Blacksouls by Nicole Castroman (Blackhearts #2)

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“Blacksouls” by Nicole Castroman

5 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“Nicole Castroman brings the dangerous pirate ports of the Caribbean to life in this vibrant sequel to Blackhearts—the reimagined origin story of history’s most infamous pirate, Blackbeard.

Edward “Teach” Drummond is setting sail to the Caribbean as first mate on the most celebrated merchant ship in the British fleet—until he rebels against his captain. Mutiny is a capital offense and Teach knows it could cost him his life, but he believes it worth the risk in order to save his crew from the attacking Spanish ships.

Sailing on the same blue waters, Anne barely avoids the Spanish attack, making it safely to Nassau. But lawless criminals, corrupt politics, and dangerous intentions fill the crowded streets of this Caribbean port. Soon, Anne discovers that the man entrusted to keep the peace is quite possibly the most treacherous of them all—and he just happens to hold Teach’s fate in his terrifying hands.

Life and death hang in the balance when Teach and Anne are given a dangerous mission. It’s a mission that will test their love, loyalty and devotion, forcing them down a path neither one could have ever imagined.”

“Blacksouls” is one of those books that the more time you spend thinking about it, the more you come to love and appreciate the story and its characters. I honestly think that this is in my top three favorite books of the year, and I cannot believe that it took me this long to write a review for it! I guess reading a bunch of duds this spring kind of took up the free time that I use to write reviews… 😦

Last year, “Blackhearts” was one of the best books of 2016, and I completely fell in love with Nicole’s characters and her storytelling style. I loved the fact that “Blackhearts” was a historical novel rather than an high-octane adventure story, and that it was centered on developing the characters and the dynamics between them, rather than the drama that was about the ensue. I love historical fiction and learning about times and new places that I do not know much about, and I love the feeling of taking away some new piece of knowledge or developing a new perspective due to something that I have learned while reading. That sensation of discovery and enjoyment was one of the reasons why I loved “Blackhearts” so much, because it was more than a pyro maniac’s dream; it was about relationships and the invisible cords that linked them all together, and how people and many of their choices were dictated by the time that they live in. That aspect of “Blackhearts” was depicted with such accuracy that I instantly became a fan of Nicole Castroman, and I so admire her skill as a writer and the accuracy of her research. With all that being said about “Blackhearts,” I do have to say that as dear to my heart as Castroman’s debut is to my heart, “Blacksouls” definitely showed how much Nicole has grown as an author over the past year, and let me tell you, this book was one killer of a ride.

After hearing the announcement that there would be a second book in Nicole’s retelling of Blackbeard’s life, I was, to be honest, a bit wary. I had loved the bitter sweet, tormenting ending of “Blackhearts” so much that I did not want a second book to ruin how I felt about the first. Seriously, readers, I should not have wasted my time worrying, because “Blacksouls” was so amazing and it exceeded all of my expectations!

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The second book of Ann and Teach’s story was dynamic, full of the perfect amount of drama and heartache, as well as tension and romance. “Blacksouls” was so well-balanced and wonderfully layered that it kind of blew me away; it was grittier and a bit more wild than “Blackhearts,” but I personally feel like that was the perfect match for how Ann and Teach’s story was unfolding. It was a truly magical experience to read a book that I instantly connected with, especially after a fairly disappointing spring for books!

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Nicole’s research skills were once again put to good use in “Blacksouls,” and I felt utterly transported to the time and place where Teach and Ann lived, fully experiencing the beauties and horrors of that era as their story unfolded before me. Nicole Castroman’s writing made the past come vividly back to life, and since I already have a weakness for well-written and well-researched historical fiction, it is no shocker that I fell more in love with this series and its characters because of how well-executed the historical aspects were!

Teach was (and is) the best pirate character that a reader and fangirl could ever ask for! (sorry, Jack!)

