Review: WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER by Rae Carson

It’s no secret that I loved Rae Carson’s GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS trilogy, so when I heard she was beginning a new fantasy trilogy — a historical fantasy, set during the California gold rush — my fingers immediately began itching for a copy. Fortunately, I had a friend who generously offered to loan me her ARC (once she was finished reading, of course — there is generous, and then there’s just plain ridiculous), so I was able to read WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER a few months early.

And guys, I didn’t even think it was possible, but if the first book is anything to go by, I think the Gold Seer Trilogy may be even better than GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS.

I know. Take a moment.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Walk on Earth a Stranger, the first book in this new trilogy, introduces—as only Rae Carson can—a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance. Includes a map and author’s note on historical research.

My Thoughts:

Before I dig into my thoughts on the first book in Rae Carson’s new Gold Seer Trilogy, let’s discuss genre for a minute. While WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER is being marketed as a fantasy, and while the opening chapter firmly establishes Leah Westfall’s ability to magically sense the presence of gold, once you move past the events that set Leah off on her cross-country journey, I was surprised to find that the majority of the book reads like a straight historical. Who knows, maybe future installments in the series will play up the magic more, but going off of just this first book, it feels a bit more accurate to call WOEAS historical fiction with some magical realism elements, rather than a fantasy

That said, even though I’d been prepared for a fantasy, I was not disappointed in the slightest to find magic missing from the majority of WOEAS. Leah — who starts going by “Lee” early in the book, when she disguises herself as a boy — is an utterly compelling narrator, and Carson’s prose is simultaneously lush and gritty, masterfully evoking the visuals and sounds and smells of a late-1800s America. The staggering amount of research that must have gone into this novel is evident on every page, immersing the reader in the endlessly beautiful — yet unforgivingly harsh — American frontier.

Though the ensemble cast seems kind of sprawling at first, Carson skillfully manages to develop her characters into fully three-dimensional people after surprisingly little page time. It didn’t take long before I was rooting not just for Leah, but for the families and individuals traveling alongside her. I won’t name names, because some characters have pretty impressive arcs (and some, um, die), but suffice it to say, Leah isn’t the only one who ends the book loving these people like family.

For those of us who grew up playing the video game Oregon Trail, Leah’s journey will come with a distinct sense of nostalgia. While (spoiler alert) Leah never hunkers down for days on end to shoot squirrels, she, along with her fellow travelers, must ford rivers, maneuver covered wagons, manage sick oxen, and battle disease (although not quite as much dysentery as I remember from my Oregon Trail days). Though the wagon train’s trek to California moves agonizingly slowly, the plot never does. Carson is a master of infusing her story with moment-to-moment tension, and even when the characters were sitting still, I found myself flying through the pages.

As with Carson’s first series, [what I suspect will be] the main romantic subplot doesn’t get much exploration in this first book. While there are hints, this is a story of survival and endurance, not romance. However, as a fan of the slow burn, I thoroughly enjoyed the foundations that were so thoughtfully laid in this book, and I think that even readers who prefer a lot of swoon in their fiction will find that, while sparse, there are enough tidbits in this book to carry them through to the next one.

Overall, I found WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER to be a beautiful, vivid, and compulsively readable portrayal of life in Gold Rush-era America, with just a dash of magic. I unequivocally loved it. Whether you are a lover of fantasy or historicals or simply a good story well told, I think you’ll love it, too.

Review: FOOL’S QUEST by Robin Hobb

Oh, FitzChivalry Farseer and my Beloved Fool, how do I love thee, let me count the ways.

*looks at bookshelves*


Apparently at least eleven books’ worth.

Wait, don’t run away! This is my favorite fantasy series — and one of my favorite series, period — of all time. Of all time. Yes, it’s hefty, but don’t worry, I’ll help you through it. And if you love richly built fantasy worlds, complex characters, strong friendships, magic, and dragons, I promise you, it’s worth the time commitment.

First, some basic orientation. Robin Hobb’s FOOL’S QUEST is clearly not a standalone, but the second installment in a new trilogy (beginning with FOOL’S ASSASSIN) that follows two other trilogies, starting with ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE, where we meet main protagonist Fitz as a young child, and ending with FOOL’S FATE, where we leave him as a grown man. Plus there are two other companion series set in the same world — the brilliant Liveship Traders trilogy (starting with SHIP OF MAGIC), and then the Rain Wilds Chronicles (which I have to admit I haven’t finished yet — I’m working on it!). The companion series are not necessary to read and understand the Fitz books, but they very much enhance the experience.

