Friday 28 August 2015

Reviewed by Arianne: The Almost King by Lucy Saxon.

Product details:
Publisher: Bloomsbury.
Paperback, 416 pages.
Release date: June 4th 2015.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Ages: 12+
Series: Take Back the Skies #2.
Other Books in Series: Take Back the Skies.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

 Aleks Vasin is the youngest of four brothers, each with his path mapped out. But Aleks doesn't want to work in his father's shop and live with his family in a village in the westernmost corner of Siberene. And when he hears his parents fretting about money, he decides to save them the cost of his keep and leave.

First he heads south - though everyone tells him not to - to Rudavin, headquarters of the kingsguard, and he signs up for the army, little knowing what brutality it entails. After only a few weeks, Aleks realizes that this garrison is full of liars and thieves; he's signed away four years of his life to a commander who steals his money and a captain who's already hurt Aleks's beloved horse. This is not a noble destiny.

After a brutal beating, Aleks escapes, hoping to find safety and a new life somewhere in the north. And there, this deserter finds love, adventure, and a skyship in which he might just prove himself a hero after all - if he can evade the soldiers who seek to capture him.

Prepare for another sweeping adventure in this second book in a unique six-book series. Each book is set in a different land within the Tellus world, with repeating characters and related, nonlinear storylines that combine to create a one-of-a-kind, addictive reading experience.

If you’ve read my review for Take Back the Skies – the first book in the début Tellus series from incredibly talented teen author and cosplayer extraordinaire Lucy Saxon – you’ll know that I’ve been looking forward to reading this sequel all year. 

Take Back the Skies told the story of feisty aristocrat Catherine as she hopped aboard a skyship, unravelled long-hidden secrets and initiated the downfall of an entire government. But while some of us are still reeling from the shock of that book’s ending (!), The Almost King takes place in a different country with a different cast. The only links between fan-favourite Cat and newcomer Aleks is that they’re both runaways and both live in the same fictional universe – but you don’t need to read the first book to enjoy this one, so new readers can dive in right away. 

Besides, The Almost King has its own fair share of adventure, danger and mystery. The series is evidently still gunning for a movie deal, with its exciting action sequences and cinematic locations. I actually thought there’d be more hype and buzz for it, perhaps some events or competitions, particularly as The Almost King has the potential to appeal to a totally new audience. Take Back the Skies was firmly marketed as YA, but I said at the time that it would’ve been more suited to older children’s or younger teen readers, and with a new, more illustrated cover style planned for the series, it looks like Bloomsbury are seeing those possibilities, too. The best thing about this series for me, however, will always be its steampunk roots and style. It’s still one of the most unique series on the UKYA shelf, and The Almost King is a quick, easy read, perfect for slotting in between hard-hitting contemporaries or heavy historical fiction. 

The plot is clear and straightforward, and I loved seeing more of Tellus as a world, too. The Almost King is a wonderfully visual story, which works particularly well when it comes to the characters. Female leads Raina and Saria are downright brilliant - both kick-ass and clever, down-to-earth and still so much fun. They stand on their own two feet and really bring something special to the narrative. Quicksilver, Aleks’ horse, gets a handful of stars all by himself. He’s sent away about halfway through the book, but I would have loved to have seen more of the bond between Aleks and his noble steed, increasingly dangerous events around them or not! There’s a wide range of secondary characters, from Aleks' older brothers and family back at home, to Bodan and Ksenia who help Aleks’ forge a new family after his desertion.

If only I’d liked Aleks as much as I liked the other characters. The book suffers from a slow, robotic start, and it’s almost as if he Aleks was simply designed to carry out the plot, instead of letting the story unfurling naturally and surprisingly ahead of him. The decision to switch protagonists has clearly come back to haunt the series, and I just couldn’t invest in it the way I did with Take Back the Skies. There's no passion in the writing and it lacks the spark that makes a fantasy novel truly spring to life. It's not as emotional or shocking as it could be, and a lot of readers will miss seeing the story of Cat and her friends unfold. The romance, while thankfully not a love triangle, was flat. I think it’s to do with the writing style more than anything – it’s very compact and economical, and doesn’t conjure the magic and wonder of books like Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas or Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. I kept willing the story to take risks, to be bold and sweeping and carve out a new path, but with its troubling lack of diversity and a plot that rarely challenges the reader, it just didn't ignite the way it should have.

In short: The Almost King is a quick, easy read, packed with action and some truly fantastic characters. As much I enjoyed the previous book in this series and I was let down by its writing style and execution. That said, it could be ideal for younger readers just starting to read YA.


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