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He was equal parts swoony, wild, and determined, as well as good-hearted. Teach had been amazing in “Blackhearts” and I had completely fallen for him as a character, but underneath his strength, charm, and determination, Teach had felt like a boy during parts of the first book. In “Blacksouls,” however, Teach came in to his own, becoming a more quietly bold and strong young man. I loved seeing the character development that he experienced over the course of “Blacksouls,” especially since he and Ann were apart for half of this book. He was clever, charming, and intelligent in how determined he was to find Anne, which was pretty attractive, let me tell you. As much as I loved Ann and Teach together, though, I did like the fact that I could get to know each of them separately, and I liked seeing the friendship between Teach and John in action as they set sail together again.

I adored pretty much all of the characters in “Blacksouls”; I loved Teach and his fellow sailors, the young brother and sister that Ann sailed to Nassau with, and I loved to hate the villains of Ann and Teach’s story. Unfortunately, the only person I was not a huge fan of in this book was Ann herself, which surprised me because of how much I had liked her in “Blackhearts.” In “Blacksouls,” I had a hard time connecting with Ann, and I found her boldness and ferocity in certain situations to be a little unrealistic, feeling that her actions were sometimes foolish rather than brave, especially when the lives of others were at stake. I still liked Ann and Teach together when they had their reunion moment and they began to make plans together once more, but I really feel that Teach’s character development completely eclipsed that of Ann’s, which I am actually okay with. I would have loved to feel a bit more connected and attached to Ann like I had in “Blackhearts,” but me not being wholly on Ann’s side did not at all detract from my love for this book.

Ahhh, the romance. I still loved Ann and Teach as a couple, even if I was a bit more of a fan of him than her. It was wonderful seeing and experiencing the personalities of these two wonderful characters while they were apart, because I feel like I got to know both of them so much better that way. Them being separated for so long in this book also built the tension and made me more invested in their story and their situation as a whole. Nicole Castroman did such an amazing job of giving me as a reader just enough of their interactions to keep me reading and to be invested in their relationship, but not so much that it detracted from the rest of her book’s plot. I feel like the quote, “[his] parting was my pain,” basically describes this book and what it made me feel, especially when it came to the open ended ending!

Nicole was cruel once again with her ending, but I totally respect her because I AM HOOKED!

I do not want to spoil anything about “Blacksouls” for you, so I will just say that Nicole Castroman did an amazing job of creating another magical and well-developed book. I was held in suspense of what might happen to Teach, Ann, and the other characters in this book, and there was loads of adventure and drama, and piracy to boot! I adored seeing the characters grow and develop apart as well as together, and it was wonderful to see how complex and dynamic Nicole’s story and characters have become. I loved the adventure and intrigue that was woven throughout “Blacksouls,” and I appreciate the fact that this book did not wander away from the heart of this series’ story: the second installment to Nicole’s series still had the tug of war between the romance and relationships like the first book, but it was also more. More complex, more dynamic, and I honestly just wanted to read more. Here’s to hoping that there’s a third book coming out next year, because that cliffhanger will haunt me until I get another book!

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“Blacksouls” was a wonderful, adventurous, and refreshing read, and if you have any fondness for historical fiction, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and/or “Poldark,” I think that you would absolutely adore this fantastic series!

Spoiler Review: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass #5)

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“Empire of Storms” by Sarah J. Maas

3 1/2-4 out of 5 stars.

Goodreads summary:

“The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?”

So, I have mixed feelings toward “Empire of Storms.” Don’t get me wrong, I think that Sarah J. Maas’s fifth “Throne of Glass” novel was very well-written and had an engaging cast of characters, but I think my problem with it was the fact that I felt like I had read “Empire of Storms” before; the plot and main romance between Aelin and Rowan did not strike a chord with me because I had already seen and experience a painfully similar romance in “A Court of Mist and Fury.” Beyond the nearly verbatim lines and predictability of Aelin and Rowan’s romance, though, I also found the plot of “Empire of Storms” to be repetitive of what us readers have already read by this author, and it was frustrating to me that the supposedly suspenseful moments ended up being fairly anticlimactic. I wanted to be on the edge of my seat, but I felt like I had already read “Empire of Storms,” just under a different title, and that sometimes killed the momentum of my reading experience. If it hadn’t been for Dorian, and Elide and Lorcan, I probably would have skipped half of this book. But let me tell you, Elide and Lorcan were completely worth reading this novel.

