolitan government and unravel the mystery of who helped the High King steal his daughters’ powers.

In Crystal Keepers, we finally get a story that feels original and not a retread of a previous adventure. As Cole and our other journeying protagonists enter the kingdom of Zeropolis, we’re treated to a world unlike we’ve seen in previous Brandon Mull novels–a technologically-advanced one.

The change of milieu really helps the storytelling feel fresh, as the checklist of things that need to happen author Mull employed in Rogue Knight doesn’t pop up here. The adventures are new, as are the dangers–which makes Crystal Keepers a page-turner. You don’t have an idea what’s going to happen next.

Now, I don’t know if this was a case of lowered expectations, but I really enjoyed reading the third installment off the Five Kingdoms series. Crystal Keepers feels action-packed without being overdone, and the pacing is slow enough to let the characters breathe and process what’s going on around them.

What I like best about this book is the fact that the writer is finally coloring in the characters that have, so far, only been mentioned and not seen. We’re starting to see how perception plays into the story, and how not everything is as black-and-white as previously thought. And yet, although a few chapters is given to the ongoing main arc, it doesn’t feel like a big break from the book’s own story line. It’s still pushing the book’s plot forward while pushing the bigger picture.

With the introduction of new characters, the ones we’ve been traveling with since the first book also come off a little better. To be honest, in Rogue Knight, our protagonists were starting to grate on my nerves. So the addition of new personalities and voices were very welcome, to water down my annoyance at the constant bickering between Cole and fellow traveler Jace.

There were still a few parts of the book that I wasn’t fond off–parts that felt obvious foreshadowing and device-planting. But on the whole, they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book. And I highly doubt that the intended readers of the series would be too discerning about obvious plot devices.

All that said, there is one twist that I’m still on the fence about.

In the first two books, there happened to be a great unexplainable being that’s causing mayhem in whatever kingdom they were in. Beings that turn out to be a personification of the princesses stolen powers. I was on the look out for the same device here, in the third book, but it didn’t appear until the last few chapters.

And, no, I don’t mean that it didn’t appear physically until the last few chapters. I mean that there was no sign of it at all until it needed to be the big villain.

Now, on the one hand, I really liked how Brandon Mull tried to change it up and not repeat what he did before. But, on the other hand, I’m not a fan of a third-act reveal of an enemy that needs to be defeated; one that the book needs to end big at that.

I guess I’ll just have to hope that this doesn’t happen again in the remaining two novels off the Five Kingdoms series.

I’m crossing my fingers.

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Book: Sky Raiders (Five Kingdoms, Book 1)

"Sky Raiders"

Cole Randolph is just trying to have fun with his friends on Halloween. But their trip to a neighborhood haunted house turns out to be the start of a wild adventure when Cole watches his friends being whisked away through a mysterious passage.

Cole dives in after them, only to emerge somewhere that’s very clearly no longer Mesa, Arizona. He soon learns he’s come to a place called the Outskirts.

Made up of five kingdoms, the Outskirts lies between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death. It’s an in-between place. Some people are born there. Some find their way there from our world, or from other worlds. The balance of power in the five kingdoms has been upset, and the magic there is becoming unstable. It’s up to Cole and an unusual girl he meets there names Mira to set things right, rescue his friends, and hopefully survive long enough to find his way back home…

The book was a slow burn for me. I didn’t really get into it until after our protagonist Cole gets into the titular Sky Raiders. But before you turn away from the book, it does happen fairly early on. You just have to read through a lot of exposition and establishing action first.

And there lies my problem with Sky Raiders. It establishes things that, while informing our main character’s goal, doesn’t really add anything to the entirety of the book. You could swap a different goal for Cole, a more pressing one maybe, and the action will unfold the same way.

What we get instead is knowledge that the story doesn’t end in this book. And while I enjoy reading stories that continue from book to book (and I already knew this when I picked up the first book of the Five Kingdoms series), I wish the whole thing was better executed.

A perfect example of this would be Brandon Mull’s own Beyonder series. The first book has its own start, quest, and end. As a reader, I was invested in that journey thoroughly because it had a clear ending. And although its ending was pretty much complete, I opted to join the second adventure that the author offered, because Mull didn’t disappoint in wrapping things up before presenting the second goal.

