September 6, 2021

Abbreviations #137: Rule of Wolves, The House in the Cerulean Sea + The Shadow of Kyoshi

I’m always nervous about picking up a title that is extremely hyped up by the online book community I’m a part of, and The House in the Cerulean Sea was no exception. This adult fantasy standalone from TJ Klune had earned a lot of love and praise from readers, with particular emphasis on how wholesome and heartwarming it was. And, after reading it for our family book club, I can confirm both of those things are true. Our central character is Linus, a man in his mid-forties who leads a rather unremarkable, solitary life with only his cat, his records and his job to keep him preoccupied. He’s summoned by Extremely Upper Management out of the blue to take on a highly classified assignment: a visit to the Marsyas Island Orphanage to assess the well-being of the unusual children who live there and to report back on their home and caretaker. This slice-of-life-with-a-dash-of-magic tale is wonderful, and calls to mind the nostalgic, warm fuzzy feelings I often get when viewing a Pixar or a Miyazaki film. While it might seem odd considering how things begin, I, for one, was immediately captivated from the minute we’re introduced to Linus. And his character journey was a wonderful one to be along for the ride especially as we see him slowly change during the time he spends on this ‘special’ assignment of his. Throw in a delightful cast of characters (I was particularly partial to Chauncey, Theodore and Lucy, though I have so much love for this cast on the whole), sprinkles of whimsy and magic, a vivid setting, and a whole lot of heart-tugging feels, and you’ll understand even more what makes this book so special! The only nitpicky thing I can really comment on is the jarring direct delivery of the themes in this tale; it was a touch clunky, but because I was liking everything else so much, it was easy enough to let it slide. I don’t think I ended up falling head over heels in love with The House in the Cerulean Sea the way so many others have, but it was delightful to read.

Publisher: Tor Books | Publication Date: March 17, 2020

Please be advised that the next two novels are second books in their respective series, so there may be spoilers for the previous book in the series in my thoughts below.

The temptation to simply yell incoherently (asdkfjghihgdagdjig) or to simply shove Rule of Wolves at other readers is very high. I went into it without any expectations, considering that was what affected my first read of its predecessor King of Scars (which, by the way, I totally enjoyed more on my second read). Rule of Wolves takes off where right King of Scars ends, and essentially, it has our main trio - Nina Zenik, Zoya Nazyalensky and Nikolai Lantsov - scrambling to find a way to change the Fjerdan perception of Grisha, win the war for Ravka on all fronts and keep the throne secure… all while dealing with their own personal struggles. To sum it all up, I loved it. I was genuinely impressed with Bardugo’s ability to weave so many threads together to tell an epic tale that brings this particular era in the Grishaverse to a close. It’s not simply the plot that worked well for me; it’s the characters that we follow, especially our main three. Where in King of Scars, I’d been lukewarm on Nina’s storyline, I actually found I liked it more here (though the ending is still something I’m 50/50 on). And, of course, it’s unsurprising that I loved Nikolai’s storyline, because I’ve always loved him and I am always down to witness him make the best out of every situation in order to do what’s best for the country he’s decided to fight for. But the real surprise was Zoya, who has now won my whole heart with the continued insight into who she is and what she’s capable of. My emotional investment in the wellbeing of these three (and many other characters who get page time) was really intense and that, I’m sure, made all the difference in my reading experience. (Also, did I mention that we get cameos? Because we get cameos, and it’s all sorts of delightful when they happen.) Even though it’s clear that I really adored this, I can honestly say it’s not perfect. There were aspects of the story that felt underutilized and a bit convenient, and I’m still unsure how I feel about all the parts of the end. But I still found it to be an ultimately fulfilling conclusion to the duology! For that alone (and for the way it really hit my sweet spot emotionally), I would certainly recommend picking up Rule of Wolves.

Rule of Wolves (King of Scars #2) by Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Imprint | Publication Date: March 30, 2021
If you want to hear me, Macky and our friend Danica discuss this one, check out these podcast eps:

Fans of the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise, specifically those of us who have read and enjoyed The Rise of Kyoshi, will also equally enjoy getting more of Kyoshi’s tale in The Shadow of Kyoshi. F.C. Yee (with help from Michael Dante DiMartino) continues revealing more of Kyoshi’s personal history through a narrative that combines the cascading effects from Kyoshi’s choices, her struggle to come to terms with being the Avatar, and the new enemies that have made themselves known. Much like the previous book, the heart of this story (and, arguably, the heart of all Avatar’s stories) is Kyoshi’s attempt to reconcile herself and her role against the backdrop of the world. It’s incredibly fascinating to see another Avatar’s experiences, especially with her unusual beginnings, and that’s definitely been my favorite part of the series overall. The hallmarks of the world and the lore are ever present, as are the inevitable group of companions (new and familiar) that surround the Avatar; both aspects made this reading experience extra enjoyable despite the plot being solid but ultimately nothing too new. While I do think this story would have been even better if it had been animated, this new addition to what we know of Avatar Kyoshi’s life was a satisfying reading experience overall and I’d highly recommend both of the books in this duology to ATLA fans craving more of the franchise.

The Shadow of Kyoshi (The Kyoshi Novels #2) by F.C. Yee
Publisher: Amulet Books | Publication Date: July 21, 2020


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