Sadly, I don’t enjoy every book I read. In most cases, I would just put them aside and move on with my life but when it comes to ARCs, I am ridiculously stubborn. I don’t want my feedback ratio to be adversely affected by a book I don’t like, so I suffer through bad prose, flat characters, gaping plot holes, and all the other problems I encounter in books that disappointment me.
So in no particular order, here were the books that disappointed me the most in 2020.
Master of Sorrows by Justin T. Call
A child is saved from a terrible fate and brought to a magical school. While there, the boy, Annev, must hide a deformity lest he be accused of having dark magic, as he is learning how to fight the magical powers that some wield for their own dark purposes. But there is a dark destiny ahead of him, and he must choose between forfeiting everything he holds dear, or betraying his closest friends. While this book has a premise that promises a twist on the ‘Chosen One’ trope, it turned out to be a slog through a poorly-executed story with mile-wide plot holes, tedious characters going about their tedious tasks, and uninspired prose that made me want to throw my eReader across the room. Fortunately for my eReader, I did not. Had I had a physical copy, all bets would have been off. Needless to say, I will not be continuing this series. The first one was arduous enough.
The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan
Harriet Bishop is descended from a long line of witches who have used their powers to help other women. Frances Allington, on the other hand, has used her powers and wiles for her own advantage- to snare and then marry a wealthy man who will keep her in the luxury she feels she deserves. When Frances’s step-daughter, Annis, is sent to England to find herself a husband with a noble title, Frances will do everything in her power to ensnare just the right young man for her– whether it’s ethical or not. When Annis doesn’t go along with Frances’s wishes, Frances attempts darker and darker spells to get her way. Harriet, meanwhile, has come to England to help Annis free herself from Frances’s spells. While the premise of this book was intriguing, the execution was poorly done. The overarching plot ended soon after the halfway point, with the rest of the book devoted to tying up inconsequential loose ends and finishing up the utterly predictable love story. This story also brings up a questionable morality from the supposedly “good witch”. Harriet spends the entire novel stating that she only works for the good of those around her, but is not above tampering with people’s minds to get her way. Perhaps it’s just me, but removing a person’s free will just to make things a little easier for yourself does not strike me as a particularly moral thing to do, and is not something I would associate with a “good witch”.
Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke
Young Ren Kolins is a silver wielder. That’s a dangerous thing to be in a kingdom that has banned the use of the magical silver for all but an elite few. But Ren is just to make ends meet through gambling, pit fighting, and petty thievery. When a wealthy rebel leader learns of her gifts, he makes her a deal: if she works for them, she’ll gain a fortune– but only if the king is dethroned. Soon, Ren finds herself in a fight for survival as the brutal warriors known as the King’s Children are hunting down the rebels. One side or the other must win, or the country will be plunged into all-out war. This book, once again, had an interesting premise that was poorly executed and included nearly every tired YA cliche save for the love triangle. Gruenke attempts her own version of Calaena Sardothien in Ren, a slender, beautiful, and fashionable teenager who is, inexplicably, a champion fighter, expert gambler, and skilled wielder of a magic that is barely defined. Descriptions of clothing pass for character development, dialogue is stilted and unrealistic, and the book’s climax turns upon a feature of the magic that is hardly touched upon– until its required by the plot. This was a 480-page slog with a story that has been executed many times before– and sometimes by writers who know what they’re doing.
Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1) by Janella Angeles
Kaillia is a talented young magician trapped in a nightclub by the enigmatic Jack, who has trained her and keeps her a veritable prisoner, though he always tells her that it’s for her own good. She doesn’t know how dangerous the outside world is. But when Kaillia finds out about a magical competition in a nearby city, she escapes Jack’s clutches and enters the competition. Being a young woman in a man’s world is not the only issue Kaillia faces, however, because when the competition begins, the competitors begin disappearing one by one. With only her assistant and one of the judges– the dark and brooding DeMarco– willing to help her, Kaillia must face her own darkness or risk disappearing forever, too. Overall, I found this book to be far less than the sum of its inspirations. Billed as a blend of The Phantom of the Opera and Moulin Rouge!, it managed to capture none of their glamour, romance, or melodrama, was repetitive, and made me wonder why- if magic has such practical applications as heating rooms in a frigid city- it is apparently only used for entertainment at night clubs and circuses. By the time the cliff-hanger ending rolled around, I was quietly thinking, “Good riddance”. Once again, it was an intriguing premise, poorly executed.