I was completely enraptured by the dynamic that existed between Elide and Lorcan and the relationship that slowly bloomed between them in “Empire of Storms.” I adored Elide as a character because she was one of the few human characters in this book; she had no powers, no special abilities beyond her own courage and cunning, and that made her such a compelling character when compared to the “perfectly” gifted Fae and their robotic queen, Aelin. Elide was a wonderful character to read about, and I adored the chapters that were written from her perspective because she had such a dynamic voice and moving past. Elide and Lorcan probably only got about two hundred pages of screen time out of this seven hundred page novel, if even that, but every moment, every word between the two of them was impacting. If anyone were to ask, I’d say Elide was the queen of this book (Manon also, but we’ll get to here in a minute), not Aelin. And Lorcan wasn’t hurting matters, either…

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Just yes, yes to everything about this character and his relationship with Elide. Lorcan was a real tool in the previous “Throne of Glass” books, and I had had zero affection or interest in the coldhearted Fae when Sarah J. Maas first introduced him, but the first chapter of “Empire of Storms” completely changed how I perceived this character. I had forgotten how good Sarah J. Maas can be at introducing new characters and shaping them into dynamic, key-players in her series, so at first I was taken aback by how interesting and layered I found Lorcan’s character to be from the very first chapter of this book. It was nice to find a character who completely captured my attention, and after his and Elide’s entrance into “Empire of Storms, ” I was wholly invested in them as characters, as well as in their romance.

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One of the things that I loved most about Elide and Lorcan’s sections of this book was how the tension just crackled between them. It has been a while since Sarah J. Maas has written a good relationship with that kind of ever present tension that is not angsty, but it is always there, keeping you on the edge of your seat. “Heir of Fire” was a great book, second only to my beloved “Throne of Glass,” but even in that book I did not feel the same kind of tension between Rowan and Celaena/Aelin. Dorian (be still my heart) also had a romance in that book with Sorcha, and although I shipped their relationship to the ends of the earth and back while it melted my heart into a puddle of feels, theirs was a romance built on friendship and partnership, as well as blossoming affection. Dorian and Sorcha were beautiful and perfect together, but they did not have the same tension between them that Elide and Lorcan had in “Empire of Storms,” which was due to their differing circumstances. Elide and Lorcan’s sections in this book were always weighty and interesting, and the two characters and their reluctant partnership made for an insanely dynamic story. I was honestly on the edge of my seat while reading from Elide and Lorcan’s perspectives, not just because of the amazing tension and character development that they experience, but also because of everything that was at stake for both of them. Elide and Lorcan’s story was unrivaled by anything else in this book, and I honestly wish that “Empire of Storms” had just been about the two of them and their journey, rather than having six additional characters thrown into the mix. Despite my desire to read a book about just Elide and Lorcan’s journey, I still loved seeing Dorian and getting to know Manon.

My heart hurt this entire book for the wonderful but forsaken Dorian Havillard. He has been the best and most consistent character throughout this entire series, and he has been the one to keep me coming back for more torture and torment with this series. Dorian was and is my everything, and that was why it was so heartbreaking to read about how his character changed in “Empire of Storms.” Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed every moment I got with him, but I feel like Sarah has tormented and abused this character too much to not give him more page time. Dorian deserved more time in this book, and so did his fans, to rediscover the recognizable but altered boy with the sapphire blue eyes. I understand that his experiences at the end of “Heir of Fire” and through all of “Queen of Shadows” justifiably broke him, but I wanted to get to know the new, haunted King Dorian for longer than Sarah J. Maas allowed me to. I have loved Dorian as a character since the first chapter of “Throne of Glass,” and I continued to love him in this book, but I was not a fan of how Sarah J. Maas approached his shift in character. I was also very frustrated by how carelessly Sarah threw together the romance between Dorian and Manon.

