Book Review: The Quest of the Unaligned by A. L. Phillips

Title: The Quest of the Unaligned

Author: A. L. Phillips

Rating: ★ ★ ½

Genre: Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure

Published: 2013 by BorderStone Press LLC

Format: E-book, 356 pages

Synopsis: “In the city of Tonzimmel, where hover-cars zip over anonymous crowds, contracts are king, and education is everything, Alaric has worked hard to make a decent life for himself. As a level nine security chief, he needs no one and nothing, and is in control of his fate. Or so he thinks. When a stranger from neighboring Cadaeren suddenly appears, however, babbling of magic, quests, and long-lost princes, Alaric finds himself contractually obligated to undertake a journey that his training hasn’t prepared him for: the Quest of the Unaligned. Accompanied by Laeshana, a Cadaerian native who has reasons of her own for helping him on his quest, Alaric is soon plunged into a perilous adventure that will force him to confront a seemingly impossible truth and embrace his destiny, even as the fate of Cadaeren hangs in the balance.” (Taken from Goodreads)

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I thought this book started off a little shaky, but definitely picked itself up in the middle. As the story opens, we meet Alaric, a level 9 security officer who has been raised all his life in Tonzimmel. Tonzimmel supports a Gesellschaft culture where each person fights for themselves in order to move up the social ladder. When we meet Alaric, he seems rigid and unimpressionable, similar to the masses in his black uniform and boots. He was extremely bland until he meets Ruahkini, an air mage from Cadaeren who declares he’s the missing prince and heir to Cadaeren. Hearing this news, Alaric is both disgusted and amused as Cadaeren is depicted as a crazy place outside the walls of Tonzimmel. While Tonzimmel boasts hard work and science, Cadaeren encapsulates the ideas of a Gemeinschaft culture where your birth determines your status. Not only that, but the mage declares that he has magic, which Alaric almost laughs himself unconscious at.

Ruahkini convinces Alaric to take on a wager with knife-throwing (Alaric’s best skill). If Alaric won, his bar tab would be pre-paid for a month, but if he lost, he has to attempt the Quest of the Unaligned. This is a quest that the prince of Cadaeren must go on before their coronation ceremony. Of course Alaric takes on the wager as he considers himself the best knife-thrower in Tonzimmel – and of course he loses. And from there, we follow him as he leaves Tonzimmel and journeys to Cadaeren to begin his quest. On his way to Cadaeren, he is accompanied by Laeshana, a friend who he had believed was a mechanic/engineer back in Tonzimmel, but was in fact an aesh (a mage aligned with fire).

At this point, Alaric’s personality was really annoying and rubbed at me in all the wrong places. He was condescending and ignorant, which I knew was intentional. Because of his ‘Tonzemmelian’ traits, he almost gets both he and Laeshana killed when he declares that he would take the mountain path, even after she warns him of a dragon lurking there. Of course, as a person of science, he scoffs at the idea (fair enough) and declares that will do whatever he wants even though Laeshana was there to be his guide. He’s a level 9 security officer, of course he knows best! (Sarcastic) Not surprisingly, they meet the dragon which made for a very exciting read. However, it was pretty unbelievable as I kept wondering why the dragon didn’t bother to use fire to incinerate them. And Alaric definitely defeated it too easily.

Following that encounter, we see a little bit of change within Alaric, he becomes less sceptical of magic and of Cadaeren being as insane as he first thought. While he still exhibits many Tonzimmelian traits, his character was changing. After a while, they arrive at the Temple where the King’s Crown is held, but alas, it’s stolen! The second half of the novel follows Alaric, Laeshana and the apprentice of the temple on their journey to retrieve the crown. This was where everything got much more interesting and where Alaric definitely grew as a character. What I found a little sceptical was how much he changed in just a few weeks – while it was definitely nice to see, 21 years of upbringing within one culture does not equate to immediate assimilation into a culture that is directly opposite to what you’re used to.

What I do applaud is Phillip’s ability to develop her characters. I think character development is one of the most important things within a good novel, right after plot, and she did it really well with Alaric. Throughout his quest, he is faced with the themes of duty, trust, morality and the continual issue of statuses depicting a persons’ worth. This was done extremely well with Alaric. What I had problems with was his parents, the king and queen of Cadaeren and their decision to send Alaric away to be brought up in Tonzimmel in the first place. This was only explained briefly, and not even enough for it to make sense. From what I could tell, they sent him away so he could be ‘unbalanced’ and not lean towards any one element. What they essentially did was send him to a MAGIC-LESS place which was not only idiotic but what kind of parents does that make you when you send your ONLY child away to be brought up parentless. How are they even fit to rule when your actions show you don’t even love your child, let alone your people. I’m surprised civil war did not start while Alaric was away.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read as the action picked up in the second part of the novel. I liked Alaric’s character development but I can’t say I was invested in any of the other characters enough, which is a shame. Especially Naruhan for his selfless sacrifice to buy Alaric time and save him from death. It would have been good to get some insight into the monarchy of Cadaeren as the two rulers seem quite … oblivious to everything. Very fairy-airy to be exact. But the book does have a nice ending, which was a good close to the story.