That’s fifteen books thus far set in this world. And counting.

If you’ve never read any of the books set in Robin Hobb’s Six Duchies and its surrounding lands, fifteen books is a pretty daunting number. As this is my favorite fantasy series of all time (I may have mentioned this), I personally think it’s worth the effort to read all of them (Rain Wilds Chronicles, I will conquer you), but if that’s just way too big an undertaking for you, then you *only* (heh) need to read seven books to understand the events in FOOL’S QUEST. They are:



And then the first book in the new Fitz and the Fool trilogy: FOOL’S ASSASSIN.

These books all share a protagonist — FitzChivalry Farseer — and proceed chronologically throughout his life, each book building off the events of the last. There’s really no skipping around if you want to read about Fitz — sorry — but at the same time, I cannot overemphasize how much I enjoy reading about Fitz. Like many high fantasy series-starters, the first book in each series takes a little while to really get going, but once it does, hoo boy.

(If you wanted to read the two companion series, they each stand alone, but Liveship Traders falls between the Assassin and Tawny Man trilogies, and Rain Wilds falls between Tawny Man and Fitz and the Fool.)

Try as I might, there’s really no way for me to review the fifteenth book in an ongoing series without spoilers for the preceding books, so if you haven’t read them, proceed with caution. I’ll try my best not to be too spoilery, but even the broad strokes give away some major developments of the other books in the series. So. Continue at your own risk.

With all that out of the way, let’s get to my thoughts on Fitz’s latest adventures in FOOL’S QUEST (Fitz and the Fool #2).

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Acclaimed and bestselling author Robin Hobb continues her Fitz and the Fool trilogy with this second entry, following Fool’s Assassin, ramping up the tension and the intrigue as disaster continues to strike at Fitz’s life and heart.

After nearly killing his oldest friend, the Fool, and finding his daughter stolen away by those who were once targeting the Fool, FitzChivarly Farseer is out for blood. And who better to wreak havoc than a highly trained and deadly former royal assassin? Fitz might have let his skills go fallow over his years of peace, but such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten. And nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose…

My Thoughts:

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I found out Robin Hobb was writing a new series about Fitz and the Fool. While we left both characters in a pretty satisfying place at the end of FOOL’S FATE, I’d come to love these characters like family. I missed not being able to journey alongside them on their adventures. So although I had no idea what to expect as far as a conflict for a new series — the main conflict in both the Assassin and Tawny Man series is pretty handily wrapped up at the end of FOOL’S FATE — I was eager to return to the world of the Six Duchies.

Like the first books in most of Hobb’s preceding series, the initial installment in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, FOOL’S ASSASSIN, takes its time ramping up. I very much enjoyed it — by this point in the series, my overwhelming fondness for FitzChivalry Farseer means that I’m totally cool following him through a series of quiet and mundane tasks, whether it’s managing his estate or dealing with his children (mostly because Fitz has gone through so many dark times that I’m beyond pleased that he has an estate, or children) — and this sort of slow grounding process is necessary to re-establish the reader in Fitz’s world and remind us of the events that led here — but as far as action goes, it’s not until the final act of FOOL’S ASSASSIN that we really see things take off.

Not so with FOOL’S QUEST. Again, this is pretty well expected for each of Hobb’s series: Book 1 spends its time meticulously setting up an intricate pattern of dominoes, then Book 2 blazes in and knocks them all down, leaving the reader in a mess of perfectly executed chaos. FOOL’S QUEST was no exception to this. It hits the ground running, picking up right where FOOL’S ASSASSIN leaves off, and pushes the plot forward at a determined pace, never feeling rushed, but never letting up, either. High fantasy tends to run long in pages, but while reading FOOL’S QUEST, I found myself lamenting that there were *only* 500, 400, 300 pages left to go.

You know that feeling when watching the extended edition of The Two Towers, and it ends and you simultaneously realize, “wow, that movie was three and a half hours long,” but also wish it didn’t have to end? That’s the feeling I had reading this book. Though I was aware of its heft, when I turned the last page, I wasn’t anywhere near ready for it to be over.