The same cannot be said for the first Five Kingdoms book. When I passed a certain percentage of the book and our main characters were still on the road, looking for the first boss battle to fight? I already knew the whole book was just a set up to something else. Something that we might still not get in the second book. And although I’ve already picked up Rogue Knight (because I am intrigued about this new world Mull has built), I am not happy about the fact that we didn’t get a satisfying conclusion in the first book.

Which brings me to a question: With the success of Harry Potter and other book series, are publishers becoming more lenient to stories that don’t end in one book? Is this a way of ensuring future sales? Because, I must say, I’m not a fan.

A book should be allowed to have its own ending, even if it’s just an ending for now. Because, as a reader, there’s nothing satisfying about being left hanging on a cliff for a year, before finding out if you’re continuing your journey or not.

Book: iZombie

"iZombie"

Gwen Dylan’s got a dead-end job and a best friend who’s barely there. The dude she hangs out with is kind of a dog, her town’s social scene sucks the life right out of you, and it seems like any time she meets an eligible guy, his job gets in the way.

But Gwen’s not the girl she used to be.

She’s a zombie.

Her best friend Ellie is a ghost. Her buddy Scott is a were-terrier. Her town’s a feeding ground for a pack of beautiful but bitchy vampires. Her new crush belongs to a centuries-old secret society of monster-hunters. And her dead-end job? Digging graves by day…and digging them up for a snack at night.

See, Gwen’s got to eat at least one brain a month or she turns into a shambling monster straight out of a midnight movie. But every brain she eats contains a lifetime of memories–and her latest meal came with a side order of unsolved murder.

Now Gwen and her friends have to find the killer before they, too, fall victim to a fate worse than un-death…

It took a year, and a television adaptation, to get me to decide that I do want to read iZombie. And after another month of waiting (because I had to order through Amazon)… I devoured the whole series in one sitting.

iZombie, the graphic novel series, is exceptional. And I can’t believe I waited so long before I read it. It’s very different to the witty television series that Rob Thomas created off the material though. Because once you’ve read the books and watched the series? You would know that they are two completely separate beings. Two very amazing things. But we’re here to talk about the graphic novels. And I must say:

I absolutely hate the fact that there are no more stories about Gwen, Ellie, and Spot. The three are such fun characters that, from the get go, you know you’re going to enjoy hanging out with them–and that you’re going to root for them to survive the craziness the series immediately promises.

And iZombie really doesn’t hold back on the crazy.

From zombies who have lived for thousands of years, spirits who become trapped in the bodies of animals, vampires who have a no-kill policy, and a legendary hero that comes back to life–the series has them all. And the best part? You don’t even question them, because they’re part of the fabric that creators Chris Roberson and Michael Allred weaves beginning in their first issue.

But, I feel like getting into the iZombie bandwagon late worked out well for me as a reader because I was able to devour the story in one sitting. I don’t think I would have liked it as much had I been forced to wait for issue after issue–because the crazy that made it so fun to read, spread through time? It would have also infuriated me to no end.

With all that said though, what I really just want to say is: if you haven’t read the iZombie graphic novels yet–go find them. Read them. Enjoy them.

Book: Charlie Sparks, a Sorcerer’s Tale

"Charlie Sparks: A Sorcerer's Tale"

Charlie Sparks may seem like your typical teenage boy–except that he isn’t. As he discovers more about his past, his journey forward becomes filled with dangerous monsters and demons nightmares are made of. Will he make it through? Will his new identity help him save the day? Or will it put in danger the ones he loves the most?

It took me a few months to get through this book, and now that a couple of weeks have passed since I read it… I don’t actually recall much about what happens in it. Which doesn’t reflect well on the book.

My problem with Charlie Sparks is the same as the ones I had for Gilda Olvidado’s Rosallea. Our protagonist is perfect, and he can do no wrong. Even when he purposely goes against the rules, it still works out in his favor. And even when he has to face the challenges to prove his worth–nothing makes the reader’s heart pound.

Now, unlike with Rosallea, I kind of feel bad for not liking Charlie Sparks.

One, it doesn’t really do anything wrong. It just doesn’t do a lot right either. It paints by the numbers, and it tries its best to tell an engaging story. It’s just that, with the proliferation of western fantasy in both local and international young adult books, it’s kind of hard not to judge this book against everything that has already come out. Nothing feels original.