Thanks to A. L. Phillips for providing an e-copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Matt Archer: Monster Hunter (#1) by Kendra C. Highley

Title: Matt Archer: Monster Hunter (#1)

Author: Kendra C. Highley

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Shelf: Read-in-2013, 4-out-of-5, Children-Fiction, Adventure, Paranormal, Released-in-2012, Author-Request-Review

Synopsis: “Fourteen-year-old Matt Archer spends his days studying Algebra, hanging out with his best friend and crushing on the Goddess of Greenhill High, Ella Mitchell. To be honest, he thinks his life is pretty lame until he discovers something terrifying on a weekend camping trip at the local state park. 

Monsters are real. And living in his backyard. 

But that’s not the half of it. After Matt is forced to kill a strange creature to save his uncle, he finds out that the weird knife he took from his uncle’s bag has a secret, one that will change Matt’s life. The knife was designed with one purpose: to hunt monsters. And it’s chosen Matt as its wielder. 

Now Matt’s part of a world he didn’t know existed, working with a covert military unit dedicated to eliminating walking nightmares. Faced with a prophecy about a looming dark war, Matt soon realizes his upcoming Algebra test is the least of his worries. 

His new double life leaves Matt wondering which is tougher: hunting monsters or asking Ella Mitchell for a date?” (Taken from Goodreads)

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Fourteen-year-old Matt Archer is out camping in the woods of Montana with his uncle Mike when they are attacked by a paranormal grissly bear with tusks. Not knowing what to do as his uncle is attacked, Matt grabs the first weapon he finds in his uncle’s bag – a sharp knife that glows at his touch. The knife takes out the monster and Matt is thrust into the mist of a mission to save the world from armageddon.

For a fourteen-year-old thrust into the tough ordeals of a military nightmare, Matt handles himself extremely well. He is a well-rounded character written unbelievable well by Highley. He acts as a fourteen-year-old would when faced with girl-troubles, but is also smart enough to obey command when necessary. Matt is not irrational and stubborn as most teenagers would be when told that they’re wielding immense power – and that is what I loved about him. Highley has created a person that all readers could root for – rather than another annoying kid given power they’re unable to comprehend.

I found the entire story very well written and paced. Most scenes were definitely filled with action and Highley does not shy away from the prospect of death, which I admire her for. While written for children, it is still to be expected that when you’re fighting a war with monsters, death would always be lurking around the corner.

I have only high praise for the character developments within this story. All the characters were well-rounded and felt completely real. I enjoyed the strong bond of friendship between Matt and his best friend Will, but what I loved most was his bond with his family. His sister Mamie is one tough cookie, even though she’s known as a nerd to people around school. While we don’t see much of Matt’s brother Brent, he is always there when Matt needs him the most. He has his back and that’s what counts the most. And how can I forget the relationship between Matt and his uncle Mike? With Matt’s father M.I.A, Mike is the closest father figure he and his siblings have. Being deployed to Afghanistan serves the family a huge blow, but it is because of Mike’s leaving that pulls the Archer family together. They’re all just so supportive of each other, and it’s such a great thing to read about.

While you may think that this book is just about hunting mosters in the dark, Matt is still a teenager in high school. He has problems just like any other adolescent boy full of testosterone, and the glimpses offered into his ‘normal’ life was quite enjoyable to read about. Not once did I get impatient and want to fast forward to the fighting, because Matt chasing after is dream girl Ella was fun to read about too.

Matt Archer: Monster Hunter was an extremely enjoyable read and I will definitely be reading the next one in the series – Matt Archer: Blades Edge. I hear it’s set in Australia, my home country, so I’m very, very excited!

THANKS TO: Kendra C. Highley for providing me an electronic copy to review honestly.

Book Review: The Darkest Minds (#1) by Alexandra Bracken

Title: The Darkest Minds

Author: Alexandra Bracken

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Shelf: Read-in-2013, Young-Adult, Science-Fiction, Adventure, 3-out-of-5, NetGalley-Read, Kindle-eBook, HarperCollins Australia

Publish Date: 11 December 2012 by HarperCollins Australia

Synopsis: “When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.” (Taken from Goodreads)

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The Darkest Minds is about the outbreak of a mysterious disease called IAAN that killed a majority of America’s children whilst leaving the remainder with abilities that scared the government enough to put them in ‘rehabilitation’ camps, which are really nothing more than concentration camps. At the start, we are introduced to Ruby, a 16-year-old who’ve been sent to the camp, Thurmond, by her parents on her 10th birthday. While I found Ruby’s backstory of how she arrived at the camp intriguing, the storytelling was a little choppy as we were suddenly thrust into Ruby’s past without warning. Also, how exactly did this disease come about?