Unlike FOOL’S ASSASSIN, which focuses almost entirely on Fitz and his life far away from Buckkeep Castle, FOOL’S QUEST returns him to his old stomping grounds, where we finally get to catch up with beloved (and Beloved) characters of the past. The Fool is there, of course (I was surprised at how little The Fool was in the first book, given its name), just as mysterious and tragic as ever, along with Chade, Kettricken, Dutiful, Elliania, Nettle, and a host of minor characters whose inclusion made it feel like a true homecoming not just for Fitz, but for the reader. There are even some cameos from characters from the Liveships and Rain Wilds books, whom I hope we see more of as the story progresses.

Although this series of series has always tied together beautifully, to me it’s always felt kind of like a quilt, with clearly distinct pieces coming together at the edges and making up a whole. The Fitz books overlapped with Liveships, which overlapped with Rain Wilds, but they were all still their own separate entities. But in FOOL’S QUEST, for the first time, it began to feel more like a tapestry, with the threads beginning to weave over and under and through one another. It’s possible this won’t come to fruition, and that this Fitz series, like the other (brilliant) books before it, will end up more or less self-contained. But I kind of doubt it, and look forward to seeing how Hobb continues to tie this massive world and cast together.

As with every one of Hobb’s preceding books, in FOOL’S QUEST you can expect a host of fully realized, complicated characters, lush worldbuilding, achingly gorgeous prose, vivid emotion, catastrophic stakes, and thrilling action. But for me, the relationships between the characters are what shine the brightest. Fitz’s friendship with The Fool is, of course, the Catalyst on which the whole story pivots, and always has been. Watching these two characters who have been through so much together interact and trust and plead and betray and forgive is a truly beautiful, frustrating, heartbreaking, uplifting experience.

Contrasting that is Fitz’s relationships with his daughters, where he is not a Catalyst, but simply a father, with all the expectation and disappointment and responsibility that brings. Watching Fitz try to navigate fatherhood, after watching him grow up and struggle and fail and triumph, is both rewarding and agonizing. I want nothing but the best for Fitz, but both fate and his own shortcomings are constantly getting in his way. I want to take him by the shoulders and shake him and hug him, maybe at the same time, which for my money is one of the hallmarks of a truly excellent protagonist.

I could go on for ages, but suffice it to say, all of Fitz’s other relationships are similarly complex and well-drawn. Each feels like fully realized person, and the way Fitz interacts with each person he encounters is wholly authentic and honest, whether he’s fighting to the death or gently caring for a traumatized stable hand. Though the sweeping plot of FOOL’S QUEST is every bit as intriguing and suspenseful as Fitz’s quest to aid King Verity against the Red Ships Raiders, or traveling to Aslevjal island to slay a dragon, it’s these relationships and interactions that are the true meat of this series.

Ultimately, this isn’t a recommendation for this one book — if you’ve already read the preceding 7-14 books, you probably already have a pretty good idea if you want to read this one — but for this series, and every series about FitzChivalry Farseer. If you’re not sure if fantasy is your thing, or you’re hesitant about picking up the first book in a series that is so sprawling, let this be your assurance that this is a series that only gets better as it continues. It’s worth the time, it’s worth the investment. Fitz and The Fool are two of the greatest characters I’ve ever read, and as long as Robin Hobb sees fit to keep writing books about them, I’ll be the first in line to read them.

Review: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

As always when I review a friend’s book, a disclaimer: I am friends with the author, V.E. Schwab. I got my hands on an early copy of A Darker Shade of Magic through trickery and intrigue (or, yanno, asking nicely). But this in no way affects my review of this book. I don’t love every book every one of my friends has written (seriously, you can ask them), and I wouldn’t recommend a friend’s book if I didn’t enjoy it.

But this book – this book – ohhhhhhh it’s divine. This one I can recommend without reservation. This one is one I’d devour even if I had never crossed paths with one V.E. Schwab. It’s been a while since I’ve attempted to read adult fantasy (and make no mistake, A Darker Shade of Magic, like V.E.’s amazing earlier release Vicious, is written for adult audiences, unlike the novels she publishes as Victoria Schwab, which are YA and Middle Grade), even though I love fantasy, simply because I haven’t been sure I had the time to devote to that sort of dense worldbuilding and sprawling narrative and tiny font.