After the end of “Queen of Shadows,” I was rooting for Manon and Dorian to get together, especially since Manon was the only person who believed that Dorian was still alive despite the awful things that Erawan had done to him; Manon’s also pretty epic, so it was kind of a given that I would want them to be together eventually. I was still really rooting for their relationship throughout this book, but I did not fall in love with them as a couple because Sarah J. Maas never gave them enough time! I was pretty frustrated with the lack of development in their relationship, and I felt thoroughly disappointed with how little effort Sarah seemed to put into writing the romance between these two characters. All that happened between Dorian and Manon was that she saved him a couple of times from and dying and he saved her multiple times from being killed, and then suddenly they were a couple.

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It was a bit disappointing to be anticipating these two amazing characters getting to know one another, and to help each other heal from their broken pasts, only to get a few minuscule conversations that barely even developed a connection between them. The romance of Dorian and Manon felt vague and carelessly thrown together, when what they deserved was some epic development like Lorcan and Elide received. I still loved Dorian and Manon, but there were just some things that Sarah J. Maas did that really frustrated me, and I am pretty disappointed and heartbroken over the lack of respect with which she treated Dorian, Manon, and their romance. I am also pretty angry at what this lack of development means, but we’ll get there a little bit later.

Besides Manon, Dorian, Elide, and Lorcan, there were about four or five other characters who played a central role in “Empire of Storms,” but since a blogger only has so much time to analyze a dozen characters before they drive their readers to boredom or irritation, I will just finish up talking about Aelin and Rowan.

I had really liked Celaena as a character for the first three books. I thought that she was entertaining, intelligent, clever, and caring character when she wanted to show her heart, and I enjoyed the fact that Celaena was a flawed person. She did not always have the answers or solutions to every problem, nor did she always make the right calls during certain situations, but that was a part of her draw as a heroine; she failed many times, but she never stopped getting back up and dusting herself off. Celaena was a well-developed and interesting leading lady, if a bit overpowering at times, yet it has felt like the heroine of this series has been missing since “Queen of Shadows.”

I know that Celaena was just a name that Aelin chose to hide her true identity, but I found it frustrating that the dynamic and flawed Celaena suddenly disappeared after Aelin decided to use her given name again. The experiences and trials that Celaena had gone through, her flawed personality and decision making skills, were suddenly non-existent when she donned her royal name, which just seems silly to me because our experiences and memories make us who we are. Why did Aelin suddenly have everything figured out when Celaena did not? The swagger and charm of Celaena seemed to disappear with Aelin’s rise to power, and now I find everything Aelin-related to be very anticlimactic because I know as a reader that she already has the perfect plan up her sleeve, and that she’s going to make it out on the other side smelling like a rose. Even her romance was too good to be true with Rowan.

Personally, I had really liked Rowan in “Heir of Fire.” Dorian shall forever hold my heart, but it was really nice to have a sexy adult male as a lead character. Rowan had presence in every scene that he was in during Heir of Fire,” and I am going to be honest, I enjoyed the fact that he did not take crap from Celaena and occasionally (but only when justified) put her in her place. I was even rooting for their relationship after finishing the third “Throne of Glass” book, but when “Queen of Shadows” came out, their romance just did not seem as good as it was in “Heir of Fire.” I also felt like Rowan got less time to shine than he deserved in the fourth book because of Aelin overwhelming the show with her queenlyness. Because of the previous book, I was not particularly excited for a lot Rowan time in “Empire of Storms,” so I was quite surprised when I found myself liking this character again.