Two, none of the characters seem whole. Charlie’s a Mary Sue who can do no wrong. His best friend is a wimp who can’t do anything right–and yet unwittingly provides the answer to a big problem. And then there are the female characters who stay one note throughout: the two love interest who are mysterious at first, before devolving into stereotypical I-will-wait-for-you damsels who suddenly become kickass. And then there’s the mother figure who only wants to protect her son, and the crone-like guardian who provides the easy way out for everything. And none of them feel real.

And then, there’s number three: the subplot that only serves one purpose: to provide a twist. In the book, Charlie Sparks is a fan of a mysterious author–who buys an island to keep him secluded from prying eyes, and yet opens it for tourists at the most opportune time. A mysterious author who gives the protagonist a mysterious book you would think will be useful for his journey ahead–but only shows up again in the end. To do nothing. Except to surprise the readers with regards to the author’s identity.

I don’t want to discourage new writers from writing, or from making mistakes. Both steps are important for new writers to develop into good writers. But, for the love of all that is good, how hard is it for publishers to get editors who can take the potential of books like Charlie Sparks, mold it into something good, before it gets released?

Now that a new generation of Filipino readers have arisen, it’s time for the publishers to supply books that are, at the very least, sound in plot and characterization. I’m not even asking for original and unique stories anymore. Just make sure they make sense!

Or, in the case of Charlie Sparks, make sure it gets polished first before it gets published.

Book: Eternity’s Wheel

"Eternity's Wheel"

Joey Harker is a leader.

With InterWorld trapped by HEX and his only other companion–the mysterious Time Agent Acacia Jones–missing in action, Joey’s the only one left. Though injured and alone, he refuses to give up. How can he, when all the worlds are depending on him?

As the threat of FrostNight looms ever closer, Joey seeks out more of his fellow Walkers across the Altiverse, training them as fast as he can and trying to track down InterWorld Base Town along the way. But even a solid team of recruits–including Acacia’s brother, Avery, who’s not a recruit so much as a tenuous ally–can’t prepare Joey for the ultimate showdown with InterWorld’s enemies, old and new.

Joey never wanted to be in charge. But he’s the one everyone is looking to now, and he’ll have to step up if he has any hope of saving InterWorld, the Multiverse, and everything in between.

Eternity’s Wheel is the heart-pounding conclusion to the InterWorld series, full of time and space travel, magic, science, and the bravery of a young boy who must now face his destiny as a young man.

If I can only say one positive thing about Eternity’s Wheel, it’s this: it’s not afraid to do what the story needs to happen, regardless of how the readers might react.

Fortunately, this being my blog, I don’t have to stick with just one positive thing.

Eternity’s Wheel serves as a great conclusion for the Interworld series. It gives a fitting ending to the main character we grew to know and love over the course of three books. And, the best part for me, is that it didn’t go the route I was expecting it to. Although it would have been an awesome twist, what with the time travel and all.

But it’s far from being a perfect book either.

Unlike the first two books in this trilogy, Eternity’s Wheel doesn’t have the benefit of a set-up. The second sequel drops us off right into the heat of the chase, and, unless you’ve just finished reading the second book, it’s very difficult to catch up to what is happening–even though the first chapters are supposed to serve as a catch-up.

Once the action starts though, all qualms are quickly silenced–because, even with Neil Gaiman no longer being one of the writers, both Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves do a good job of having this book retain the feel of the first book.

That is, until we get to the climax. There will be spoilers from here on in. You have been warned.

In hindsight, I now understand why there was a need to bring Joey Harker back in his original world at the beginning of Eternity’s Wheel. Aside from going full circle, it’s also supposed to anchor us to our main protagonist’s longing for home, and his desire to keep it safe. So when the climax happens, something big is at stake for our hero.

Unfortunately, this is the book’s biggest misstep for me. Because, for some reason, although Joey comes back to his original world–we don’t see the actual ties that bind him to this particular world. So when the climax comes, our fear stems not from the emotional attachments that will be severed once FrostNight wipes everything out–but only from our desire to not let the bad guys win.

I feel like this was a missed opportunity for the book to be more than just an adventure book for young adults.

Of course, that still doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the entire package. Eternity’s Wheel, as I said, is a great conclusion for the Interworld Series. But it could have been even better.

Book: Dwellers

"Dwellers"

Rule No. 1: You don’t kill the body you inhabit. Rule No. 2: You should never again mention your previous name. Rule No. 3: You don’t ever talk about your previous life. Ever.