Related: why does adult genre fiction have such tiny font? Adults are older. Our eyesight is worse. The font should be bigger.

Get off my lawn.

(Not really. Please come back.)

But anyway, with this premise, and this cover, and my epic love for Vicious, I knew I needed to get A Darker Shade of Magic into my brain, tiny font and all. And wow. Just…wow. It was worth the tiny font.

While I was really tempted to do this review all in gifs, I will do my best to make actual words.

Okay, fine, ONE gif.

Get the man a fabulous coat, and this is Kell.

There, don’t you feel better? Or is it just me? I’m fine if it’s just me.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

My Thoughts:

As with most high fantasy, A Darker Shade of Magic starts slow and quiet, building a world that is like ours, and not like ours, brick by brick. We meet Kell, a mysterious wanderer in a fabulous coat, who travels between worlds as easily as stepping from one room to another. There is Grey London, which plays like a straight historical fiction of our world, Red London, Kell’s home, which is rich and teeming with magic, and White London, which has been all but burned up by magic and treachery. And then there is Black London, which no one travels to anymore, not even Kell.

The world of each London is established subtly but confidently, and through Kell’s eyes, the rules of each overlapping London gradually become clear and distinct. Once we’ve gained our footing in the magic of Kell’s world and have a sense of the difficulties he faces in each London, we meet Lila, a cunning thief from Grey London with a quick hand and a taste for adventure. It takes a while for all the building blocks of the story to fall into place, but there are plenty of rewards for the patient reader, from the lush details of the worlds to the charming characters to Schwab’s signature poetic prose.

Then, once Lila and Kell inevitably cross paths, the story takes off, plunging both protagonists into a London-jumping whirlpool of courtly intrigue and deception while playing up the conflict between Lila’s lack of magic and Kell’s abundance of it to maximum, satisfying effect.

What V.E. Schwab did so well in Vicious, and what she does again here, is establish each of her characters, from heroes to villains, as fully realized, fleshed-out individuals. While Lila and Kell are both brave and charismatic, they are also criminals, and while the main antagonists – the terrifying sibling rulers of White London –  are undeniably sinister, the people they use to carry out their dark deeds are in many ways conflicted and sympathetic. Blurring that line between hero and villain is a tricky game, but Schwab accomplishes it masterfully.

As I said before, the first half of the book may be a slow burn, but it’s a delicious one. Readers shouldn’t expect to plunge straight into adventure and murder and intrigue, but there is plenty to enjoy along the road to chaos. And once the book hits its stride, there are payoffs aplenty as the story builds in intensity all the way through to its twisting, bloody conclusion.

A Darker Shade of Magic will have a sequel, but this first installment ends on a perfectly satisfying note. I can’t wait to join Kell and Lila on their next London-hopping adventure, but I was utterly sated with the ending of this book. There are no cliffhangers here, only the graceful bow of one adventure while another waits in the wings, peeking around the corner.

If you’re in the mood for a refreshingly unique spin on alternate universes, magic, and devastatingly gorgeous coats – or if you just want a beautifully crafted story told in a mesmerizing, lovely, and occasionally creepy voice, then you should move A Darker Shade of Magic to the top of your list.

Review: DELIVERANCE by C.J. Redwine

Received an ARC from the author

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, if you’ve spent any time perusing this blog, I’m a fan of adventure stories. Hero journeys, epic battles, sprawling quests, monster slayage – in the Encyclopedia of Me, under the heading of “Favorites,” these are the things you’d find at the very top.

Which is why I’ve so enjoyed C.J. Redwine’s Defiance trilogy.  C.J. is a friend of mine, but before I was a friend I was a fan. I read Defiance in one sitting, and found the murder mystery plot of Deception riveting, so when she handed me an ARC of Deliverance, the conclusion to the trilogy, I may have hugged it to my heart like a world-saving prophecy baby and scampered away before she could change her mind and take it back.

I’m not saying that happened. But it may have.