At first, I felt like I was greeted with a watered down version of the Rowan that I had liked in “Heir of Fire,” especially when he was around Aelin, but as this book went on, I kind of started to like Rowan again. He and Dorian had this epic bro-cation, and it was interesting reading how much the two of them had in common, other than Celaena/Aelin, with their first loves being murdered and losing their way a bit. Rowan all by himself was great in this book; he was a strong and decisive character, but it was the romance between him and Aelin that really felt kind of lame.

“Where have I have seen this romance before?” That was the question I kept asking myself every time Aelin and Rowan had a moment together, and the answer was always the same: I had already seen it in “A Court of Mist and Fury.” For all of you who adore the romances between Feyre and Rhysand and Aelin and Rowan, I am truly happy for you. I think my problem with these two romances, though, is how identical both of them are. Both Feyre and Aelin went through a couple of boys before they got to there current romantic interests, and now they are perfectly matched to their perfect life-long mate, and they are all going to live happily ever after (for all eternity) because their all freaking Faeries! Oh, yes, and let me throw a spoiler for the end in for you! Aelin ended up offering herself to her foe and was taken captive by enemy forces at the very end, and Rowan vows to not rest until he finds and saves her. Sound familiar?

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* sighs * Please, Sarah, I beg of you to throw in something that is not exactly like your other series, or something that is at least a tiny bit less predictable! I’m sorry to all of you who adore the romances in Sarah’s two series, but I just don’t feel any sort of attachment to either couple.

In the end, I enjoyed “Empire of Storms,” but I did not love it nor did I feel held in suspense by its ending. I have a strong sense of what is going to happen in the final book, and everything that Sarah J. Maas wrote in “Empire of Storms” has led me to the conclusion that she is going to kill off Dorian in the sixth “Throne of Glass” book. Aelin will get her happily ever after, Elide and Lorcan will probably survive, (or he’ll redeem himself by dying *sobs*), and Dorian will sacrifice himself in order to make the lock that can save everyone he loves. * sobs harder * It just doesn’t seem fair that this amazing, beautiful character will get the short end of the stick by being the emotional martyr of the series. Someone important but expendable (in the the author’s eyes) always gets sacrificed in the end of a series, and Dorian has the emotional connection to bring tears to the audience. He is also technically expendable because he does not have a solidified romantic relationship with anyone (maybe the romance that Sarah ended up giving him was vague and haphazardly thrown together for a reason!). My heart and soul have dreaded this truth for about four books now, and I feel like Sarah is just that cruel of a writer that she would kill off this wonderfully written character in order to preserve her beloved Aelin.

Due to my dread of impending events, I honestly do not know if I can read the last book. Dorian was my reason for continuing on with this series, and I kind of just want to ignore any ending where he does not get his own happy ending.

Besides my whole Dorian theory and Aelin’s predictably happy ending, I did enjoy reading “Empire of Storms.” Elide and Lorcan were the heart of this book because they were such amazingly dynamic characters with an insanely gripping story, and I am anxious to see where Sarah takes them (if I can somehow pick up the last book). Dorian was still absolutely fantastic, and I’ve enjoyed watching him come into his own over the course of this series; he has always been dedicated and invested in protecting his friends and people, and he did what was necessary in this book to get business done. I do hope that Sarah J. Maas develops his and Manon’s relationship more, because there was a lot of potential for the two of them together. I think that my only major problem with this book (besides the whole Dorian thing, and the plot holes that I don’t have the energy to discuss right now) was that Aelin felt kind of worthless toward the plot. I felt like this massive book would have kept moving without her presence, and I might have liked it more if there had been King Rowan and not Queen Aelin as the star of this series. I also found things involving Aelin to be very predictable, which killed the suspense of this book for me. We all know that Aelin will survive and rise again, so there’s nothing to be anxious about concerning her character and her relationship with Rowan. Despite this book’s predictability, it was a fast read, and I did find myself enjoying most of it. “Empire of Storms” couldn’t beat the first three books of this series in quality or original plotline, but it was still interesting and enjoyable to read.

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