These camps classify their occupants by colour according to their special abilities. I found myself quite lost throughout the majority of the book as I don’t think the abilities of each group were explained properly, you just had to read to understand what they did. I guess Bracken took a ‘show-don’t-tell’ approach, but this got confusing because there was so much being thrown at you at once. (But maybe it was just me, and she did explain it but it completely went over my head? In that case, then it’s my fault for being completely confused.)

Ruby kept her head down throughout her time at Thurmond by pretending to be a Green (someone with intelligent mental capabilities) – but in fact, she is really an Orange (someone with the ability to control minds). While I found the pacing of the beginning to be quite slow, I enjoyed it because it was really fascinating learning about Thurmond and Ruby’s time there. The camp was horrifying. Adults (known as psi officers) walked around with rifles and abused children left and right. It was just horrible to read about Ruby’s time there, so props to Bracken for creating such a creepy environment encased in this horrendous atmosphere.

I think what made up the majority of the book was the world-building and character development. Liam, Chubs and Suzume became characters that I loved, and even Ruby grew as a character. Seen as weak and vulnerable to everything at the start of the book, she became stronger and made hard decisions for the benefit of others by the conclusion.

However, I found that the plot was sacrificed for world-building and character development. The beginning and ending was strong and exciting as things actually happened quickly. There was action, there was suspense and I went through those chapters so quick! But the middle fell so flat for me. Aside from a few chases/escapes from the the psi officers and skiptracers (bounty hunters), all that really happens is the characters getting to know each other. I found myself saying that certain scenes could definitely have been cut out/molded together with others to make the journey more exciting. At more than one point, I kept wondering where Bracken was actually taking this story. While I wanted to put the book down halfway through, I gave the story the benefit of the doubt as I saw so much potential in it. It was just not executed as flawlessly as I’d have liked.

One advantage for this slow story building is that the romance didn’t feel forced. I love, love, LOVED it. You could obviously tell from the beginning who that love interest to Ruby would be, but the slow plot made the ‘getting-to-know-you’ phase all the much sweeter. I was definitely rooting for them – which is why the ending REALLY floored me. SO MUCH SO that I cried.

I think what really killed me was finding the playlist Miss. Bracken has made for the book right after I finished reading and was still feeling so vulnerable and emotional. Because of this, the first song on the playlist almost put a dagger through my heart because it was just so perfect and fit the ending so brilliantly.

I think it’s really a song that you need to have read the book to feel extremely emotional about. The rest of the playlist is just brilliant also, it just captures the essence of the novel completely. CLICK HERE FOR ‘THE DARKEST MINDS’ PLAYLIST.

I really thought this book would be a standalone, I think it works well as one for such a thick book – so much so that I was really disappointed to find out that it’s meant to be a trilogy. As the majority of this book was spent on character development, it’s almost as if Bracken held back the plot developments in order to stretch out the story. While I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing as there are still so much left to be resolved, but it almost feels like I can pinpoint what would happen in the next two books.

  1. Ruby goes around doing things for the Children’s League … she either becomes corrupted or is a double agent.
  2. Clancy Gray becomes more reformed (less evil with using his mind powers) and works with Ruby secretly to take down his dad’s government regime, and actually cares about breaking the kids out of the rehabilitation camps.
  3. Chubs does not die, he joins the League and probably works with Ruby as a double agent or watches as Ruby becomes corrupted in the second book, only to realise what she is becoming and reforms in the third book as Liam reappears.
  4. Suzume is found by the League.
  5. Ruby keeps close tabs on Liam and they cross paths somehow. I have a feeling he may reconsider joining the League again, convinced they’re not so bad after letting him go. Ruby facepalms. They spend more time together, relationship rekindles.
  6. Ruby becomes stronger and stronger. Perhaps she’ll learn how to place memories back in someone’s head.
  7. Rehabilitation camps will be shut down, Clancy will be so reformed and good that he becomes the President after killing his dad.

There was also a lot of inconsistencies in the editing of the book. For example, ‘Rob’s’ name was used before he was even introduced. I think I really noticed that because it was just so abrupt. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m reading an electronic ARC, but I found myself stopped abruptly in the middle of sentences throughout the whole book because words were either missing or misused. This became a really frustrating because it felt so jarring to the overall reading experience.

While I found many problems with this book, I did like it overall. I think Bracken has come up with a very interesting story that could perhaps have worked better as a standalone. The ending was heartbreaking as the characters were developed so well, but I wish it could have just been left off like that – almost as if to say life’s not perfect, deal with it. I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series as I’ve really become invested in these characters, I just hope there is more action now that the world is built and the characters are well-formed!

An electronic ARC was provided to me by HarperCollins Australia for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Title: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Shelf: Read-in-2012, Young-Adult, Science-Fiction, Dystopia, 4-out-of-5, Released-in-2009, Kindle-eBook

Synopsis: “When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.” (Taken from Goodreads)

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