If you’ve been swept up in the first two books of the series and can’t wait to see how it all concludes – buckle up. Here there be dragons.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Everything hangs in the balance, and nothing is certain: Rachel has been kidnapped by enemy forces and is being taken to Rowansmark while Logan, imprisoned and awaiting trial, is unable to leave Lankenshire. Separated from each other and their Baalboden comrades, each must find a way to achieve what they desperately want: to rid their world once and for all of the Commander and the tech that controls the deadly Cursed One.

Fighting through her pain and embracing the warrior she’s become, Rachel will do whatever it takes to escape her enemies’ clutches and join Logan in his fight. But when she learns a secret that changes everything, she realizes that escaping Ian and his tracker friends is no longer an option if she wants to save the people she loves. Instead, she’ll have to destroy Rowansmark from the inside out—if she can survive the journey through the Wasteland.

Logan needs allies if he wants to thwart Rowansmark’s power grab and rescue Rachel. But securing allies will mean betraying his beliefs and enlisting the help of the man he hates more than anyone: Commander Jason Chase. Driven by his fierce love for Rachel and his determination to make their world safe, Logan may be just the weapon the city-states need to defeat the Cursed One.

But as Rowansmark bears down and uneasy alliances are tested, will Rachel and Logan’s love for each other be enough to surmount the unbelievable odds against them?

My Thoughts:

A word of warning before you start: if you haven’t read the first two books in the DEFIANCE series, or if it’s been a while and you really don’t remember them, you’re going to want to catch up before cracking open DELIVERANCE. The final book in the trilogy hits the ground running, picking up shortly after DECEPTION left off and plunging the reader back into the action-heavy plot with Rachel, Logan, and a host of characters that could get overwhelming if you haven’t ventured into their post-apocalyptic world for a while.

Fortunately, C.J. Redwine handles her hefty cast with dexterity, and while the list of players is lengthy, she manages to imbue each one with his or her own distinctive personality that keeps the pages from turning into a confusing mishmash of names. There are several new characters in DELIVERANCE, but most of the story centers around familiar faces from the first two books. Rachel and Logan, along with old favorites such as Willow and Quinn, are plunged into galloping adventure at a breakneck pace as they rush to save innocent people and bring justice to the evil Commander, as well as James Rowan, the sadistic ruler of neighboring city-state Rowansmark.

For fans of the romance between Logan and Rachel, the two lovebirds really get to test whether absence really does make the heart grow fonder in DELIVERANCE, as they spend the bulk of the book separated. Don’t despair, though, shippers – though it may take a while for them to find each other, they remain as smitten as ever, with their thoughts continually drifting toward each other. I thought it was a nice way to incorporate the romantic plot without retreading old ground, and it kept the pages turning to see how they’d eventually work their way back together.

In the meantime, there is action and intrigue galore, as our intrepid heroes now have to face not just one, but TWO Big Bads in the form of Commander Chase and James Rowan. We’ve had three books now to build up our hatred of the commander, but James Rowan gives him a serious run for his money. I found myself torn between WHICH dastardly foe deserved the more wretched end, but by the time the dust settled, I thought the outcome was just.

In addition to the duo of evil masterminds, Logan and Rachel also have to face off against armies, assassins, and tanniyn (read: DRAGONS!) galore, in a twisting, action-packed plot that rarely stops for a breath. Old questions get answered, long-overdue debts are settled, and while the resolution of the conflicts that have been building for three books now is not neat, it is fitting. Trilogy conclusions are tricky, but I believe this one wraps up most of the loose ends in a way that is both satisfying to the reader and appropriate to the characters.

If you have enjoyed the first two books in the Defiance series, I believe you will find DELIVERANCE a worthy send-off for C.J.’s fantastical, post-apocalyptic world, and for the characters you’ve grown to love. And if you haven’t yet plunged into the adventures of Rachel and Logan, now would be the perfect time to start.

Review: The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

I was given an advance copy of this book from the author.

Happy 2014, friends! I hope the holidays treated you well, that you greeted the new year with people you love, and that 2014 has good things in store for you. I’ll admit, I’m pretty excited for this year. Not because I’m anticipating anything specific, exactly, but because I’m anxious to see what opportunities the year will present. 2013 exceeded my expectations in so many ways, probably the greatest of which was the friends I made. It boggles my mind that some of the people I would now count among my best friends are individuals I hadn’t even met a year ago.