Two young men with the power to take over another body inhabit the bodies and lives of brothers Jonah and Louis. The takeover leads to a car crash, injuring Jonah’s legs and forcing them to stay in the brothers’ house for the time being.

The street is quiet. The neighbors aren’t nosy. Everything is okay.

They are safe, for now.

Until they find a dead body in the basement.

Exciting. That was what I thought when I read the back synopsis. And, well, reading the book was an emotional roller-coaster for me. And not in a good way.

The first few chapters bored me. I understand the need to pace the readers for the mythology of body swapping in a Philippine setting, but I couldn’t stand the main character. He was bordering on whiny, and his woe-is-me act took the pages that should’ve been given to universe-building. And it’s not like I’m looking for an explanation for the ability to swap bodies. I’ve read Every Day. I liked Every Day. What I needed was investment. I needed to invest on the main character, and I couldn’t do it. I preferred the other guy. The quiet one. The one who did things. I probably would’ve liked this book better had it been told from the other guy’s perspective.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

From being bored at the start, I became curious as to what was up with the dead body. A positive change. This was the book’s promise. The premise. To hell with the lack of emotional pull, the mystery might be enough. Except, it’s not. The detective work was done by the other guy, not the main character. Because our main character is stuck in a wheelchair. Yes, he’s in a wheelchair. And it’s one of the main reasons why he can’t be on the move. And while I understand the need for the character to feel trapped, as a reader, I didn’t want to be trapped with him.

I was promised a mystery, and I was getting a whiny narration about being trapped in something I had no control over.

And then, suddenly, there were spells. And there was an extensive back story that, I felt, wasn’t really needed except to push the plot along, to give a sense of urgency to a meandering storyline that was clearly going to end soon.

Curiosity became annoyance. I was annoyed at the digression. I didn’t care for the past lives. It didn’t feel important. It felt tacked on. It was taking time away from what was more important. The dead body. The mystery. And, then, finally, the digression was done. We were back to the main storyline. And from being annoyed, I just became angry.

The mystery wasn’t solved. It was cut. The answers were given without further ado, just so the whole thing can be wrapped up. It felt like an episode of Scooby Doo, except, without the fun factor.

I felt gypped.

And while I think I understood the exercise in futility and the feeling of entrapment, which might be the book’s themes–I still finished that book with a feeling of disgust. The book did not deliver on its promise. The book did not live up to Project 17.

I seem to be the only one who wasn’t a fan though. The Last Girl, in her very short reaction, liked the book enough to gush about it. And Good Reads users have rated the book 3.91 stars out of 5. So this could just be me.

Book: Invisibility

"Invisibility"

Stephen is used to invisibility. He was born that way. Invisible. Cursed.

Elizabeth sometimes wishes for invisibility. When you’re invisible, no one can hurt you. So when her mother decides to move the family to New York City, Elizabeth is thrilled. It’s easy to blend in there.

Then Stephen and Elizabeth meet. To Stephen’s amazement, she can see him. And to Elizabeth’s amazement, she wants him to be able to see her–all of her. But as the two become closer, an invisible world gets in their way–a world of grudges and misfortunes, spells and curses. And once they’re thrust into this world, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how deep they’re going to go–because the answer could mean the difference between love and death.

The book had me hooked… up until Elizabeth fell in love with Stephen. The problem is, that’s almost the beginning of the book, and that’s the actual beginning of the story.

You see, Invisibility starts out as a romance. Between a girl and an invisible boy, yes, but it is a romance. Until it suddenly isn’t. Suddenly we have curse casters, and spell seekers, and it’s become much more than a love story, and that should be a good thing… but it isn’t.

It isn’t just about us anymore.” That’s a line from the book. The exact moment I lost complete interest in what was going to happen next. Because the book promised me a love story, and instead I was getting a middling fantasy book that seems to be making up the rules as it goes along.

And that’s the main problem with Invisibility. I know it’s fiction. I know that it is made up. But would it have hurt if everything was set up from the start? Would it have hurt if we had clues as to what was going to happen, so when it does happen, we’re not taking a second look at the book cover and the synopsis to make sure we’re still reading the same book?

I must say, I expected a whole lot more from Invisibility. I’m a fan of David Levithan’s other collaborations (except Every You, Every Me), so I was very disappointed in not liking this book.

I really don’t like this book.

But, hey, maybe other people did. Let’s find out:
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