One of those people is someone who, a year ago, was just a name on a spine to me. Last year, I read Victoria Schwab’s The Archived, and absolutely loved it. To the point that the first time I met Victoria, I think I fangirled on her a bit. (I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry. It was well-deserved fangirling.) Since then, she’s become a wonderful friend, but I’ve remained a fan. Through shameless cajoling, I was able to convince her to let me read the sequel to The Archived a bit early. This book hits shelves in a couple weeks, and if you enjoyed the first one, trust me, you’re going to want the sequel. I enjoyed The Unbound every bit as much as The Archived, if not more. That’s right. More.

Let’s get to it.

The Plot (from Goodreads):

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she’s struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn’t easy — not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she’s really safe.

Meanwhile, people are vanishing without a trace, and the only thing they seem to have in common is Mackenzie. She’s sure the Archive knows more than they are letting on, but before she can prove it, she becomes the prime suspect. And unless Mac can track down the real culprit, she’ll lose everything, not only her role as Keeper, but her memories, and even her life. Can Mackenzie untangle the mystery before she herself unravels?

With stunning prose and a captivating mixture of action, romance, and horror, The Unbound delves into a richly imagined world where no choice is easy and love and loss feel like two sides of the same coin.

My Thoughts:

I expect a lot from sequels. I need them remind me of everything I enjoyed in the first book, but not retread old ground. I need them to give me new likable characters, while allowing me to grow closer to characters I’ve already met. I need the events of the previous books to have consequences, and for the actions of the characters to have repercussions. I need higher stakes, deeper world-building, tighter plots, and more satisfying resolutions. Whether it’s the second or the third or the tenth book in a series, I need each sequel to continue upping its game to keep me invested in the series. It’s a tall order that is hard to fill, which is why I often wind up settling for less.

I’m pleased to report that no settling was necessary in the case of The Unbound. The narrative picks up shortly after the events of The Archived, with heroine Mackenzie Bishop coping with the trauma of a betrayal that nearly killed her, and the fallout of the decisions she made as a result. In the meantime, her world is broadened by the start of the school year. The story is no longer confined to the halls of the Narrows and the rooms of the hotel-turned-apartment-building that Mackenzie calls home. Now she has to deal with a new school and new friends, and must work constantly to keep the ghosts of her past and the demons in her head quiet — while still proving to the Archive that she is a competent Keeper.

Fortunately, she’s not alone. Guyliner-sporting co-Keeper Wesley Ayers is once again by Mackenzie’s side, livening up her life with sass and sarcasm while also providing the grounding and support that only someone who knows her secrets can. Their relationship grows and deepens as it is tested by both the trials of high school and the string of disappearances that seem tied to Mackenzie. His humor and openness provide a much-needed balance to Mackenzie’s seriousness and secretiveness. Mackenzie also makes some friends at school, and it’s fun to see her interact with people her own age who don’t share knowledge of the Archive.

The new setting of Hyde School gives The Unbound a freshness that is much appreciated after the purposefully claustrophobic confines of The Archived. With the move into the world outside the hotel, the scope becomes greater and the stakes feel higher. It’s interesting how the broadened environment plays with the narrowing walls of Mackenzie’s mind, as no matter where she goes, she can’t escape the haunting memories of the History who terrorized her. He even plagues her dreams, which results in nearly crippling insomnia and the concern that she may be suffering a break from reality. Mackenzie’s struggles are compounded by the disappearances happening around her, as the lines between reality and the Archived continue to muddle. It’s a brilliant balance of internal versus external conflict, with both plotlines weaving together and building on each other as they head toward a conclusion that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

As always, Victoria’s prose is lovely, a perfect blend of poetry and suspense. It gives the book a visceral quality that makes it easy to picture and hard to put down. There are some authors who have the gift of stories and some who have the gift of words. It’s clear in Victoria’s writing that she has both. Not only are the tales she crafts smart and imaginative and original, but the ways in which she tells them are beautiful.

The Unbound is everything I wanted in a sequel to The Archived. More mystery. More suspense. A greater sense of purpose and consequence and world. Deeper relationships. Higher stakes. And, of course, more Wesley Ayers. If you read The Archived and are wondering if you should pick up the sequel, wonder no more. Go forth, read, and enjoy.